Search for Tomorrow
There is a flip side to these aforementioned whirling dirvishes of daytime too. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Guiding Light may be blamed fairly and unfairly for a lot of reasons why it is in imminent danger of cancellation, whether it was the early months of it current production model, David Kreizman's stint as the show's sole head writer or the loss of major stars and characters. GL has improved mightily over the last few months and I urge people to check it out now. However, the most detrimental issue for Guiding Light for roughly a year and a half or more was that the show had no interia at all. It was as if Kreizman and executive producer Ellen Wheeler put the show in a position where they could wrap up production and stories at a moment's notice should the ax have fallen. So couples limped along or were broken up for no good reason, the entire population of Springfield lived at the Beacon and Alan obsessed over every baby in Springfield forever. So little actually happened in Springfield (besides Tammy's death and Reva's cancer), that fans had no real reason to stay tuned.
In the middle of this kerfluffle is Days of Our Lives, a show whose entire structure shifts according to short-term panic regarding the ratings and whenever its network contract has come up for renewal. Writing regimes, whole sets of characters, entire story lines play for months on end and are then jettisoned to “honor the wishes of the fans”...which in most cases tends to infuriate them even more. Ken Corday seems to run Days like a game of jenga, managing to keep the wobbly tower intact by piling on new pieces, but then yanking out supports that threaten to bring the whole enterprise crashing to the floor. The show's remaining fans have invested in the history, characters and supercouples of Days' past, but few seem engaged in the actual stories being told, which is far cry from the golden age of soap operas.
General Hospital is not immune, either. The series may be inconsistent on an episodic or storyline by storyline basis, but Bob Guza has kept a pretty firm vision for his mobtacular vision of Port Charles intact. Unfortunately, GH also is increasingly known for producing sweeps-a-palooza, Emmy bait stunts with dizzying bouts of painfully obvious “chemistry tests” and half-assed or dropped stories left in its bullet-ridden wake.
In times past, the reason why my mother, her friends and millions of soap fans could invest so heavily and deeply in soaps was because “the stories” were being told in full measure. Morality tales or fables, plot lines or slices of life, “the stories” mattered above all else. It wasn't just rich people acting up. It wasn't merely an escape where the problems of these fictional folk made theirs seem smaller by comparison for at least a few hours a day. It wasn't about this fan base or this squish couple or another. At the end of the day, “the stories” were about what would happen next day, next episode, next week, next month or, in the case of the Bell soaps, the next several years.
Momentum is the key here, reflected in the names of some of the earliest serials: The Clear Horizon, Bright Promise, The Brighter Day, As the World Turns, and yes, Search for Tomorrow. These titles and many others suggested that the future was always ahead, not trapped in the past. Soaps were like sharks, ever moving forward with their characters and stories.
It is no small coincidence then that the two soaps enjoying the most acclaim from fans and critics are The Young and the Restless and One Life to Live. (Not to be outdone, even General Hospital: Night Shift got it right too, under the pen of Sri Rao and production by Lisa de Cazotte.) Both Y&R and OLTL are telling “good stories rooted in character and history,” but more importantly they have established or re-established the fundamental tenets element of good soap opera. Each serial has momentum moving it forward. Stories spin out from other stories. Characters collide with each other in unexpected ways that seem, for the most part, logical and well-thought out. The A story dominates while the B story percolates and the C story revs its engines. We wait to see what will happen and who will be impacted and how they and others will react. When will the truth come out about those babies or her identity? We watch in anticipation because we know the stakes are huge for these characters and other characters in their orbit and the consequences could be profound. We want to tune in tomorrow. (continued)