Monday, May 19, 2014

What I Learned From As The World Turns (Soap Opera Blog Hop)

By the time I started watching As The World Turns in the mid-Eighties, it had been going strong for over twenty-five years. (My grandmother and aunt were fans back in its heyday.) Despite the rich, complicated history, a new viewer like me could get acquainted pretty quickly with the back-story. The Hughes were clearly the main family, but the Stewarts had also been around for just as long. The Dixons and Montgomerys had also been well-integrated into the show, and the newcomer Walsh and Snyder families, followed a few years later by the Kasnoffs and Cabots, were filled with strong characters that made their mark quickly.

As The World Turns, like many CBS shows, placed a premium on middle class and then upper middle class family values, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a set of siblings who all shared the same biological parents. In other words, couples changed with a lot of regularity, but this was the show that actually pioneered the "super couple" concept back in the early Sixties, as well as amnesia as a dramatic plot device.

File:Lily and Holden (Still).jpg
Lily and Holden, As The World Turns' signature couple
The show's modern flourishing took place under the helm of writer Doug Marland, who focused on star-crossed lovers Lily Walsh and Holden Snyder, related through (and separated by) adoption (it's a long story). While he was well-known for introducing young new actors for several scenes at a time without a shirt (is that why so much of the action shifted to a farm?), he also knew to play the beats of romance and family secrets, and that a long payoff with some fan frustration along the way was preferable to a quick happy ending.

Marland was famous for planning out complicated stories aside from his signature romances, but everyone makes mistakes. The Who Killed Carolyn Crawford mystery started out as a suspenseful mystery that touched several of the core characters. However, Marland decided midstream that Darryl Crawford, the original culprit, was too likeable and valuable to "waste" as the murderer. Unfortunately, the backtracking was obvious and the story became ever more convoluted. Once the story was resolved, viewers were still at a loss as to explain who killed Carolyn Crawford and why. Still, this was notable because it was so rare.

Marland's untimely death left the show floundering for several years, and while it was gotten back on track years later by Executive Producer Chris Goutman, it never reached the same level of popularity, due in part to the trend to tell stories more quickly.

The lesson: a writer with a long-term vision is essential to the success of a show.