It’s official: Michael Easton is leaving General Hospital. Rumors have been flying recently, but yesterday his departure was confirmed by official sources. Reportedly he wrapped shooting at the end of June and in all probability his character, Dr. Silas Clay, will soon be murdered. I’ve got lots to say, but for now, I’m just going to share a few favorite photos.
HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL, my new paranormal soap opera thriller, is practically finished. I plan to have the final edit completed by my birthday, July 31st, and to make it available online in September, so it’s high time I start building some buzz about it.
My hero, Lieutenant Jonah McQuarry, is the narrator. With his years of experience as a soap character, he has an expert but often cynical take on the venerable traditions of daytime drama.
Here are fifteen of the conventions he talks about. While they’re not hard and fast rules, they occur more often than not. See what you think:
- When two friends or former spouses share a hug, usually in times of tension or grief, one of their significant others discovers them. That person may sneak away to brood in silence or may confront them openly, but either way, he or she refuses to believe it’s just a friendly hug.
- People don’t phone ahead to set up appointments or check whether someone is available. They prefer to drop in unexpectedly.
- When someone knocks, those inside open the door without asking who it is, much less using an intercom or peephole.
An exception occurs when there is no answer, the visitor barges in, and two people are caught in bed in flagrante delicto.
- When a man and woman have spontaneous, unplanned sex, the woman gets pregnant.
- If the pregnancy is unwanted, it never ends in abortion. The woman may consider terminating the pregnancy and may even discuss it, but always decides to keep the fetus, which is always referred to as “the baby” even in the first few weeks.
- When two people are shown in a car, there will be a crash, usually resulting in a fatality or at least a life-threatening injury. It’s never just a fender bender.
- When people share confidential information with each other, they do so in a public place, and usually in perfectly audible voices. Preferred locations are parks, hallways, bars and restaurants. It follows that:
- Someone is eavesdropping. That person will share the information in nefarious ways.
- The people who shared the information will be flabbergasted that the news got out, and will usually blame each other for spilling the secret.
- Anyone who shares a secret on condition that the other person swears never to tell another soul is delusional, because that person always confides it to someone else.
- People spend enormous amounts of time discussing and bringing each other up to date on the goings-on of everyone else.
- Many of these people have professional careers or run newspapers or corporations, but they are rarely shown at work, and they never let their responsibilities interfere with the more important business of discussing the other characters. Partial exceptions include cops, doctors, lawyers and others whose jobs impact directly on the plot.
- Those with no discernable jobs or income nevertheless live in lavish or at least comfortable living quarters.
- These living quarters are always immaculate and clutter-free, though the inhabitants are never shown cleaning house.
- Unless someone is shown actually dying, for example flat-lining in an intensive care unit, that person can never be considered unconditionally dead. Even flat-liners can sometimes be miraculously resurrected. At the very least, they can come back as ghosts.
Can you think of any soap opera conventions I’ve left out? Do you disagree with any of mine, or do you want to elaborate on them? Please leave me your comments. And please subscribe to this blog so as not to miss any exciting new developments as publication of HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL draws near.
The daytime drama surrounding ABC’s General Hospital has escalated since my last post, and I’m not talking about fictional plot lines. Instead some of my favorite actors are caught up in a real-life melodrama, replete with multiple rumors and cliff hangers, and no one seems to know how things will play out.
When ABC cancelled One Life to Live and its sister soap All My Children in 2011, an upstart company by the name of Prospect Park bought the rights to the soaps and their characters, intending to continue the programs in a new format that would be available only online. Some of the newly unemployed actors committed to the Prospect Park venture, but it ultimately fizzled.
End of story, right? Not quite. Amazingly, like many a seemingly deceased character on daytime drama, Prospect Park came back to life – with a vengeance and presumably a healthy transfusion of cash – and resurrected their plans to go ahead with OLTL and AMC. Meanwhile, ABC had transplanted some of the OLTL characters from the fictional town of Llanview, PA, to the fictional GH town of Port Charles, NY – the very town that spawned the vampires and vampire hunters of Port Charles, the General Hospital spin-off that folded a decade ago. But now PP is telling ABC that as of this month, GH can no longer use these characters – including John McBain, the Michael Easton character who inspired my novel.
Are you confused yet? I’m barely scratching the surface of the messy dispute between ABC and Prospect Park. In a futile effort to understand what’s going on, I’ve been slogging my way through a myriad of online sites, from fan groups to soap magazines, whiling away hours I should be devoting to finishing my novel. The plot came to a roiling boil last Friday when Michael Easton posted a message on his Facebook page advising fans not to bring birthday presents to the GH studio in California, since after February 8th, he will no longer be there. Instead of the Irish whiskey and other goodies they’ve been accustomed to bringing, he suggested they donate to the American Cancer Society.
Here’s Friday’s follow-up from Soap Opera Network:
“Despite Michael Easton‘s announcement early this morning, where he stated that after February 8th he would be exiting “General Hospital,” along with Roger Howarth and Kristen Alderson, due to “some ongoing legal this and that,” an ABC spokesperson tells Soap Opera Network that all three will remain an essential part of the “GH” canvas for the foreseeable future as the three are under contract with the network and not Prospect Park.
“‘General Hospital’ is excited about Michael Easton, Kristen Alderson
and Roger Howarth staying on the show and we are exploring ways to allow that to happen,” read a statement from ABC, which did not provide further input on how the series would accomplish just that. Previously, the network stated, “There are on-going collaborative conversations,” in response to word that Prospect Park wanted to return the characters of Starr Manning (Alderson), Todd Manning (Howarth) and John McBain (Easton) to Llanview after formerly announcing its decision to re-launch “One Life to Live” later this spring. The production company licensed the rights to “OLTL’s” characters in July 2011 in a long-term distribution agreement between it and Disney/ABC Domestic Television, part of the Disney/ABC Television Group.”
So how will ABC keep these actors on the show? There are lots of tried and true soap solutions. An actor can return as his own heretofore unknown identical twin, albeit with a different surname. He can turn out to be someone else entirely, someone who suffered from amnesia and created a new identity, only to learn that identity is totally phony, and who recovers and reclaims his original self. Or he can have dissociative identity disorder and be banished by one of his alter egos.
I’m betting John McBain will morph into the vampire Caleb Morley. Several newcomers to Port Charles are already convinced that’s who he is, including a teenage boy who’s accused him of murder and who may turn out to actually be his son.
I promise I’ll blog about something else one of these days, but for now I’m begging your indulgence as I pursue this obsession, the better to fuel my inspiration. When I’m in the throes of creativity, I tend to develop a one-track mind. And now, back to my novel.
True confessions time: my novel-in-progress is paranormal fan fiction, inspired by the ABC soap operas General Hospital, Port Charles and One Life to Live. Since I began it last spring, I’ve been keeping the subject a deep dark secret, because I was convinced it was so brilliant someone would steal it. Well now, somebody has – and the culprit is ABC.
Unbeknownst to me, the creators of General Hospital were thinking along similar lines. Michael Easton, who plays Lieutenant John McBain on GH, played the vampire Caleb Morley on Port Charles, a GH spinoff that was cancelled a decade ago. Kelly Monaco, the Dancing with the Stars finalist who plays Sam Morgan on GH, was Livvie, Caleb’s love and eventually his wife on Port Charles, which happens to be the name of the fictional New York town on General Hospital. What if Caleb Morley were somehow to return and take over the character of John McBain? And what if John and Sam, who already have great chemistry together, were to have a strong feeling of deja-vu? How would things play out?
General Hospital hasn’t taken things quite that far yet, but they’ve been talking about vampires for
the past couple of weeks, ever since Lucy Coe, a Port Charles alumna played by Lynn Herring, came back to town, took one look at John McBain and swore he was Caleb Morley. She tried driving a wooden stake through his heart but only managed to wound him in the shoulder, and he’s making a good recovery. Meanwhile, everyone thinks Lucy’s gone crazy, and they’re playing the story for laughs.
How will the new vampire plot line evolve? If head writer Ron Carlivati knows, he’s not telling, but the online fan sites are abuzz with gossip, and the Caleb/John- Livvie/Sam connection was even featured in TV Guide. Probably the fate of these characters depends to a great extent on fan feedback, which as of this writing seems to be running against the vampire theme.
I was devastated when I first learned of this new plot line. How dare ABC steal my paranormal thunder? Was my novel dead in the water? Should I give up and scrap it entirely? I succumbed to gloom and doom for a day or so, then realized this turn of events could actually work to my advantage. The show’s ratings would probably go up, and the thousands of people who wouldn’t have cared about a long-defunct soap opera could well become my future readers.
No matter how the paranormal story line plays out on General Hospital, mine will be totally different – and, I hope, funnier and more outrageous. I’m still not giving away any details, but I’d damn well better finish the thing and get it up on Kindle before the end of February Sweeps.
Stay tuned for future episodes in my race against time. I welcome your comments, and I hope you’ll subscribe if you haven’t already. A special shout-out to the PC and GH fans I’ve been connecting with lately – your enthusiasm helps keep me going!
Watching six straight hours of Project Runway reruns? Lounging in bed reading a mystery until two in the afternoon? Why the hell not? Now, in the dawn of my eighth decade of life, haven’t I earned the right to kick back and be as lazy as I like? Maybe, but if so, why do I feel so guilty about it?
Yes, ashamed as I am to admit it, I’ve indulged in these wretched excesses in the past few days. Even worse, I still haven’t kicked my Spider solitaire addiction. And today I managed to get to my Nia class at the YMCA, but I copped out of doing the weight machines. After Nia, I generally take a snack break in the Y’s lobby perusing magazines others have donated that I normally wouldn’t buy, like Vogue and Entertainment Weekly, before heading for the weight circuit, but today I simply stashed the magazines back in their rack and split for home.
The Y used to have a computerized Fit Linx system that tracked exactly how much weight I lifted during each session as well as my cumulative total, which added up to several million pounds over the past few years. But they took away the Fit Linx. Now it’s as if Big Brother has abandoned me, and there’s nothing and no one to track whether I do the machines or not. So why bother?
In part, I’d persisted with the weight machines to condition my body for skiing, but I’ve become a slacker in that department too. Back in December, when cold winds began sweeping down from the north, I thought how much more frozen I’d feel skidding down a windswept mountain and decided that maybe it was time to give up skiing, at least the downhill variety. For now, this weirdly warm and snowless winter has made that a moot point, but even if Lady Gaia favors us with tons of white powder, I suspect I’ll stay cozily hunkered down in my recliner rather than hitting the slopes.
I could regale you with other fascinating details of my descent into senior sloth – the crossword puzzles and movie matinees, for example, not to mention my favorite soap opera. Since One Life to Live was cancelled last month, I’ve gone cold turkey on that one, but Michael Easton, my favorite soap star, will be bringing his Detective John McBain character to General Hospital next month, so alas, I’ll probably relapse.
One problem with writing about all these mundane details of daily life is that they’re boring. But even worse, they’re sins of omission rather than commission, of passivity rather than active engagement in life. According to the experts, staying mentally and physically active while aging probably lengthens longevity, but by how much? And in the long run, does it really matter?
When I engage in these “What’s it all about?” ruminations, my husband frequently reminds me that the universe doesn’t give one whit what we do with our lives. So should we follow Joseph Campbell’s advice and just follow our bliss? And can bliss lie lurking within such ordinary slothful pleasures? For me, probably not in the long run. My most blissful moments come from creativity.
But for others, who’s to say? And who am I to pass judgment?
Should I be ashamed of my tendencies toward senior sloth, or is it OK to silence my inner critic and indulge in periods of vegging out? Any thoughts on the subject? I’d love to hear from you.
As I was agonizing over the plot of my new novel today, I took my customary two p.m.break to watch my favorite soap opera, One Life to Live, and it got me thinking about the recurring themes and conventions that drive the multiple story lines.
Some of these plot devices are so unrealistic and/or overused that they’d be unbelievable if used in a novel. But if the story line is engrossing enough, it’s possible to suspend disbelief.
Here are a few that come to mind about the denizens of Llanview, Pennsylvania:
- People rarely phone ahead, preferring to drop in unannounced on the folks they want to talk to. Occasionally they knock, but they never wait for someone to open the door; they simply barge in.
- Invariably these visits interrupt something critically important: someone is about to confide a long suppressed secret or declare undying love, or a couple is discovered in bed, whether before, during or after sex. Sometimes the discovery results in a plot twist, but usually it’s just an excuse to extend the same theme for days, weeks or months without resolution.
- Comas and amnesia are amazingly common.
- People do a great deal of eavesdropping. This is a piece of cake, because the characters frequently deliver confidential tidbits in a normal tone of voice and in public places – bars, restaurants, hospital corridors, airports.
- People long thought to be dead come miraculously back to life. When a new actor is cast, the altered appearance is sometimes attributed to plastic surgery.
- Even when just getting out of bed, everyone is impeccably groomed, and like Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London, their hair is perfect.
- Men spend a lot of time parading around with their shirts off – at least the guys who have six-pack abs and obviously spend a lot of time at the gym. Their bodies are usually waxed and hairless. Those less fit or hairier have the good sense to keep their shirts on. Women stay relatively covered up, perhaps to avoid provoking jealousy in the primarily female audience.
- Men fall in love quickly and easily, are amazingly eager to get married and invest a great deal of emotional energy in fatherhood and questions of paternity. Currently, Brody Lovett (seen below) has kidnapped a baby that’s not even his, while John McBain (seen above), the true father, is in hot pursuit.
- People get married multiple times, often three or more times to the same person. But many wedding ceremonies are torpedoed by someone with a grudge to settle or a major plot twist to reveal just before the point of “I Do.”
- Many characters have high-level professions (mayor, newspaper editor/publisher, CEO of a billion-dollar company) but are rarely or never seen at work. Police are an exception, since their work is more dramatic and impacts more directly on the unfolding plots. In addition to their primary professions, an amazing number own bars or restaurants, while those less fortunate wait tables or tend bar.
- The citizens of Llanview spend a great deal of time in said bars and restaurants, even in the middle of the day. Many secrets are spilled, and confrontations are frequent.
Speaking of bars and restaurants, it’s after five, and my interior clock tells me it’s time for a libation. No doubt I could come up with many more soap clichés – or perhaps you can add some of your own.
Sadly, ABC is canceling One Life to Live after a run of more than 40 years, and some of the featured actors have been around for almost that long. The network cites rising production costs, falling ratings, and changing viewers’ tastes as the reasons, and the last new show will be aired in January. OLTL’s hour slot will be filled by a show on health subjects, no doubt with a panel of obnoxiously cheery co-hosts along the lines of The View and The Chew, so I’ll be able to reclaim the hour that interrupts my creative flow just at my most productive time of day. (Yes, I could watch it at 9am or 9pm on the Soap Channel, but when there’s a real cliff hanger, I like to watch it ASAP.)
But all is not lost – a company by the name of Prospect Park plans to launch a new “Online Network” in January. They’ll feature all-new episodes, and reportedly many of the current actors have already signed contracts with them, including my favorite, Michael Easton, who plays John McBain.
By the way, my NaNoWriMo novel is coming along well. I’ve now passed the midpoint of 25,000 words, but I’m a couple of days behind. Stay tuned . . .
I swore I’d quit my soap opera cold turkey this week. They’d wrapped up two significant plot lines on Friday – almost, anyway – and it seemed like a good time to give up my insidious and shameful habit of watching One Life to Live. But literally at the last minute, they dropped in a dead body, so I suppose I’ll have to tune in one more time at least.*
Those writers really know how to pile on the plot twists, drag out the suspense and keep you hooked. Two major power couples reunited Friday. Trying to stop Natalie from flying to London, John made it to the airport in time to learn she’d missed her flight, whereupon she showed up in hopes of catching the next one. Close-ups of long meaningful looks – no blinking allowed. Despite the fact that she’s recently widowed and his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend miscarried after being pushed down a flight of stairs, John and Natalie obviously belong back together – it’s just taken them a few years to realize it.
Meanwhile Jessica realizes Brody’s her true love after all. She’d forgotten that fact when she suffered amnesia after Mitch gave her too much electroshock therapy. For months now, she’s believed she was 18 years old and destined for Christian, her first true love, and she even fixed the votes so the two of them could be king and queen at the senior prom, despite being in their late twenties at least. Though she’s been a wife and mother, she feels like a virgin, and the horndog Ford is set to take advantage of her innocence when her memories come flooding back and she realizes she was almost raped by Mitch.
Confused yet? Small wonder, yet I haven’t even begun to describe the ramifications of these plot lines, which are only two of many being played out on OLTL at any given time. A few months ago, I generated a table on my computer with one row per day and eight columns for the major plotlines. I started out with one page per month, but that wasn’t nearly enough space. Now each page has four days – that’s 32 boxes per sheet, and it’s still not enough room for all the plot twists.
I use lilac paper for these charts, and by now I’ve accumulated enough pages to make an impressive conceptual art piece in an avant garde gallery. I’m a member of a new coop gallery that has the perfect wall space, but I’d be ashamed to display such repetitive, obsessive-compulsive art under my real name – it’s embarrassing enough even to be writing about my addiction here.
I’ve also done family-therapy-style genograms of the characters on One Life to Live. At any given time, there are over 40 characters on the show, some major contract players and others occasional walk-ons. Diagramming their relationships is tricky, since the number of marriages and affairs is mind-boggling, and sometimes it seems everyone in the fictional town of Llanview, Pennsylvania, is related to everyone else in an incestuous hillbilly hollow.
The real reason I want to stop watching, aside from the fact that OLTL falls during my most productive writing time? Truth be told, I don’t like most of the characters that much. I’m a huge fan of Michael Easton, who plays Detective John McBain, and Mark Lawson, who plays former Navy Seal, Brody Lovett, isn’t bad either. There are some sympathetic middle-aged characters too, but they’re getting less and less air time, and the show is skewing more and more toward adolescence. Too many teenagers, and too many adults with the emotional maturity of teenagers.
So why am I still watching? Well, there was that impetuous bedroom scene with Natalie and Brody last week – how will their true loves John and Jessica react if they find out? Or not if but when, because that particular plot twist is too juicy to pass up. Then there’s that horndog Ford, who we last saw lying in a pool of blood, with Marco washing the blood off his hands. But is Marco truly capable of murder? Or did Hannah do it?
With so many plot lines on such a huge, complicated canvas, and half a dozen writers credited on every show, there’s something for everybody. And for a mystery writer, there’s a lot to learn about how to hook an audience.
When it comes to TV, which shows are your guilty pleasures? And do they have any redeeming value in terms of your plotting techniques?
*I did watch again, and Ford’s not dead after all – when last seen, he was being wheeled into the ICU. Cold turkey may be too much to expect, but at least I’ve given up those lilac plot charts, and I’m limiting myself to partial reruns on the SoapNet channel so as not to interrupt my prime writing time.