She’s back

No, I’m not talking about Laura Horton, though her appearance was a nice surprise and a great Friday cliffhanger.

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Hold me. Dena’s back.

I’m talking about Dena Higley. The material that she and her new co-writer Ryan Quan (after the departure of Josh Griffith) will begin airing next week.

I’m not defending the last few months of writing. It was terrible. Whatever Josh Griffith did right last fall was not on display these last few months (when Dena was on her supposed “leave of absence”). I can only guess as to why it was so bad — it felt like I was watching a show where no one was in charge. I tend to think there was a bitter power struggle going on, and what we saw was the hangover of that struggle. How else to explain, for instance, Jen’s motives for trying to take Thomas. First, she was regretful because Chad loved Abby and was grieving, but she felt she had to do it anyway. Then she insisted he was a horrible Dimera and that’s why she had to do it. Then she blamed him for Abby’s death. Then, after her own fall off the wagon she admits she shouldn’t have Thomas, but still insists that Chad shouldn’t either. But she tells him that he is a “good man.”

Oooookay. And of course, the completely logical outcome of this power struggle is that … Lucas and Adrienne are going to take Thomas. Why didn’t I think of that? Maybe because it makes absolutely no sense.

So while I don’t mourn the end of … whatever we were just watching, I can’t celebrate Dena’s return either, with or without Ryan Quan by her side. It feels more like “out of the frying pan, into the fire.”

But like so many of you out there, I’m nothing if not — dediciated? masochistic? insane? So I’ll still be watching. Cheers.

Who’s running this ship?

I enjoy thinking about the process of writing a soap. I enjoy looking for signature characteristics of different headwriters, good and bad. I have prided myself on my ability to get inside the writer’s mind, think about what they were going for, and evaluate how well it was working. This is really fun when the stories are good, but it can even be fun when they aren’t, because you can think about what the goal was (turn X into a heroine … redeem Y … create a romance for Z) and suggest ways that the story could have been better.

I have to say, I have been utterly flummoxed for the last few months. I felt I have a handle on Dena’s writing style from knowing it in her last run, and it was on display in January and February (the big car accident, the Ava story). I felt I knew a little bit about Josh Griffith’s style from watching last fall, and certain elements of it were on display in March and April (the Yo Ling story, Abby going crazy) — but since then I can’t make head or tail of who is in control. Dena was supposedly on a leave of absence while what we are watching was being written. So this should be Josh (and Beth Milstein) in full control. So why isn’t what we are watching anywhere near as good as what we saw last fall? Some possible explanations:

  1. Dena is a better writer than I am giving her credit for, and she had a hand in last fall’s stories. What we are watching now is what Josh is like alone.
  2. Beth Milstein is a bad writer and a bad influence.
  3. Josh had one good story in him, and that was the Necktie Killer story, and now he is totally at sea.
  4. Dena still had influence. She and Josh were both jockeying for full control, and the writing suffered.
  5. Josh is gone now, so Dena is gutting his stories and rewriting and re-filming stuff.
  6. No one is writing the show. They are getting scripts from the paint huffers in the alley.

I actually think that #4 is the most likely explanation. I think this because we have been hearing about cut scenes and dropped stories for the last 3 or 4 months, with no letup in sight. For example, quality aside, if Josh was in full control, why would he bring back Aiden so soon after killing him off? It honestly feels like a the stories are a product of that children’s game, where you pass a story around the room with each person adding a little bit. Stories start up and change direction or are entirely dropped.

Another example: they seemed to be setting up a “who killed Diemos” story, giving everyone a motive. Victor, Justin, Phillip , and Hope were all given motives, along with Kate and Nicole. Now he’s back, and it looks like all of those things are being dropped. Steve and Kayla looked like they were getting a Mr. Simple triangle with Fynn, and I was genuinely excited for it. Now it looks like that is dropped too. The cast is going through another bloodletting: Summer, Belle, Shawn, Lani, Fynn, Phillip are all gone. They might still be on my screen for months, but it’s hard to get invested when I know they’re leaving. It’s all so inconsistent. It really feels like no one is in charge.

I’m sorry I haven’t posted much lately. The thing is, I don’t really enjoy writing about the show when it’s bad. I like to be optimistic and praise the show when it does something well, and suggest helpful things to make it better when it’s not going as well. But right now — I’ll enjoy a scene, or see a glimmer of a story setup that intrigues me, and my next thought will be, how is the show going to screw this up or squander its potential? I can’t even go to my fallback — suggesting ways that it could be better — because I can’t make head or tail of what the show is even trying to do.

 

On a leash

So, how about that Emmy win, eh?

It was so gratifying as a Mary Beth fan to watch her win the Emmy, after so many years! Back in the 80’s, I always felt her acting, and her character, was overshadowed by Stephen Nichols’ showier Steve. And don’t get me wrong, I love my Stephen and Steve. But I always thought about that old saying about Ginger Rogers: she had to do everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels.

So it felt particularly nice to see how happy Stephen was at her win, to the point of weeping openly:

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Awww.

Today was a decent episode. I am delighted at the return of jealous Steve. I loved his “You need to keep a shorter leash on your dingo” when Fynn was being protective. Stephen plays jealous very, very well, and it’s been criminally underused. It was one of my very favorite things about their first run, with Chris, and with Jack. And as I’ve talked about, we really need to see Steve worry and wonder a little bit about Kayla. Fynn is pretty much a nonentity here so far, and it would be nice if they beefed up his character a little … but I’m not holding my breath.

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I thought their conversation about Joey was well done. It wasn’t exactly subtle, but it hit some really good points. Steve challenged her for not telling him about Joey’s arrest, and Kayla turned it around — “this is why I didn’t tell you” — when it looked like Steve just wanted to rush to the rescue again. Both of them had good reasons to be frustrated, hurt, and angry, and it felt very real.

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I also enjoyed the conversation Steve and Joey, though it would have packed more punch if we had seen Joey agonizing over the fact that he killed Ava. It would be nice for the show to connect the dots and show Joey wanting to leave town because he felt guilty for his role in the Ava mess, feeling his parents would be better off without him. That would connect nicely to Steve’s tendencies in that direction, and would make me more sympathetic to Joey. As it is, his harebrained scheme to take off to LA with Jade feels really stupid. I can’t even tell how much he is supposed to be in love with Jade. I think it’s pretty clear Jade has some secrets, and it feels like the height of idiocy for Joey to be taken in by Jade so soon after being taken in by Ava.

But, jealous Steve!! Kayla in a red dress! Mary Beth an Emmy winner!!

Gifs from the Salem Hourglass Tumblr blog

Come back

Sorry I’ve been a bit MIA lately. Work and home have been busy, but I think mostly I’m feeling depressed about the show, ever since the announcement of Josh’s departure and Dena’s return. The show has gotten better over the last month, and I can definitely see Josh’s stamp on things. But I’m having a hard time getting excited about the show, knowing it won’t last. I know Higley’s stuff won’t show up for awhile, but it still feels like a big, looming dead end.

Also, I’m sure many of you have heard the news that Martha Madison, Brandon Beemer, Sal Stowers (Lani), and Marie Wilson (Summer) have all been let go. I can’t say I’m devastated by any of these exits, but I’m kind of exhausted by the revolving door, the constant drumbeat of comings and goings. Is Days ever not in a state of flux?

The darkness that didn’t bother me last fall has been bothering me lately. Joey a murderer, Ciara’s rape, Steve’s rape, Hope’s killing of Stefano, Hope and Rafe framing Andre … and Roman covering up for everyone. He did it again today, when he declined to take Joey’s confession and instead colluded to cover it up and let Steve take the fall. ROMAN IS THE WORST COP IN THE WORLD.

But today was good, for all that. James Lastovic was excellent showing Joey’s desperation to confess, and his frustration at not being allowed to. The Ciara/Hope scene hit a lot of the right notes, especially when Ciara said that she knew she shouldn’t feel ashamed but she did, and when Hope said it would always be with her but it would get better.

But this, of course, was the high note for me:

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For all my frustration with Joey the murderer, Stephen and Mary Beth have been doing excellent work with their part of the storyline. I loved Kayla’s line today that she lied to Stephanie: “I’m getting pretty good at it.” Such ruefulness in her tone. I loved Steve’s words to Joey too, when he asked him to let him do this, to make up for being gone all those years.

With everything that has been happening, they haven’t had time to really deal with the fallout of what happened with Ava, but I’m kind of liking that. Sometimes it’s more exciting when these moments can come in between the cracks of the big drama. Don’t get me wrong, I want a big hash-it-out conversation, but these little bits have been surprisingly effective. “You’d better come back.” Yes.

 

Failing up

Well, most of you have probably heard the latest news. Josh Griffith has left the show. Dena Higley will stay on, and breakdown and dialogue writer Ryan Quan will join her as co-headwriter. It’s not clear whether Josh left voluntarily or not. My suspicion is that this is due to a combination of the recent renewal (which probably involved budget cuts) and a power play between Dena and Josh.

I’m sick about this. I like Josh Griffith. I really do not like Dena Higley. Even when she has a decent idea the execution is always terrible. What does she have on Ken Corday, so that he keeps hiring her and supporting her?

On Daytime Royalty they are talking about organizing a fan campaign to get rid of her. Apparently this worked once before, in 2011. I’ll keep you all posted about that, if anyone is interested in participating.

As for today’s show, I thought it was quite good. Vivian Jovanni did well, better than I thought she would. And Joey and Theo were so sweet. Chase’s text “R U Okay?” was creepy, in a (sort of) good way. It shows he is going to convince himself it wasn’t rape and he’s not a bad guy. To say I’m not on board with this story is an understatement, but I’ll give it a chance if it’s executed well.

I thought the Eric/Jennifer scenes were great. When he said “I wish it was me too” – sob. Truly heartbreaking. Jen’s pill addiction happened way too fast, but I like that Eric called her out on it. Another great line: “What do you grab hold of when there’s nothing left to hold on to?” And then the kiss, which didn’t bother me. The show is obviously not going for Ericole, so let’s get Eric some action while he’s still in town. If they give me more scenes like today, I’ll take it.

My favorite part of the episode was (surprisingly) the Andre/Hope/Rafe scenes.

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I am so angry with Rafe and Hope, and their smugness, right now. I’m not sure if that’s what the show intends for me to feel, but it made me appreciate Andre’s jabs, and Lani’s suspicious looks, and Roman’s doubts. I’m actually invested in this story for the first time, because I want them to be caught. In addition to Lani’s suspicions (and clear dislike of Hope), I have a feeling that Chad is going to believe in Andre’s innocence. This might get interesting.

Sigh. Still depressed.

Higley Piggely

My daughter watched part of Wednesday’s show with me, and when I explained to her about Chad’s brainwashing, she shook her head and said, “Mom, why do you watch this show?” So, thanks a lot, Days, for putting me in a position to be judged by a 10 year old.

These stories are definitely Dena Higley material. Back in her last run, we had Ava, Nighttime Hope, and pawn John. Now we have Ava, revenge Hope, and brainwashed Chad. Marlena’s role of “believing in John” “I have to get through to him” — while John treated her horribly — has a perfect echo in Abby now. Higley also featured a business storyline with Kate, with Madison as her younger rival, similar to Theresa now — down to also being Brady’s love interest.

Repeating herself is only one problem, though. After all, soaps recycle stories by the dozens. Another Higley staple is the way she moves people around like chess pieces, leaving it up to the viewer to understand why these people are behaving like they are. Why do Steve and Kayla forgive Ava, and more importantly, believe that she’s truly repentant? Why is Kate persecuting and possibly sabotaging Theresa? Why is Marlena willing to believe Chad is conspiring with the Dimeras? Why is Belle so eager to jump into dating other men? What is driving Phillip to be Mr. Bad Business guy, to the point of breaking the law? Why doesn’t he run screaming from Belle, who cheated on him once before? Why is Abby obsessing about Chad and nothing else? Why is Eric drinking? Why is everyone so eager to believe Theresa has changed?

No wonder Higley likes brainwashing, memory-erasing, “the pills made me do it” stories so much — with stories like these, you don’t even have to think about character!

The degree to which these things are working — and some of them are — is dependent mostly on the actors selling it, the scriptwriters who fill in some blanks, and how much fanwanking is required. I see many Chabby fans filling in the blanks about Abby’s motivations. Steve had a lovely speech about forgiveness (and I loved Kayla’s speech on Thursday about forgiving Ava so she would leave town). Martha Madison is selling me on Belle’s eagerness for male attention in the wake of her divorce. But so many things we just have to take on faith.

Incidentally, in Higley’s last run, this “move the chess pieces” contributed to my biggest pet peeve — the quick coupling and uncoupling that everyone went through. Dena decides that so and so is in love with so and so, and bam! Done.

It makes me wonder if Dena and Josh, far from being collaborators, divided up the show by month. Josh took September, October, and November, and Dena took December, and …

This is where it gets interesting. It was announced on August 16 that Higley would be taking a leave of absence. According to Jason47’s tape-to-air schedule, that corresponds with material that will air at the end of January/beginning of February. Inquiring minds want to know if what we are watching now didn’t go over so well with TPTB, and they eased Higley out, giving her this face-saving cover story. (They are also probably still paying her, since writer contracts don’t have the “outs” that actor contracts do.)

Part of me is very doubtful about this theory, simply because TPTB, in my opinion, would judge her success based on ratings, not on whether they personally liked these stories. But, the exception would be Josh Griffith, since his name is on these stories too. Does he want his reputation tied to brainwashing Chad with kittens? He might have lobbied some higher-up to let him have full control, and won.

If that’s true, more power to him! If I’m right that Griffith’s material is what we saw in Sept-Nov, I would take that any day of the week over what we’ve seen the last month. There is only one thing that I would say Higley does better than Griffith, and that is balancing out airtime. This is not insignificant, because it did annoy me that we had two A stories for those three months (Chabby/Ben and the Steve/Bo return), and everything else was absolutely starved for oxygen.

But think about this. We had two men who were given character 180s within those three months — Aiden and Ben. And they both worked! The difference is that we saw the transformation happen. It happened quickly but we saw it happen. It wasn’t just “Ben took some pills so he’s crazy now” like we saw with Nick (and Hope, and Ava …)

One thing that I had heard about Dena even before her last run is that she “writes events, not stories.” I would agree, but I would also add that she writes events rather well. That brings me to the last two days. I love events where the whole town gets together. I thought this was better than the bicentennial in that way —

First of all, I know he wears it all the time but, damn, Steve looks good in basic black:

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Some great little moments for Steve and Kayla. I loved Steve’s new year’s resolution, “Stay put, and not screw up.” (And John was really cute saying, “Hey, that was gonna be mine.”) I loved when Kayla told Steve, “I was scared about given you my heart again, but the truth is you’ve always had it.” It makes me nervous how adorable and happy Steve and Kayla have been, though. The last time I remember a couple being this over the moon happy was Haiden in the summer — and we all know how that turned out.

We got to see Eric and Nicole in the same frame:

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Though it just makes my heart hurt now, thinking about what could have been.

Boy, were the anvils dropping that Daniel is going to die. When does a character on a soap ever say that his life is “perfect” except when something awful is about to happen? The video call to Nicole, seconds before the crash, was really stupid. A voicemail or phone call would have worked fine. Obviously I’m not a Danicole fan so maybe none of this would have worked for me anyway, but they have been on so little that I don’t feel at all that Nicole is having her hard-earned happiness snatched from her. That seems to be what they are going for.

Daniel and Nicole’s relationship, Eric’s drinking, we’ve only seen these things in little bits and snatches. (And what was Jennifer doing there?) The setup to the big car crash has been very sketchy. But I have to admit the crash was a great, dramatic cliffhanger for the end of the episode. This is clearly going to be a Dena-style Event (like the plane crash in 2008) that creates ripples all over the canvas, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

I thought the reveal of Thomas’s parentage was sloppily done. It felt slapped together, almost an afterthought. Ben the serial killer takes time away from plotting Abby’s kidnapping to donate blood! Hey, that makes sense! But I did enjoy this scene:

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I liked that they made it clear before Abby went over there that she wasn’t expecting this news to magically make things right for her and Chad. “I can’t even think about that.” That set the scene nicely, so that instead of being devastated and running away in tears, she stayed and scolded them both. “You barely know her” and “You’re married!” Hee! And I thought Billy and Martha played their reactions perfectly.

I’ve had such a fun year blogging and discussing the show with all of you, and I look forward to more in 2016! Happy New Year, everybody!

 

 

 

Brunch with Stephen and Mary Beth

Now onto Day 2 – the brunch!

My friend Erica got there early and saved seats for MamaPickford and me in the very front! Thank you, Erica!

Here again I got to meet more online friends, including the woman behind Daytime Royalty and another woman who used to post at Television without Pity back in the glory days (this led to much reminiscing). I also met more people from the S&K Twitter group. I have to say, one of the best things about this weekend was meeting people that I “know” online, who are as passionate and interested in this little corner of the world as I am!

Everything kicked off with Stephen and Mary Beth coming up onto the stage.

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The first thing that struck me is how at ease they are with each other, how much they obviously like each other. The second is how much they wanted all of us, the fans, to have a good time. Mary Beth asked for stools to be brought out so they would be high enough for everyone in the audience to see. When she climbed up onto hers, she used Stephen’s thigh as a prop to help herself up, and she joked about letting her hand slip. Hee!

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Mary Beth looked adorable, as you can see, in what she identified as an outfit from Reese Witherspoon’s clothing line. You can see it better here on her Instagram. Stephen was all in black, and was wearing the same jacket he wears on the show.

They started by answering questions from the audience. I don’t think there was a kibosh on revealing any of what they said, so here we go – I’ll remember as much as I can.

Stephen said he would love for them to be on the show as long as it airs, eventually aging into a Doug and Julie-type role. He said that would be in fifty years, then amended it to twenty. Mary Beth said, “Twenty for you, thirty for me.” Hee!

They said that the next few months are going to be a “roller coaster” of a story, that we won’t like everything that happens (Mary Beth made a face when she said that — I’m guessing this is Ava-related!) but hang in there, there are lots of twists and turns.

They talked about the drudgery of memorizing so much material, and how little rehearsal time there is. Mary Beth said she’s always running around to find people she has scenes with, to get them to rehearse with her. She said that when it’s time to tape a scene, she just has to let it all go, look into Stephen’s eyes, and she’s ready.

One fan asked who they would like to work with that they haven’t worked with much. Stephen mentioned Billy Flynn. Mary Beth mentioned how much she enjoyed working with Kate Mansi, and Stephen said he had filmed a scene with her recently. So at some point, we’ll get a Uncle Steve/Abby scene!

Another question was what happened to old sets. Mary Beth brought up the loft, how much she loved that sliding door. Stephen said, “The rooftop.” (Be still, my heart!) Stephen said that they haven’t used that set, but the spiral staircase from the loft will be featured in a few months, and to look for a shot of him descending it. They said that Steve and Kayla do get a place to live, and Mary Beth said that she loves the way it’s decorated – the colors, everything about it is what she would have picked out.

Someone asked if they ever had to act something that went against their morals or beliefs. I was bracing myself for a Shayla mention, but that didn’t come up. 🙂 Mary Beth said that recently Kayla had some dialogue she didn’t think Kayla would say, and she approached TPTB and was able to get it changed. They both said that collaboration is more possible now, and they can have input into their scenes. Mary Beth teased Stephen about how much he always marked up his scripts. They mentioned Shelley Curtis, a producer from 80’s Days, and how she told them that the dialogue doesn’t matter, to use it a vehicle to show the underlying connection of the characters, and they really took that to heart. They also said that in the end, they have a job to do, and they have to do their best with what they’re given.

Speaking of Shayla: they talked about how fans have named their children after these characters. (Stephen said he met a woman at a book signing recently who named her son “Patch”!) Mary Beth told a story of sledding with her kids, and overhearing a mother calling to hers: “Come on, Shane, come on, Kayla!” I wish I had a picture of the face she made!

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Stephen had to leave the stage at one point to take out his contacts and put on his glasses. He said that he has a hard time seeing with his patch on, because his eyes have gotten worse over the years. Aw!

At one point, Mary Beth called herself a “talker” and Stephen said “No!” with mock surprise. Sometimes when there was a question for Stephen, Mary Beth would start to answer. Stephen would turn to her and say, “Can I talk?” Hee!

After the Q&A they drew tickets for prizes. We’d all been given a raffle ticket on the way in. Prizes were Steve and Kayla or Days of Our Lives merchandise: frames, mugs, pins, tote bag, and hats. One of the prizes was a Days of Our Lives coffee mug that Stephen had used. Mary Beth wiped it on her sweater, joking that she needed to wipe off Stephen’s lip prints. My mom called out, “Oh, you don’t need to do that!” and then Stephen read the winning number. My mom had won! Hee!

Stephen brought her the mug and hugged her, and just like with Drake, she kissed him on the cheek. MOM!

Next up was a Days of Our Lives baseball cap and keychain, and I won. Surprise! Stephen asked if we were mother and daughter, and when we said we were, he said, “Wow, lucky family. ” Yes, yes, we are, Stephen. Mary Beth brought me my prize, and gave me a hug.

After we ate, we lined up for autographs and pictures. When it was my turn, I was introduced as having a blog about Days of Our Lives. They asked me the name of it, and when I told them, Stephen said, “Oh, I’ve seen that.”

DEAD.

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Thank you, Stephen and Mary Beth!

Now, off to catch up on Days!