Mon. Jun 1st, 2020

“Revisiting the Golden Age of Soaps” by Paul E. Brogan

Although there may be signs and indications that the country is starting to reopen, the Covid 19 impact upon our lives will remain for months if not years to come. This national crisis has impacted the lives of everyone, to one degree or another.

It has forced us to reevaluate our priorities, change our lifestyles and way of doing things, and confront our mortality.

There have been, however, some positive sides to this situation. A renewed and deepened appreciation of one another. A slowing down of the often frenetic state in which we have found ourselves. I see more people out walking and seeming to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds them. Acts of kindness are rampant as people reach out to others to offer hope, inspiration and love. As in every tragic situation, there are rays of goodness and hope. 

The entertainment industry has suffered enormous losses and it will be a while before people are comfortable returning to movie theaters, stadiums to attend concerts and other public settings. 

For me, however, there has been a silver lining amidst the darkness. Because the shooting schedules for the two CBS Soap Operas broadcast daily, have been halted for the time being, CBS has taken to running classic episodes from the past. Both “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “The Young and the Restless” won’t be resuming production for some weeks or months. They are, however, providing millions with daily reminders of why “the soaps” have been an important part in the lives of so many viewers for so many decades.

Because “Days of Our Lives” on NBC shoots months in advance, they have enough episodes to continue into the fall. “General Hospital” a mainstay on ABC, has not yet run out of first-run episodes although they will be soon.
Over at the “eye network” (CBS), some savvy programmers and producers, have put together some amazing episodes from the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s and into the early part of the current millennium.

I am mesmerized watching the reason that “Y & R” and “B & B” have remained ratings winners for many years. It is never more apparent than when viewing episodes from the 80’s and 90’s. The production values from sets, costumes, camera work and even the background music, are comparable to what was being turned out in primetime. Of special note, is the acting and star quality of an amazing cast who bring their characters to vivid life.

“My soaps”, as we referred to them “back in the day” were “As The World Turns”, “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful”. To me, Oakdale (“World”) and Genoa City (“Y & R”) were real places. Of course Los Angeles the setting for “Bold” was real. 

I was certainly aware of the other soaps and knew friends who swore by them and their characters. Other than having a torrid affair with one of the 80’s heartthrobs from “General Hospital”, I don’t think I ever watched the show – even when Luke and Laura were wed in a much touted spectacle featuring Elizabeth Taylor. 

For me, at least, I found a certain comfort and escape whenever I would watch one of my soaps. For a few hours, all of the realities of the world around me and the pressures associated with work, were lifted. This was especially valuable during the many years in which I worked in the field of HIV/AIDS.

A day barely went by in which I was not forced to deal with the loss of a client. The pressures of raising funds to support a food pantry or to write a grant for testing. Each day I would speak with clients who were struggling to make ends meet or battling the serious side-effects brought on by medications they were forced to take. The work was gratifying and rewarding but also, at times, exhausting. My time with my soap operas would often leave me with a clearer head with which to start writing that all important grant.

Soaps were a launching pad for many actors and I feel sorry for those who seem reluctant to embrace or acknowledge their soap roots today. Soaps were a real “rep company” and the ability to tape five shows a week of an hour each, and learn pages and pages of dialogue, was a gift. 
Sadly today, soaps no longer hold sway to the degree that they did in the last century. Times have changed radically. Shows have been cancelled, leaving only 4 still airing. By necessity, budgets have been pruned and storylines no longer enjoy a leisurely unfolding while viewers await the payoff. 

“As The World Turns” was cancelled ten years ago after over a half century on the air. I still mourn the loss of the legendary Eileen Fulton, who played Lisa for most of the run and created an indelible and lasting character that viewers loved and hated at times. 

After 25 years on “The Bold and the Beautiful”, Susan Flannery stepped down as Stephanie about 8 years ago. While the show continues, her loss is still felt by many as is the loss of Darlene Conley who portrayed Sally Spectre in an unforgettable way. Some of her scenes with Susan Flannery should be must viewing for anyone with an appreciation for fine acting and chemistry between actors. 

The passing parade has taken many of the legends of daytime including Jeanne Cooper from “Y & R”. Seeing her once again light up the screen during the current run of classic episodes, makes one appreciate, all the more, what made viewers tune in daily or set their recorders for later viewings. 
I was fortunate enough to know some of these ladies or to at least have a passing acquaintance with them. 

Eileen answered by call, innumerable times, when I needed a “Star” to help raise money and awareness of HIV/AIDS in New Hampshire. When she brought her nightclub act to “The Granite State”, fans came from hundreds of miles to watch, enthralled. Afterwards, she stayed for hours, signing autographs, smiling for pictures and answering questions. She even got up before sunrise, to go on an early morning radio show, to tout the work of our non-profit agency. 

One of the very special reasons that “Y & R” and “B & B” have led the ratings races for so long and are still providing entertainment, was due to the couple who used their talents, skills and hearts, to create the shows. William Bell and his amazing wife, Lee Phillip Bell, did more than just about anyone else, to take the soap opera genre to a new level of excellence. 

Although Bill and Lee had considerable credentials prior to arriving at CBS Television City, it was at CBS that they truly created a lasting dynasty and family.  It was a place where they flourished and where their two talented sons learned the business, and their beloved actress daughter, Lauralee, became an audience favorite. The Bells nurtured their “family”, and created a creative environment unlike any other. 

While I only met Bill Bell once, I frequently ran into his wife while I worked in Television City in the early 90’s. In fact my first job, in Network Sales, found me working right down the hall from her office.

On my first day, I ran into Darlene Conley as she was exiting Lee’s office. On my second day, I walked down the hall with Lee, who asked my name with genuine interest. From that day onward, each time we ran into one another, she always addressed me as “Paul”.

In December of 1992, I played Santa Claus for the CBS Employee’s Christmas Party/movie screening. I mentioned it to Lee when I saw her in the studio commissary one day. 

The party was scheduled for a Saturday and Lee arranged to have a make-up and hair person from “Y & R” come in to do my Santa makeover, “…to make sure you genuinely look like the real deal…”

When our good friend, Greg York, who’d been the Costume Designer for “Y & R” for many wears, winning an Emmy for his efforts in 1993, passed away at the age of 34, Lee sent me a warm, personal note to New Hampshire, where I had recently returned to live. Like all of Greg’s friends from the show including Jess Walton, Melody Thomas Scott, Christian LeBlanc, Victoria Rowell and others, the Bell’s had been hoping and praying for a miracle to spare Greg. She shared her personal feelings in her note.

Watching these classic gems as they unwind each day on CBS, reminds me of why I loved the show and being a part of “the community” while working at CBS. As it did during the AIDS crisis, these shows do much to let me temporarily forget what is surrounding us now and return to our “new normal” with a slightly freshened attitude.

Brad Bell in office working on a draft of a B&B script

Give it a try. When you’re in the comfort of your home, your mask removed and feeling a bit safer, find your local CBS affiliate and tune in. The glossy productions and ageless acting, not to mention entertaining storylines, will do wonders for you. Who knows, it might even turn you into a fan.  

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Written By: Paul Brogan, Sr. Contributing Editor, Entertainment Writer At-Large

Photographs are Courtesy:   File; Paul Brogan’s Private Collection; JPI Studios, ABC; NBC

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