LB: If I Hadn’t Made It in Television, I Would’ve Been a Comic Book Writer

…Like my buddies Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. (Although Gerry did a fine job of escaping that ghetto, didn’t he, by rising to Co-Executive Producer of LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, among other TV shows?).

I’ve always thought that those working in the two media had a lot in common, and recently two writers still working in comic books have cemented that theory – John Ostrander and Martha Thomases. Here’s Martha’s take on soap opera, which coincidentally happens to be right in line with, yeah, you guessed it – mine.

Thomases Art 130111 Martha Thomases SoapSoap by Martha Thomases (ComicMix.Com)

Oh, Pine Valley! I have missed you so!

But my prayers have been answered, and All My Children will soon be back, if only on the Internet. And while it won’t feel real to me unless they get backErica Kane or Zach, I think this is a real win for those of us who like our entertainment niche.

Soap operas are not new. They were a staple of radio drama and easily made the transition to television. Usually, the focus would be on one or two families, and the drama that resulted when love, greed, hate and intrigue enmeshed them with each other and their neighbors.

Conventional wisdom maintained that this kind of entertainment was for women, especially housewives. They would watch “their stories” as they did the ironing or dusted. Every day, for 30 to 60 minutes (including commercials), they could vicariously experience the lives of beautiful people, with a cliffhanger at the end, ensuring a date with tomorrow’s show. When (white, middle-class) women went into the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s, it was assumed the genre would die.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the soap opera mutated. It invaded primetime, where shows like Dallasand Dynasty were monster hits. Soap elements – relationship dramas among the characters that couldn’t be solved with a laugh, a gunfight, or magic – invaded cop shows, doctor shows and more. Do you think you’d have The Sopranoswithout General Hospital? If so, you think wrong.

(My point is not that David Chase is a soap opera fan – although he may be – but that network executives wouldn’t have gone for the pilot without a profitable precedent.)

What ultimately drove the soaps off network television was the cost, and the continued segmentation of the audience. It’s expensive to have daily shows with big casts, big sets, and lots of writers. The talk shows that replaced the soaps are way cheaper, and product placement is much easier (although I will always remember with fondness the month that AMC had Campbell’s Soup as a sponsor, and therefore soup solved everything). They don’t get the same audience as the soaps, but they don’t need to.

The solution? The Internet. It’s taken a while for the producers to get it together with finances, and unions, but now it looks like they have.

It’s an interesting parallel to comics. Hollywood is making a ton of money from superheroes, but sales of floppies appeal to a much, much smaller audience. And, again, the Internet provides a way not only to grow the readership, but to level the playing field for those creators (and readers) who don’t want to limit themselves to one genre, or one business model.

The folks trying to resuscitate All My Children have already signed up Angie. Get Tad, and I’m there.

Did I mention that several of my friends have been writing soaps for umpteen million years too? Wonder if they can speak about comic books so wisely.

About LB

Larry Brody has been profiled in such national magazines and websites as Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, Starlog, People, Electronic Media, IndieSlate, TechTV, io9, and of course TV Guide. A legendary figure in the television writing and production world, with a career going back to the late ’60s, Brody has written and produced literally thousands of hours of network and syndicated television. Brody has also been active in the TV animation world, writing, creating, consulting, and/or supervising the cult favorite STAR TREK animated TV series, the SILVER SURFER, SPAWN, SUPERMAN, SPIDERMAN, and SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED animated series, and was showrunner of the French animated series, DIABOLIK, as well as part of the team that developed and wrote the live-action/cgi animation sci-fi series Ace Lightning for the BBC. Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys.

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