Tuesday, September 25, 2007

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

They are known as Marland’s Rules. 10 edicts that the Emmy winning soap writer outlined as the template for how to write a winning daytime drama (a.k.a. How Not To Wreck a Show).

Douglas Marland was the Headwriter for General Hospital from 1977-1979, Guiding Light from 1979-1982 and As The World Turns from 1985 until his death in 1993. (There were also stints on The Doctors and Loving, which he co-created).

He penned many memorable characters and storylines, and won the hearts of millions of soap fans. But how well did Marland really follow his own rules?

Marland Rule # 4
Be objective…. What is pleasing the audience? You have to put your own personal likes and dislikes aside and develop the characters that the audience wants to see.


When Marland took over GH in 1977, the main story revolved around Nurse Jessie, Dr. Steve, his wife Audrey, and her back-from-the-dead-husband, Tom. Laura Weber was last seen as a freckle-faced pre-teen and Scotty Baldwin was the rarely on stepson of lawyer Lee. Within months of Marland’s arrival, Laura (re-cast Genie Francis) was a surly teen dragged out of a cult by her biological mother and busy falling for mom’s boyfriend as well as the now law-school aged Scotty. A whole new family, the Quartermaines, had arrived in town (and the not-yet-Quartermaine Monica quickly recast), as well as a former-hooker turned student-nurse named Bobbie. Jessie, Steve and Audrey took up residence behind the nurse’s desk and rarely left it again.

Marland Rule #6
Don't change a core character. You can certainly give them edges they didn't have before, or give them a logical reason to change their behavior. But when the audience says, "He would never do that," then you have failed.

Before Marland, ATWT's Dusty Donovan (Brian Bloom; above) was the vagabond son of a cowboy. He loved horses, the outdoors, and was the bad boy Lily's (Martha Byrne; above) mama lion, Lucinda, was constantly warning her sheltered daughter to stay away from (to the point of setting Lily up with every "more suitable" preppy who came along). After Marland, the role of unacceptable bad boy was handed to Holden. So Dusty had to become the humorless, judgmental, Harvard aspiring stick-in-the-mud in comparison. Even Dusty's cowboy shirt wardrobe was passed on to Holden (when Holden wore a shirt, that is) as Dusty suddenly began donning buttoned up collars and Bill Cosby sweaters.

Marland Rule #7
Build new characters slowly. Everyone knows that it takes six months to a year for an audience to care about a new character. Tie them in to existing characters. Don't shove them down the viewers' throats.


When Douglas Marland took over GL in 1979, the Bauers were still front and center, and the Spauldings had been introduced two years before. Within a year of his tenure, we watched just-got-into-town Ross Marler prosecuting newcomer Jennifer for murder, the Chamberlain family moving into Spaulding Enterprises, a front-burner triangle for youngsters Kelly, Morgan and Nola, plus the addition of Nola’s mother, Bea, and the Reardon boarding house.

For ATWT in 1985, Marland promptly introduced Shannon, Sierra, and Stewart (nothing in the rules about overuse of the letter “S“), then wrote a murder mystery featuring victim Marie Kovac, who’d only joined the show a few months earlier, and equally new suspects Kevin, Ken and Tad. The killer turned out to be the similarly new Doug (Marland favorite John Wesley Shipp; ex-Kelly, GL), who was later murdered by Marsha, a woman who joined the show the same time he did. (To be fair, the mystery also encompassed Bob, Kim and a recently recast -- with Julianne Moore -- Frannie, but everyone else in it was created just to serve the newbie-filled story).

More importantly, though, 1985 brought to Oakdale the Snyder family. Headed by Earth-mother Emma, they were a many-sibling, fatherless clan who lived a life of virtuous poverty on a farm. Unlike the Reardons of GL, the Snyder farm was merely an unofficial boarding house for every lonely ingenue looking to slum away from home (which probably explained the virtuous poverty; at least Bea expected rent for her trouble).

Soon afterwards, innocent, virginal, rich girl Lily became embroiled in a triangle with medical school bound Dusty and social climbing farm girl, Meg, who even faked a pregnancy to get Dusty for herself. Which was nothing at all like the triangle between innocent, virginal, rich girl Morgan, medical student Kelly and social climbing boarding house girl Nola, who even faked a pregnancy to get Kelly for herself on GL. (And neither bore the slightest resemblance to innocent, virginal, rich girl Laura, law student Scotty and social climbing cat house girl Bobbie, who even faked a pregnancy to get Scotty for herself on GH). When Marland had a story he liked telling, he’d shoe-horn (dare we say shove down viewers throats) it into any show.

Douglas Marland left daytime television an incredible body of work and an unimpeachable legacy. But even he knew his own rules were made to be broken.

18 comments:

Loger said...

Marland's worst day is a million times better than anything we see today on daytime soaps. It's sad what budget constraints, producers with no vision and recycled writers can do the serialized genre that is thriving in prime time but dying in daytime.

Characters on ATWT like Meg and Paul and Rosanna (and on and on) are so confusing these days. I don't understand their motivations, what they're all about, who they love and WHY they do anything they do. Marland's characters were so well thought out and seemed like real people.

I don't know why this is, but even the writing from one day to a next is so inconsistent these days. I would love to see an interview with Jean Passanante or Chris Goutman that really dives into some of the budget issues - lack of sets, lack of actors crossing stories, lack of consistency, etc. Perhaps if we knew why some of this was happening, it would be easier to take.

Oakdalian said...

Are you sure you want to show up the Goutman/Passanante regime for all its flaws with this post? ATWT isn't following ONE of those rules. LOL. No one in charge has the intention of following them either. Loger, last week Goutman appeared on a Chicago radio show with Van Hansis and Jake Silbermann, saying that the Luke/Noah romance has been treated like any other on the show. How is that, when Meg, Craig and Paul or Carly, Jack and Katie have been featured for days on end as Luke and Noah have averaged 1-2 episodes per week for months?

Oakdalian said...

I just had to come back and say it takes a LOT of nerve for the production company whose series garnered a renaissance of critical acclaim and awards because of Marland's writing to sponsor a blog that tears his work apart. Just face it, any writers coming to ATWT after him will be held to the standard of his excellence until they match or exceed it. He was THAT GOOD. What was the point of this anyway, to say he wasn't perfect? We knew that. The present day Oakdale is no better for the effort. ATWT is only getting recognized now because it's incrementally better than other fading shows in some respects. Maybe Marland bent his own rules, but at least he had some.

Esther said...

unimpeachable legacy

Which you certainly did your darndest (and a bit of shoe-horning yourself) to impeach. If he's so bad, whom do you hold in higher esteem? Or were you doing this just to generate comments (and my ire, lol)? ;)

Doug did break a few rules he set, like staying at ATWT longer than he suggests one should to stay fresh. But like loger said, I'd take Doug's bad stuff over the stuff from today's hacks.

PS: Oakdalian, love your last statement.

Miss Holt said...

So what if Doug Marland broke a few rules he created? Big deal! His work was still great to watch. GL's David Kreizman doesn't follow ANY of those rules. All he does is destroy, destroy and again, destroy. He doesn't care about any character or the show. I swear it's like Ellen Wheeler and Kreizman are just waiting for GL to be cancelled. They should be BOTH be fired before it's too late.

Eric said...

Fair enough--one thing that wasn't in Marland's rules but that he sucked at particularly at ATWT was murder mysteries (some of his gothic stories didn't really work either). The man wasn't infallible. Some of your "breaking his own rules" though I think you have to put in context--the GH one especially. That show needed drastic FAST changes--it was on the verge of cancelation and if Marland wanted the soap to survive, and mor eimportantly for his first time as a headwriter after working at AW under Lemay, his JOB he had to vastly change around the playing field. Maybe audiences liek the people who were originally behind the hospital desk but the ratings certainly didn't show this.

Rashad Khan said...

I think Abraham Lincoln said it best: "It is better to remain silent and merely be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Scarlett Echo said...

"Oakdalian said, "The present day Oakdale is no better for the effort. ATWT is only getting recognized now because it's incrementally better than other fading shows in some respects. Maybe Marland bent his own rules, but at least he had some."

Well said.

Marland's work puts TIIC currently to shame. You'll find more longtime ATWT viewers remember Marland's ATWT much more fondly than any other period of the show and for good reason.

The current team seems hell-bent on breaking every rule with an arrogance that somehow they can do it better.

Note to TPTB: You're failing across the board and if it weren't for the amazing cast and the faithful fans of those actors this show would have bitten the dust years ago.

PrincessSparky05 said...

Whether Marland broke some of his own rules or not isn't the point. It doesn't excuse the present PTB's lack of structure, balance, and continuity for ATWT today - and it shows. Two wrongs don't make a right.

The important thing is that Marland developed intelligent, logical rules for a successful soap, and IMO, they should be followed by every daytime writer - especially the current ones of this show.

And I agree - actor loyalty is the only reason why I'm still watching right now.

dharmabum said...

Reading between the lines, this is what I inferred you were really trying to say....

Dear Longterm ATWT Fans,

Stop quoting Marland's rules as if they are the ten commandments or something. He really wasn't all that, and anyway we don't care that you think we insult your intelligence on a daily basis with glaring character inconsistencies, rewritten history, and huge plot holes. Actually, if you are watching our show, you probably aren't that intelligent anyway. After all, it's just a soap! It's not like it's some sort of iconic show that's been on air more years than some of us have been alive, with a fanbase who passed down their viewing habits from mother to daughter over the years. I mean, remember, with Marland, young rebel Dusty stopped wearing plaid shirts and decided to become a doctor of all things... coincidentally right around the time he grew close to his surrogate father John Dixon, who was also a doctor. It's really no different than the sweet nerdy Adam Munson-Hughes (who grew up onscreen with nary a violent or overly malicious tendency) moving to LA and then mysteriously returning as a ruthless villain and would be sister-in-law rapist without any sign of a conscience, or Brad Snyder returning as Jack's younger brother instead of his older brother with no mention of their painful history with alcoholic mother Delores that caused them to become estranged because it kinda doesn't jive with the whole older brother is now younger thing...right? Right?

Now pipe down and stop complaining, because we are smarter than you and that's why we run the show and you just watch it...err, uh, I mean, we care about your opinions. Really we do.

Love,

The Powers That Be


Of course, I could be wrong. *raises eyebrow*

Scarlett Echo said...

dharmabum,

You've hit the nail on the head. That's actually how TIIC see their bread-and-butter (us) and their heads need to roll.

TrentDawsonFan said...

ICAM.

My guess is that Doug Marland didn't just pluck those rules out of thin air. He learned from his experiences. That means that at one time or another he HAD to BREAK some of the rules in order to ever be able to formulate them. Their validity is not diminished by that, quite the contrary--experience can be the best teacher.

In any case,saying that Marland himself broke the rules in no way excuses the poor writing of the present regime.

Just a suggestion, but maybe instead of making excuses, tptb should actually TRY to FOLLOW the rules for once and see what happens. It could be that they really work and ratings might go up. (In other words, don't knock the rules until you have actually, honestly tried them!) On the other hand, if it turns out that the rules don't actually improve the show, (then, and only then) tptb would have a valid reason to speak negatively about Doug Marland and his rules.

FTW said...

I am not really sure what the point of this blog was. Of course, he didn't always hit his own rules. There is a lot that goes into writing a serial. But the problem is that you are providing us with the exceptions of Doug Marland's writing not the rule whereas we couldn't do that today because the exceptions have become the rule. Characters are disconnected from their history, flipping motivations and personality traits as easily as they change clothes.

What is even more frustrating is that viewers can catch a little bit of brilliance every now and again. It makes it even harder to then turn around and watch characters who are isolated and never speak to each other or characters that have no connection to history or characters who fall in love in 2 seconds. Some of this is sure mired in budgetary constraints but some of it is bad story telling. And instead of showing us how Mr. Marland broke his rules, I think it is time to show us what TPTB intend to do to follow them. Otherwise the viewers as they say are dropping like flies. ATWT has one of the strongest ensembles in television. Even kid actors like Mick Hazen are extraordinary talents. Let's take advantage of that. TPTB need to get out of their own way. I, as a viewer, don't need slashings and attempted murder and horrible, instant pairings between mistmatched people. Just follow the rules. Mr. Marland is the brilliant wizard behind the curtain.

Jennifer said...

Wait a second... Douglas Marland didn't create Sierra, Stewart, or Shannon. The previous head writer did before him. At least check your facts before you post!
And I'm sorry, but I think this is a slap in the face of a man who wrote two PGP soaps and probably helped make a lot of money for the company. This post reminds me why I am not watching PGP shows anymore!

Lucy said...

Oh boy. I cannot believe PGP allowed this to be posted.

rthrquiet said...

You know, it's one thing to subject an artist's oeuvre to critical analysis and point out that, well, he wasn't perfect. I think that's legitimate ground to cover. But to pick and choose what you choose to focus on, to pull things deliberately out of their contexts in order to prop up some pretty weak argumentation--well, that's pretty ballsy. And then NOT TO EVEN GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT, that certainly takes into the realm almost of the unfathomable. Given that Marland is not even here to defend himself, it's just appalling. Let me just pick on the entry for GH, because it's symbolic of what's wrong with the rest of the post. No, when Marland took over GH in 1977, the story definitely did *not* revolve around Jessie, Steve, Audrey, and Tom. Tom had been gone for several years in fact, having been written out by one of the previous headwriters. Steve and Audrey had something of a story, but Jessie hadn't had one in several years. The chief stories when Marland took over had to do with a triangle between Mark Dante, Terri Arnett, and Mark's devious wife whose name I can't remember at the moment; and the saga of Rick Weber, Monica Webber, and Jeff Webber, with Lesley thrown in the mix. Alan Quartermaine was also thrown in, but he was created by the previous headwriters, not Marland. Laura's being pulled away from her adoptive mother by Lesley was, again, a story of previous headwriters, though it's true that Marland pulled Laura front and center in a way she hadn't been previously, and that he beefed up Scotty's presence. He definitely created Bobbie. But to say Steve, Audrey, and Jessie went into storyline oblivion is simply wrong. Jessie had a romance of sorts with Dan Rooney and became Bobbie's erstwhile mother figure; Steve was revealed to be Jeff Webber's father; and Audrey dealt with the strains on her marriage brought on by her increasing responsibilities as head of nurses' training. Marland was probably successful in keeping the older characters MORE in the forefront than ABC at the time would have wanted.

You really have to wonder at the motivations of somebody who would get on here and post something like this. Surely Douglas Marland was not perfect. And just as surely he was worlds better than the hacks that are in charge of the show at the moment. No amount of getting on here and trashing him will change that.

One final point: Let's assume that every single point made by the original poster is true. (It's not, but assume it for a minute.) Does the original poster not see the difference between a handful of instances across a long career, and a creative team that cannot go a SINGLE DAY without breaking many, if not most, or even all, of the rules Marland outlined? The point isn't that Marland followed every one of his own rules to the letter in every single episode of every single show he wrote: it's that he followed them in spirit most of the time, and he learned a lot as he went along and made mistakes. Generally, he wrote compelling stories that held my attention and didn't insult my intelligence, which I certainly can't say about the current scribes.

Geez. I really don't know what to make of a post like the original one here. It would be pretty inexcusable if Marland were still alive, but given that he's dead and not even around to defend himself against the half-truths and errors, it's really pretty vile, isn't it?

Peter said...

I just want to correct some date information in the original post: Doug Marland didn't start writing "Guiding Light" until January 1980 -- he didn't write in 1979 -- I've looked at credits up to and including in December 1979 (as late as December 14, 1979 on World Of Soap Themes website) and on that December 14, 1979 episode the closing credits distinctly have written the show was still being written by headwriters, Jerome & Bridget Dobson. It was in January 1980 that the Dobsons, a PGP & CBS dictated move at the time to boost the ratings of "As The World Turns", went to ATWT while Marland came on as headwriter of GL. Facts need to be checked and rechecked before writing what is supposedly fact based on even a blog.

Destry said...

I think the the Doug Cummings/Marsha Talbot Storyline, from beginning to end, was HANDS DOWN the best example of his commandments. Cummings was someone who heard Kim sing on her honeymoon(past into present) He let the Hughes Family take Center Stage/Made Lucinda go absolutely nuts driving everyone crazy at the hospital (Fan favorites)and then made John Dixon compassionate/empathetic so he could be the father that Andy needed when he started drinking without losing his edge (John's quips with mom Kim(give them edges not different personalities). I think that even he knew sometimes his commandments would have to be broken - especially if the stories weren't working (did they ever find Tad Channing). And the way James Steinbeck came back to life!! :) Doug Marland compelled me to watch the show 6 years running EVERYDAY! I MEAN IT EVERYDAY, EVERY SHOW! And also regarding the character changes: some worked (Meg before she married Antonio - Meg when she left Antonio / Lucinda & Craig before and after they met Sierra) and some (Betsy period - Barbara) not so well.) Not only was he skilled in writing these stories he personally selected the actor and actresses to flesh them out (Doug / Marsha / Iva). No matter he broke his rules (would you wait for the Crosswalk Sign to change before you crossed a street with no cars to help someone in need?) he knew how to create a great story - from the inside out. You were the best Douglas Marland.