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.