Marland Monday: Starting from Scratch, No Mistakes. The Story of Loving, Part One
Oh my Goodness, is it Monday again? Well, you know what that means…
Yes, every Monday I look back at the writing/career of Douglas Marland.
Today we are looking back at a show that he co-created and was head writer. The other creator was another soap opera legend. It had a great cast. It should be a hit. It wasn’t. To quote Pab Sungenis, what went wrong?
In 1982, Marland left Guiding Light, due to being angry about Jane Elliot being fired (more on what happened in the next couple of weeks) He faced what many creatives face when the unexpected happens: What now? He had created a soap showing on Showtime called A New Day in Eden. Sadly I haven’t found any episodes of this show. The week before Christmas, soap fans were treated to good news. Douglas Marland was co-creating a new soap opera for ABC. He was also going to be the head writer. The person who he was creating the show with? Agnes Nixon.
Nixon, of course, was another GOAT. This was the woman who poked at the glass ceiling then broke it. She was the first writer for Search for Tomorrow, then went on to write for Guiding Light and Another World. In 1968, she created One Life to Live, a soap opera that explored social/political topics: drug use in teenagers. A woman marrying a wealthy man and how people reacted to them as a couple. An African American woman passing for white. The heroine of the show was Victoria Lord (played the longest by Erika Slezak) one of the first characters on soaps to have an ongoing mental issue: Dissociative identity disorder. Slezak won several Emmys for her role and played Victoria until 2013.
Next Nixon created All My Children. Even if you haven’t watched soap operas, you heard of the show’s heroine: Erica Kane. This is the woman who, when faced with a bear, said “Get away from me you disgusting, you disgusting beast! You may not do this! You may not come near me! I am Erica Kane! And you are a filthy beast!” The bear left her alone.
Susan Lucci also became known for losing the Daytime Best Actress Emmy eighteen times before finally winning in 1999. The show also featured the first African American super couple Jesse and Angie (Darnell Williams and Debbie Morgan) In 1982 it was riding a high with Jesse and Angie, their best friends (and long-suffering) Greg and Jenny (Lawrence Lau and Kim Delaney) plus they had one of the funniest characters to grace television, Opal Gardner (Dorothy Lyman)
She was set to create a new show with writer Dan Wakefield, but he had to step aside. Enter Douglas Marland. The two had met when she was a consultant to General Hospital. Marland told columnist Gary Deeb: “She was always there with the writer’s point of view… We learned there (on GH) that we think a lot alike about daytime television.”
The show received a two-year guarantee from ABC, no matter what the ratings or reviews. It was decided it would be in the mid-morning. There were little clues on what the show would be about/revealed: it would be set in a college town back East. They didn’t give the state, but Nixon set All My Children and One Life to Live in Pennsylvania (Pine Valley and Llanview) so it was a good guess this show would be set in the Quaker state.
Nixon told Deeb about one character named Merrill Vochek, a reporter for the local news. Merrill was inspired by letters Nixon received from younger people who wanted to work in television: “I thought that if the communications media are this interesting to people at large, then someone who’s involved in it would be an interesting character-especially as an anchorwoman.” Again, Nixon wanted to show a woman shattering the glass ceiling.
Marland was excited about writing a brand new show. “Starting from scratch with all new characters is so much more exciting than taking over somebody else’s mistakes.” Indeed. When a writer starts a new project, it is like stepping into fresh snow, or the smell of crayons when you first open the box. It is the excitement, the feeling of this is going to be great. I’m going to make something out of nothing. I’m going to be like Harold and his purple crayon and create a whole new world.
But what happens when it doesn’t go to plan?
Tune in next week…
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tune in next week for part two…