Popular art is that work produced to appeal to a perceived audience in terms of their probably unarticulated expectations rather than correspond to formal features derived from traditional or academic conventions.
An implication of this assertion is that the core difference between capitalist and socialist societies in relation to popular art must be in how "perceptions" of audiences are arrived at rather than in some aesthetic essence of the meaning of popular. (Chancy 1979:8)
One of the more highly charged issues in discussions of mass communication and popular culture in advanced capitalist societies is to what degree do communicators impose their choices on the audience and/or to what degree do audiences impose their preferences on the communicators and thus determine what gets produced? As Chaney points out, perceptions of the audience play an important role in shaping and justifying what is produced given the distance between producers and audience members.
A range of positions is taken on the issue of the relative power of audience on communicators. At one extreme some observers see the audience as relatively powerless in affecting what is made available; others attribute much greater influence to the audience (Cantor 1980). But despite the evident importance of studying the actual interaction between communicators and the audience, there is little systematic information on the topic. Cantor, citing a number of researchers, summarizes their position as "agreeing the impact of information about audience preferences and viewing on the communicator has rarely been scrutinized systematically. Although they wrote over a decade ago, the above statement is still true" (Cantor 1980:111). Production studies are clearly a way to empirically explore the issues involved, and to
go beyond media "folklore," or occupational, organizational and political ideologies.
The interaction of communicators and the audience is complex, unique, and more important in soap production than in other forms of media fare. That soaps are on five days a week, 52 a year, has a number of consequences, as does the fact that the programs are not produced far in advance of their air date nor syndicated for domestic broadcast.
Ideally, scripts for particular episodes are ready about four to six weeks before they are taped. This allows time for the distribution of the scripts and careful planning of the production process. Quite frequently there are only two or three weeks for preparation. The episodes in turn are taped about five to seven days before they are broadcast. This schedule contrasts with other dramatic programming for television where production may occur several months before the program is aired. In such cases, there is a considerable time lag between production and broadcast, so that the main sources of audience feedback--letters and ratings--stand in a different relationship to the production process. For soaps, the potential significance of letters and ratings is quite different because producers have access to pertinent information they can use in decision making.
The dynamics are also different because soaps as serials are continuing stories which need to generate a continuing audience. It is generally agreed that it takes from several months to a year or more for a soap to build an audience and good will toward the show. This realization followed the failure of many early soaps that were given too short a period to develop an audience. What is important, according to the communicators, is that the audience comes to know the characters and care about them. As a result, decisions are made in a time frame that does not exist or apply to programs that have only a few weeks or months in which to prove themselves.
Very often suppliers will attempt to build on the core of viewers that a program does have and to make changes to add to that core, even if the core and share of the audience is relatively small and ratings are low for the program. In fact, many of the innovations made in General Hospital occurred during a period in which the program had very low ratings, was at the bottom of the barrel and had nowhere to go but up. Even though cancellation was scheduled, executives chose to work with an established show rather than start a new one. Texas, an extremely unsuccessful soap, pitted against both General Hospital and Guiding Light, remained on the air for more than two years with very low rat-
ings. Attempts were repeatedly made to improve the program by changing personnel and, ultimately, by changing air time so that Texas appeared much earlier in the day and not opposite any other soap. No network soaps were canceled, and the only new soap that was introduced while I was working on this research was Capitol, introduced in March, 1982.21
The continuing relationship between program and audience also means that communicators perceive the core of their audience as loyal. This core is considered carefully in decision making. Whereas the audience is actually very large, and largely anonymous, a core of the audience is more concrete in the process of decision making.
Research on the audience, of course, can be continuous and extensive in the case of soaps, again because of the continuing interaction and on-going production process. While pretests are used for prime-time programming, particularly before a program is initially broadcast, the on-going broadcasting means testing can occur at any time. Also, research can be carried out with audience members of competing shows to determine what the audience finds appealing in other programs. Testing can also reveal what the audience dislikes about the commmunicator's program.
Another factor is that many audience members are very familiar with past story and character development. Their memory, or, better, the communicator's beliefs about their memory, has to be considered. Also, the way audience members perceive their relationship to the program and its makers, and as how they actually relate to the program makers, are important. Audience members for a soap often feel or are led to feel that they can influence a story.
Given a continuing program, audience members can write knowing that in all probability their letters will be read by someone while the show is still being broadcast. Involvement and investment on the viewers' part are what soap makers strive for. Many practices and conventions are utilized to achieve this end. It is also in the general interest of the communicators to have the audience feel it can affect the show. While this influence is true to a limited degree, story direction is often planned for several months in advance, if not further. Decisions are continually made about specific details, particularly to handle contingencies, but larger long-term decisions are less open to change. In part, the audience cannot know the exact nature of the long-term direction and end. One particularly illuminating comment was made by a production executive. As she put it, whereas the degree to which the story could be changed by mail was limited, suppliers liked the audience to feel it can affect the show.
There is a complex interaction as the different sources of images and information play into each other. The major sources of information about the audience's tastes, opinions, and choices are ratings and letters. Shows also receive phone calls, although these are relatively infrequent. They are usually reflections of frustration on the part of the viewer, for example, when a program is interrupted for a news bulletin.
Other sources of feedback are the friends and relatives of production personnel who watch the show. The reactions and comments of production personnel are additional resources used to develop or assess conceptions of programming success or failure. Research on the audience, its demographics, and its likes and dislikes, is also carried out, although this is problematically related to the communicators' view of the audience. Another dimension is the media culture view of the audience created and reflected in the various fan magazines and program digests. All these factors work to create a situation of great complexity.
One important generalization about production is that the audience the production personnel actually consider is often others involved in the production process in the organizational context. Warren Breed's and Gaye Tuchman's studies of news production, for example, indicate to what extent news is an organizational product (Breed 1955; Tuchman 1979). In the case of soap production, this was occasionally made clear when a producer, director, or performer would remark that Procter and Gamble expected to see a certain type of shot.
RATINGS: THE AUDIENCE AS STATISTIC
The importance of ratings for the communicators is evident in a number of ways. As several people remarked, "You live from Thursday to Thursday." Thursday is the day the Nielsen ratings are available for the past week's programming. Asked if others were interested, two producers agreed that every writer was interested in each week's results as were others, including the actors.
The writer will call every Thursday. He might say, "Hi, it's a nice day. I got the script on the way." Then "Did you get the ratings? Did the ratings come in yet . . . ? The actors may not want to get into specifics but they will come up rather timidly and say, "How are we doing?"
The ratings, mimeographed and distributed from the production office, include basic information about daytime program, the place each show finished, the rating and share of each show, the top ten daytime programs, and a comparison of the ratings of those top ten for the previous week's program and their overall place for that same week. Shares refer to percentage of sets in use of homes watching television at a certain time. Ratings refer to the percentage of the total potential audience at a given time that competing programs reach.
Ratings are very important as a measure of success, but they are limited in what they reveal. Ratings and shares can be correlated with specific programs and are more immediately available than letters, but they still do not tell the communicators what the audience actually experienced, what made it tune in or stayed tuned, what it liked or disliked. The problematic nature of ratings is reflected in a number of statements.
We have no sophisticated way to track what impacts on ratings. It may be as simple as all the kids come home and Mom turns off the television to fix the turkey, therefore the ratings drop. It can be that all the kids come home and turn on the independent station. We really don't know.
Another producer emphasized the competitive context of the ratings. I had mentioned that it was impossible for a program to know what did or did not pull the ratings.
What you really don't know is, is it something you have done right, or is it something the competition has done wrong. That's a factor. We keep hearing from people in focus groups, too, that General Hospital has now peaked and the audience is kind of bored with what they are doing. They can't top themselves . . . so we have a better chance. But the ratings don't tell you where you get the audience from. Are you gaining? If they do something wrong, it's good for our side.
The headwriter of Edge of Night commented on the ratings as feedback, in this case citing a sudden decline.
[If] your rating plunges suddenly if you've got a story nobody cares about, that'll tell you something . . . that's feedback for sure.
The interpretation of the ratings involves the consideration of a number of factors depending on the competitive context, goals of the program, and changing patterns of demographics. One important way they are used is to judge the success of a story that is peaking.
M.I.: What do you do with that information (the ratings), so you are a little up or a little down?
Headwriter: A little doesn't mean a lot. A lot if you really are expecting a story to really pull the numbers, one that is on its peak, and the numbers don't correspond then you know that story is not working.
A good example of a story expected to pull the numbers that did not involved the "Carrie Story" in which Carrie is shown to have a multiple personality and be capable of horrible acts.
There are two ways of judging whether a story works. One is ratings, the other is creatively. The Carrie story is very interesting. Jane Elliott is a wonderful actress, and Doug wrote a nice story. However, in terms of ratings, it obviously didn't work because the numbers either held or slid a little and only went up in the last week of the storyline when it looked like Carrie might kill Ross. If people had cared it would have gone up right away as it did on General Hospital when they were doing Joe and Heather and Heather came out of the hospital with a gun.
Story is also written competitively to peak at the same time that other programs are peaking as was the case when Luke's and Laura's wedding was to occur on General Hospital. In that context, ratings would be used to determine how well Guiding Light did in an effort to counter what they knew a very popular competing program was doing. The competitive context also affects how ratings are viewed and used during the sweeps weeks when the results are used to calculate local advertising rates.
The demographics of the audience and audience habits, as well as the time of the year, also are considered carefully. The composition and size of the audience changes seasonally and with holidays. As the writer indicates, the goals of
the program, the timing of the higher ratings, and information from letters are used to provide an interpretive context.
M.I.: The ratings correlate strongly with a good storyline?
Headwriter: Or other things. Our two strongest weeks this winter were the Thanksgiving and the Christmas week holiday. They were our strongest weeks, which means we have a very young following when the kids come home and take over the sets; our numbers go very high. You don't get numbers from college dorms, none of them have Nielsen boxes and especially in the student union where you've got 150 kids glued to a set and nobody is registering those numbers. When they come home then they register. Our numbers went to number two during Thanksgiving week, which is a week the show has been traditionally low. We went to number three, I think, during Christmas and New Year's week.
M.I.: Did that tell you that some of younger storylines were beginning to work?
H: I had purposely focused on the kids.
M.I.: Was it intuitive?
H: No, the mail was all getting younger. The reaction to the younger stories was growing much stronger in the mails.
As is evident, ratings and letters are used to make sense of each other. I consider the letters next.
LETTERS: THE AUDIENCE AS VIEWER
Letters are primarily received by CBS, the shows, or Procter and Gamble, and tend to be addressed to the executive producer, headwaiter, or performers. Far fewer letters are sent to directors or other personnel. The letters are collected and analyzed; the content is summarized and copies of the summaries are sent to various individuals. Some of those individuals receive copies of the letters. The letters are
answered by Proctor and Gamble's Consumer Services Department, using information provided by the production staff, as a way of establishing or maintaining a good relationship between program, sponsor and viewer/consumer.
Often two or three months pass between the time the letters are postmarked and the time letters are received by appropriate personnel. Because the length of time varies and because there are delays between the times letters are received, summarized, copied, and sent on, letters are limited in their usefulness. Ratings offer a much quicker and more consistent form of feedback. Also, ratings can be more closely correlated with specific programming content. Although again, how each is used--both programming and ratings --to make sense of the other, is not self-evident and is, in fact, problematic.
The summaries tended to distribute the mail into a number of categories, all of which are tabulated--general comments, comments on storylines, comments on character relationships, comments on cast, and the numbers of letters to each performer. The general comments category includes letters that evaluate the show, location shooting, or general scenes, make judgments about the morality or lack of morality portrayed, request general directions for the show to move in, or call attention to seemingly unrealistic or inaccurate details. Comments on storylines summarize whether and why the viewers like or dislike the storylines and whether they like the writers. There are comments on specific storylines and requests (or demands) that storylines and relationships take a certain direction. Another category of letters about the characters expresses whether the writer likes or dislikes a particular character. There is also a tabulation of the total number of letters each performer gets during the period covered. In the following discussion, I present the various categories of letters and how each is used in the general assessment of cast, characters, storyline, and general quality of the show.
Letters to performers are opened and read in order to be tabulated so that threatening or upsetting letters can be intercepted. Evil characters tend to receive such letters, but the number of such letters is a very, very small percentage of the total to performers. Some personnel observed that far fewer threatening letters are received now as compared to the number received several years ago.
Approximately two-thirds of the letters to performers, even if they play characters the audience loves to hate,' primarily praise the performer. Many of these letters, along with others, request photographs and/or autographs, sometimes a personal letter or call. An occasional letter asks
about careers in acting or would relate how the letter writer was influenced by the performer/character.
Women by far write more letters than men, probably an even greater percentage than the percentage in the audience in general. Soaps are designed to attract and hold a female audience, and their involvement in the programs, as reflected in the letters, can be read as indicative of themes, I think, that are important to other female viewers.
What is most important to the program makers is that the viewers are emotionally involved with a character, concerned about the outcome of a storyline and its impact on the characters. In a sense, it does not matter if a viewer strongly dislikes or likes a character. There are characters the audience intensely dislikes, and there are those that evoke extremely positive feelings. What the producers use as a sign that a character/performer is not working is if a character/performer gets very little mail. A major concern is that the audience react to a performer. The headwaiter commented on the use of letters:
[If] someone doesn't pull letters--whether it is criticism, or not criticism--something is not working.
An example was the significant difference in how two major characters pulled letters. In the February 1982 tabulation there was quite a difference between the number of letters John Schipp (Kelly) received and the number Jennifer Cooke (Morgan) received. Jennifer Cooke was a replacement for another actress who previously played the part.
John Schipp is pulling 222 letters; that's the most. Then comes Jane Elliott; then, I guess comes Nola, Lisa Brown, Michael Tylo. All the others are below that. But those are the stories we are pushing. That tells us that John Schipp with 222 is really fantastic. But look at Jennifer Cooke: 61. She's playing with John Schipp so we know that isn't working as well as we'd like it to work.
In this case, the general interpretation was that, given the response to John Schipp in the same story and the audience reaction to the previous performer, Jennifer Cooke's performances could or should be improved. Again, the headwriter provides some insight into the general use of letters.
M.I.: What kinds of letters do you pay attention to, something working or not working?
Headwriter: Letters that set a trend. Where you can see a whole trend of audience boredom, disinterest in a story . . . you can read between the lines that they don't care about this character, or this character getting together with that character. Even with those letters you have to give your story time. You can't abort something because they are not identifying with it right away.
M.I.: You need a period of time in which to let people identify and involve themselves with. How are the letters phrased that show there is little involvement?
H: Why are you spending so much time with so and so. They don't interest me. I don't care about them.
M.I.: If there is a pattern, a good number of those . . . you use the letters. . . .
H: As a kind of a pulse beat. The lack of response to a performer can be the most telling. If you have a character there in a forward story, and they're supposed to be a sex symbol or a turn on and there is no response in the mails, it is not working. Either the actor is not working, the character is not working, or the combination of both is not working.
Mail about some characters will urge the program makers to get rid of the characters. How such letters are weighed comes across in a statement by a producer.
I'll tell you. The weighing of what is written is a most difficult part of the job because negative responses in themselves are not necessarily deemed negative responses. The fact that we are getting a response is not negative. People are writing to us and telling us they hate Nola; what they are saying really is they hate what Nola is doing. And they may threaten us, "We are not going to watch." But the reason they are watching is to see how Nola is going to get it back. If
we turned it around and made her a good person all of a sudden there wouldn't be any interest in the show and certainly not in the story we are trying to tell. You have to somehow divorce yourself from what is really being said and try to understand what is going on behind the mind of the person who is writing the letter. Not everybody who writes is the most stable of personalities and you have to take that into consideration. (How can I say it kindly?) It's true they are the audience but are we necessarily going to listen to the opinion of somebody who is ranting and raving about something? We can't allow those letters to have much potency.
One example of the influence of the audience in relation to character development was recounted by the executive producer of Guiding Light. Asked which letters had an impact, he stated, "Letters that surprise you," and gave the following example.
Rita (a character who had been continually unfaithful to her husband) had a past in Texas. Someone was killed and a finger was pointed at Rita. She didn't really do it. What happened was we were trying to clean up Rita a little bit--she was getting to be a whore really. We tried to clean her up. The letters, they hated her. They said, "How can you tell us she is so good when she killed that man in Texas? She lied about this:" That wasn't what we said at all; we said she didn't kill this person. But they didn't want to believe this, they wanted to believe she did (kill this person). We got so much mail with nobody believing what we were trying to do with this character we ended up throwing our hands in the air saying it was useless to try to clean up this woman because they don't see her that way. So we went with it.
Communicators have internalized an image of the audience "out there," and in the story creation process, which involves a number of individuals evaluating and making suggestions for the writer's proposed story they consider possible audience responses. This sense of the audience and the concern for audience reaction lead to an internalized sense of
what works. It also means that letters that surprise the communicators tend to be considered more carefully, a theme reflected in another producer's comments below.
It is also clear that greater attention is paid to letters that are not extreme, that are carefully and logically argued, and/or that come from legitimate organizations. The following quotation from a producer reflects each of these themes. When asked if there were certain ways letters were phrased that led him to attend to them more than others, he commented:
It's kind of gut level reaction. The ones I look for have neat handwriting and use syllables of more than two occasionally. If they are literate and you get the feeling these people are genuinely outraged by something that under normal circumstances they would have never written to you, and you would have never heard from them, but they happened to tune in and they saw something they felt irresponsible or insulting of their intelligence they felt they had to say something about or something was flagrantly immoral in their estimation. These are the people that make up what Nixon unfortunately called the silent majority--I tend to believe that there is a silent majority. I don't think most people are demonstrators, yet most people have a point of view and their thresholds of annoyance are stretched quite wide. You have a very good operating room within their parameters--when you go beyond that, you are going to hear from one or two of them. Those one or two may represent an enormous amount of our audience. Those are the people who make up the bulk of our audience and those are the people we want to reach. When you get something coherently and intelligently written, something you may not have thought of--for example, one of the things we mentioned about the second rape of Rita. Wow, for her not to have turned
that in, dead irresponsible and that's why we made her come forward during Holly's trial. That's how that was generated, because for her to keep it quiet, whether or not she is a bad girl or a good girl, is not the point. The point is
that there are a lot of responsible organizations that are trying
to get women to say, 'Hey, whether I slept with the guy or not, prior to this, the point is he came in and took, therefore, it wasn't a sexual act, it was an act of violence. I was violated, I was degraded. For that reason, I want to come forward. That act cannot continue to happen." We didn't realize it until we started getting letters from various women's organizations. We didn't feel anyone would take Rita seriously enough. What they are saying, "She may be a hooker in the street, but if the guy didn't pay it and she didn't ask him, then it is rape. She has her rights, too."
The interpretation of a letter and the response to it are related to the perception of the letter writer. Extreme or illegible letters are viewed quite differently from better written and more logically argued ones. As the producer argues or assumes, given a large audience with a range of tolerance, when an audience member writes, and particularly when a number of individuals write forcefully, their comments must be considered.
The headwriter of Edge of Night commented on the limited use of letters, their help in identifying particularly appealing characters or their help in identifying a story that they object strongly to.
The audience doesn't give you any ideas, that's for sure. You don't get any ideas about what the story should be about or who they should be about, although you might see from the audience about a character they are crazy about, then you might want to emphasize the role. The only time you get feedback in the negative sense is when there is an overwhelmingly negative response.
A good example of negative feedback was provided by a producer of Guiding Light.
We brought Bill Bauer, Ed's father, back on the show, the same actor who had played it years ago, who supposedly had been killed in a plane crash. Now it turned out he had not been on the plane and had been living an illicit life, had another family somewhere. The response from the public was apparently very
negative to this story. "How dare we do that to Bert." It just wasn't a good thing to be doing. Evidently the response was so strong and articulated by people who should be listened to by the tone of their letters that they decided to take action on that and they got him out of the story as quickly as they could.
Negative letters have an impact also if they call attention to improbably character behavior. One producer made the following comment:
If people are reacting negatively to the way a story is developing based on character history, those are paid attention to. We'll try to give them a reason. We'll put into a script in the future some reasoning to allow the story to go on. We'll realize we are pulling a fast one on them and can't get away with it.
One interesting category of letters includes protests about performers leaving a show. Many letter writers tend to assume that performers do not choose to leave a show. Quite often information appears in soap "buff" magazines about why a particular performer might be leaving a program. Many soap performers leave soaps to try to find work in film or prime-time television or in legitimate theatre. The show, however, generally is blamed. A producer vented his frustration in one comment.
We always get blamed. I've got more letters that say, "How could you do this? How could you be so stupid?" They think it is a decision we came to. It doesn't seem to enter their heads that an actor might want to do something else. [Emphasis mine]
Some audience members probably do not want to consider this factor in casting changes. Given a close association between performer/character and the viewers' intimate involvement in a character's life, an actor leaving voluntarily would violate their assumptions that are part of their "suspension of disbelief."
Letters, then, are important to the program makers. They help identify appealing characters/performers or storylines. They also call attention to inaccuracy, implausible character
behavior, or unacceptable stories. Again, letters and ratings are used to make sense of each other.
LETTERS: THE AUDIENCE AS SOCIAL BEING
My best friend and I would really like to see Morgan and Kelly get married. If anyone deserves happiness they do. I think it would just be awful if Nola got her way and got Kelly. It would really disappoint alot of people if that happened. I hope Kelly and Morgan get married and stay that way, for good. Also, give Andy what he deserves, a rotten life. 20 years in prison. If everything works out, we would be very happy. By the time this letter gets to you we hope everything is worked out. But we are sending this in case all these problems aren't solved. Watchers forever, Shelley and Susan.
P.S. Heck, at least let Kelly and Morgan make love. She wants to so bad. PLEASE!!! And man, is Kelly cute. Do Kelly and Morgan have something going in real life?
This letter invites a sense of wonder and amusement. Clearly written by two young women, the letter conveys their concerns, the outcomes they would like to see, their curiosity. Letters such as this also reflect the problematic distinction between the realities of the program and real life, between characters and performers.
I was particularly taken by this
letter as the writers openly communicate their wishes for the
characters in the story. They recognize the writer as the manipulator
of the characters' fates and know that the problems may be worked
out, but still feel they had to make an effort that they hoped
would bring about a solution to the problem. And then in a postscript,
their wishes become even more intense and focused as they speak
for Morgan herself. "Heck, at least let Kelly and Morgan
make love. She wants to so bad. PLEASE::" They state their
view of Kelly, the same Kelly they know Morgan wants to make love
to. Finally, in the final question, reflecting the ambiguity of
their framing of the performance, they ask about the relationship
of the characters (performers?) in "real life."
The letter, with its intensity, intimacy, and shifting frames, provides a good opening for the various letters copied here. I have not been able to reproduce the look and feel of the letters, which does affect how the program makers interpret or use them. Entire letters are included, with errors intentionally retained. Again, their length, complexity, intensity, and passion are good indicators of the audience as social being.
One of the important themes in many letters is the desire to see a domestic, romantic, and moral world "out there." The following letter was one of many that the program received when a veteran performer left the show. I include several letters with the same concern later in this section. This letter writer articulates the desire to see both an ideal moral order and romantically involved happy couples. After expressing that we "all need to feel and know that there is still moral, average, day-to-day living out there," she concludes with the comment that Ed and Eve would be a "good match."
As a "good guy," the character/performer had come to be important for many viewers. There is a clear sense of the typifications involved in the character's history and identity in the letter, particularly as a member of the Bauer family.
I and many of my friends and relatives are deeply disappointed to hear that Mark Hulswit, who plays the part of "Ed Bauer" in the "Guiding Light" day-time serial is thinking of leaving.
He's a tremendous actor and one of our favorite characters. The program just won't seem to be the same.
Quite honestly, the traditional Bauer Family is still what makes the show. You may not think so, but most of us like the more "down-to-earth" story and characters than the all too many added "way-out" concepts. We all need to feel and know that there is still normal, average, day-to-day living out there and the fact that the Bauer Family and particularly Ed does not go along nor will or ever wants to be anything more than a good family man, good doctor and contribute to society what is badly needed today is a comfortable feeling. There is already enough sadistic novels, television plays, news and
"what have you" to make you want to run and hide. Please, Mr. Mart Hulswit reconsider.Good luck to you whatever you decide.
Sincerely,"A Pittsburgh Viewer" (of many, many years)
P.S. Don't you think "Ed" and "Eve would be a good match?:'
The desire to see or find in the program an affirmation of a moral and meaningful social world is also evident in the following letter. Again, it is unclear whether the letter writer is referring to the performers or the characters. I think the writer has a need to believe that the performers treat each other well even though the scripts might call for the performers/characters to mistreat each other. The underlying wish to believe in the fundamental rightness of a social world that is moral and harmonious comes across in many letters.
To Everyone on the Guiding Light:
It's wonderful to see what all of you are doing for yourselves and for each other. It really is a Day Care Center. It takes a lot of courage to admit and correct mistakes. Now all of you are showing us the way to behave toward others. I know and feel that whatever happens to the characters in the script the people are acting with love and concern and seeing the other guys point of view.
Much happiness to Elvera and Chris and to everyone there.
One major category of mail, typically to the writer or the executive producer, concerns how the letter writer would like relationships between the characters to work out. One of the characteristics of such letters is that often they attempt to give some legitimacy to their position and persuade or, at times, attempt to coerce the program's writer or executive producer. One letter that made a personal appeal, however, stood out. It also, I think, reflected the uses and meaningfulness of soap magazines to the audience. Such magazines seem to help the audience know the show better, know the performers "in" the characters they know well. The letter began:
I saw your picture in the February or March issue of Soap Opera or Daytime T.V. You look like an understanding man so why can't you get Ed and Rita back together? I think they make the show. Let them go to Jamaica together and discover themselves again. This deal about Rita and Allen is crazy. If that happens I won't watch the show. I think Ed and Rita are good together. Please get them back [together]. Also it would be good to get Mike and Elizabeth together again. They are a great twosome. The rest of the show I don't care about and I can't stand Andy or Vanessa. They are really bad. Please get my 2 couples back together again. Thank you.
Another letter is particularly interesting because the writer clearly distances herself discussing storyline and appeals to the writer's sense of professional craft and pride. A major theme, again, is the desire to see a couple reunited (Hope and Alan) in a relationship idealized as changing Alan and giving him happiness.
I am a devoted fan of daytime drama. My favorite actress is Elvera Roussel, she brings a ray of light to the sensitive role of Hope Bauer Spaulding. I sometimes wish that the writers would be more innovative and carry the story lines in different directions. As of now, every story tends to repeat itself. Case in point: Here we have what is the most piognant [sic] story line with Alan and Hope, that could bring us months of good entertainment, filled with many compelling stories. What more could one ask for? When you have the daughter of Mike Bauer, who is also the granddaughter of Bert Bauer married to Alan Spaulding, I love the whole concept.
I would like for Hope to give Alan a baby son. Why not? Alan does love his young bride. She gives him a chance to relive his youth through Hope. I don't think Alan was very happy as a young man, he was rich and spoiled but not happy.
Please try and to preserve and keep this very
human drama with Hope and Alan going by letting them somehow stay married and together. It is such a thrilling Storyline.
Fan of Elvera Roussel
Another letter is even more transparent in its desire to see perfect couples reunited or united.
Dear Guiding Light:
I am very worried about Ben and Amanda. I am afraid they are not going to get together. It would ruin the whole story. I just don't want Ben and Eve together because I think Ben loves Amanda and Amanda loves Ben. And I think Eve loves Ross and Ross loves Eve. Just leave Benassa out of it. I don't care who she gets together with just as lone [sic] that it isn't Ross: Please try.
While some viewers write to express their frustration that a "bad" character has not been revealed and/or punished, others can come to feel that an evil character, in this case Alan Spaulding, should not be punished. He has been redeemed through the "love of a good woman" and his pursuer, Mike Bauer, is viewed as petty in his single-minded effort to have Alan caught and punished.
Why does Mike have to harp at Alan about Roger Thorpe-Dr. Moreno constantly? He sounds like a broken record. Here's Alan happy as a lark and Mike is still acting like a moron. Roger Thorpe is dead, the past is gone, and everything that happened then and there is irrelevant to the way Alan is now. I like the direction Alan's character is taking; that of a devoted husband and father. If you didn't make his shady past so important or Mike's pigheadedness so evident the story would be much better. As far as I'm concerned Mike is the villain for not being able to see beyond his own little pettiness . . .
The following letter conveys a sense of how important romance--ideal couples living happily ever after experiences of "hard times"--is to many viewers. It is signed,
as some letters are, to give the impression that the viewpoint in the letter reflects that of a large number of viewers. Also, the writer of the letter clearly recognizes that the story is a story and that the writer of the show is responsible.
We are really furious with you. Why did you write Elizabeth out of the show. We wanted Elizabeth and Mike to marry and live happily ever after. Mike and Elizabeth have had nothing but hard times since she came on the Guilding [sic] Light and you know it's about time they lived happily ever after. You have made us so mad until we have started watching Another World on Channel 5.
Some letter writers will suggest storylines if they think the storyline will bring back or keep a character/performer they like. The following letter suggests that the device of a character having a "long lost" twin brother be used to bring back a particular actor.
As a truly devoted fan of Michael Zaslow who played Roger Thorpe on your show I feel the show has lost something since he "died". I have an idea you might like. Here it is. Roger had a twin brother who even Roger didn't know about, only his father did. The brother was put in a sanitarium at an early age. He comes back for revenge on those who had anything to do with his brother's death. I hope you like my idea. Please reply.
One of the most successful characters is Nola. She is clearly a character that "people love to hate." Letters to the show express outrage at her behavior and frustration that she is not revealed and punished for who she is and what she has done. Nola was selfish, deceitful, and continually lied. What was particularly infuriating to many letter writers was that other characters were not aware of her motives and lying. Some characters, because of their naivete, or what the letter writers called "stupidity," were singled out for criticism in letters. The following conveys the emotion, as well as a sense of humor, behind a letter.
It's hard to believe that you can think anyone can believe a character as dumb as Nola can go on thriving on lies a moron should have caught up with. Her dirty tricks make Kelly act like a doctor who wouldn't know the difference between aspirin and arsenic--if he ever managed to finish school and be one. The Nola character just doesn't do anything for the program--except drag it down. Hope you're "listening".
The frustration of seeing Nola's involvement and success in keeping the couple of Morgan and Kelly apart, and the desire on the part of the letter writer for life to be beautiful for Morgan and Kelly, comes out strongly in the following:
I (and many others to whom I have spoken) have waited patiently for the relationship of "Morgan and Kelly" to make some kind of progress-in any manner. Your persistence in separating them is most frustrating, to say the least. It is distressing and nauseating (in the strongest sense of the words) to watch "Nola" intervene at every turn.
You have indeed proven the old adage: "Hope springs eternally--although it doesn't last long". Could you possibly give a few "faithful viewers" (and the cast) a chance to believe life can be beautiful?
Others in the cast have received a few moments of happiness, couldn't you do likewise for the "younger set"? What "yardstick" are you using for the "light that guides you"? Young people (I believe) need to feel that life need not be filled constantly with turmoil.
I have reached the depths of despair watching "Nola" create so much misery. Let's have a little happiness for "Kelly and Morgan" instead of tears.
As I noted earlier, letter writers will attempt to distinguish themselves from other viewers, other women. The characterization of the typical soap watcher apparently is not a flattering one. Interestingly, this writer also mentions that she reads soap opera magazines and finds support for her position there. The important issue of whether the
prolongation of a conflict is producing boredom is discussed. Also, there is a parting threat as the writer signs the letter "ex viewer."
Dear Executive Producer:
I have never written a letter concerning a soap opera, and have always thought the women that did were silly. But I just had to do it this once. I have watched the Guiding Light for many years and have always thought it to be the best daytime serial on T.V. But I have been very disappointed lately. The show has become very monotonous. I realize you have to stretch a story out to keep the viewer interested--But the story line about Morgan, Kelly, and Nola has been run into the ground. Its been the same thing, week after week, month after month. As much as I have always liked the show, I'm not even interested in watching it anymore. And a lot of people agree with me because I have read their comments in Soap Opera magazines. It's not even realistic to believe that anyone could be as naive as Morgan. And you know someone would figure out Nola by now. I realize it's just a Soap Opera, but really--if you want to keep viewers you are going about it the wrong way. When the Guiding Light comes on I take a nap. If you were to ask other viewers their opinion, I think you would find I'm not the only one who feels this way about the show.
An ex viewer
The following letter is extremely long. The detail and its length convey a very deep interest in the program. It also moves from comments about characters and storyline to suggestions for future story using an event from the writer's own life. Her characterizations are also interesting as they reflect a chatty interest in the lives of the characters and a concern for their futures.
To the writers of the "Guiding Light",
As a long time viewer of this show, I have some comments and suggestions about the story line and many of the characters and actors. The characters of Alan, Nola, Diane, Rita, Banessa and Andy are up to no good. They all
deserve to be hurt or punished in their own
individual way for their shrewd tactics toward others in the story.
In the story line the writers may have other plans for Nola. The viewers are aware of Nola and her never ending lies and manipulation to ones she makes fools of. Never giving up she plans all sorts of trouble to them just to win Kelly for herself. It would be something if her planned pregnancy didn't work. She would be lost if she couldn't use people, like Kelly, Morgan, Tim and Floyd. But her lie to Dr. Sedwick about Morgan being pregnant by Tim when she's actually talking about herself, hoping she's pregnant, was astounding. She is a very despicable dame who wants to join the upper class and get a free ride to obtain it to marry student doctor Kelly and live a life of luxury in a mansion. She thrives on her dream world. She seduced Kelly to bed twice to make sure her plan worked to get pregnant. Her lies will be known to ones she has hurt in due time. At least Hillary and Katie know she is a big liar. It was fun to see these nurses have run-in with Nola. Maybe one
of them should have pushed Nola's nose in or better yet, let Kelly do it someday. Nola has no real friends yet she tells Morgan that she is her best friend. Innocent Morgan believes her. Marriage to Kelly could ruin his whole life, and getting pregnant is the only way Nola can get him. It would be very different if they marry and live on "poverty street", making Nola worse off than she was when she was single. Providing Nola gets pregnant and marries Kelly, it would be fun and interesting to see her have a bad misfortune as she needs to be taught a lesson the hard way. I am suggesting a miscarriage of a different nature instead of the recent ones caused by personal and shocking news like Amanda and Rita. I had a personal experience some years ago with what is called an ECTOPICAL PREGNANCY. Writers may not have heard of
it as it isn't very common but can happen. The Fallopian tube on my right side became ruptured as the egg was improperly developed and required surgical removal of the tube.
My personal experience when like this. Not
feeling good in a few short weeks of pregnancy, I arose one early dark morning, got dizzy and felt my way to the bathroom by clasping my hands on the wall. I hit the edge of the bathroom sink, cut my chin and passed out on bathroom floor. My husband was home and rushed in to pick me up. After awaking, I had very bad chills (internal bleeding, I believe). I was rushed to the hospital by ambulance and covered with heavy blankets on trip there. After the tube was removed I spent time in recovery room and while there my blood pressure dropped very low and I was sent back into surgery for the second time in one day for removal of the ovary. I came close to not making it. But with getting blood donors and receiving
blood I had lost, I finally recovered and very thankful. My obstretician explained the ruptured tube was just like a flat tire meaning it was like a tire going flat. My OB doctor also told me that "I scared the hell out of him". A person whose had this sort of miscarriage can have other children since there is the left tube and ovary. I had two children before this happened.
You may wonder why I am suggesting this. I don't think many people have much knowledge of this sort of miscarriage as I wasn't until I suffered this problem. I just think viewers, especially women might find this different and most interesting. To my knowledge, it hasn't been portrayed on television. If true, your show would add a first, and I just feel the actress could play the part very well, as the character of Nola. I am aware that soaps get medical information and I am sure than an obstetrician or a gynecologist can be of a great help on this matter.
The Bauer family are lovable people. The cast is great. I especially like the actress who is beautiful that plays Hope. I think this actress plays Hope better than previous ones. It is great that Ed and Mike have a half-sister such as Hillary. It is a joy to see many more young people on the show. On soaps today with the liberated morals regarding sex and tones of women's lib, show seductive women
acting the aggressor and boldness and making certain characters of men look like they are the weaker sex when they coo and lure the men to bed with them. It appears soaps like for viewers to see who goes to bed with who. A notable actress named Katherine Hepburn stated recently in our local newspaper saying she deplores the absence of real love portrayal in films and TV today. That it amounts to just sex today. Just plain sex and that's old stuff. There is nothing new or fantastic about it as its been going on for a long time. But now we have it washed with the rest of the dirty linen--in public.
The character of Rita is a spoiled beauty, an opportunist and a conniving seductive gal. Her marriage to Ed has been wrong from the start. Ed has been generous with Rita giving her a fine large home. She got restless and dissatisfied, accused Ed of not giving her enough attention. So, she became charmed by Alan, his wealth and power, enjoys parties and in that wants her own way. She thinks Mike should stop any investigation about Alan for Hope's sake and forget the whole matter without regard for thought or act on Mike's principles as a lawyer. Now she and Alan have betrayed Hope and Ed in Jamaica. The affair there with Alan left her with wonderful memories forever it seems--her dreamy vacation and not caring much for ones she has hurt--Ed and Hope, since she wants to be the Rita she wants to be and not the Rita others think should be, according to her. As a viewer, I got a real charge out of Rita when she learned Hope coming there, forcing poor little ole Rita to end her dream vacation. She was disappointed, irked or pouty, showing her spoiledness and doesn't like it when people or things get in her way. She and Vanessa are a lot alike in character, although Rita hasn't had wealth all her life like Vanessa. Let's hope she and Ed dissolve their rocky marriage with divorce. Glad Mike snooped and found Rita's bag and compact left behind. Hope Holly returns soon--like the actress who plays Holly.
Alan is destroying himself and his business, along with Diane's never ending help in order to avoid all the ugly disgrace. Alan's overly mean treatment toward Elizabeth, poisoning his son, Philip's mind to hating Mike because of Elizabeth and the fact he has now betrayed all his wives with other women and hiding a doctor in Jamaica surely makes him a true villain. Hopefully, Mike's investigation ends soon.
Hope is the sweet girl who deserves life's best. It's sad she is pregnant. She is a strong girl and will be OK even having to divorce Alan. One wonders, will Alan go to prison or get killed off? It will be most interesting.
Morgan is a sweet girl. Too bad she and Kelly's romance ended in such disaster. She should tell Tim how she really feels about Kelly whether she and Kelly rekindle their romance or not. His (Tim) drinking stops her. Vanessa is the wealthy seductive, possessive and arrogant gal with Ross, and runs to daddy when things aren't going well. The way she caresses Ross's face and coos him is something. Diane does same with Joe Bradley. Will be interesting when Mike learns of Diane's deep involvement with helping Alan.
Andy is headed for big trouble. His mother, Barbara will be very hurt someday, and Holly too. The way he uses Katie, his roughness and temper is destructive.
The Jamaica scenery was beautiful. Wish we could have seen more rooms in the villa than just the bedrooms. It is a dreamy place to spend a vacation. One more thing. Rita's gowns were gorgeous. She must have thought she was a lonely queen or princess until Alan showed up.
Hopefully, I may have the opportunity to get some response about my suggesting the ectopical pregnancy--from writers, sponsors or whoever. Thought you may be interested in a viewer's suggestion.
The Nola-Kelly-Morgan story was very important to the program and viewers. The following letter writer's desire to see Nola punished is phrased as a desire to get her "off
the show." It is problematic if this is the case because apparently many viewers like to see the evil person punished. Also, they love to hate certain characters. In some cases, the resolution of a storyline, as temporary as it may be, whereby the good characters win or are brought together, brings a great deal of satisfaction. This is often emphasized in letters. Others, however, emphasize punishment or some form of suffering for the evil character. This occurs if the evil character is murdered or disappears too quickly. A staff member who frequently received the phone calls to the program noted that viewers would call in upset if an evil character did not suffer enough'
The moral attitudes are interesting. Most of the people are saying we want to get rid of Nola are not so much saying get rid of her but punish her. They feel they have a right to see these characters punished. My big joke at the time was [to say] they want to see Nola in hell--as if they get some perverse release out of all of this.
We got a phone caller. They thought she [Nola] was going to leave town. They were so upset. Another character they thought was just going to die and be gone that way. Here they are getting their wish in getting rid of the character, but not the way they want to get rid of her. When Lucille Wexler died, they were upset she died so suddenly. They wanted to see her suffer. With Nola Reardon they have really gotten their wish seeing her suffer repeatedly for what she did last summer.
The following is an example of a letter writer demanding the end of Nola.
Believe me, if you let Nola get away with this very stupid escapade, many of us plan to forever stop watching the so-called award winning show: The Guiding Light. There is no one with the smarts of Kelly who could go along with this thing so blindly. Now come on--let us see Nola put where she belongs, and that is off the show. Can't stand her, and you have used her long enough to disrupt everybody's life, and let us go on to better
things for Katie also--you run these things on much too long with the likes of an Andy.
The Nola-Kelly-Morgan story dramatically peaked at one point in July. In the program that aired July 27, Kelly "told Nola off," and for many viewers it was an emotionally significant and satisfying program. A large number of letters were sent to the show; many related the pleasure of seeing Nola "revealed" to the overall satisfaction that the program gives them. Viewers strongly expected/hoped to see Nola revealed and Kelly and Morgan united. They are virtually grateful that the makers of the program gave them that satisfaction.
Producers & Writers of Guiding Light:
Thank you so much for making me so happy in last Fri. July 24th and again today July 27th been waiting for Kelly to catch up with Nola for so long. How I love Fri. & today's shows. Thank you, thank you. Made me so happy I cried, seeing Nola get what she needed for so long. And I hope Floyd don't have to marry Nola, Hope she has to have that baby alone. But I am so happy what ever goes on the show now--I relaize you have to have someone to cause trouble. Thanks again for making my day much greater. Kelly & Morgan getting back together again. Want to see more about Hope & Allen now. O.K.
Here I am actually "hooked" on a program, to the extent of not even accepting an invitation if it means not being able to see my program: In fact, I buy everything but the diapers that are advertised:The reason I am writing is to tell you how I feel about some of your cast.
The little lady that plays Nola Reardon is a darling, beautiful child--and certainly should go places. While she plays a difficult part, she actually makes you live the story with her.
Puhlease--don't let her do any more damage. Tell your writers to let her mend her ways.
Bad girls do, you know, and find happy solutions in their lives.
This weekend past was a very hectic one--so realistic for me, that I had to take extra heart pills to calm down (I'm a heart patient) when I thought Nola was going to wreck Kelly's life. Your writers were great on that issue-except I doubt if Bea would have, in reality, gone to Kelly. In my mind, Kelly would have asked the doctor how long Nola was pregnant, and found out that way. Nola needs her mother now. Kelly sounded like a nut when he spoke to the doctor--not like a medical student.
I love him, he's like my son. He didn't follow thru.
The story is great--I love it and the actors and actresses are wonderful.
One appreciative letter was extremely brief.
Bravo: How very well done that was:
Dear Writers of The Guiding Light,
Im seriously grateful for the turn out of the show concerning Noala Reardon (Lisa Brown) and Kelly Nelson and Morgan Richards has made me very very happy. But as everyone knows she hasn't yet given up. I know she will keep on trying but until then I will continue to enjoy the show and will immediately tell everyone about the show soon you will have many viewers I promise (I hope)
A very happy viewer
Thank you for allowing a happy ending between Kelly Nelson and Morgan Richards on the Guiding Light. I've been following the show off and on for about 5 years. Sometimes I would get so disgusted with the sadness that I would stop watching for several months. Finally something nice happened and it was wonderful.
Please let more happy endings develop--I, for one, would like to see more of them.
The degree to which viewers expect a particular performer to play a part and the degree to which they protest changes was demonstrated by a flood of letters after Mart Hulswit was replaced by another performer.
Yesterday I was notified that after 12-l/l years of dedicated service as Dr. Ed Bauer, Mart Hulswit is being fired or let go. This action is being taken to so-call better the show and compete with ABC. No competition, CBS is the best. GL is already hurting because of several characters leaving show, Rita, Vanessa, Ben and Diane. And now to let Mart go' What a mistake. I am very angry and you will get letters from many such people--It will hurt GL a lot more to lose as many as 1000 viewers if this takes place. And that is what's going to happen. Please reconsider --Ed is a part of GL and anyone else in his
place couldn't do the show justice. Spice up his role--get more action. When Ed had Roger Thorpe on, it was super good. Think of something else.
To the Producers:
I recently heard that the part of "Ed Bauer" was being recast, and I am writing to let you know that neither I nor any of my friends who watch the show are pleased with the idea. While Mart Hulswit is no Robert Redford, he has nevertheless made the character of "Ed Bauer" very real and has brought a quality to that character that I believe no other actor could duplicate.
The simple fact is that Mart Hulswit is "Ed Bauer". You don't need to replace him with some other gorgeous actor to compete with General Hospital. If looks were the only thing that attracted viewers, then many hit shows wouldn't have been hits. So, don't go looking for someone you already have. I know many other viewers feel this same way, and I hope they also write to let you know.
To Procter & Gamble:
I have been a long-time fan of Guiding Light
and a user of Procter & Gamble products.
I am very distressed by the action of Procter & Gamble, the writers, and the producers of Guiding Light.
I cannot quite believe you have replaced Mart Hulswitt as Ed Bauer. He was my favorite actor on the show. He portrayed Ed as a very natural, sensitive, handsome, sexy, intelligent man. If he is replaced, and I'm sure the powers that be at Procter & Gamble have made up their corporate, collective mind, I intend to replace all Procter & Gamble products. Your products can be replaced but Mart Hulswitt cannot.
I am 35, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and will be an ax-consumer of Procter & Gamble products.
Another series of letters was from viewers who were quite upset with the direction they perceived the show to be taking. Some referred to an earlier time when the show was more appealing. Many viewers were particularly upset with the increasing domination of the program by young characters (late teens, mid-twenties) in the featured stories. Others were upset by what they considered to be a moral decline in the programming. Coupled with the outrage is a threat to boycott the products of sponsors. The first two letters were both addressed to CBS and refer to what the viewers see as a pattern affecting both Guiding Light and As the World Turns, two Procter and Gamble shows aired, at that time, back to back.
What in heavens name has happened to the writers of two daytime shows namely, As the World Turns and The Guiding Light? They have become trash programs--the writers seem to be hung up on sex. I have watched and enjoyed them for many years but I just can't imagine how you think that seeing Alan Spaulding and Rita Bauer in bed making love several times on one show is good TV? What makes it even more distasteful is the fact they are married to other spouses on the show.
Is it any wonder our young people think sex no matter what is O.K.? I can tell you one thing if this continues we are beginning a
campaign to let the sponsors know how we feel and will boycott their products and advertise our reasons.
In the past the Hughes family gave us many hours of entertainment and now you want that changed. We are dead serious about our campaign.
THE GUIDING LIGHT New York, N.Y.
I have written many letters to you complaining about the profanity and the low moral tone of this show.
It is common practice on this show to present to the viewer profanity (excessive) suggested sexual intercourse--men commonly shown in women's apartments--in bed with them--without of course the benefit of marriage. I would like to point out that bedroom scenes are completely unnecessary and are highly offensive to decent people. If men are not actually in bed with a women they are shown running around the women's apartment or lolling around on a davenport half dressed. Many times after a new person is put in a show after only a couple of days acquaintance the first thing the say to a member of the opposite sex is "I want to make love to you". If course what is meant is they want to make sex. The reason for this letter is to point out to you that my complaints have fallen on deaf ears and I plan to support "THE
COALITION FOR BETTER T.V." This of course starts up in March.
Writers will make reference to the program in its earlier days, primarily to criticize what the viewer considers its growing immorality. The ghost of Papa Bauer appears in this one.
Dear Writers of The Guiding Light,
We must tell you how disgusting this story is since there are so many bedroom scenes. Oh, that Papa Bauer were still living. It was so clean then. The only reason we watch it now is to see if Allen ever gets what he has coming.
Mr. & Mrs.
Occasionally letters express extreme feelings of revulsion and disgust. The following letter is in stark contrast to the others reproduced and gives some sense of the range of responses to the same show that the producers contend with. Such a letter, however, would be viewed as extreme and disregarded.
I have neglected writing for quite some time to let you know what I think of quite a few of your rotten programs. They are gutter quality. Every day there is nothing but sex, nude bodies and most of the time in bed. The impression that if a man asks a female out to dinner that he is to go to her place or to his for his pay for the dinner. Now I say male and female because it would be a disgrace to a man or a woman if such a gutter rat was man or woman. Now the Roger Thorpe and John Dixon in those two programs are to obnoxious to be allowed on a program for any length of time and the writers of those programs should be prosecuted for writing such. And let me tell you those programs and those two people make many people thru the country get murder in their minds. Those 2 should be castrated like farmers do their male hogs and then make them eat 'em. There are a couple females should be (Reta Bauer hussy) turpentined like people used to do years ago to strange dogs.
Now if you people running the network had the decency yourselves you wouldn't allow such things be broadcast and if you believe there is a God and you pay for all the wrongs you do of which you are contributing to delinquency of children and some adults (for some adults don't have sense enough to stand up for whets right and decent) God help your mind and Soul before you die because you will surely burn in Hell for what you are doing.
Please pass this on to the writers for their minds must wallow in the filthy gutter all the time to write such trash. The disgusting kissing that so much of it goes on in each program. That's immoral, indecent, they don't
kiss. They just suck each others lips. And Oh Dear what a Hell those writers will be in and the people that plays the parts surely wants money badly to play such a part. A male that kisses that opens his mouth and puts his dirty lips over hers should be shot.
The whole business is a stinking rotten dirty business. Gutter business. The television could do wonders of good for the world and for influencing young people in the right way. Educate them and have honorable citizens a decent respectable loving people. But no, they'd rather have them rotten disrespectful, in fear and trouble. I do hear more and more disgust for T.V. programs, more people saying they turn them off. Don't watch or listen. I hope someday soon they (people) march together and demand a change or force all the networks to stop their filthy program. And I hope if it isn't stopped by people protesting that God takes a hand and destroys the whole business. My: My' how the air is polluted day and night with the filthy songs, loud bang bang of what they call music and the dirty language and almost nude bodies.
Many of the things sponsors pay for their ads on T.V. are as bad as the programs. The looks, the sound of their voices are so disgusting that if the product was any good people wouldn't use it after seeing and hearing them. I hope I have conveyedto you my views of your part in this and please tell the writers of these programs they are sick, sick, sick and God knows they need help.
I watched the three men from each networks on a few times and they were disgusting. They said people didn't like the rough stuff westerns so they would slap the people with lots and lots of sex and they don't understand that many many people enjoy a good clean funny program.
I hope many people write and let you know how you are polluting peoples minds especially the young. Setting a very poor example.
Words can't express how obnoxious you all are. Hope you wake up and revive your conscience.
Read this and weep.
On the other hand, viewers may be quite sophisticated and analytical. The following letter disapproves of the centrality of younger, new characters. The letter writer indicates she is aware that people age 30 or over "comprise the bulk of the soap opera audience for Guiding Light" and that the shift to younger characters and storylines is designed to garner new fans.
As a long time viewer of the Guiding Light, I hope you will give my letter careful consideration. I have been very upset with the addition of 4 new characters who have been given major storylines on the soap; Kelly, Morgan, Nola and Tim. Their boring conversations, (they say the same things day after day, week after week) very predictableschemes, petty problems and jealousies (including the ridiculous fights between Kelly and Tim and the shouting matches between Kelly and Morgan) have really lowered the program down to the level of the other soaps. I now switch to Texas whenever these 4
characters come on and Texas has to be one of the worst soap operas. Young people do NOT make up steady viewer audience so you are in danger of losing a large segment of support (people like myself) by continuing to let them play such an important part on the show. As a teacher, I can only watch GL during vacations but I have been following the show since the 1st Leslie Bauer was on and before the Norris family came on the scene. For that reason, I feel I can speak with more authority than someone who has been a fan for only a few years. I am in my 30's and know that people my age or older comprise the bulk of your soap opera audience. Currently the Guiding Light has many many strengths over all the other soaps and has retained these strengths over the years. 1. They have many talented people on the show. 2. They have been able to hold on to the actors giving the program needed stability. 3. The actors & actresses are picked for their talent, not their looks. They look like the character they're portraying, except for your new Jackie & Andy Norris. 4. Most of the plots are not ridiculous, except for the 4 mentioned above. 5. They still have the Bauer
family. 6. They use more older people on the show than some of the other soaps, making it much more realistic and true to life.
I thought GL did an EXCELLENT selection with the following newer characters: Alan Spaulding, Ross Marler, Dianne Ballard, Katy, Hilary Bauer, Lucille Wexler (now written out), Jennifer Richards and even Floyd for the lighter moments. In addition you have superb talent in Eve McFarren (Janet Grey) and Holly Thorpe, (Maureen Garrett, now leaving the show) and very good performances from Ben McFarren, Bert, Ed & Mike Bauer, Sarah, Barbara, Adam, Roger (now out), Amanda, Steve Jackson and Lainey. As you can see, I have mentioned just about everybody on the show in a complimentary way. I do think it's a waste to not have bigger story lines for Eve and Ben. I hope they will not be lured away because that really will be your loss. I'm terribly disappointed that Maureen Garrett has left the show although I understand her reason for doing so. She is so obviously intelligent and gifted as an actress that I felt she was being wasted anyway after Roger's
death, with such a minor part. I remember when Maureen Garrett replaced Lynn Deerfield in the role of Holly. It was the easiest transition, something I never had to get used to. She brought a lot of warmth to her character and I hope her role will be brought back with another fine talent in order to keep the Ed/Holly story line going. Please keep the Bauer family going strong. They have been the strength of the show and must be holding quite an audience over all these years.
In contrast, the new Jackie is a disaster. Cindy Pickett was great but the first time I saw the new Jackie, I laughed--she was so unbelievable. For one thing she doesn't even look old enough to have a son Philip's age and her acting is not convincing. Andy Norris is another poor selection. He just doesn't look like an Andy Norris. Whoever is responsible for hiring these two did not do a good job.
I'm writing this letter because I think the Guiding Light is the BEST SOAP OPERA on the air now and I would like to see it continue
in this category and not become similar to other soaps. By increasing the number of young people (Kelly, Morgan, Nola & Time) and letting them take over a portion of the show you have already taken a big step in what I consider a fatal direction. GL already had enough talented people whose roles could easily have been expanded (Dianne, Katy, Hilary, Sarah, Adam, Bert, Ben, Floyd, Barbara, Rita, Stafford family, etc.) so it wasn't necessary to bring in new people. Alan Spaulding and Ross Marler currently have big roles and I think that should continue, along with Ed, Mike, Eve and Ben.
Unfortunately there will never be a soap that can in any way come close to what Another World was a few years ago when Steve, Alice and Rachel were on the show and Harding Lemay was developing the characters psychologically with outstanding scripts acted out by a superb cast. I feel privileged to have been able to watch a show of that calibre on daytime T.V.
Since I have been a fan of the Guiding Light for about 15 years, I hope you will take my suggestions seriously and not try to gain new fans at the expense of long-time steady viewers like myself.
When the program is pre-empted, or interrupted, for whatever reason, there is a very strong reaction. In one case the viewers were particularly incensed because the interruption came at a peak dramatic moment and the newscaster said there was no news regarding the release of the American hostages in Iran.
To Whom It May Concern:
Although we are ardent fans of your network's Emmy-winning afternoon drama, "The Guiding Light", we recognize the importance of certain news events and the necessity of preemption at times. However, we were extremely disturbed at your interruption for a ten minute period of "Guiding Light" on Monday, January 19th, because the "special report" by Dan Rather and Leslie Stahl contained no new developments and because Mr. Rather seemed to be prolonging the report, reaching for questions, instead of giving a brief update and wrapping it up quickly.
The most frustrating aspect of that interruption was the timing--at an extremely dramatic moment during a climactic scene which was the resolution of a story line that had been developed since last spring: Unlike prime time TV, soap episodes are not re-run in the summer, and we cannot see any scenes we miss.
We appreciate your excellent news coverage; in fact, we rarely miss the CBS Evening News. But that was one special report which could easily have waited until 4:00, when a serial drama would not have been interrupted (or you could have still shown the soap in its entirety). If continuous coverage of a news event is indicated, it would be better to preempt the entire soap rather than prevent the viewers from following the story. I can guarantee that the vast majority of viewers you reached (I assume it is the viewers you attempt to serve here) with that report were as upset as we were at its timing and lack of any vital or new information, and in that particular case would have much preferred to remain "uninformed" for another hour. I can't help but wonder if you would have interrupted "Dallas" as readily with that same report'
We are interested in the news, the hostages, and being informed of major events. But please keep in mind that it is possible to fulfill your obligation as a responsible news source without making your viewers too angry to hear a word of the report, as some friends told us was the case with them. Please consider messages at the bottom of the screen (the way local stations give weather bulletins without interrupting programming), brief news bulletins with details to be given later, or presenting the soap in its entirety despite the interruption.
Thank you for your time and attention.
I have watched "Guiding Light" now for months. When the plot all came to a climax on Jan. 19th, you interrupted the most important scene to put Dan Rather on with unimportant news concerning the hostages. Now I never will know what happened in the courtroom scene to
Jennifer. When you returned to program it had all happened already and I was appalled to think you'd do this to the public. Especially after waiting months for it all to come to a head.
Occasionally letters ask for information about a painting, hat, or other object that a viewer has seen on the program and would like to buy or have.
I am writing to ask for any information you can provide about a dress worn by one of your characters in a recent episode--the dress worn by Eve McFarren for Lanie's wedding.
I would like to know the designer and whether it is available in stores. Also I would like a photograph of the dress if there is any way that is possible.
Thank you. Sincerely,
At times writers will comment on how the show has helped them with a problem. This writer compares her problems to those of Morgan. This letter is also indicative of the letters that ask if the writer can appear on the show or visit the show.
Dear Guiding Light,
Hi. My name is ---, 14 yrs. old, freshman and very eager. The reason that I am writing you is because I am interested in being on your show.
I watch Guiding Light every day. I never miss it. The show is so wonderful, well what I mean is that it helps me through a lot of problems I have.
My life hasn't been to happy lately. I've been having a few problems that are similar to Morgans. (Tim, Kelley, Nola) It has done so much for me. And now my problems have been helped, because Morgan has done an awful lot for me just by her working through all of the problems she's had.
I thank you very much for taking time to read my letter. I love the show and everyone on it. But once again, 'thank you:'
Whenever you need someone, even a very, very
short part, please let me know'?' I know I could do a very good job. And I know I will please you very much' Thank you, again.
P.S. I have my parents permission to be on the Guiding Light'
The following letter I think reflects the tendency for viewers to develop a frame of reference based upon other media experiences. Specifically, the writer here notes the similarities between how working-class life is presented in the program and in Tennessee Williams's work.
Dear guiding Light:
The scenes with Nola and her mother and brother are starting to look like something out of Tennessee Williams.
That's a real interesting little slice of life, there. It's a nice contrast to the middle-class-ness of the Bauer family.
New viewers will request information on past story and relationships so that they can better understand and enjoy the program. Various soap opera magazines also convey information in response to questions from their readers.
I have a request that at once is simple and involved. I just began to watch "Guiding Light" a couple months ago and I am still struggling to determine who everyone is and what connections each character has to the others on the show. My request is for you to unravel that for me. Could you please send me a brief synopsis of each of the top 15 to 20 characters, identifying their family connections, their marriages, and their feelings toward any other character (if it is especially relevant). I would greatly appreciate this list and it would improve my enjoyment of the story which has already begun to captivate me. Thank you for your time.
Some writers will call what they consider various errors to the attention of the producers. These comments often have
to do with what the viewer finds improbable and distracting. The following letter cites annoying mannerisms of performers and a performer's (character's) behavior that seems unrealistic.
We enjoy your program each day. Several of us have noticed that "Morgan" and a few others are constantly fidgeting with their fingers. It really looks amateur. Also, she never carries a purse when she is shopping.
Keep up the good program.
A small number of letters addressed to the show or its producers will request photographs. The largest percentage of letters to performers similarly include praise and a request for a photograph. The letters convey a sense of the enjoyment and importance of the program to the viewer.
My name is --- and I am 14 years old. Everyday Monday through Friday at 2:00 p.m. I always watch your program Guiding Light. I would like to ask if possible if I can have a picture or poster of the entire cast of the Guiding Light. I would like to hang it up in my room, because I will soon be going back to school and I won't be able to see the program. I would sincerely appreciate all your cooperation.
A sincere fan.
I enjoy Guiding Light very much. But my most favorite people are Kelly and Hillory, and Morgan. If you don't mind I would like a signed picture of them each. I will be glad to pay for them. I like Kelly so much that I cried when him and Noahla where going to leave Springfield and get married. If you need anyone I will be here.
Your biggest Fan,
P.S. I am only 12 but I will be 13 on December 6.
PPS Sorry if I misspelled some names. And I would really like them pictures.
I would like to have a picture of Kelly and a picture of Morgan. I just love Kelly he is so good looking you can tell Kelly I said he was good looking. My name is --- I wish he would come to Altoona I would like to meet him. So please send me a picture of Kelly and Morgan and thank you very. Hear is my address. So I will be waiting for and answer and the pictures soon. Write right away. Have Kelly sign his picture for me. Well I am going to close for now.
Send me shoes pictures and thank you very much.
I'm not writing this letter for myself but for my mother who is an invalid. As you can imagine, she spends most of her time watching TV and her favorite show is "The Guiding Light".
I wonder if it would be possible if she could receive a photo of the cast members of that show. This would be a great thrill for her. Thank you so much for your kind help.
The theme of viewers experiencing the characters as friends is reflected in the following letter which begins with a recognition of Hillary as a part on the show but ends with a wish for the character.
We think Hillarey is so sincere in her part on the TV program, "Guiding Light".
Hillarey makes one feel so close to her, light a true and trusted friend.
She put Kelly and Morgan's happiness ahead of her own and was instrumental in bringing them together again.
We really like Hillarey and wish her the very best:
Dear Guiding Light Gang;
Hello' How are you all doing? Fine, I hope. Me, I'm okay. My name is --- and I live in Boonton, New Jersey.
I just wanted to say that you are all doing such a *GREAT* job on the show. The show al-
ways leaves you hanging in suspense, just when you were waiting for it all to happen, and then it doesn't. Watching the show makes me feel as if I already know you all, but I know on the show you are just acting and you all are not
really like that at all in real life. Well, keep up the *GREAT* work.
(Remember, I'll be watching') Love always,
(Thanks for the #1 show in my life)
By far the largest percentage of letters are from women. In fact, they appear to represent an even greater percentage than that which characterizes the audience in general. The primary concerns are to see romantic couples united or reunited and to have their happiness last. Conversely, they often feel strongly about an evil character and wish the character off the show, revealed, or punished. Quite often the evil character, such as Nola, stands in the way of the ideal romance.
There is good reason for assuming that the audience has very strong expectations about what should and will occur, but will also enjoy surprises, if these surprises do not violate fundamental expectations. As Dolf Zillmann notes:
[Apparently] pleasant excitement can result only from the anticipation of desired outcomes when the anticipation is not tempered by a substantial likelihood of alternative undesirable, even dreaded outcomes. (1980: 134)
In fact, Zillmann emphasizes resolution of the conflict or threatening situation as opposed to the emphasis on uncertainty that characterizes much writing on suspense. What in fact can be or is a negative experience, characterized by fear and apprehension, should not be considered apart from the resolution of suspense. In fact "suspense and its resolution form a meaningful entity that must be kept intact for the explanation of the popularity of suspenseful drama" (Zillmann 1980:157-58).
With soaps, there is also the fact and knowledge on the part of the viewer, that the show will go on and that further complications will result, generating tension over the well-being of liked protagonists such as Kelly and Morgan.
The viewer, as is reflected in the letters, has a privileged view of what is occurring, and their concern for a
liked protagonist, particularly for one who is the object of some intrigue, will be reflected in their effort to, in effect, write the story. The viewer knows more than the protagonist and wants to use that information. At times characters in the story become implausible because they should know what the viewer does. Letter writers will then criticize the characters for their stupidity, as in the criticisms of characters who were not able to see through Nola's schemes.
While some viewers emphasize the well-being of liked protagonists, others emphasize the punishment of disliked characters. I copied one letter from a couple who stated they watched only to see Andy revealed for the evil person he was. Again, knowing who the evil person is generates a desire to manipulate the fate of the characters. The letter writing and the threats of not watching the show or boycotting the sponsors' products are all efforts to make the story take a desired direction.
While viewers (and letter writers) expect the evil character will get caught and be revealed, for some the satisfaction lies in guessing how he will get caught. Here there seems more of a distance and appreciation of the way the story progresses. Some writers very much appreciate the story on the level of a problem being solved. When Kelly and Morgan are united and Kelly tells Nola off, one writer simply says, "Bravo' How very well done that was."
The letters create or convey a sense of the audience quite different from the statistical or impersonal artifact of the rating process. The satisfactions and frustrations of the audience member as a social being are many. In a fundamental way, the program creates and stimulates a sense of how life could and should be. As one letter writer stated:
We all need to feel and know that there is still normal, average, day-to-day living out there. [Emphasis mine]
Ultimately, the interaction through ratings and letters provides a continuing form of feedback, although it is problematically related to audience tastes and current program content. Letters, in a sense, tell suppliers when story, character, or performer are not attracting or developing long-term interest and are often used to corroborate what suppliers suspect about the appeal of the programming. The pressure to carefully and continually monitor success is reflected in the attention paid to the ratings, which are correlated with suppliers' perceptions or expectations about how
the programming should affect--"pull"--the ratings. The speed and degree of changes that are made vary and depend upon a number of factors, including performer guarantees and the stage of the storytelling, as was the case in the "Carrie Story."
The orientation of the people working on soaps and the sources of rewards, including social acceptance and approval, involve more than satisfying the audience as measured by the ratings. Satisfaction is taken in telling interesting stories well and in reaching large audiences, in accomplishing organizational goals by getting a program produced quickly and efficiently, and in being nominated for and receiving awards. Awards are viewed, in the case of television's awards for daytime programming, as recognition by peers and, therefore, as particularly satisfying, but a temporary consideration.
Ultimately, the shaping values
of competition and entertainment, as extensions of the economic
interests supporting the system, justify the decisions that are
made. Entertainment success is measured by ratings. Even if a
program has a very large audience, the competitive pressures limit
any commitment to any enduring creativity that does not pull the
ratings. The search for novelty, in conjunction with the use of
and articulation with reality trends, the ways these trends themselves
change and shift, and the close continual monitoring of ratings
success, generates considerable pressure to alter story to fit
the pressures and "hype" the ratings. Letters play a
more indirect or long-term role and are used, in conjunction with
all the other sources of information, particularly to measure
the appeal of a performer.
Proceed to Chapter 9