Anthony Herrera remembered

Anthony Herrera, the actor who played the villainous (and nearly impervious) James Stenbeck on AS THE WORLD TURNS off and on since 1980, passed away on June 21 in Buenos Aires, according to Soap Opera Digest. He was 67 years old, and had been fighting lymphoma since being diagnosed in 1997.

Herrera wrote a book about his fight against his particular cancer, a rare form called Mantle Cell Lymphoma, but his tome, The Cancer War, was not mere celebrity self-aggrandizement. He worked hard to promote research to help all cancer patients, and even testified on Capitol Hill in support of stem-cell research in 2005. Two operations employing stem cells helped extend his life.
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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/18/10

I understand that no self-respecting AS THE WORLD TURNS fan will ever watch its replacement, THE TALK, but just in case you felt any twinge of morbid curiosity, I watched it, so you don’t have to.

As the commercials hinted, THE TALK is a bald-faced, we’re-not-even-pretending-to-try-to-hide-it imitation of THE VIEW. If you’ve seen that, you’ve seen this. There’s a reason my colleague Mala dubbed this show THE RE-VIEW. Julie Chen, Holly Robinson Peete, Sara Gilbert, Leah Remini and Sharon Osbourne literally brought nothing new to the table as they strutted out, waving to the audience, and took their places at a…er, table.

The premiere THE TALK began like a reality show featuring the hosts and Julie narrating, as documentary-style footage replicated such BIG BROTHER tropes as seeing the set for the first time. Julie asserted that they all had instant chemistry, but that doesn’t translate on-air — hence, the need to inform the audience that they have chemistry.

Leah immediately put the audience on the spot by openly fretting that they would “hate” her. Throughout the show, she indulged in a lot of broad mugging. However, the most self-indulgent section consisted entirely of family members wishing the hosts good luck.

THE TALK is so mom-centric (constantly referring to each other as mothers, and Marissa Jaret Winokur as “mom on the street”) that it is in danger of shutting out women who have not given birth. As for any stray males who wander across the show: Just say no, dude… There’s nothing for you here. Heck, there’s barely anything of value for women. A segment addressing how to talk to your kids about sex was shockingly juvenile. The women giggled like 10-year-olds over the names of body parts, calling the clinical terms “disgusting” and favoring euphemisms like “cupcake.” (Seriously!) In all, the segment was an embarrassing disaster.

Julie wrapped with an imitation of THE VIEW’s entreaty to take time to enjoy the view by telling her viewers, “It’s always the right time to have The Talk.” (Say, isn’t “The Talk” a euphemism for telling your kids about sex? Talk about irony!) Sharon ended by promising, “Tomorrow, we’ll be different.” One can only hope.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 9/16/10

AS THE WORLD TURNS’s Jack and Carly got married yesterday for, like, the 17th time and, thanks to cancellation, fans can be pretty sure that it will stick this time. But what caught my attention about their 42nd stroll down the aisle was that the vows Jack and Carly wrote for themselves focused quite a bit on the negative.

“I mostly have made the mistakes — terrible ones, some of them,” Carly admitted, adding that she is no longer “stupid enough” to promise that she won’t make more.

Jack related how, “You brought me back from a very, very dark place, the darkest place I think I’ve ever been.” And, instead of promising her a clean happily-ever-after, he mused how, “None of us know where we’re gonna be in a year.” I took that to be a meta remark about how the show is going off the air and lots of cast and crew will potentially be out of work 12 months from now.

But then again, this couple has probably said every lovey-dovey line there is over the course of their 50-odd weddings. What’s left to rhapsodize about? Sure, there were upbeat lines, (like when she called him, “my true north, my soul mate, my best friend”), but it was the dark spin overall that I found fascinating.

With cancellation looming at the end of the week and, let’s face it, the legitimately angsty storylines over the course of the last year (Jack shot his own brother to death!), what else should we expect? I’m holding out hope that CarJack can find their path to happily ever after — with or without a compass.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 9/09/10

Allow me to interrupt the death spiral of AS THE WORLD TURNS in order to praise Van Hansis‘ turn as Luke in the demise of Dr. Reid Oliver.

This story is an example of what can happen when a soap focuses on a core family and tells a story about characters in whom viewers have invested a lot of time and love. Luke has been (pretty much) a front-burner character for months, and I am glad that ATWT took a break from crowding out veterans with throwaway newbies like Blackie and Gabriel in order to tie off Luke’s story. It may not have been the happy ending with Reid that so many fans wanted, but at least it was something.

Now, I concede that Reid (Eric Sheffer Stevens) was a relatively new character himself, but Reid benefited from an “old school” slow introduction; one that allowed audiences to get to know him in small doses over time. Hence, it felt like viewers were losing a friend as he lay gasping his last wishes on that gurney. Viewers were able to feel empathy for him, and suffer with his unjust death. (I choose to believe that Reid died because he was a healer trying to help a patient — not because an experienced brain surgeon panicked in a moment of stress and forgot how to work a seatbelt.)

And his doom afforded Hansis a chance to really swing for the fences. When Luke agonized over donating Reid’s ticker to Chris, it came across onscreen like Hansis was carving out his own heart. His performance was an epic and worthy swansong — and so far, clearly the best thing about the end of ATWT.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 8/04/10

I usually try to avoid any and all spoilers before seeing a thriller, so I went into Angelina Jolie‘s spy flick, Salt, with blinders on. (And, never fear, I won’t spoil anything here.) I knew the plot concerned a CIA operative accused of being a Russian sleeper agent, and I was determined not to ruin any surprises.

Well, imagine my surprise to see that the film’s president of the United States was played by none other than Hunt Block! Block was my favorite incarnation of AS THE WORLD TURNS’ Craig (Sorry, Jon Lindstrom), and I was delighted to see that he portrayed fictional President Lewis with the same laconic charm that he brought to the shady Mr. Montgomery. But Block also lent Lewis a real sense of gravitas. I was surprised at what a great commander-in-chief Block made.

Another veteran of ATWT, former Faith Cassidy Hinkle, has a featured role in several flashback sequences. In addition, a couple of other soap stars have blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em roles: Victor Slezak goes from dead sleazeball politician Silas on ATWT to a one-star general in the movie; ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s Tika Sumpter (Layla) runs the front desk at Langley, while castmate Kamar de Los Reyes (Antonio) plays a Secret Service agent; and Michelle Ray Smith (ex-Ava, GUIDING LIGHT) can be seen in a key bunker scene.

And, by the way, I really enjoyed Salt. Jolie is a charismatic lead, and the story went in a direction that I didn’t quite expect. The action sequences were a bit outlandish, but the story was so entertaining that I was willing to take it all with a grain of…salt.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 4/23/10

With the demise of AS THE WORLD TURNS’s Rocco, I would like to declare a moratorium on mobbed-up Italian-American men in Oakdale.

Speaking as an Italian-American, I can say for a fact that not every one of us is in the mafia. I don’t see ATWT (or any soap) depicting any other minority groups in such a uniformly negative manner. In a genre that bends over backward to wink at the reality of organized crime so that popular characters like GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Sonny can be presented as importing harmless, unspecified “shipments,” I was aghast to see ATWT’s Uncle Ralph depicted as an ugly character who runs a protection racket and threatens pregnant women. And Rocco’s mob ties produced a hit man who nearly killed Dusty. In short, why are some gangsters, like GH’s Sonny, Jason or Alcazar heroes, while Italian mobsters are always scary? Perhaps the closest parallel is the shoddy treatment that South Asians have received, playing cabbies on BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL and YOUNG AND RESTLESS. But hey, at least those guys were gainfully employed doing honest work.

Sure, we all enjoyed watching THE SOPRANOS on HBO, and The Godfather movies are classics worthy of worship, but not every work of fiction needs to be packed with gangsters of Italian descent. I applaud GH for giving us Dante the crusading police officer and his loving mother, Olivia, and we need to see more characters like them. Not every Italian-American is a member of La Cosa Nostra; it’s just not our thing.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 12/24/09

Wow, 2009 was one hell of a year for soaps — and not in a good way.

Leaving aside the budget slashing and contract hassles, we lost an entire series, GUIDING LIGHT, back in September. And while that was bad enough, it was particularly painful because GL had undergone such a creative renaissance that it was clearly the best soap on the air when its light was actually snuffed on Sept. 18. So sad. And now comes word that AS THE WORLD TURNS will also come to an end — next September. As luck would have it, ATWT is currently on the creative upswing, and the only conceivable positive spin I can see coming out of the cancellation is the hope that ATWT will follow in the footsteps of its late sister show and go out in a blaze of glory. Freed of worrying about pandering to demographics, the-powers-that-be at GL cut loose and told entertaining, fun stories about people and families. You fans can make a difference, too: Write to all the networks and tell them you watch soaps, and that you matter, even if you don’t have one of those Nielsen boxes. And take heed, ATWT: Make CBS sorry it discarded you!

As I stand on the brink of 2010, I hope the rest of the soaps can hold on — not just for another year, but for another few decades. The TV landscape needs more shows like ATWT (and yes, GL), not fewer. Judging a show strictly by the Nielsen ratings system is short-sighted and does not reflect the entertainment world of 2010. I hope the networks can be persuaded to understand this, and soaps can be pulled back from the precipice.

Happy New Year (I hope!)

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Soap Opera Weekly: 12/18/09

Today’s episode of AS THE WORLD TURNS seemed to have multiple personalities — heartbreakingly good for a chunk of time, then shockingly bad, then sentimental and fun again.

The best part was the reconciliation scene between Rosanna and Craig. It was everything fans have been waiting for. Jon Lindstrom was appropriately contrite, delivering Craig’s apology with tear-filled eyes. Cady McClain responded with tears and Rosanna’s own heartfelt admission about her hopes for a family. It all boiled down to Craig apologizing for taking away years of her life, keeping her from moving on, and the elation on McClain’s face as Ro tearfully admitted that all she really wanted was to hear him say, “I’m sorry.” Her hug and tears of catharsis were a release for fans, as well. Then Rosanna dropped the bomb: She was now ready to move on — without him. In Germany. Wait…Germany?

I understand that McClain’s six months were up, and thus the-powers-that-be had to remove Rosanna from the canvas. But the whole wedding scenario suddenly made no sense. She knew about the job offer, so why even go through the motions of the ceremony? Why torture fans with an apparent reconciliation? Again, from a professional standpoint, I believe TPTB wanted the forgiveness scene in order to give fans a sense of “closure” to the relationship. If nothing else, TPTB will not feel “obligated” to bring Cady back to “finish” the story. But this sudden shift in tone gave viewers whiplash, and left them stunned and disgusted.

The show won folks back with a sensitive scene of Jack (Michael Park) breaking down at Brad’s grave and being comforted by Carly (Maura West). And added a big dollop of comic relief with Brad (Austin Peck) trying to seize control of Henry (Trent Dawson).

McClain ultimately left on a sentimental note (bidding poor Johnny a heartfelt goodbye), but I wish the show could have come up with a better way to move Ro out of town. This German scenario felt too much like a rush job!

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Soap Opera Weekly: 12/08/09

So, AS THE WORLD TURNS has been canceled. The World will stop turning in September of 2010.

The stunning news has just hit. Y’know that “Five Stages of Grief” stuff? I’m still on Stage 1: Denial. This cannot be happening. Not to AS THE WORLD TURNS. Not in just 10 short months. Noooooo. Not another one. Not so soon.

I know CBS faces a lot of harsh realities, and has to pay bills in this bad economy just like the rest of us, but canceling another venerable soap opera cannot be the right decision. Okay, so it will help the network bottom line in the short term, in the sense that it will not have to cut a check to license another round of ATWT. CBS has already done this gruesome dance once this year, axing GUIDING LIGHT in favor of a remake of LET’S MAKE A DEAL. The game show retread is pulling in a better rating by a razor-thin margin, but since LMAD costs practically nothing to produce, the network comes out ahead in the cold, hard calculus of counting beans. But what about the long run? Corporate shareholders are only as happy as their last dividend check. What happens in the following financial quarter? Is BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL next up to be sacrificed on the altar of Mammon?

Look at that, I just now turned the corner into Stage 2: Anger.

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GH’s Sins of the Father: Nature vs. Nurture

Dante (Dominic Zamprogna)

Soaps tend to try to have it both ways on the Nature vs. Nurture question, depending on what may make the best story. When it comes to an issue like paternity, soaps tend to downplay genetics and play up the idea that a “father” is the person who raised a child — biological or not. In that case, nurture is praised as more important. But if a character is worried about growing up to be just like his/her villainous father/mother, then genetics are presented as a practically inevitable destiny.

I was mulling this after watching the sequence in which GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Dante (Dominic Zamprogna) asked his mother Olivia (Lisa LoCicero) if she thought he could ever abuse a woman. He was tortured by the idea that he might have inherited an “abuse gene” from bad dad Sonny. To me, the mere fact that he was concerned about the question proves he is not that kind of man. Even if there was an abusive chromosome in his body, Olivia raised him the right way — to always respect women — and that’s the kind of training one doesn’t abruptly shrug off one day. Even if he somehow felt an urge deep in his bones to strike out violently, his moral code would quash it. C’mon, Dante is a police officer who is so dedicated to the straight-and-narrow that he is determined to put his own father behind bars. That is the mark of a man with scruples.
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