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Welcome to the Soaps

Welcome to the Soaps

by Joseph Montebello

Before there were miniseries and weekly comedy hours, there were soap operas. Those wonderful half-hour segments that came on every day, five days a week and captured the hearts of women and men alike.

And if you are as old as I am, you will remember soaps on the radio. Every day I would arrive home from school and find my mother absorbed in the trials and tribulations of Backstage Wife or Stella Dallas or Lorenzo Jones. I knew enough to go quietly to my room as my mother sat totally absorbed in the dialogue.

Thanks to writers such as Pete Rich, television soap operas reigned supreme for many many years and some of the memorable characters he wrote for are still remembered fondly.

Born in Atlanta, Rich moved to New York after college with the dream of becoming a comedy writer.

“My friend Gail Lawrence and I were in this together,” he said, “and we had an interview with a man at ABC comedy development. He told us that one had to live in Los Angeles in order to write comedy for television. So off we went, only to discover that Bob Hope was looking for writers.”

In the category of “too good to be true,” Rich and his friend did, indeed, get a job writing for Hope and, at 25 years old, they were the youngest writers he had ever employed. Unfortunately, a writers’ strike brought everything to a halt, so Rich and Lawrence moved back to New York. As luck would have it, the man from ABC who had encouraged them was now at NBC, and was looking for writers for a soap called The Doctors.

“In the ’80s, when television soap operas were in their prime, they had a captive audience of housewives and college kids,” said Rich. “The shows got huge ratings and, compared to prime time shows, they were cheap to produce. The profits were staggering and it was rumored that daytime paid for prime time.”

That was the beginning of Rich’s stellar career in the soaps which lasted almost 30 years. He will share his favorite memories of life on the soaps at the Women’s Forum, at the Litchfield Community Center Thursday, March 2nd, at 2:30 PM.

In addition to The Doctors, he penned scripts for Guiding Light, listed in Guinness World Records as the longest-running drama in television in American history—it was broadcast on CBS for 57 years—All My Children; Days of Our Lives; Santa Barbara, and Passions, Rich’s favorite show. His talent was acknowledged with six Daytime Emmy Awards and two awards from the Writers Guild of America.

With such a stellar career, Rich has written many classic scenes and memorable dialogue and being asked to mention just one is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child.

“Soaps opera lovers may remember what is considered one of the classic moments of daytime television when Reva Shayne on Guiding Light took off her clothes in a public fountain and baptized herself “the Slut of Springfield” to her crippled boyfriend, Josh. The speech went on for about five minutes as Reva basically had a meltdown. Actress Kim Zimmer won an Emmy for her acting and the episode itself received an Emmy as well. In true soap fashion, after Reva was taken home, she woke up in bed to find Josh watching her from his wheelchair. They made love, she cured his paralysis and made it rain–so potent a woman was she.”

In their prime, soap operas managed to combine reality with incredibly convoluted plots and character studies. Where else could one find tortured men and women who fell in love, suffered infidelities, murder, lust, mysteries, lies, and secrets?

“I think the days of soaps are really behind us,” said Rich. “The Internet has allowed everyone access to everything at anytime. And life has become so fast-paced that few people have five afternoon hours a week to devote to a show. Plus, reality TV, You Tube, and social media all entertain people in a customized way. Today what’s on the news is more outrageous and shocking than any soap ever was.”

But we all have memories of those days when soaps held us rapt for that magical hour every day. Rich retired from writing for television and now spends his time decorating houses, designing gardens and writing fiction for fun.

For information about the Women’s Forum event visit the link below.

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