LB: If I Hadn’t Made It in Television, I Would’ve Been a Comic Book Writer

…Like my buddies Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. (Although Gerry did a fine job of escaping that ghetto, didn’t he, by rising to Co-Executive Producer of LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, among other TV shows?).

I’ve always thought that those working in the two media had a lot in common, and recently two writers still working in comic books have cemented that theory – John Ostrander and Martha Thomases. Here’s Martha’s take on soap opera, which coincidentally happens to be right in line with, yeah, you guessed it – mine.

Thomases Art 130111 Martha Thomases SoapSoap by Martha Thomases (ComicMix.Com)

Oh, Pine Valley! I have missed you so!

But my prayers have been answered, and All My Children will soon be back, if only on the Internet. And while it won’t feel real to me unless they get backErica Kane or Zach, I think this is a real win for those of us who like our entertainment niche.

Soap operas are not new. They were a staple of radio drama and easily made the transition to television. Usually, the focus would be on one or two families, and the drama that resulted when love, greed, hate and intrigue enmeshed them with each other and their neighbors.

Conventional wisdom maintained that this kind of entertainment was for women, especially housewives. They would watch “their stories” as they did the ironing or dusted. Every day, for 30 to 60 minutes (including commercials), they could vicariously experience the lives of beautiful people, with a cliffhanger at the end, ensuring a date with tomorrow’s show. When (white, middle-class) women went into the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s, it was assumed the genre would die.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the soap opera mutated. It invaded primetime, where shows like Dallasand Dynasty were monster hits. Soap elements – relationship dramas among the characters that couldn’t be solved with a laugh, a gunfight, or magic – invaded cop shows, doctor shows and more. Do you think you’d have The Sopranoswithout General Hospital? If so, you think wrong.

(My point is not that David Chase is a soap opera fan – although he may be – but that network executives wouldn’t have gone for the pilot without a profitable precedent.)

What ultimately drove the soaps off network television was the cost, and the continued segmentation of the audience. It’s expensive to have daily shows with big casts, big sets, and lots of writers. The talk shows that replaced the soaps are way cheaper, and product placement is much easier (although I will always remember with fondness the month that AMC had Campbell’s Soup as a sponsor, and therefore soup solved everything). They don’t get the same audience as the soaps, but they don’t need to.

The solution? The Internet. It’s taken a while for the producers to get it together with finances, and unions, but now it looks like they have.

It’s an interesting parallel to comics. Hollywood is making a ton of money from superheroes, but sales of floppies appeal to a much, much smaller audience. And, again, the Internet provides a way not only to grow the readership, but to level the playing field for those creators (and readers) who don’t want to limit themselves to one genre, or one business model.

The folks trying to resuscitate All My Children have already signed up Angie. Get Tad, and I’m there.

Did I mention that several of my friends have been writing soaps for umpteen million years too? Wonder if they can speak about comic books so wisely.

A Comic Book Pro Comes Thru with Insight About TV

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees Dept: Martha Thomases, co-creator of Dakota North for Marvel Comics, analyzes something we didn’t even notice: The increasing abundance of “shit” on TV. (No, we’re not talking quality here, we’re talking “shit.” Wait, that didn’t come out right either. Uh-oh, neither did that…)

Martha Thomases Is Talking Dirty – by Martha Thomases

They say “shit” on cable now. And “ass.”

And not just pay cable where not only has this been going on for decades, but it’s often a selling point. Need proof? Watch the reruns of The Sopranos on A&E, where they bleep so much that it sounds like having the hiccups is a requirement for being in the Mafia.

I don’t know when things changed. So many people in my daily life say “shit” and “ass” (and lots of other things) on a regular basis that I don’t really notice. This is how people talk in 2012. It’s how people have talked for the last 50 years, maybe longer (my memory is limited to my lifetime).

Still, when Ellen Burstyn said “Shit” on Political Animals. I had to pay attention. I think it’s in her contract that she has to say “shit” at least five times per episode.

Next up, I noticed they say “shit” on Suits, a show I started to watch becauseGabriel Macht struggled so nobly in Frank Miller’s The Spirit that I rooted for him. I don’t think anyone says “shit” in Don Quixote, but if someone did, he would sound like Macht.

I didn’t notice if they said “shit” on Common Law, but they do say “ass.” I wonder if there are rules on the USA Network that you can say one word formerly deleted on basic cable, but not all of them.

On Louis, I think I heard them say “fuck.” I also saw a scene set in my local drug store, so I may just be projecting the neighborhood ambiance.

All of these shows (except Louie) are on in prime time. Louie is on at 11. So isthe Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but they are still bleeping “shit” and “ass” on that show. I don’t know why there is a difference.

It’s also possible that, on scripted shows, the writers insist that “shit” and “ass” are necessary for the artistic integrity of their work. I’d agree that it’s hard to imagine back-room politics, high-powered law firms, or Los Angeles police departments where such language isn’t used. And the life of a stand-up comedian is an f-bomb waiting to happen.

Read it all

Ms. Thomases is right as can be. And wait’ll you see her conclusion. (In other words, we really hope you’ll keep reading.)