Tuesday, February 24, 2009

These Are the Days of Our Lives

I pulled the latest Soap Opera Digest out of the mailbox last week to find the news that Days of Our Lives has let another popular veteran couple go. This time it's Steve and Kayla, played by Stephen Nichols and Mary Beth Evans. Adding insult to injury, instead of a send-off into the sunset of happy soap-couple land, the characters are going to simply stop appearing. In fact, their last scenes have already aired.

I can only imagine the outrage on the soap internet over this. (I have to imagine it, as going to soap sites and boards scares me even more than going to the comics internet. Some of those people are looney!) But as far as I'm concerned, it's not a bad move.

Most soaps have spent the last couple of years bringing back favorite characters from the past in desperate attempts to boost ratings. It's a problematic approach. For one thing, it's not cheap, and most shows are pretty cash-strapped these days. For another, once you bring someone back, you need to write for them and use them. Unfortunately, most shows only have the idea for the initial story to bring the characters back (and usually it's a 'big event' kind of thing), but very little idea how to fit them into the existing canvas afterward, resulting in very expensive supporting characters and fans who feel like they've been deceived by the promise of old characters who rarely appear.

As far as I'm concerned, bringing back Steve and Kayla a couple of years ago was an ill-advised move made during James Reilly's last disastrous turn as head writer. As the ratings continued to plummet, the show started going crazy bringing back old faves, only to sideline them in some of the lamest stories, doing nothing but rehashing things they did on their original runs.

Look! Frankie Brady's back! What's he doing? Well, he's kind of trapped in a really dumb story that's trying to recreate his teenage love story with Jennifer Horton! Oh, and there's Carrie and Austin! Doing what? Recreating their endless romantic rivalry with Lucas and Sami. Yay! Just what we wanted to see! And so on and so forth.

Even though Steve and Kayla's recent run was mostly handled by other writers, thus avoiding the Reilley re-run run around, it pretty quickly became obvious that no one knew what to do with them. Once Steve the mind-controlled killer suddenly became Steve the loving husband again, there went their story. Everything else fell way flat. Kayla preggers? Please! At her age? Ava, the mobster moll from Steve's amnesiac past? Yeesh!

Where they seemed to work best was as supporting characters--parents to Stephanie, siblings and friends to Bo and Hope. I do think the show will be poorer for cutting out yet another bit of connective tissue that binds the families together, but these are characters with too much history and too much potential to be reduced to that role alone. It's better that Days cut its losses and move on.

According to SOD, Executive Producer Ted Corday has said that the cast-cutting is over. The show is now in its lean, mean fighting shape for its fight for survival on NBC. I'm not sure that Days really has a fighting chance here. NBC over the past decade or so has demonstrated that it is more than willing to give soaps the ax, even shows with 40+ year histories like Days. And fan confidence in the show is pretty low right now, largely due to the firings of Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn. For too many people, John and Marlena are Days of Our Lives, and those people are pretty pissed off right now. All in all, it's going to be an uphill battle.

NEXT: Some thoughts about what the show needs to do now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cashing In

Roger's post last week about Johnny Cash reminded me that I had been saving up some Cash videos in my drafts waiting for a chance to turn them into a post or two. Reading his reflections brought to mind a few of my own and finally prompted me to put my own Cash post together.

(You can call it riding Roger's coat tails or copying his inspiration, If you insist. Me, I call it synergy!)

Cash was pretty much a standard musical presence in my house, it seems. My mother was always particularly fond of Southern and bluegrass gospel tunes. I have a lot of memories of her singing with the radio or by herself, especially when she was doing the dishes.

One that she sang quite often was "Daddy Sang Bass," usually the chorus. When I was about five years old or so, or so the story goes, I hit the age where I was too old for the nursery at church. They didn't have children's church at that time, so I had to go to "big church" to sit with my mother and grandparents. Knowing my mother, I'm sure that I must have gotten many lectures reminders about the importance of sitting quietly in church and behaving and all that. Knowing my grandmother, she probably had a purse full of mints to keep me quiet.

So, the first Sunday in "big church" comes around, we're all assembled. In good Baptist fashion, the first hymn is announced. Everyone stands. My mother helps me to find the right page, so I can be like the adults. And everyone starts to sing.

Now at this point, I'm an early reader at best. Mastery of the hymnal with it's strange layouts and musical notes is probably beyond me. Not too mention the fact that I'm not familiar with the music in "big church." Nonetheless, Mom notices that I seem to be singing along with everyone else.

Curious, she leans down to hear what I'm actually singing:

Daddy sang Bass
Mama sang tenor
Me and little brother would join right in there

At which point, she says she had to sit down to keep from laughing loud enough to distract everyone else.

That was the Statler Brothers and the Carter Family singing along with him, in case you didn't know.

When I was in middle school, I had to have surgery. It had to be rescheduled a couple of times because I kept getting sick right beforehand. My dad was stationed in Germany at the time, but we were living in Kentucky. When the surgery finally happened, he came home for a couple of weeks on leave. He brought my a stack of 8-tracks (God, I am old) to listen to while I was in recovery. The two that I remember most were greatest hits collections--Beach Boys and Johnny Cash. I played both of them over and over and over.

Both of these next two songs were on the Cash tape. I've always loved both of them because they showcase his sense of humor, an attribute that I think gets overlooked a lot of times when people are discussing his life. I do have to admit, though, that I really didn't "get" the second one until I grew up and started voting. When I was a kid, I thought the line about the Methodist was pretty funny.

I'm not sure whether either of them truly qualifies as a "hit" per se, but they were a part of that particular tape. Until the internet came along, however, I couldn't get Keith to believe in the existence of either song! They're just not what people think of then they think of Johnny Cash, but they're among my favorite Cash tunes.

Another much disputed song in my house is this one. For years Keith tried to tell me that I was getting confused about the old Kenny Rogers song "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love to Town)." As if!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

January is the cruelest month...

Actually, the quote is “April is the cruelest month,” but, for me, as far as 2009 is concerned, April is going to have a long way to go to make up for January. I’ve been sick twice, for several days at a time, which stole large chunks of the month away from me. Plus, for the past several days, we’ve been exiled to a hotel due to a power outage caused by winter storms. And now, the month is over and I’ve not been able to do half of what I planned on doing, including that the weekend trip that the aforementioned storms scuttled. So you can see I’m not that enamored with the month at this moment. Oh well.

The whole storm thing has been fascinating in many ways, annoying in some ways, and terrifying in others. The weather started getting bad last Sunday and Monday, with the first snowfall. By Tuesday, we had graduated through snow and sleet to full-fledged ice storms. Wednesday, we awoke, along with much of the city and a good part of the state, to no power.

Keith went to work, but I decided against showering in a freezing house. We called the vet as soon as they opened to see about boarding the cats. Luckily the vet’s office did have power. Bennie is 16 and doesn’t handle the cold very well at all. We wanted to get her some place warm, if at all possible. They called back after ten and said they could take them. Keith didn’t even have the car dug out at this point.

He kept digging and I went on a hunt in the dark for the cages. I only found two, so the boys had to share, which normally causes problems, but they were so freaked out by the cold that they just went instantly still and quiet in the cage. Bennie was so freaked out by everything that she didn’t even run when the cage came out, which is her usual behavior. I was thankful for that. She’s fat. She’s old. But when she wants to get away from the cage, she’s fast. Running after her through the dark house would not have been fun. I’m old. I’m fat. And I’m slow.

She did however, immediately commence her cries of protest at being in the cage. And she didn’t stop until we got to the vet. Honestly, for an old lady, she sure can curse.

After finally getting the car out (which took several more minutes after the cages were loaded), we discovered that the easiest routes to the vet were blocked by fallen trees. At this point, none of the streets were cleared of snow, ice, or debris, so the five minute jaunt to the vet took half an hour. At one point, we were actually stuck half way up a huge hill with an SUV barreling down at us. The one slightly clear lane up the hill zigged and zagged around piles of fallen branches. Avoiding the SUV (who never stopped or paused once), cost us our momentum on the hill, so we ended up backing down the hill, around the branches and back to level ground. And all the while, Bennie kept up her monologue of profanities.

After the cats were dropped off, Keith went to work and I went home. After spending the day constantly adding layers and blankets, I told Keith there was no way we could stay in the house. Coming home night after night to a dark house was bad enough when the power was out in September. There was no way I was even going to consider throwing freezing cold into the mix. Especially since, based on past experience, it could take several days for the power to be restored.

I packed several bags with clothes, computers, munchies, medicines, and reading material. When Keith came home, we loaded up and headed out. While we were loading, our neighbors were packing up too. We had no idea if we could find a place to stay or not. We checked out a couple of extended stay motels, but one had no power and the office at the other one was closed. Then we passed a Red Roof Inn with a sign advertising weekly specials.

Just as we were walking in, a woman was turning in her key. Her sister had called her and reported that the power was back on at her house. When we asked for a room, they gave us her key and told us it was our lucky day. They’d been turning folks away for hours.

Incidentally, there’s a Waffle House in front of the place, and it just happens to be the same Waffle House Keith and I went to the night my father died. Coincidence?

The room isn’t much, but it is warm. It’s been interesting trying to fit both our plus-sized persons on one full-sized bed, but we’ve managed. We’ve been kind of treating it like an unexpected vacation, so it’s been a fun change of pace. The only downside is missing the kitties.

We’ll be checking out tomorrow and heading back home. The power is on and there’s lots to do back there. Plus, we’ll have three petulant felines to appease. The temp's rising and everything is melting!

Fascinating things about the aftermath of an icestorm:

Seeing all the trees bent over double from the weight of the ice. It’s beautiful, creepy, and dangerous all at the same time.

The way everything is encased in ice. Not covered, but more like coated all the way around.

Hearing the ice crack and pop when it starts to melt.

The sky was grey for days! Combined with all the ice coating everything, it was like living in a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale or a Little Nemo comic strip.

Turning on the national news and hearing stories about Kentucky. For some reason all the coverage centered on the little burg west of here where I grew up. Nothing is more bizarre than seeing Leitchfield, Kentucky on CNN! (By the way, I still cannot reach my mother. Been trying for days.)

Driving through familiar areas at night. Between the lack of power and the ice everywhere, even places that I know like the back of my hand were strange and unfamiliar. It’s really unnerving to drive down a street and realize that the only light for blocks is coming from your headlights.