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  Christina Chambers
After less than a year in Llanview, Christina Chambers (Marty) has been let go. Chambers's last air date has yet to be determined, but the inside word is it won't be for a couple of months. The actress joined OLTL last November in the popular role originated by Susan Haskell, but after a year of front-burner action, fans didn't warm up to the recast.

"Christina Chambers's talent and professionalism have been a wonderful asset to ONE LIFE TO LIVE. I thank her for her commitment to the character of Marty Saybrooke and wish her the best of luck as she returns to the West Coast full time,” said OLTL Executive Producer Frank Valentini."

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Why is it that TPTB feel that if people/couples are happy on he soaps that that will make them boring? That is so not the case.  Frankly I am a beginning to get depressed by all the sadness, doom and gloom on the soaps. Everyone is crying in their beer for one reason or anther!  Cry  It all makes for a good country western song Smile.  Hello writers people can still be happy while providing the duplicity, lying, scheming, manipulation and backstabbing that are the staples of a soap opera.

Think about it - Jill and Ji Min of Y&R could have become a happy powerhouse couple all the while wreaking havoc on the citizens of Genoa City.  It seems TPTB think they have to create conflict with sad/bad outcomes for couples - that usually end up breaking them up.  Why is that? Take the Young Munsons on ATWT, why are they doomed to constant crisis for them to overcome? Just not needed and I desperately want to see them happy.

What about humor - is there a reason why we cant laugh on our soaps? I dont necessarily mean the comedic, campy over the top stunts either.  I didnt find it humorous when Henry on ATWT dressed up in a hotel maids uniform. But I loved it when Hunt Block was Craig on ATWT and he would deliver some hilarous one liners even in serious situations.   In real life people really do have some snappy, witty come backs even during serious discussions. 

Does your soap offer daily doses of happiness and humor? Am I just watching the wrong ones?

Would you like more happiness and humor in Daytime?

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Sam Ford This post was originally published on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog on July 31, 2007.

I have been meaning to post links to the latest two rounds in Henry Jenkins' fan studies and gender discussions, and I also wanted to respond to some detailed comments from Jason Mittell over at his blog, Just TV. Jason is one of our consulting researchers here in the consortium.

First, see the posts and debate surrounding a round of posts from Kristina Busse and Cornell Sandvoss here and here.

This week's posts are from Abigail Derecho and Christian McCrea, here and here.

The first round of Abigail and Christian's debate brought up a lot of issues about soap operas and pro wrestling and other massive narratives which exist on the "margins" of popular culture, which of course got me particularly interested in the discussion. Be sure to look through the comments there for more.

Mittell's post on these issues particularly interested me, as he addresses his own works on narrative complexity in primetime television. I have often credited Jason with being one of the few scholars who does not try and hide the ties to daytime serial drama that primetime complexity has, but some in a recent conversation criticized his essay for not going very in-depth with that connection. He brings up quite a valid point in his blog--that many scholars have pointed out that it's hard to understand soaps from the outside and that it's best not to try and analyze them without intimate knowledge of them. Of course, that makes folks who aren't looking particularly at soaps at a loss for how to cover them, since many of their visual and storytelling markers have been so stereotyped, and are often misunderstood.

His point about the nature of the complexity is also important. While both are about serialization, the difference between 13-to-24 episodes per year and 250 are a major difference. I would always say that an individual episode of a good primetime show will almost always be better than an individual episode from a good daytime show, but that's because the two shows place differing degrees of value on the individual episode. Even the most serialized primetime show still gives authority to the single episode and often has some issues to be brought up and resolved in a single day. This is not what daytime dramas are good at, so I don't agree that they should copy this format. So I think that he's quite right that we should consider primetime complex television in its own right, but I think the gripe among some of the fans and scholars writing was the continual exclusion of daytime serial dramas from the conversation altogether. In the comments on Henry's blog, Lynn Liccardo points out that some primetime shows are doing what daytime is good at better than daytime these days, but it's still important to point out that primetime shows CANNOT be as good as a good daytime show at what daytime shows are good at, particularly with their lack of long-term history. Passions is a newbie in the soaps world; there's not been a high-quality long-term serial fictional in primetime that has lasted as long as Passions (since 1999).

Where things get a little more complicated, though, is in the discussion of audience attention. Jason is right that the way shows use that attention is important. For daytime soaps, it's about the day-to-day, the accretion, and not the visual detail. He points out that soaps were intended for the housewife not sitting directly in front of them, so visual detail is not as important. But dialogue is, so the dialogue is always privileged on soaps, and we don't need to tie complexity to the visual, I don't think. I'm not saying here that Jason is making that false connection; his point that the traditional lack of reruns caused redundancy in soaps can't be disputed.

But people outside the genre often greatly overstate the amount of redundancy in soaps, I think. Reader STINKY LULU makes this point, writing, "My basic feeling is that what you call redundancy is actually a pivotal soap pleasure--revisiting key moments from the recent and distant past--not unlike the narrative data mining you describe in contemporary prime time serial drama."

I'd like to develop that thought a little further.

At their worst, soaps are recap-laden. I've seen Days of Our Lives have episodes a few years ago, for instance, that seemed more flashback to earlier in the week than current. That's not good soap, and we have to distinguish between good and bad practices in the genre. However, with five episodes a week and little in terms of reruns, the redundancy is necessary. That's why REaction is so important in soaps. The redundancy becomes a central part of the story. It matters not as much that X happens as it does seeing how everyone in town responds to finding out about X. In that case, the plot is a driver for character-driven stories. Anyone who missed X will find out about it during various scenes retelling and reaction to parts of it, but that retelling process IS the show; it's about interpersonal relationships, not the what. (By the way, my guess is that some of the fans who fast-forward are also some of the ones who archive; fans often pick out particular characters or stories they follow on a show that they actively consume, even while skipping others...)

I think Jason's piece lays out his points well, and, as someone who studies soaps and is a professed fan, I thank him for his acknowledgment of the links between complex primetime shows and daytime serial dramas. My only major caveat would be the point outlined here, that redundancy in daytime, when done correctly, is actually what provides the complexity and the enjoyment from the viewer's perspective. This dialogue is also where the peppered clues come back into play, as soap writers at their best make passing references to past events and characters throughout the dialogue that reward longtime viewers in the way Jason is talking about without distracting newbies.

I really do hope we continue pushing this conversation, as I think some valuable dialogue between primetime and daytime television is on the verge of emerging.

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Sam Ford This post was originally published on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog on July 16, 2007.

In my work on soap opera fandom, I keep encountering a document that I think deals with some questions that are at the heart of much of what we are talking about in working with fandoms, especially in thinking toward longstanding media properties with long and complicated histories.

I have written quite a bit lately about a particular form of narrative universe of this type, which I callimmersive story worlds. As I have written about here on the blog before (see here and here), immersive story worlds are fictional universes whose characteristics include seriality, multiple creators, long-term continuity, a character backlog, contemporary ties to a deep history, and a sense of permanence.

In my own research, I have identified soap opera narratives (once a show has passed a certain number of years), comic books, and professional wrestling texts as being the best examples of these sorts of narratives, but the principles--and potential benefits of thinking toward developing and maintaining immersive story worlds--apply to a wide range of products which have some similar characteristics to these massive serial (social) texts.

To return to my point, however, I think that my writing about serial texts is underpinned by a set of creative criteria and an industry perspective perhaps best articulated by the late Douglas Marland, known by a variety of soap opera fan communities as one of the best soaps creators of all time, in particular in his relationship to the fan community and in respecting the continuity and history of soaps, and the nature of serialized storytelling for an immersive story world.

Marland's document, entitled "How Not to Wreck a Show", is a blueprint for head writers of soap operas when taking over a show as the latest creative director. The short list was published in 1993, but I'm not certain when it was actually written, but it is 10 bullet points about how to effectively tell a longstanding narrative. It's amazing how fundamental these principles are but also how they involve a much different concept of storytelling than what the media industry often thinks of.

Among his suggests are such basic concepts as "watch the show," ignoring one's own likes for the likes of the audience, building new characters slowly, not changing a core character, not firing anyone until you get a good grasp on where the narrative is headed and how everyone fits in, and that good soaps are "good storytelling. It's very simple."

But a few of his other gems that seem particularly relevant are:

Read the fan mail. The very characters that are not thrilling to you may be the audience's favorites.

We've moved beyond just fan mail now to a variety of ways to watch fan engagement, in particular online forums in which fans have heated discussions in which producers can learn a lot. The pitfalls of studying online fan communities have often been espoused, while the benefits are fairly examined, and the pitfalls of other industry measures like surveys and focus groups have not been examined often enough.

Talk to everyone; writers and actors especially. There may be something in a character's history that will work beautifully for you, and who would know better than the actor who has been playing the role?

Engaging with people who know the text well just makes sense.

And finally, promoting from within:

Almost all of our producers worked their way up from staff positions, and that means they know the show.

If fandom is looked at as an attitude, it seems like--especially for a creative position--being a fan of the text one is hired to help steer from an "official" standpoint might just be key.

This afternoon, I just thought that these principles might be an interesting place for C3 readers to look toward to help understand what I feel are some fundamental concepts behind good storytelling inimmersive story world spaces.

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Sam Ford This post was originally published on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog on July 12, 2007.

See the first post in this series here.

Sam Ford: I know that a lot of the people following this debate might not be that interested in soaps in particular, but I am interested in the differences in discussing fan culture when it shifts from being a conversation primarily about fan fiction, which many of the back-and-forths have so far. How do we measure creativity in relation to fan communities? My understanding is that most people would agree that fan fiction only retains its full meaning and resonance within the community that it is produced in, and the social specificity of creative output is no different in the soap opera fan communities we have been discussing, but the output is often much different--criticism, debate, parody, discussion, continuity-maintenance, historical perspective...these are very creative processes that seem to be the prevalent forms of fan output for soap opera fandom.

To move toward your discussion of sports and media fans, I think the question you pose is one relevant to this series as a whole and one which various contributors have touched on in one way or another. Are we looking at the difference in male and female fan responses or in the responses of scholarship on fans, or can you really separate the two? As you imply in your question, there is some difficulty in separating the two, and perhaps the body of academic work on soap opera fandom, television fandom, fan fiction communities, sports fandom, and so on are shaped greatly by the gendered perspectives, and the respective genders, of those who have been most prevalent in those fields. It is important to realize this may be the case, while not making that the totalizing explanation for differences in sports fandom and sports fan studies, when compared to media fandom.

My work on pro wrestling goes between the two, in that it is sports entertainment, a blending of media fandom and sports fandom, and a blending between male-gendered sports and female-gendered soap opera. In wrestling, I have found that there at least seems to be a significant amount of fan fiction compared to soaps, even though the WWE likewise has five hours of weekly television content, perhaps because wrestling does provide a lot of negative capability, to steal a term from Geoff Long's posts two weeks ago, for fans to fill in, because it does not provide the off-stage relationships among characters and/or their portrayers. As Sue Clerc has written about, wrestling fan fiction plays an interesting blend between concentrating on the characters and the "real people" who play their parts, just as wrestling blurs those distinctions itself.

Of course, it's important to note that the fan fiction of wrestling is a very largely driven by females, while male fan expression in online fan community form has often
manifested itself in a blend of role-playing and fantasy sports in which wrestling fans enter fantasy leagues and role-play various wrestlers to compete with one another. These e-mail federations, or fantasy leagues, involve quite a bit of creativity, but it manifests itself much differently than in the off- screen relationships so often portrayed in the more explicit fan fiction. These, of course, are very gendered responses to the program, and there is very little formal overlap between the two wrestling fan fiction communities.

You raise some interesting questions about celebrity in relation to sports as well. I don't particularly know that "celebrification" is necessarily gendered female, although there is often more talk of "role models" when it comes to male celebrity. But I do think that you are right that the particular pleasures or draws of sports may be seen as different. In the wrestling world, John Cena would be a particularly good example.
Because some more traditional fans view him as lacking the technical skills of some
other wrestling stars, he is actively disliked be a particular portion of the crowd, his
"haters." To another very large portion of the audience, often identified as primarily female adults and younger fans, he is greatly loved and admired, and the theory has
often been an emphasis on skill among the active adult male fan base and an emphasis on star image and charisma among female fans, children, and more casual wrestling fans. I'm not saying it breaks that easily into those binaries, but it is intriguing in relation to the question you pose.

C. Lee Harrington: One of the dimensions of creativity often left out of discussions is fan fantasies -- here I mean those that take place only in the confines of one's brain, not shared with others via discussion, fiction, debate, research interview, etc. We all know fantasizing exists but unless it manifests itself in some representational form visible to others we tend to overlook it (in recent research particularly).

Most studies of fandom tend to rely on at least some form of visible expression. I wonder sometimes about the (in)accessibility of fans who experience and express their fandom only to their own selves......and I'm one of those people, mostly. I'd rather watch my favorite TV programs alone than with others, I don't talk about them online and rarely with friends (though our office staff and faculty have regular Wed morning discussions about Dancing with the Stars and American Idol, perhaps my proudest accomplishment as department chair), and I don't participate in most other creative activities that tend to be the hallmarks of fandom. I wonder if my own research design approach would capture me as a fan :-) Auto- ethnography, anyone...?

To go back to the gender question, yes, the gender of scholars vs. gender of fans vs. gendered nature of texts etc. raise all sorts of complicated questions, and the discussions these past few weeks have been really illuminating. I guess I was thinking with celebrification (in the context of sport) that once we're down the road of transforming athletes into stars, we somehow move them from the world of sport to the world of celebrity, a gendered shift in many people's eyes.

I'm remembering the Olympics a few rounds back (I'm forgetting the year) when the network (NBC?) for the first time did "behind the scenes" of athletes' lives to draw in female viewership. Novel at the time but it's obviously become standard because it altered demos exactly how producers wanted. Not hard to speculate how Emmitt Smith's appearance (and well-deserved win!) on Dancing altered his public perception and fan base. Obviously some of our readers out there know much more about celebrification in the sport context than I do.....

Sam Ford: Lee, I know you share my hope our back- and-forth has been useful for those involved in the discussion this summer and those following the discussion. Since soap opera fandom, sports fandom, and pro wrestling fandom are quite different than many of the fan activities and genres that have been discussed here in the past few weeks, I at least hope that we have emphasized that there is some great work on fandom in the body of work on soap operas and pro wrestling, and that there is a whole other world of sports fandom out there that speak to many of these issues and that would be of great interest.

When the precursor to this series started after the Media in Transition conference and through Kristina Busse's site, we started discussing how my own focus on soap opera

fandom provided a much different perspective on many of the media-related questions posed in this discussion about fandom. I have taken a Convergence Culture approach to what is primarily a female genre, soap opera, which would seem to some a male bent on a female fandom. However, as your work pointed out over a decade ago, a producer/consumer perspective is quite different in the fan world of soaps. While it is quite true that fans often set themselves against TPTB in soaps for not respecting a show's history, this relationship also manifests itself in relation to soap opera's marginality, just as pro wrestling fandom does. Even as producers and consumers bicker about one another from time-to-time, they may very well be the first to defend the others to outsiders. That produces that "family reunion" atmosphere and that much different dynamic.

Soaps also have a larger proportion of female creators in executive and high creative position to correspond with the large female fan base, so gendered discussions of producers and consumers and the power dynamics of their interaction is quite different than in a variety of fandoms in which examining interpersonal relationships in greater detail is reading against the text. Further, the volume of soaps text mitigates the need for fan fiction to fill in the gaps, so fan creativity manifests itself in so many other ways.

Sports and pro wrestling provide the other side of this coin, but as Henry's work points out, wrestling marries a predominantly male fan base and cast to a feminine serialized drama form. And I think it's important to realize that there are a significant portion of soap opera fans who are male, just as there are a large portion of female wrestling fans. These surplus audiences, in the eyes of those worried about target demographics, are still important parts of the fan community and must be included in these discussions, rather than stereotyping the audience as somehow monolithic.

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