Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Archive for May, 2008

Luke & Noah in the NYT

Posted by Nick S. on May 20, 2008


I’m almost certain the clip they used for the story came from LukeVanFan’s uploaded YouTube ‘Luke & Noah Story’ saga – interesting PGP/CBS didn’t even send them a press kit (or that they chose not to use it).

Anyhow, they got a nice story in the New York Times, which goes into a bit of detail about ATWT and its ratings rise amongst a younger demographic, suggesting that Luke & Noah might be responsible. This is interesting, because I would have posited that whilst the storyline does attract a younger audience, that audience is mainly watching via YouTube or web streaming on CBS.

It also manages to actually get to a really interesting point in the final paragraph, and then refuse to take it any further:

“Class used to be the axis on which so much of the turmoil on soap operas turned. Years ago Luke’s parents provided the drama on the grounds that his mother was an heiress and his father a stable boy. “As the World Turns” hasn’t done anything revolutionary with its gay kiss — gay characters on ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters,” on Sunday nights, display their affection for each other constantly — it has merely discovered the currency of the culture wars.”

…why couldn’t you take that further, NYT? Why, Ginia Bellafonte, why? Anyway, hopefully tomorrow’s promise of an epic Luke & Noah storyline will result in even more media exposure (and, one hopes, audience) for ATWT.


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Posted by Nick S. on May 18, 2008

In addition to official streaming via the CBS website, ATWT also screens on the MSN TV website (a lesser-known competitor to YouTube and/or Hulu). The interface is considerably better than CBS, and the video seems to be slightly higher quality. 

What’s interesting is that I for one didn’t know about this until an ATWT fan on YouTube told me about it, and cross-promotion (or promotion at all) is practically nill. What’s even more interesting is that the majority of the content on MSN TV is mirrored from Hulu – but not the soaps (Hulu having no soaps to stream at all). 

It kind of illustrates the problem that official online distribution has at the moment. It’s one thing to establish a portal of official content, and mirror it elsewhere (MSN is a partner with Hulu, and thus content is shared). But confusion arises when you then start adding in other networks only on one of the partners (MSN, with CBS, whose content is not available on Hulu). 

It confuses visitors, and makes for a difficult experience trying to watch content officially online – which, if it’s available and easy to use, I for one try to do so. But in order for official online content to be truly successful, networks are going to need to come together and provide a totally centralised content repository, not a half-hearted effort. Case in point – look at iTunes and their music sales. iTunes isn’t successful because they sell music online…they’re succesful because they’re so good at it. When iTunes first started, the catalog was poor, and there was plenty that I couldn’t get hold of (to be fair, it’s still not perfect). But with every record label signed on, suddenly it becomes very attractive.

The idea of networks officially streaming TV online is a great one, but not if the content is all over the place. And, please…remove the 5 day viewing restriction on the soaps 😛

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“Melrose Place in Spandex”

Posted by Nick S. on May 9, 2008

I mentioned this briefly in class, and some kind soul uploaded a high quality version to YouTube. We’ve been taking briefly about other forms of American soap opera, particularly wrestling. Louis Theroux is a British presenter who made a series of documentaries examining American sub-cultures. If you can spare 45 minutes, it’s well worth a look, concentrating both on the high end (the WCW – the piece was made about two years before they were bought out by the WWE) and the local (a semi-pro wrestling group from North Carolina, who perform in school gyms). It’s on YouTube in 5 parts of ~10 minutes each. There’s a lot of interesting discussion about storylines, on both the semi and pro shows, and the whole soapiness of it all.

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Nuke Controversy: Another AFA call to action!

Posted by laura47 on May 9, 2008

I think my favorite part is how they write “g-ys” and “h-mos-xuality”. I wish they’d use leet speak, calls them g@ys and h0m0s3xual1ty.

from the AFA:

Donald E. Wildmon
Founder and

Procter & Gamble heard from the g-ys, then changed its rules

Company changed procedure after allowing g-ys time to call

May 9, 2008

Dear ,

Following its support for the h-mos-xual agenda, Procter & Gamble established a toll-free number for people to register their opinions for or against P&G’s promotion of the g-y agenda, including open mouth kissing between g-ys. It gave a toll-free number which was heavily promoted on g-y Web sites for a week to give those favoring the promotion of h-mos-xuality an opportunity to call. Monday, after AFA had put out the word that P&G wanted to hear from AFA supporters, P&G abruptly ended it.

AFA is encouraging supporters to call P&G and ask the company why it is promoting the g-y lifestyle and why it quit using the toll-free number to receive opinions only after AFA notified AFA supporters about it. We urge you to spend a few cents to register your complaint with P&G. Here is P&G’s corporate number to call: 513-983-1100. (Please get others to call P&G at this number!)

P&G has added h-mos-xual lovers to its soap opera “As the World Turns.” The soap opera now includes scenes of h-mos-xuals with passionate open mouth kissing. The motive behind P&G’s push is to desensitize viewers, especially younger viewers, to the h-mos-xual lifestyle. The ultimate goal of h-mos-xual activists is h-mos-xual marriage.

Take Action!

* Call the main number of P&G (513-983-1100). Call between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Central time.
* Forward this e-mail to family and friends and urge them to call.
* Reproduce this letter and distribute to others — Sunday School class, church, coworkers, etc. Ask your pastor to put this information in the church bulletin and newsletter.
* If you have not already done so, send an e-mail letter to P&G opposing its promotion of h-mos-xuality.
* Sign up to get Action Alert updates from the American Family Association on the P&G response. Sign up here to stay informed. (AFA.net).

Thank you for caring enough to get involved.



Donald E. Wildmon,
Founder and Chairman
American Family Association

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House, MD: Soap Fan

Posted by laura47 on May 7, 2008

“House, M.D.” had a soap plotline this week! Dr. House is a well know soap addict who is frequently seen watching a General Hospital-esque show which really does have worse acting than anything I have seen on real soaps. House decides that an actor on the show, Evan Greer, has a brain tumor based on watching how he pauses reading his lines on the show.

A few observations based on my memories of one viewing (I should have taken notes!)

– The character on the soap is named Dr. Brock Sterling. Isn’t that a wonderfully soapy name? Ridiculously soapy names make me unaccountably happy.
– The actor, Evan,  is quite clearly depressed and unhappy with his job. Throughout the episode, he talks about how he wants to do something with meaning, and how acting on a soap has no meaning. He has no respect at all for the soap.
– The actor is disparaging towards fans. He seems disgusted that Dr. House actually “watches that stuff”, and throws in lots of random digs against the fans.
– This soap uses Teleprompters, a fact that is important in the diagnosis
– They somewhat accurately parody soap plotlines – the actor’s character has been in a coma, fathered two children in a coma, and reveals to House that he is only the father of one of a pair of twins
(it can happen! rarely, but it can happen!), and, if recall correctly, he was about to operate on his fiance, but his fiance’s sister, a nurse, revealed she was pregnant with his child. I think. And he was drinking.
– House definitely fits into the stereotype of the obsessive fan. He begins the episode by kidnapping the actor, and jokingly(?) asks for a signed picture before forcing him to the hospital. (Which, if I
remember correctly, if a several hour drive if they started out in Manhattan, which I think they did.) House, ever the grumpy, misanthropic sociopath, tells the actor he doesn’t care if he dies, he just cares about Brock’s storylines and someone finding out some paternity.
– House the obsessive fan finds an excuse to check out the set and muck around with Evan’s stuff. We learn that fans have sent Evan the non drinker bottles of gin because his character drinks gin… and clearly has a drinking problem, which make that fan behavior seem a bit creepy and misguided to me.
– House has made multiple calls about his hypothesis which the actor knows about but has ignored, probably chalking it up to obsessive fan behavior.
– Evan eventually develops a dangerously high fever, and this is indicated to us by his blurring of reality and the show as he slips into repeating “lines from last year” and identifies himself as his character when asked. I am sure you could make some compelling argument about how this equates the blurring of fiction and reality with illness, but I will leave that to someone else for now.

There were no middle-aged housewife fans in the show. The actor’s stereotypes about fans are clear, but House defies them by being a very successful male genius. One of the white male doctors expresses several times how cool he thinks it must be to be a star of a soap, despite the actor’s protestations to the contrary. All in all, I thought it did a fair job representing soaps, though I swear the acting on the fictional soap was seriously much worse than anything I’ve seen.

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When Reading History Isn’t Enough

Posted by laura47 on May 7, 2008

As those of you in this class have probably figured out, I have put a fair bit of time into researching ATWT’s plot and character history. I can draw genealogies pretty well and list off many failed marriages and affairs. Early on, I posted about how much I enjoyed the process of figuring out all this backstory. I found it very helpful in getting a better understanding of the show, but I fear it has failed me in one regard: Mike Kasnoff.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew exactly who Mike Kasnoff was. I knew about his engagement to Rosanna Cabbot, and how he had a one night stand with Carly and she got pregnant and had a miscarriage and that indirectly lead to Parker’s birth because of her deal with Rosanna, and I knew about Katie and Simon, and I knew about Pilar the race car driver (Carlotta on FNL! Amazing!) I was excited when I heard he was coming back.

Yet, somehow, it doesn’t work. With everyone else on the show, I learned their history in the context of where they are now in the story, their current lives and emotions and connections. It served to make what I saw richer. But with Mike… despite knowing all this backstory, I can’t connect to him. I have zero sympathy for his desire to get Katie back, and I don’t think it’s because I am all about the Brad/Katie ship. Mike feels like ancient news to me, even though I know he only left last year. It feels weird to me that all these people like Lisa and Emma seem to adore him, and I want him to leave Katie the hell alone. Though, I suppose Katie deserves trouble like this given her sordid history with men. It is, after all, her fault that she has so many ex-husbands. 

Maybe if I were to stay with the show for awhile, I would be able to integrate Mike into my mental model of Oakdale, maybe I would come to sympathize with his character, but right now it feels like he has show up with the sole goal of messing up relationships I care about, first Brad and Katie and then Meg and Paul! I will admit I am pretty upset about the recent developments in Meg and Paul’s relationship. He was trying so very hard to win Meg back, so hard to change, and Mike did not help. You might say that this is good, because these character traits would have come out anyway, but… damn it! I think he just needed more time. Really, I have a lot of sympathy and understanding for his character traits given who his parents are…

Of course, Mike hasn’t been acting much worse than the average Oakdale resident. Paul’s been doing all he can to get Meg back, but Meg wasn’t about to marry someone else! 

Speaking of Meg and Paul, it seems like TPTB have been doing a lot of experimenting with couples lately, giving people multiple options for love. I have to wonder how much they are using fan reaction to decide these plots. They set up the phone line about Nuke, though said they wouldn’t decide just on that, but what about other couples? These love triangles (which sometimes form some bizarre shapes given the overlap – but just think how delightfully complicated they would be if they had bisexuals on the show! That, to me, is the real solution to the problem posed by queer characters and the difficulty of hooking them into romantic plots on soaps. Bisexuality allows for the most complicated love plots possible – like ‘love triangles’ that are actual love triangles, not just V-shapes!) are probably there for the sake of keeping the narrative interesting, and to see which actors work well together and have good chemistry from the perspective of the PTB, but what about the fans opinions, in this particular case? Is that why they so suddenly and inexplicably dropped the Sophie/Chris romance in favor of pairing them with other people? I liked Sophie and Chris together!


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A new chapter in the Nuke Controversy

Posted by laura47 on May 6, 2008

Given our reading about homosexuality on “All my Children”, this seems an appropriate time to give an update on the Nuke controversy. As you probably know, Luke and Noah have finally kissed again after many months of nothing but hugs and longing looks. During that drought, there seemed to be more protests for them to kiss against than protests against showing homosexuality. Here’s a CNN clip from March:

The conservative guest very much identifies displays Luke/Noah affection as the pushing of an agenda, rather than the natural evolution of a relationship. I should offer a disclaimer here and say that I am very much in favor of the Luke/Noah storyline and have done volunteer work for what people call “the homosexual agenda”, mostly with MassEquality.

As detailed in this Boston Globe article and this wikipedia article as well as many other places, there has been a significant campaign by Nuke fans to have them kiss again, including running a counter since their last kiss. Now the “How Long Since They Kissed” Counter can finally reset!

But, the kiss has sparked renewed controversy on the anti-gay front, including from the AFA.

I have been following the AFA for awhile. The AFA is strongly anti-homosexuality, though to be fair they also oppose graphic heterosexuality on television. The website says “The American Family Association exists to motivate and equip citizens to change the culture to reflect Biblical truth and traditional family values.” I am on their mailing list to see what they are up to and who they are boycotting. They had a long boycott of Ford for doing things like advertising in gay magazines and other “support” of the “homosexual agenda”, which was called off when they claimed Ford had changed their policies, though Ford disagreed. Back in late February they called Proctor & Gamble the “Top Pro-Homosexual Sponsor on Television” This is their list of the top “offenders”, and here is their criteria: http://www.afa.net/monitoringresultswinter07.asp. They based it on what ads aired during shows that were too gay for their tastes, shows that were identified by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) “for their positive promotion of homosexuality.”

AFA says: “In each program monitored, homosexuality was promoted in a positive manner as a normal and accepted lifestyle. Some scenes included homosexual kisses and bedrooms scenes. In instances where opposition to homosexuality was portrayed, the opposing character was publicly ridiculed or condemned by the other characters on the program.”

I had been wondering when the AFA would catch on the Nuke storyline and call P&G out for that, as they are of course far more involved in ATWT than in primetime shows they advertise on.The truth is, I first found out about the kiss when the AFA sent me mail about it with a link. View a scene from the April 23, 2008 episode by P&G. WARNING – content is repulsive!. I am not sure why they so often send out links to clips of homosexuality. I am sure they would say it was to show people how ‘repulsive’ it is so they can properly offended and rise up against it, but, well, you know what they say about homophobes… 😉

On May 2, I got mail from the AFA about Nuke and the phone line they set up regarding the plot line. (Which I posted about on April 28, and which is now closed.)

Procter & Gamble wants to know if you approve of its support of the homosexual lifestyle

Company establishes toll-free number to call

May 2, 2008

Dear Laura,

Procter & Gamble wants to know if you approve its efforts to promote the homosexual lifestyle. It has established a toll-free number for you to call and vote to approve or disapprove its support of homosexuality.

P&G has added homosexual lovers to its soap opera “As the World Turns.” It has also added scenes of homosexuals with open mouth kissing. The motive behind P&G’s push is to desensitize viewers, especially younger viewers, to the homosexual lifestyle. The ultimate goal of homosexual activists is homosexual marriage.

Thousands of homosexual activists are already calling P&G.

Here’s one interesting blog post about the Nuke phone line.

Supporting “Nuke”, to me at least, is about a lot more than just supporting gays on TV. It’s about supporting television that makes you think, that forces you to question your own beliefs, see a different side of the story you might not always agree with – it supports the idea that yes, we watch TV to escape reality sometimes… but we ALSO watch TV to sometimes see realities we might not have any other access to otherwise. We want intelligence in our stories – we want a reflection of what we see in our day-to-day lives. We want to see the human struggle.

Please call. And let them know that yes – even if you do disagree with the story, you still support it because sometimes it’s okay to be a little uncomfortable. People were uncomfortable when slavery came to an end, they were uncomfortable when women started working full-time, and they were uncomfortable when Maude got an abortion or when Archie Bunker used the N-Word. And you know what? It’s OKAY that you’re a little uncomfortable with two guys kissing on TV. I applaud TV that makes me squirm a little, because it opens up new worlds to me, and helps me become a more tolerant, more understanding person, to question things I’ve accepted at face value, to wonder what I would do in that situation or if I can learn something from my reaction to what I just witnessed on the screen. This is a society where we are constantly learning and growing – and a genre that once upon a time, prided itself on being a serious learning tool. Don’t let it become a joke. (emphasis removed because it broke my formatting)

I can’t find the link, but I read somewhere that CBS says they will not make and story decisions based on this poll, they will just use it as information. So, we’ll see what happens. I doubt they will release any numbers.

Some tidbits from the mediadomain boards…

This thread is neutral-positive:
“I voted for LUKE AND NOAH, however this is not the way to run a soap opera. A head writer should be allowed to write for the characters not let mass public opinion on a phone message board decide things. So many homophobic people out there could just call and call all day. And to be fair, folks like myself who do support the storyline could do the same. I long for the days of a strong EP and a great head writer who could tell a story and attract viewers. ”

“I’m disgusted that this poll is even being done. But I did vote in favor of Luke & Noah. Though I also am not really a fan of their’s, just want to see a realistic modern world on my television. ”

” Wish it were that black and white. Would love a “support gay inclusion, but don’t care about Luke and Noah at ALL” option.”

But this one is more mixed:

” More power to them. The sooner this disgusting story ends, the better. ”

“GLADD has lost my respect, seeing any depiction of a gay couple as being something to cheer about–even Nuke. Nuke is an insult to gay & straight relationships, period. It certainly doesn’t have the good storytelling that would do such a serious, socially relivant topic justice! I also find it difficult to believe that GLADD, or any other oragnization, would find it so acceptable that stright men are playing this gay couple! Now they are doing the same thing(s) w/the ‘marriage’ to Ameera!”

“I think P&G is playing all kinds of games with the nuke sl, with the nuke fans, and the fact that they didn’t get a Daytime Emmy nomination is the payback karma that they get for manipulating fans.

Based on the reports from the fan luncheon, dropping the Nuke sl would be killing the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg.

Nuke is not going anywhere; Noah is not going to flip his rainbow and knock up Ameera, and fans should NOT let the show’s game playing whip them into a frenzy to drum up publicity for the show.”

Other bits of Nuke news:

– Van Hansis (Luke) might be gay: http://www.gaywired.com/Article.cfm?ID=18909
– Older one, CBS daytime head sounds supportive of Nuke: http://www.tvsquad.com/2008/04/07/cbs-daytime-head-is-all-for-gay-love-story-on-as-the-world-turns/
– GLAAD president with a bit about Nuke: http://www.insidesocal.com/outinhollywood/2008/05/interview_glaad_president_on_t.html

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The Power of Writing

Posted by ernestalba on May 5, 2008

I was reminded today that soaps aren’t alone in their use of stereotypical and cardboard thin plots. ABC’s The Practice is a two-time Emmy award winning legal drama and the child of David E. Kelley, creator of such critically acclaimed television shows as Ally McBeal, Boston Public, and Boston Legal. Surely a show with such riveting drama as The Practice won’t have the type of cardboard plots typical of soaps. After all, it lacks the emotional complexity and depth of soaps in order to deliver those hard-hitting plot lines and twists. Because episodes hardly allow relationships among the characters to develop at all, which can often be a source of frustration, I expect the writers to devote themselves to at least making the action good. But they falter on many occasions. 

I was watching Season 6, Episode 15, “Judge Knot” and the plot takes a bizarre twist. An exciting sting operation conducted by lawyer Bobby Donald and the District Attorney Helen Gamble in conjunction with an FBI agent is successfully pulled off and the corrupt judge is caught red-handed. Then, the writers put the corrupt judge on trial in front of another judge, with the same FBI agent acting as the prosecutor. The trial that ensues is one of the shoddiest bit of legal writing I’ve seen in a while. It’s worse than Parker’s trial in ATWT. Somehow, the whole thing gets spun around so that the trial becomes about Bobby Donald’s past. The defense attorney is attacking Bobby in front of the judge, who just sits back and lets it happen, while the FBI agent frantically defends Bobby. 

Defense Attorney: “Attorney Bobby Donald-”
FBI prosector: “I have to object-”
Def. Att.: “Bobby was charged with passing information from the D.A.’s office that resulted in the deaths of two police officers. He was also charged with the murder of a third man, William Hinks. Are we to believe anything that Mr. Donald says?”
FBI: “We are not here to talk about –
Def. Att.: “Be grateful I’m not here to document all the exploits of your chief witness. The people deserve better than Bobby Donald.”

The stupid thing is that Bobby’s testimony isn’t even the bulk of the case. They have plenty of witnesses and a video tape. Yet, they somehow bring this around to Bobby’s past. This would be okay if they then explored how Bobby felt about being attacked like that. They would be bringing some character development into this, which would be nice, despite losing some of the realism of the plot. But the ONLY reaction we get from Bobby is in the very last scene, about fifteen minutes later in the episode, when he’s talking to Helen Gamble about convicting the judge, and she asks him how he’s doing. He says, “This was a lousy day.” Gee. That’s too bad.

I find that because TV serials can lean on the star power and talents of the actors, the expensive camerawork of good directors, and the ability of the always-present musical soundtrack to carry plot, writers occasionally can afford not to bring quality material to the table. They can “rest on their laurels” and let a sagging plot line go into permanent autopilot. This is not the case with soaps. Actors are NOT known outside of the character they play, and they are often not very good. Music is sometimes used, but not to the extent that it is used in prime time serial dramas. Nor can the show rely on complicated or interesting camera work or set design. It is all done on the cheap. Thus, the writing has to shine. 

Another example of a type of show that has to be excellent in terms of writing is an animated series like The Simpsons, Futurama, South Park, and Family Guy. These shows have long been lauded for the talents of their writers, especially The Simpsons. Without a musical soundtrack to lean on, or actors to carry the scene, the writing is the only thing that keeps the audience interested, and it has to be sharp, witty, and pitch perfect. 

In the end, writing has to win out in all genres for a show to be good. Actors, sets, music, can only take a show so far. Solid writing is key – be it soap, serial, or animated cartoon.


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Daytime Emmy Nominations

Posted by Nick S. on May 1, 2008

Daytime emmy nominations were announced, with CBS gaining the most nominations of any network – Y&R and GL did very well, at the expense of ATWT. ATWT had a number of individual cast nominations, although still did fairly poorly overall (after all, when you’re choosing nominations for “syndicated multiple camera editing for a drama series”, there’s only a few shows to choose from). Highlights:

Best Actress – Maura West (Carly)

Supporting Actress – Kelley Hensley (Emily)

Supporting Actor – Trent Dawson (Henry – yay! Deserves to win!)

Younger Actress – Jennifer Landon (Gwen)

Young Actor – Van Hansis (yay again!)

Young Actor – Jesse Lee Soffer (Will)

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