won 4 Emmys for his work on “Guiding Light”, “Santa Barbara”,
“General Hospital”. Many, certainly I, consider him the best to ever
write for a soap opera. His scripts are always memorable: sharp,
witty, profound, powerful. For the last couple of years he has been
working on “The Bold and the Beautiful”. He kindly accepted to
answer a few of my questions.
By: Giada DaRos
wrote episode 5000th of B&B. Where did the idea for that episode come
Well, it kept creeping up on us --
we knew months in advance we wanted to do something special. But of course for
writers that self-imposed obligation to do “something special” is the kiss of
death. Nothing we think of seems special enough. So the week rolled
around when we needed to plot it and write it and we still weren’t sure what we
were going to do.
Brad [Bell, head-writer] wanted to
pay homage to the four original characters still played by the original cast
members: Eric, Stephanie, Brooke and Ridge. He was the one who thought of
doing it at the Big Bear cabin, which is iconic for our viewers. Our characters
keep going off to that purportedly peaceful mountain retreat and getting
strangled by each other or buried by avalanches. We wanted something fun and
celebratory, not a lazy, all-flashback episode. Brad wanted to connect it at
least loosely to our current story –not everybody’s been watching for twenty
years. Michael [Minnis, writer] and Betsy [Snyder, writer] wanted Brad to
have a cameo in the episode – a little wink to our audience; it was Brad’s
milestone, after all -- and Brad agreed to do it, albeit with some misgivings,
as long as he didn’t have much dialogue. An actor he’s not.
We agreed the setup would be that
Eric, Stephanie, Brooke and Ridge come together to decide whether and how the
Forrester design firm will continue to exist. We knew we needed a big
Eric-Stephanie scene. They started the business together, they remember how
difficult it was; do they have the energy to do it all again, or is retirement
beckoning? We wanted to see them in private… let’s say in a way we’ve seldom
seen. Beyond that, we talked about the tone we wanted to strike and not much
I felt honored
that Brad asked me to write the episode
and left so much of it up to me. I told him I wanted to
write it like a little play. I’m not sure he knew what I meant (I’m not sure I
did either), but he trusts me. Which is one of the big – maybe the biggest –
rewards of writing the show for me. He always gives me pretty free rein, never
more than on this episode.
I wonder too, in this instance, if
on some level he didn’t want to be surprised. 5000 half-hours of
television is an astounding achievement. I suspect he felt it should be honored,
but he’s too modest a man to honor himself. Maybe he really felt it was
somebody else’s job to celebrate it. He could tell that I understood the
personal sacrifice and commitment 5000 episodes represented. At the same time,
of course, I had to be mindful of who Brad is – as I say, he’s a very modest
man, a guy who loves his work, who gets kicked around by the fans a lot, who’s
constantly compared to his father, Bill (who created our show, as well as The
Young and the Restless). It’s Brad’s show. The buck stops with him.
Anything we air is likely to be taken as coming from his own pen. So the
episode couldn’t think too much of itself. It had to have his personality:
gentle, self-effacing, humorous, affectionate.
I think it was the best script
I’ve written for B&B. Alas, the audience will not see it, precisely because of
Brad’s modesty. At the last minute he got cold feet and couldn’t do the on-air
cameo role I wrote for him, so that little story I devised had to be yanked out,
three minutes’ time or so, and the ending had to be changed. We replaced the
lost time with a very few choice flashbacks that our long-time viewers will love
seeing. Was I disappointed? Sure. But for me, the episode was about honoring
Brad’s achievement, and what viewers will end up seeing is the honor he could
accept. It’s not as good as the script was, and Brad will always be the first
to admit it, but I think it’s still a very enjoyable half hour.
He apologized to me profusely for
weeks. We still tease him about it. When we plot in a day-player, a judge or
photographer, somebody will say, “Hey, let’s have Brad play it!” And he gets
mortified all over again.
Giada: You’ve written for many soaps through
the years. How is B&B different from the others?
B&B reminds me, both in how it
tells stories and in its writing process, of the way Douglas Marland and I wrote
Guiding Light twenty-five years ago. It feels wrong even to write
“Douglas and I”: it was only my second writing job, I was very much the junior
partner in the collaboration. I was the first outline writer he ever hired, at
P&G’s insistence. That was smart of them. He wrote so much of the show himself
they feared he’d drop in this tracks (which, God love him, he eventually did, on
another P&G show). We got together every day at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning and
thrashed out an episode. P&G also wanted him to “train” someone else in his
method – which is how people who don’t understand writing think, that you can
show someone else how to do it. You can’t train somebody to be a genius, which
Douglas was. As a matter of fact (forgive me, Douglas), he was a terrible
teacher. But I learned anyway, just by being around him, listening to him,
seeing the amazing narrative leaps his mind would make, by abstracting certain
unarticulated rules he followed by instinct. Here’s one, for instance: never
give the audience what you have led them to want; instead give them something
they didn’t expect that they’ll like even better.
GL then was written the way a good
writer really works: you think you know where you’re going, but you’re not sure
until you get there, and you never know exactly how you’re going to get
there. You’re feeling your way along in the dark. Of course, networks and
producers HATE that. They think writing is like making a synopsis, in reverse. They expect you should be able to tell them exactly what’s going to happen
tomorrow, next week, next month, and then just make it happen. That’s not how
it works. You have to be with the characters, live with them, feel with
them, let them surprise you – otherwise what you’re writing is dead, dead,
B&B tells the same kind of
traditional character-driven stories we were writing on GL, and we write them in
pretty much the same way. Brad protects from the network’s pressures. We don’t
deal with them at all. (He has to, though, of course. But our CBS daytime
vice-president, Barbara Bloom, is anyway very smart, and an old friend.) We who
write scripts aren’t just handed “outlines” of what’s supposed to go into our
scripts. That’s what every other show does and I hate it. Yeah, it makes your
life easier in a way. If something sucks on the air, you as the scriptwriter
can always say, “I know, but it was in the outline.”
Don’t get me wrong, I revere
outline writers. It’s very hard work, it’s like mentally cracking rocks,
dealing with set restrictions, actors’ guarantees, it’s a nightmare. And you
generally only get a day or two to write them. As a scriptwriter, though, when
you’re handed somebody else’s outline to write from, all sorts of creative
decisions have already been made, you don’t know how or why, which ones are
considered indispensable and which are only there because the outline writer
didn’t have time to think of something better. You didn’t hear the discussion
that informed the decisions and you don’t know what’s going to pay off next
week, you’re flying blind. So you do one of two things. You get very cautious
and only write what’s in the outline, whether it feels organic and right for the
characters or not. Or you do what I’m a little notorious for doing: look over
the outline, find something solid in it that really works, build on that
dramatically and get to where the story says you need to, changing or just
bypassing the stuff that seems inert or wrong to you. The latter, less safe
approach will either drive your head writer nuts or make him or her very happy;
but you know your script will play and the actors will get you, if no one else
does. Still, inevitably you’re going to screw up and skip over something in the
outline you didn’t know was important, to future story, and you or your editor
will have to scramble to fix it later.
We don’t write from outlines on
B&B. Our process is predicated on the assumption that if you have real writers
working on scripts, you don’t need outlines. Brad’s the source of our stories,
but we who write scripts are always in on the creative decisions about how we
tell them. We talk through everything. A lazy writer will invariably
detest the way we work, since it adds a full exhausting day of talk to
the work week; but me, I dread ever having to go back to writing from outlines. I negotiate everything I write directly with Brad. He has the confidence to
say, “Here’s what I think I want, here’s where I want something but I’m not sure
what, here are the givens we’re working with, here’s where it could go either
way.” Very few times have I had to come away from our discussion feeling I had
to make something work that I didn’t buy, because I couldn’t see the story or
character the way Brad did. In most writing jobs that’s an almost weekly
occurrence. But 98% of the time, the definition of when we’re done discussing
my one or two episodes is when I’m happy. Brad knows if I believe in what I’m
writing, I’ll make the audience believe it.
The obvious weakness of our method
is that it relies so heavily on the willingness – and the ability – of the
writer to engage creatively with the material. Many writers used to getting
outlines every week can’t do that or don’t want to. It shows up pretty quickly
in their work, and then they’re gone. Which, frankly, is another thing I like
about Brad. If something isn’t working, in the studio, in the writing, he makes
a change, and fast. A lot of executive producers will think, “Well, it’s not
working right now, but maybe I can beat, scold or terrorize So-and-So into
giving me what we want.” In 28 years, I have yet to see that approach work. (With actors, though, a slightly different approach can be effective: “Maybe we’re asking for the wrong thing, let’s try writing the character another
On the flip side, when a writer
gets the show, gets Brad and his way of working, he’s very loyal. He calls Rex
[M. Best, writer], Tracey [Ann Kelly, writer] and me “the lifers.” (LOL, as
they say online. I’m not always sure what I think of that term.)
Giada: What are its strengths? And
The strength of B&B is that we
have the same characters (some played by the same actors) and relationships
front-and-center on the show that we presented twenty years ago in episode one. That’s enormously rewarding for our long-time viewers. They really know
That’s also our weakness. A new
viewer is probably baffled by the complexity of the relationships we’re
presenting, since they have such long histories. And if our long-time viewers
get tired of the faces they’ve seen day in and day out for twenty years, we’re
in trouble. We always try to have something fresh going on, but it’s a little
show with a little cast and I don’t think we always succeed.
Soap operas only really tell two
kinds of stories: romances and family stories. On a really good show, solidly
structured, the two are blended: the romances are family stories. I
think that’s another strength of B&B.
Some shows, not ours, are able to
tell a third kind of story: the social story. But that I don’t mean the
“social issue” storyline, be it breast cancer, AIDS, homosexuality, what have
you. Look at those stories closely and you’ll see, if they work, it’s because
at bottom they’re romances or family stories. No, by “social story” I mean the
story told, as it were, from within a community, affecting all levels of society
in it. That ‘s feasible in fictional milieux, Springfield on GL, or Pine Valley
on AMC. Douglas told beautiful stories about community on GL, so did Nancy
Curlee. B&B is set in Los Angeles, which is vast, multi-ethnic, teeming with
such a variety of social and economic life that we make no pretense of
representing it. Our study is the Forrester family and their intimates.)
Giada: What character on B&B is the
hardest to write for?
Brooke. She’s a very subtle and
original creation. She’s simple, but in a specific, even complicated way. I
observe that it takes a new writer a long time to get her; it did me. She’s
kind of dim and kind of not. She’s kind of sleazy and kind of upright. She can
be manipulative and open-hearted in the very same moment. Kelly Lang is
wonderful to write for, and brings who she is to the role – by which I don’t at
all mean that she “is” Brooke. I don’t know the woman. But the way she
understands the character and what we write for her gets refracted through the
prism of her in a beautiful way that I can’t describe but have learned to
anticipate. She’s incredibly generous, humble and trusting, as an actor. If
you write Brooke wrong, she’ll do just what you asked of her, and when you see
it on the air you’ll wince, because you’ll realize you missed by a mile. Luckily, she so has the character that we can never go very far wrong. I
honestly don’t know if anyone else could play her. Giulietta
Masina, maybe. (As pretentious as that sounds,
she’s the only actor I can think of with a comparable quality.)
Stephanie’s another character
who’s difficult to write, for some of the same and some different reasons. She’s been in the forefront of practically every story we’ve ever told. The
actor who plays her [Susan Flannery] is really splendid, a rare talent, and very
particular and protective of her character.
Giada: And the easiest? Why?
I wouldn’t say they’re “easy,” but I will admit, there are three characters I
love to write: Eric, Felicia and Bridget. Lesli Kay [Felicia] and Ashley Jones [Bridget] are just wonderful,
no-nonsense actors. They know their characters very well and are always willing
to go out on a limb with me when I write them. And John McCook, in addition to
being a terrific actor too, has been playing Eric for 20 years. I love Eric and
his history. He’s part patriarch, part artist, part horn-dog. I think he tends
to get short shrift with us sometimes, he’s been around so long and is
surrounded by such strong female characters. But he’s a gem, and John jumps,
with both feet, at every opportunity we give him. Nothing gets lost with him.
Giada: Do you have a special memory
associated with he show and that you are fond of?
Patrick: Brad throws a big anniversary
party for the show and everyone working on it every year in March. At last
year’s he made a fuss over me by presenting me with a big birthday cake. (I was
born on March 17th.) This at the House of Blues on Sunset, of all
places. I don’t think most of the people involved with the show pay much
attention to writers who aren’t on-site. For them, “the writers” are Brad. So
mostly they were like, “Who’s that guy again, with the birthday? What does he
Giada: What about past shows? Are there any
episodes you’ve written that have a special significance to you or that you are
most proud of?
SANTA BARBARA is really where I
cut my teeth as a writer and made any name for myself I may have. It was both a
wonderful and a trying show to work on, for behind-the-scenes reasons. Bridget
and Jerry Dobson [SB creators] were wild, funny, passionate, creative people and
bosses. I’d get outlines with ten, twelve pages X’ed out, and a note in the
margin: “Patrick, do something else” -- they gave me that much credit and
leeway. We had a great cast, great directors, and a solid idiosyncratic
characters, the Capwell family and its satellites. All of us
talked to each other – which is rare enough -- and trusted each other, it was a
dream collaboration. And when the Powers That Be brought in head writers (after
the Dobsons were legally ousted) who didn’t know the show or were just plain
bad, we’d ignore them and “do something else.” The more of them they hired, the
more we ignored them. It was rude and disrespectful, I don’t know how they
tolerated it (the huge pay-check may have had something to do with it), but
nobody stopped us because we knew what we were doing. SB was where I found my
power as a writer, my inner power. I decided whatever I was given to do, I was
going to write the hell out of it. I put my heart and soul, everything I knew
and didn’t know, into a lot of SB episodes nobody else would remember. I never
cared if I got fired for breaking the rules; writing as honestly and well as I
could was all that mattered to me; and miraculously, I never did get fired. By
the time [network executive] Jackie Smith, God rest her soul – who, in my
opinion, was already pretty demented – brought in John Conboy as executive
producer, I had a bit of a reputation. I think he’d been advised that I was
somebody he should make nice with. I was called into his office for a chat.
When he told me that the show was going to center around polo and a polo club,
that he wanted Cruz, our Latino cop hero (played by the magnificent A Martinez)
to become a polo player, I said, “Okay, thank you, that’s it for me.” The two
of them, Smith and Conboy, were the most clueless and inadvertently comical
characters I ever ran across in daytime. I quit.
I already mentioned the great
experience I had working with Doug Marland on GL. I loved that show, and fell
in love with it again when I worked on it with Nancy Curlee and Stephen
Demorest. Maybe the most careful, most moving, most complete and most lovingly
told story I was ever part of was the story of Buzz Cooper’s return to
Springfield. He’d gone MIA in Vietnam and never returned to his wife, his son
and daughter, for reasons we eventually understood without ever fully
explaining. It was a story about
love, community, forgiveness, the joy and
heartbreak of what it means to be family. And it was so beautifully played.
Justin Deas [Buzz] is a very, very rare actor. And the actors playing Nadine,
Jenna, Harley, Frank, Eleni, Alan-Michael, Blake, Bridget, Vanessa, Holly,
Roger, Ed, Michelle, Ross, David, Kat – what an extraordinary ensemble that
was. That couple of years was a magic time in the life of the show and in my
own creative life. Nancy Curlee’s a magnificent, meticulous writer. One of the
things that’s wrong with daytime TV now is that she’s not in it. If I were
pressed to choose one daytime episode to represent the best of my soap-writing
life, it would probably be Frank and Eleni’s wedding on Fifth Street.
I loved GENERAL HOSPITAL for
different reasons.The show still bore (and will always bear) the Gloria Monty
stamp, which gave it a certain cachet; but [late executive producer] Monty had
also decimated the show’s structure to the point where we had a lot of
“vestigial” characters to knit together. By “vestigial” I mean characters who
used to belong to some important family or relationship or story but weren’t
really connected to anything anymore; they were kind of isolated off in a corner
by themselves. Some of them could drive story, not by virtue of how they were
related to the rest of the canvas, but by being big or forceful or evil or
outrageous enough to get everyone’s attention. To some extent that dictated the
kinds of stories we could tell. You’re not going to fire an actor the audience
likes and who’s doing a good job, even if it’s hard to use the character in a
way that any other character on the canvas will give two hoots about. They’ll
have to shoot you or blackmail you or kidnap your wife or get HIV or shave their
head to induce you to look up from the morning paper when they walk by.
But we had the Quartermaines, who
were a real family, and wonderful to write for, either played by old pros like
Stuart [Damon, Alan] and Leslie [Charleson, Monica] and John [Ingle, Edward] or
by terrific young actors like Steve Burton [Jason] and Amber Tamblyn
[ex-Emily]. Alan’s drug addiction was one of my favorite stories. So was the
Robin-Jason romance, and the triangulation we did with Carly, played then by the
amazing Sarah Brown; we had a lot of good people in the cast. And the writers I
worked with directly – Bob Guza, Michele ValJean, and Elizabeth Korte – are not
just big talents but people I truly love. Bob is a prince, a good writer as
well as a good manager of writers. He and Nancy Grahn [Alexis] are my longest,
closest personal-professional friendships.
Here’s a story that exemplifies
Bob as a writer, friend and boss. I was writing the infamous “Clink-Boom”
episode: Brenda marrying Jax, intercut with Sonny’s wife Lily being blown up by
a car bomb, at the moment Brenda’s and Jax’s champagne glasses touch on his
yacht. I’d known Bob since Santa Barbara days, but was fairly new on GH.
I didn’t realize how long he’d been working up to this episode, or what a
measure of trust he was placing in me by giving it to me to write. For months
he’d had the clink-boom sequence in his head, and the outline reflected it
exactly the way he’d conceived it. Now, I wasn’t so dim-witted I didn’t realize
it was an important turning-point in the story. But when I got the outline and
read it over, I didn’t like it. It didn’t make sense to me. That happens
sometime when you outline something, even something very good. It’s like seeing
the lyrics of a song without hearing the melody: it feels flat. So I called
Bob and said, “This clink-boom sequence isn’t working for me. It feels
mechanical and amped-up and hokey.” And without hesitation, he said, “Then
write it the way you want. I trust you.” Well, given that liberty, I went back
to it, and thought it through and felt it through – and you know what? It
turned out almost exactly the way Bob had it. I think I might’ve inserted or
deleted one cut. “Writing it the way I wanted” meant finding the power in it
that Bob had already found and fallen in love with. But he was willing to put
it on the chopping block for me.
Giada: What do you think is your strength
Patrick: I work hard. I dig hard. I try
to make it fresh. I never phone it in.
Giada: And your weak point?
Patrick: I work hard. I dig hard. I try
to make it fresh. I’m always behind deadline.
Giada: Who do you admire within the soap
part from the people I’ve already
don’t know if any of your
readers will remember Charita Bauer, who for many years played Bert on GL. A
really generous, kind woman, and a wonderful actor, who never got tired of doing
the work of acting. No matter how tangential Bert might be to what we had going
on, Charita nailed it. She never got lazy. She was The Bomb.
I really liked and admired Wendy
Riche, EP of GH when I was there. She could be annoying as hell; she drove Bob
crazy, they were oil and water. But the things that drove you crazy were really
positive traits in her. She was consistent, insistent, persistent and very
hard-working. I found her thoughtful, attentive, fair, and completely
aboveboard, no hidden agendas. To a fault, she would tell you what she really
thought, when she agreed, when she didn’t – in fact you’d end up thinking, “All
right, enough, shut up already.” But so many producers treat you like children,
lie to you, undermine you behind your back, screw with your work while you’re
not looking, etc. I never felt that way with Wendy. And she never failed to do
the one thing you really want a producer to do: produce the damn show. Sounds like the minimum you could expect, right? But many producers can’t be
bothered. They don’t actually know how, so they pretend they have more
important things to do, like making you re-write last week.
Jackie Zeman [Bobbie, GH] is a
lovely person to work with, very down-to-earth and generous, thoughtful,
gracious. Constance Towers [Helena, GH] is about the kindest, most charming
woman you could ever meet, really a person of substance. She reeks integrity
and goodness. John Ingle [Edward, GH] and Stuart Damon [Alan, GH] are
delightful guys, funny, honest, humble.
I really miss Michael Zaslow
[Roger, GL; David, OLTL]. I admired and appreciated him very much. or one
thing, he was a fine and underappreciated actor. For another, he was a
gentleman. He’s the only actor who ever thanked me by name when receiving his Emmy. And he had a real appreciation for writing, and the taste and
experience to know when he had a good script in his hands. He would quote
back to me lines I had written months ago for Roger that I didn’t remember
myself. Once he got so furious when Standards and Practices decreed he
couldn’t say a line I wrote him that he fought them and called the network and
finally had to lock himself in his dressing room to cool off, he told me.
There was no profanity in the line, nothing like that. It was (if I say so
myself) deft and simple but shocking. And, like so many lines and scenes I
have written, nobody heard it or ever will.
Giada: And among writers (from soaps and
not)? And in general?
Patrick: I love a lot of writers for a lot
of reasons. For me, Proust is the greatest of them. Then, in no particular
order, Hardy, Dickens, George Elliot, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Trollope,
Melville. Chaucer, Homer, Dante, Pope are in there somewhere.
Jose Saramago. Primo Levi. Eudora Welty, a very graceful
writer.Garcia Marquez. Jane
Bowles. Alice Munro.
Graham Greene. Pedro Almovodar has become a favourite writer for film. Robert
Riskin was another great screenwriter. David Chase, who wrote The Sopranos,
is clearly some kind of genius. David Milch, of Deadwood and NYPD
Blue, is not only a fine and honest writer but was one of my writing
teachers at Yale, long before he wrote for TV. Alan Ball did glorious, glorious
work on Six Feet Under. He deserved more recognition.
Do you mean people in general,
non-writers I admire? I tend to appreciate rather than admire, except for
people I know and admire close-up, in my life, whom your readers would not
Giada: Are there stories/dialogues you’ve
regretted you’ve written or that you’d have written differently?
Patrick: I’ve been implicated in dozens of
truly wretched stories, but they weren’t mine. The kidnapping of Eden’s baby on
SB – shudder. And certainly there’ve been many scenes I was
solely responsible for that I watched on the air and thought, “Whoops – I muffed
that.” But they won’t have stuck in anyone else’s memory, because I muffed
Giada: How did you start writing?
Patrick: I don’t remember. I got my first
rejection slip when I was five. I started reading before I was in school. Nobody’s explained that to me. My parents say I just picked up a book and
started reading it when I was three or four. Obviously that can’t be the whole
story. I do actually have a dim memory of doing something like that. My mother
read a lot, and I remember picking up a book and suddenly having all those
letters from the alphabet make words, make sense to me, and being surprised by
Did you have a mentor?
Giada: When did you first realize you
were truly a writer, not just someone who writes? Why do you write? What’s its
meaning for you? What’s your poetics/aesthetics?
Patrick: I don’t know the answers to these
questions. I don’t write to express myself; I write to understand myself. I
think writing is harder for me, not easier, than for other people.
Giada: Do you think your writing has
changed through the years?
Patrick: Yes. It’s become much simpler and
more confident. On the downside, it may also have become more narrow. Plus
side: more focused.
Giada: What do you wish you had written
yourself, but you hadn’t?
Patrick: I wish I had written ONE HUNDRED
YEARS OF SOLITUDE. But doesn’t every writer.
Giada: What skills do you think a soap
writer, or any writer for that matter, should have/develop?
You know, this is a great
question, and there are many such skills to hone. But they don’t have names,
because nobody needs them but writers, and we use them like we use our fingers
and toes, which we don’t think of naming either.
A skill is a very different thing
from a rule. I think we all develop our own private rules about writing and
refer to them mentally when we try to diagnose what’s wrong with what we’re
working on. For instance: every character must be both faithful to himself and
able to surprise you. That’s what people are like. If your character can’t do
those two things at the same time, he’s not a character, he’s a construct, and
something’s gravely wrong with how you conceived him. I would say though that
creating that sort of character is not a matter of skill but of heart.
Giada: What advice would you give to
Patrick: “Write. You’ll figure it out.
Don’t believe anybody who tells you you can’t. If you can’t, you’ll stop.”
Giada: How do you learn to write well?
Patrick:By writing, by developing your
taste and judgment by reading great writing -- understanding what makes it great
– and by becoming honest.
Giada: What’s your writing routine?
Patrick: I fret, and then I write and stop
fretting. Then I finish and start fretting again.
Giada: Were you a soap watcher before
starting to write for them?
Patrick: No. I didn’t have a
television. I was writing plays.
Giada: There’s a lot of discussion on what
characterize a TV genre with respect to other genres. How would you define a
“soap opera”? How are soaps different from other TV genres, from your point of
Patrick: A soap is a specific kind of
serial that doesn’t have a beginning, a middle and an end. Soaps die for lack
of interest, not because the story ended.
Put another way (Douglas’s way): the end of the story is always another story. They’re like life in that way.
Giada: Do you think the soap genre changed
through the years? If so, how? How do the politics of running a network reflect
on the writers? The soap genre is said to be dying for lack of viewership: do
you agree with that forecast? If you do, what measures, if any, should be taken
to avoid it, in your opinion?
Patrick: I do agree with the forecast.
Furthermore, I think that mostly soaps deserve to die. What we do now isn’t
nearly as vital or fresh or interesting as what we were doing eighteen, even
twenty-five years ago. Soaps then were powerful, raw, shocking – we did
anything and everything. What we do now is so timid and constrained. I
understand it. The networks are afraid of losing even more viewers, so they try
not to upset anyone, and in the process bore the pants off them.
I have bills to pay, so I’m hoping
I can ride this genre out for a while longer. But whether I do or not, serials
will be back. Maybe on a more limited-run basis, like telenovelas. I
don’t know that we’ll see anything like Guiding Light again.
Do you read soap press criticism?
Giada: Do you find it useful?
Patrick: I might if I had the time to read it
Giada: Why should anyone watch a soap, in
your opinion? What makes them worth watching?
The long-haul rewards for the
audience (and for the writer) are pretty unique. The long-term viewer’s memory
is pretty literally telling the story with us. We don’t have to bring them up
to speed about situations and relationships that resonate with the character’s
history. If you walked into The Cherry Orchard during Varya’s big scene
with Lopakhin, you would have no idea that he wanted to marry her or that she
was waiting for him to ask. The heartbreak of the scene depends on the audience
understanding what’s come before. Just so with every scene of a soap. The way
we construct them makes the audience feel engaged with us creatively, and they
are; we count on them to pay attention, to remember, to bring the past to bear
on the present moment. I think it demands a level of commitment and
intelligence that can be very satisfying for a viewer. People who don’t watch
soaps tend to marvel (or be aghast) at how involved our audience gets. But
really, there’s no other way to watch.
The soaps can be good or bad,
coherent or not. Each has its own personality, quirks, attracts its own
audience, has its moments of glory and its bumpy rides. And the page-turning
quality – What will happen next? – of the stories we tell cannot be
underestimated. I felt a little bereft, for instance, when I finished
Trollope’s Palliser novels. They weren’t all wonderful, there were certainly
longueurs, but the highs were higher than any two-hour movie or any single novel
in the series could have afforded.
Fundamentally, though, the appeal
of soaps is this: our theme is intimacy. Two people alone in a room. A family
within the walls of its home. That’s how most of us experience life, and the
way we acknowledge our really formative experiences as having happened. For
people, women especially, who are attuned to the power and necessity of intimacy
in their lives, we will always have a special attraction and a special reward.
Giada: A bizarre question recurs often among
soap fans, and nobody seems to be able to answer it, so I pose it to you: do
head writers get paid extra if they create brand new characters?
Patrick: No. I never did, anyway.
Giada: When you had your first paid
writing job, who did you tell first, and what did you do with your first
(1) I told my mother. She always
believed in me as a writer, or at least pretended to. (2) I paid my rent.
Giada: Where do you keep your Emmys?
Near my desk. I don’t look at
them much and think it would be bad form to oblige other people to.
Giada: At night, do you ever dream soap
characters and stories or dialogues?
I hear dialogue all the time,
especially when I’m falling asleep. Or it will just come out of my mouth –
anytime, even in public. People who know me well have to get used to me talking
to myself or to no one a lot.
I don’t know if I “dream”
characters. But I often – daily, maybe hourly -- imagine what it might be like
to be somebody else.
I want to thank Patrick for his answers which
I find very insightful, and quite emblematic of his personality in many
instances. I admire him as a writer and as a man. He has a unique way of looking
at people and he’s able to see them as no-one else can. This is part of his
ability to write so forcefully. I thank him for this also, and for the
inspiration he constantly is.