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Why soap-opera history matters (at least to viewers)

As the saying goes, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Except, it seems, on a soap opera.

Last week, on General Hospital, Luke (Anthony Geary) asked Holly (Emma Samms) if she’d ever met his late cousin, Bill (also played by Geary from 1991 to 1993).

Holly said, “No.”

The Twitter-verse went mental.

Not only did Holly know Bill, but they had a romantic relationship, complete with a mandatory wacky adventure involving art theft. Bill cheated on Holly, and when she walked in on him and another woman, Holly smashed all the precious wine bottles in Bill’s cellar and vowed revenge.

In other words, they’d met.

Presumably attempting to do damage control, on June 30, Samms tweeted:

Big confession re GH. Tony & I couldn’t remember the Bill/Holly thing so changed line. NOT fault of @carlivatiron or @valentinifrank

Then, a bit later, she added: So please don’t be mad at @valentinifrank and @carlivatiron It’s not their fault!

Frank Valentini is GH‘s executive producer. Ron Carlivati is the head writer. Which means they are Samms’ bosses.

All right. Let’s consider this:

First, let’s accept that two actors absolutely, totally, and completely blanked on a story they played not for a few days, but nearly a year. In fact, it was Samms’ exit story in 1993. (Not to mention that Geary only played Bill for a few years, which means he only had a handful of leading ladies as that character.)

Next, let’s assume that since the memory lapse was the fault of Samms and Geary, and not the GH writing or producing departments (don’t blame them!), the original script had Luke asking Holly if she’d ever met Bill, and Holly saying, “Yes.”

Maybe that was all she said. Maybe she had a line explaining that they’d dated and looked for stolen art and he cheated on her. Maybe she didn’t. (Though a copy of the page in question would certainly settle the issue once and for all. How about it, GH?)

In either case, the actors went 180 degrees off script.

And no one noticed.

Not the director, who has the script marked up in advance for camera shots and needs the actors to stay more or less on book in order to film the scene as he and the cinematographers previously planned it.

Not the day’s producer in the booth, who has the script and makes sure nothing gets skipped or cut—unless it was previously approved.

Not the writers, who have a live feed of what’s happening on the floor piped into their office so they can see if anything is radically altered.

Not the writers’ assistant, who is usually in charge of keeping character history sheets and, when Samms and Geary simultaneously drew a blank on Holly and Bill’s past, could have refreshed their memories.

Not one of those people whose job it is to notice … noticed.

Of course, earlier in the episode, Holly told Luke’s wife, Laura (Genie Francis), that she wasn’t aware Luke was married to Laura and had a son, Lucky, when Holly slept with Luke and conceived their son, Ethan. Considering that, at the time, Holly was married to Luke’s best friend, Robert (she had to have been, or else why would Ethan have initially thought he was Robert’s child?), and Robert was the one who made the announcement that Luke and Laura had a son (offscreen), it seems unlikely that his wife would be unaware of that development. (It’s also unlikely that, in revisionist history, Luke would have had an affair with his best friend’s presumed-dead wife and not mentioned that he’d at least run into her, but that detail wasn’t brought up in this particular episode, so we won’t dwell. Much.)

Now we get to the crux of the issue: Why does soap history matter?

After all, isn’t the most important thing to create a compelling episode today? Who cares what came before it?

Here is why soap history matters: Viewers invest themselves in the characters. They invest themselves in their love stories. They root for them. It’s what keeps them tuning in every day.

Telling viewers that what they watched happen on their screens never, in fact, actually happened (Luke was never satisfied with his marriage to Laura; Robert and Holly weren’t daytime’s quintessential happily married couple) is a slap in the face. It says that their investment didn’t matter. Their day-in, day-out commitment didn’t matter. Their feelings don’t matter. They don’t matter.

Is that really the message that a genre (and a show) that’s bleeding fans sincerely wants to send out?

What do you think of the historical rewrites? Do they bother you, or are you willing to look the other way in the interest of telling a good story? Tell us what you think!

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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