You Gotta Have Heart:
That's award-winning soap writer Claire Labine's motto for making daytime great!
Soaps in Depth, September 1998
Claire Labine has issues. The co-creator and head writer of Ryan's Hope, as well as the former top scribe of General Hospital and One Life to Live, is concerned about the state of daytime. "I think the form is drifting away from what it is fundamentally about - emotional issues, relationships within families and between lovers," she says. "That's the heart of daytime."
The nine-time Daytime Emmy victor pauses, then adds: "Which is not to say there is not room for demonic possession and all that."
Labine knows from whence she speaks. After all, she's spent two decades toiling in the melodramatic trenches and butting heads with network brass for naught. She believes in daytime, its stars, its audience and its power.
"You don't make any bones about the fact that your primary obligation and responsibility to the audience is to entertain," she says. "But you also have an opportunity to say something."
And Labine has had a lot to say. Her socially aware storylines have encapsulated a variety of issues - environmental, AIDS, abortion, euthanasia. "Its a fine road to walk," she concedes. "One person's defintion of social change is not another's, and you can't use the airwaves to propagandize one point of view."
"But at the same time, there are things that are right, and there are things that are wrong. If you can frame a story wherein people are in a 'moral' way, then the story has more impact because the values are greater."
WRITE GOOD STORY AND THEY WILL WATCH
Regardless of whether people agree with Labine, they watched. RH, which ran from 1975-1989, remains one of the most beloved soap operas in history. "It was unique," says Nancy Adisson Altman, who played beleaguered heroine Jillian Coleridge. "And I think the public really knew that they were watching something special. They all picked up on the flavor of it."
From 1993-1995, along with son Matt and daughter Eleanor, Labine helmed the writing team of GH, and changed the scope of the show. Instead of over-the-top espionage stories, the Labines brought the residents of Port Charles down to earth and back to the foreground. Yes, there was still adventure (Luke and Laura returned), but there was also family strife, breast cancer, and organ donorship. To this days, fans still reach for the kleenex when remembering how Tony Jones donated the heart of his brain-dead daughter, BJ, to his niece, Maxie, and how mob runner Stone Cates, dying of AIDS, regained his sight momentarily, so that the last face he saw was that of his girlfriend, Robin. "Claire's writing was brilliant," marvels Michael Sutton, who played Stone. "To do it at that level that she did with such a delicate subject matter, I just have to commend her."
Recalls Labine, "We had a wonderful time on that show. [Executive Producer] Wendy Riche let us do what we wanted."
The Labines' laboring put GH back on the map with fans and critics, and earned the writing trio a 1994 Emmy. The following year, they were given a special environmental commendation from Connecticut College for an incinerator storyline that pitted the social classes of Port Charles against each other.
"We were quite gratified by that," she says. "I was flabergasted that anyone was paying attention."
Unfortunately Labine's next daytime writing experience was more futile than fruitful. In early 1997, she and Matt took over the reins of OLTL. While there, the mother-son team gave anti-hero Todd Manning a parrot; middle-aged heroine Nora Buchanan developed menopause; and Mel Hayes, a Hemingwayish journalist, arrived. However, few of the storylines caught on, and a year later, following the firing of OLTL's executive producer, Maxine Levinson, the Labines were let go. "I've never worked as hard as I worked last year," Labine sighs, "I certainly don't regret it, but it wasn't easy."
Although she hasn't ruled out writing for another soap, she says, "It would be under pretty specific circumstances."
She has other projects up her sleeve anyway. "I'd still love to do a new show," she admits. "My heart is definitely in a half hour."
THE BEST OF THE BEST
Her favorite storylines:
1. The metamorphosis of GH's Sonny Corinthos in the early 1990s. "We adored taking him from a small-time punk to a person who had to make moral choices given his training and his inclination and his involvement in organized crime," says the ex-headwriter. "And also the struggle for his soul with Brenda."
2. GH's heart transplant story of BJ's death and Maxie's saved life. "It affected so many people."
3. The tragic romance of Stone and Robin. "I loved the AIDS story beyond belief."
4. The 1970's quadrangle of RH's Seneca/Jill/Frank/Delia. "It was so much fun. We'd write it from Frank's point of view, then Jill's, then Seneca's, and back to Jill's."
5. The plot that introduced Johnny Ryan's grown illegimate son, Dakota Smith, on RH. "I liked, toward the end of RH, the trouble between Maeve and Johnny over that."
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