Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer
Soap Opera Digest, August 1977
by Bruce H. Joffe
Article Provided By Wanda
Some of the nicest people I know work in daytime TV. And, some of the very nicest people in daytime TV work on Ryan's Hope.
The first time I met Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer - co-creators, head writers and producers of Ryan's - was when they came to my neck of the country to speak to a class studying the soap operas at the University of Maryland.
Anyone who can dig in with relish to a diet plate special (Claire) and a hamburger deluxe (Paul) at the local Howard Johnson's is my kind of people. By the time we had finished eating, I felt like I knew them almost all of my life. Then, when Claire gave me a big kiss and Paul a warm handshake and smile upon parting, I knew that I'd love them forever.
Claire and Paul first started working together on Where The Heart Is. Later, they teamed up again on Love of Life.
"I originally came to New York to become an actress," confides Claire, "but the market for six-foot ingenues was rather limited. So I became a playwriting major at Columbia. It took me a year to convince CBS to let me write a sample serial script."
Before writing soaps, Paul was actually quite contemptuous of them. "I wrote a sample script for Dark Shadows, and the producers hated it." he recalls. "Then, as I really got into it, I began to take it all with appalling seriousness."
ABC approached them with an offer to write a new daytime serial called City Hospital, but they didn't find the idea particularly appealing. Neither was the title next proposed by the network: A Rage to Love. But a big Irish family who ran a bar across the street form a hospital did hit the mark.
"We wanted to write about people with ethnic and religious backgrounds living in New York City....which is what we know," explains Paul. "We'd already written about a bar on Where the Heart Is. The Irish-Catholic background is from Claire's own past."
To begin the show, Claire and Paul wrote a a "bible" of about 100 pages, tracing the roots of their characters from about 1900. For some of their characters, they can tell you about the childhood of their great grandparents. They know and respect the characters they've created quite well...especially Delia.
Claire explains why Delia is sometimes misunderstood.
"She had a rotten, miserably deprived childhood. Her father died slowly of cancer at home, which scarred her forever. She has enormous innate intelligence - she's very smart - but others have to take care of her. Delia has this unfortunate fix that she needs to be taken care of."
It's interesting to note that Paul and Claire sometimes don't agree when interpreting their characters.
Says Paul about blonde hell-rising Delia, "I know she was hurt as a child, but she shouldn't be allowed to use that as an excuse for her behavior forever. I see, instead, a more Freudian approach to her."
As master plotters for this year's most successful Emmy winning daytime series, the writing team of Labine and Mayer consider themselves lucky if they have 18 months of projected storyline. Normally, they plan six months in detail in advance.
"Time is your continual enemy on the soaps," charges Claire. "We try not to tell more than three different stories in the projection of six to 18 months. Next, we take those and do 13 week story outlines. Then we write fairly detailed three page outlines for each day's show of five acts."
How much they change the story depends on how masochistic they feel. Changing just one storyline often means affecting three others.
"We essentially planned for Frank Ryan to die on the firt show, when he fell down the steps," notes Paul. "But the network said that it wasn't advisable. So, during the first six weeks, Frank Ryan just lay there with a nice profile."
For a year they tried to find someone to replace Michael Hawkins in the role of Frank. Claire explains how they desperately wanted viewers to understand why Jill loved Frank - in spite of his shortcomings and failures.
"Neither one of us believes in heroes without flaws", she says, "but rather in real human beings."
Producing a show meant an opportunity to take part in the casting as well as the right to change some daytime serial conventions.
"We have a violent thing about flashbacks as they are used in the medium," Paul gives an example. "We never replay a scene. We'll film it new."
Obviously, Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer know what they're doing. They must be doing it right, because Ryan's Hope won Emmy awards this year in every single category for which it was nominated.
I said it before, and I'll say it again; it couldn't have happened to two nicer people.
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