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By 1971, despite good reviews for Inside, Looking Out, the financial condition of little-produced playwright Lemay--who had quit a publishing job to write full-time--had become perilous. So, when approached to write for the soap-opera ""Another World,"" Lemay could not refuse: ""I pretended from the beginning that I did not resent turning whatever talent I had to a form for which I had nothing but contempt."" True, he found the characters ""bland and boring"" and the situations ""unbelievable when not downright ludicrous""; he told the sponsor ""that I considered it shit."" But he went ahead, determined--despite the teachings of soap-opera grande dame Irna Phillips (that ""soap operas and the truth have nothing to do with each other"")--to ""bring what I had learned in years of editing fiction and writing plays to a form plagued by slackness of approach and banality of material,"" and ""to reflect my perception of life and people."" So he played down melodrama in favor of character tensions. He made sure that sloppy, untalented actors were gradually written out of the scripts (including TV's top matinee idol), and he brought in fine actors from the theater. The show's ratings improved, thanks to ""brisk playing pace, literate dialogue, subtlety and variety of situation, . . . handsome production values""--and without murder, amnesia, illegitimate babies, or sudden surgery. ""Another World"" expanded to an hour; Lemay started a soap-writing seminar and created another series. But by 1976, things had soured: ratings were erratic, the second series was taken out of Lemay's hands, the pressures of the job totally monopolized his life. And, finally, realizing that Procter and Gamble was interested only in ratings and not ""in the intrinsic nature of writing,"" Lemay decided to quit--in an implausibly naive and wanly self-righteous final chapter. Throughout, in fact, Lemay recounts his highly profitable trials and traumas with a bland pomposity and a lack of humor that quickly rob him of sympathy. And readers will have to hear far more about the details of the ""Another World"" plots than most will want to know. Required reading, then, only for ""Another World"" fans and assiduous students of soaps; those with a more casual interest can find more engaging glimpses into soap opera's backstage shufflings elsewhere.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1981
Publisher: Atheneum