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Top-rated soap opera Littleton, USA has a huge following. The success of the show coincides with the phenomenon of soap operas reaching a peak of popularity (There were 15 American network TV soap operas on the air in 1982) across North America and worldwide. The show's creator Carla Sherman (Suzanne Pleshette), who is also head writer, faces the unexpected crisis of Quenton Mallory (John Gabriel) one of her stars getting murdered. His character, the show's resident cad, was pivotal to her new story-line.
Suzanne Pleshette's character is meant to be a reflection of the audience. She used to be a soap fan who then tried her hand at writing. As a former member of the audience she is appalled when she hears the network wants to have a morbid clips show celebrating the career of the murdered star. Real audiences would be appalled too. But it is probably what the network, and the show, would have done if that had really happened. Almost nothing of what we see appears formulated from what would have been done if any of this really happened.
In keeping with the expected for a murder mystery the victim was roundly loathed which could have maximized the number of possible assailants with similar but different motives offering solid basis for a whodunit. But when a well-liked younger star (Peter Bergman) is murdered days later any suspect and motive becomes less clear. With a second slaying it also becomes less clear why the network doesn't put the show on hiatus and lock down the set. But they soldier on with two fewer characters. This is where the plot veers off into complete absurdity.
After another popular young star (Robin Mattson) and her husband are murdered, the network of course shelves things. But they quickly get production going again hiring security people to watch the cast. That doesn't help when Carla is nearly strangled in her apartment. She recovers quickly. So quickly she even signs for the package the delivery guy drops off after his pushing of the buzzer to her apartment has scared off her assailant.
Detective Flynn (Barry Newman) of the LAPD, the man assigned to the high-profile case, is entirely ineffectual as a cop but somehow successful as a love interest. Carla, rebuffs his suggestion that a security guard be assigned to her. She tells him she'll just get the locks changed. If there were any realism at all her house would be locked down as an active crime-scene and she'd be in hospital.
Instead Carla and Flynn get cozy on her couch and bounce around theories about the killer. They muse about the aspect of fans thinking the show is real - a well-known but highly exaggerated phenomenon. Carla appears to conclude that is what the motive really is. Without the flimsiest of clues indicating anything of any kind her theory cannot be refuted. But her certainty of it is equally unverifiable.
The murderer (Seeing her from the point of view of a subjective camera) stalks her humming "Pop goes the weasel" (A biting statement upon the predictable and simplistic direction bad soap opera narratives often take?). It could be that he just can't believe his luck at how lax security is and how easy his prey appears to want to make his killing spree. The nonsensical conclusion makes it seem like they decided on the killer by drawing from a hat full of names.
The idea of having a TV movie about a soap opera featuring the roster of soap opera stars of leading soap network ABC (All My Children, General Hospital, Ryan's Hope etc) which broadcast it was very clever advertising. Coinciding with the popularity of soap operas in the 1980s were, of course, slasher films. A hybrid of that could have been enticing for some audiences. But it doesn't look they got enough beyond that conceptual framework to do anything with it that makes sense.
Attempting to combine elements of mystery, suspense, horror, family comedy and romance it comes off like a grab-bag of bits gleaned from unused screenplays. It also looks like a rushed job.
It is also really regrettable that such an appealing cast goes wasted here. Any TV production in the early 1980s that could boast Suzanne Pleshette and Barry Newman as leads was, theoretically, on pretty solid footing. There is in fact not a single bad actor in the entire cast. The same thing that happened with this production happened far too often with even the best of soap operas that have great casts. They wrote themselves into a corner.
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