Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Jill Farren Phelps
Jill Farren Phelps has been the executive producer of many American television soap operas, such as Santa Barbara (1987-1991), Guiding Light (1991-1995), Another World (1995-1996), One Life to Live (1998-2001), and currently General Hospital (2001-2005).
She got her start as a music director on General Hospital and later on Santa Barbara before she started producing.
Even many of Phelps' detractors will give her credit for her fine taste in music choices as well as a keen eye for atmospheric lighting and set design. When Phelps arrives at a show, changes are apparent immediately. She has never been considered a copycat and although she tends to recycle story ideas from program to program (GL, AW and OLTL all featured a story about a young woman going into the police force and falling for her tough instructor), she puts a great deal of passion into her work. Many will say that perhaps aside from General Hospital (where she immediately ran into serious problems) Phelps' strong-willed vision produces quality storylines and stellar performances for the first 6 months to a year of her tenure as executive producer. In part due to Phelps' fondness for bloc voting, she has garnered an impressive amount of Daytime Emmy nominations for cast and crew. Under her watch Santa Barbara won 3 Best Drama Emmies in a row (although the first was for material which aired before her arrival).
A list of the actors Phelps favors will produce a few lemons but mostly consists of extremely gifted and diverse performers who do their best with the writing they are given, such as Justin Deas, David Forsyth, Marcy Walker, Jensen Buchanan,and Linda Dano.
While she won Emmy awards for her work on Santa Barbara, her decision to fire fan favorites from shows she had worked on in the past (most notably Ellen Parker from Guiding Light as well as Paul Michael Valley and Alice Barrett from Another World) have caused her credibility to be, arguably, damaged irreparably in the eyes of some soap opera fans. In Paul Michael Valley's case, it was rumored that she did not like him as a love interest for actress Jensen Buchanan.
In the cases of Parker and Barrett, she was reported to have relied on focus groups for her decisions. It was not that the groups hated either character, but they were indifferent to them; Phelps took this as an indication that the audience as a whole would not care if the characters were killed off their respective shows.
Parker's character, Maureen Reardon Bauer, was killed in a car accident after she found out that her husband had cheated on her with her rival. In an interview years later, after hearing of the show's Reva clone story, Phelps apologized for killing off Maureen, stating it was the most regettable mistake she had made in her career.
Barrett's character, Frankie Frame, was strangled on-screen at the hands of the Bay City Serial Killer. Many fans criticized Phelps' moves, as they saw the deaths to be ignoble ends to otherwise popular characters.
Originally, fan favorite Anna Stuart was to be the victim of the Bay City Serial Killer. Phelps, with the help of head writer Margaret DePriest , encouraged the implementation of the story, which was a carbon copy of the Sin Stalker storyline which first aired on Another World in 1987. As the audience picked up clues and realized that Stuart's character, Donna Love, would be next to die, fans flooded newsgroups with their vocal opposition. Viewers called and wrote to the NBC studios in New York City, and Phelps was forced to pick another actor. In order to fit budget constraints, another "mid-level actor" would have to be fired; it was revealed later that the firing was necessary to bring back former AW actor Robert Kelker-Kelly. The two options were to kill either Barrett's character or Judi Evans Luciano's character, Paulina Cory Carlino. The focus groups liked Evans Luciano's character but were lukewarm toward Barrett; Phelps then decided on Frankie as the next victim instead of Donna.
She has also been accused of favoritism in many soap opera website circles, as she has decided to showcase her personal favorite actors more so than others, a pattern that has followed her from show to show (for example, many message board posters have cited her heavy use of actors such as Timothy Gibbs, John Bolger , Mark Derwin, Kale Browne, and Jensen Buchanan on one soap opera, only to hire them again when she moved on to producing another serial). Fans dubbed them "FOJ" or "Friends of Jill", causing such tension that at a 2000 One Life to Live fan club luncheon Derwin wore a "FOJ" badge on his shirt. None of these castings on other soaps would be successful. Gibbs, Bolger and Browne were fired from One Life to Live in 2001 with their departure, and Procter & Gamble sued Phelps and won because Buchanan had a contract with them in 2002.
She also has been know for her failure to renew popular actors' contracts, often under extremely unpleasant circumstances. In 1992, Guiding Light's Beverlee McKinsey exited the show through a loophole in her contract because she didn't like how her character, Alexandra, was becoming a nasty villianess. Phelps was on vacation and didn't know it. In 2002, the same thing occurred with on General Hospital. Genie Francis, who was famous for her portryal of Laura Spencer, exited the show in same fashion due to dislike of the storyline. Francis would later report that a female producer had repeatedly humiliated her because of her weight gain, leading many to believe Phelps was that female producer.
In 2004, she fired 91-year-old actress Anna Lee from General Hospital. Lee, who had been on the show since 1978, was already ill and died within a few months, just one week before receiving her lifetime achievement award at the 2004 Daytime Emmys. Many in the soap and media world, including longtime GH fans, Carolyn Hinsey from Soap Opera Digest, TV Guide's soap columnist Michael Logan and Anna Lee's son, Jeffrey Byron , hold Phelps somewhat responsible for the events that led to Anna Lee's death, as the woman's livelihood was put in jeopardy. Phelps responded with a statement saying that no one's contract on General Hospital was etched in stone, not even Lee's. Still, Phelps has since been pushed into a corner.
Upon the arrival of ABC Daytime Vice President Brian Frons and the return of GH powerhouse Robert Guza, Jr. , Phelps reportedly has little to no power, at least not resembling her glory days at AW or GL or OLTL.
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