Sally Sussman Morina is known to soap fans for her head-writing turns on The Young and the Restless and Days of our Lives. However, veteran daytime serial viewers recall she created the soap opera Generations for NBC, which debuted 32 years ago on March 27, 1989.
Sally Sussman Discusses Generations Revival
The show was similar to other serials in that it featured two main families – the Whitmores and the Marshalls, but this series was groundbreaking in that the latter clan was African American.
Alas, the show lasted less than two years but is still recalled today. Cast members went on to other soaps, most notably, the late Kristoff St. John (Adam on Generations) became Neil Winters on YR.
The Whitmores and the Marshalls were connected as Vivian Potter (Lynn Hamilton), had been the nanny for Rebecca Whitmore (Pat Crowley; Dorothy Lyman) and her children Laura (Gail Ramsey), “Sam” (born Stephanie, played by Kelly Rutherford), and J.D. (Gerard Prendergast). The cast also featured Andrew Masset as Laura’s husband Trevor McCallum and Nancy Sorel as their daughter Monique.
Vivian’s young daughter, Ruth (Joan Pringle), lived with the family; later, she grew up and wed Henry Marshall (Taurean Blacque; James Reynolds), owner of Marshall’s Ice Cream. Ruth and Henry’s kids were Adam and Chantal (Debbi Morgan).
Memorable stories included the love affair with Adam and Doreen Jackson (Jonelle Allen) and Adam’s subsequent relationship with Maya (Vivica A. Fox).
The show dealt with sickle-cell anemia, did a special episode honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, and addressed racism with the character of Helen Mullins (Marla Adams). Composer Michael Gore composed Generations’ opening theme.
Recently, Soap Hub caught up with Sussman Morina to look back on this ground-breaking serial. The scribe also addresses the possibility of a revival!
What are your memories of creating and developing Generations for NBC?
I knew that I wanted a black family on the show where [they could play] some of the iconic soap characters like the “rich bitch” or the “devious businessman” or the “young guy who sleeps with a married woman.” The characters didn’t have to be perfect, which is how they’d often been portrayed on other shows. I wasn’t hamstrung in that way.
What were the challenges you faced?
You can’t put a brand-new half-hour show up against two soaps at the top of the ratings including the No. 1 show – YR. We were also up against All My Children. We had that working against us. How could we possibly have survived? Back when we were canceled, there was a phone call and letter-writing campaign going on to help save us. Today, we would have had social media added in; that would have helped a lot.
You had left the finale open-ended with Henry having had a heart attack. Why?
At that time, there was a potential pickup [from a broadcaster]. One was interested in picking us up, but it never materialized. That was part of the reason we kept things open. Also, honestly, I didn’t want the show to end. Who knew at the time what the future held?
It was a long shot that we’d get picked up, but while we were pursuing it, it seemed better to end on a cliffhanger. Today, you can see some of the shows on YouTube including the finale.
The catfight between Doreen and Maya was classic and very memorable – “Come get me, bitch!”
That’s the best catfight ever. Part of the problem with a lot of catfights is that they’re not really motivated. You had months of hostility between these two women leading up to the fight. The two women poured their hearts and souls into it.
Tony [Morina, my husband] directed it. It was beautifully choreographed. It was motivated. People understood the rage that Maya was feeling towards Doreen over her father Daniel [Reubens, played by Richard Roundtree], and it worked, too, on another level because of Adam.
The show was only getting better and better and then, it was axed, which it seems is always the case with canceled soap operas.
It goes to the short-sightedness of [decision-makers]. That’s what it comes down to. You have to be able to see the future. Had Brandon Tartikoff [NBC President, Entertainment] stuck around the network we probably would have stayed on the air. Again, we were competing against shows that had been on for years and years. All Generations needed was one more year. If we’d gotten that extra year, things would have been very different.
There were a lot of memorable sex scenes on Generations including some with Kyle (Robert Torti) and Sam…
How about the one with Debbi Morgan [Chantal] and Randy Brooks [Eric]? That was the most risqué sex scene done in daytime, for sure!
Is daytime tamer these days in terms of sex scenes?
Yes. It’s parochial.
What do you feel was the show’s legacy?
There are a few. Certainly, Kelly [Rutherford, Gossip Girl] and Kristoff [St. John, who went to YR] and Vivica [A. Fox, Kill Bill] all went on to have incredible careers. I’m proud to have discovered them and to have given Kristoff his first role like that. When you make great discoveries, they find work. We took our time with casting. We tried to find really interesting people and I think we succeeded in that regard.
Generations also made an impact in that it’s still remembered and talked about 30 years later. It only ran about 500 episodes, but nobody’s done anything remotely like it since. Generations had black characters of all socioeconomic statuses. When I’ve pitched shows since Generations to young African American executives, all of them have said, “We loved Generations. It was so aspirational.”
How do you see a revival?
First, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’m dying to get a revival of Generations going. I think much of the cast would be up for it. We have Kelly [Rutherford, Sam], Nancy Sorel [Monique], George DelHoyo [Rob]…I would love to do a revival. Sadly, it’d have to be without Kristoff [who passed away in 2019]. We’d do it in a way where Adam and Maya and Sam were all parents, but you can’t recast Adam.
We’d have Maya be a widow and have her and [the late] Adam’s kids be grown. Sam’s had a continuing streak of relationships. There’s also Doreen’s child [Danielle] out there who is Adam’s, too. It’s really a blank page in many ways. We could do anything. I think it’s a natural [to revive] but then again, I’m a little biased! The Young and the Restless (YR) airs weekdays on CBS. Check your local listings for airtimes.