CAUTION: My girl, Carol, speaks her mind in a strong, brassy and vibrant fashion. If you are offended by straight talking, adult oriented language (sometimes, there's a "very" in there), please be aware that you may well find it here. Carol shoots from the hip and tells it like it is, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners. That's why I love her & why I hired her. If it's not your bag, let's part still friends and salute our differences in tastes (I'm sort of a strong strawberry flavor...) ~*~Katrina~*~
Personally, Iíd make a lousy head writer. But, letís give it a try. Letís improve upon the existing stories, or even just make up brand new ones for all three of ABC Daytimeís soaps.
So many times Iíve watched AMC, OLTL and GH with my forefinger on the FF button, wishing the head writers would do this instead of that, include them instead of just him and her, and just generally take the job of storytelling a little more seriously.
I mean, most of us as devoted fans do. Most of us could probably write their stories a lot better, and have on the various fan fiction sites. In the past, Iíve read of Keesha and Jaxís grand romance, with a lotta sweaty sex on the side; A.J.ís out-maneuvering Sonny and Carly for sole custody of Michael, while also redeeming himself in a startlingly dramatic way that risked his own life; and what wouldíve happened had Sonny and Alexis never gone there.
Itís the ultimate what-if turn-on, a fulfillment of the missed opportunities so rampant on soaps nowadays. The latest to suffer at my fevered imagination Ė what if GHís Mary never went serial killer and won the heart of Nikolas?
My Eye on Soaps boss, Katrina Rasbold, surprise-gifted me with three scrapbooks of AMC, OLTL and GH by Gary Warner. Iím knee-deep into AMCís history right now, a flood of childhood memories attached to Erica, Tara, Jeff, Chuck, Phillip, amazed at the contrast between the Ď70s and today. So much angst and depression dragging the characters down (with more generational interaction though) then, compared to the high-energy infusion of comedy and happiness, now.
The soap opera bible of creator Agnes Nixon bears repeating, and applies equally to the other soaps:
The great and the least
The weak and the strong
The rich and the poor
In sickness and health
In joy and sorrow
In tragedy and triumph
You are All My Children.
With all this going through my head, I will attempt to provide some solutions (instead of beating a dead horse on the endless surmounting problems):
When I think of this show, my first love, I see flawed people of all ages and backgrounds struggling to find themselves and find love, through family secrets and lies, deception and misperception. If ever a soap relied on its relationships, itís AMC.
AMC is less an action-adventure romp like GH, or an internal battleground of the meandering mind like OLTL, and more a fixated, obsessive study of a microcosm of small-town society, what happens within this society throughout war, peace, drug addiction, homosexuality, civil rights and assorted other social issues. The first to make a mark in my conscience as a soap opera with principles, morality and life lessons against a contemporized backdrop in tune with the times, the best way to recapture the essence of this vibe is to incorporate more timely social issues in the stories, force the inhabitants of Pine Valley to reexamine their own values, stretch their limited definitions of tolerance and welcome, and just give Ďem all a chance to live up to Agnes Nixonís hidden challenge within the bibleís description.
One gets a strong sense that between the lines, The great and the least/The weak and the strong/The rich and the poor/In sickness and health can always be interchangeable; meaning, in the least and the weak, the poor and the sick, can come great triumph, an overcoming of transgressions by a combination of sheer will and inspiration from othersí plight. This is the stuff of goosebumps, the loser wins because he gives up his life for a grand love, the addict straightens up her act to help others worse off...
Look at Tad and Erica, Reggie and David, even Krystal and Babe are undergoing a metamorphosis in which they must prove themselves worthy, make enormous sacrifices, to earn the trust and devotion of not only their fellow fictional compatriots but the loyal audience itself.
With that said, thereís not much Iíd change or replace in the storylines airing at present. Iíd tweak a few things, though, like...
Erica needs to be a heroine again. Thereís a good reason sheís confident to the point of staring down lions (and Brooke English) with an, ďI am Erica Kane!Ē She doesnít just strive to look her very best, oftentimes primping a bit too much. Deep inside, past the catty one-liners and self-involved fixation on Bianca as saint, Erica is the most insecure, frightened woman on the planet.
Itís when sheís forced to overcome such weaknesses to be the great Ė encouraging her brother Mark to seek help for his cocaine addiction, supporting daughter Bianca through her anorexia, rising above her fatherís betrayal and subsequent rape by a fatherís actor friend, seeking guidance mother to mother from age-old rival Brooke Ė that Erica comes into her own as the quintessential diva-goddess, untouchable, infuriating, but courage that knows no bounds.
A glimpse came my way during her touching exchange with fellow mother bear Krystal when both Bianca and Babe went missing near the riverís edge.
I see Erica involved in Lilyís burgeoning story, the autistic teenagerís defender, who, together with Danielleóa promising teenager and a minorityóteach the IN crowd of bubble-headed popular girls what it means to be real and compassionate (wait, Danielle kicks a little diva butt this week, you go girl!).
Throw in an overlapping story about what itís like to be from the wrong side of the tracks, to be black and motherless, to have experienced the residual destruction of drug addiction, poverty and racism, and show Reggie as another chip off the ole Jesse Hubbard, with major involvement, as people, not tokens or adult sounding boards, from Derek, Tom and Livia. Reggie as a cop, Danielle as a lawyer... I like the sound of that.
Erica also needs to be with other adults her age, Brooke, Tad, Adam, and older, Palmer, Myrtle, Marian, Joe, Ruth, Phoebe... people she grew up with, and have them interact in a major story of their own. Perhaps Tad can stop meddling and pestering in Babe and Krystalís secret long enough to be the former cad turned comedian and reluctant hero, perhaps in finally satisfying a curiosity with Erica, as friends, a brother and sister discovery, even more, to rival with Jackson. Simone, not Krystal, should be a part of this triangle with Tad; Simone, more than any of the other new female characters, seems to match Tad, cad for vixen, comedian for slapstick, adventure for mystery. They can go on P.I. runs, as Brooke, the magazine editor, runs into a murder mystery that involves her whole family and possibly affects her from her past.
As annoying as Greenlee and Ryan are together, they should stay and do something... besides make goo-goo eyes at each other. Greenlee is at her best when sheís replicating the diva-bitch-goddess of her reluctant mentor Erica, or being a part of Jacksonís family (her connection with Reggie is matchless). Iíd have these two go at it as boss and underling, Erica dealing with major deja-vu as Greenlee seems more like her daughter than Bianca or Kendall (maybe she is?!).
A friend suggested a story about a blue-collar family and one that hinted at sexual abuse by a parent, of a grown man. In a twist that was only hinted at on GH with Ryan Chamberlain (Jon Lindstrom) in the 1990s, this could give a hot new actor, preferably someone thatís been gnawing at the craw of the collective audience, JR? Jonathan? Ethan? a social issue to rally around.
Imagine if Jonathan suffered worse than physical abuse at the hands of his father after Ryan abandoned him. Imagine if it grew into sexual abuse. Think of the Emmys.
Or, imagine successfully combining this soap with the latest trend in reality TV, bettering human lives through makeovers, ala Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Incorporate a seven-day project for a worthy family into an existing storyline, preferably with Reggie and Jackson at the helm (they did it before with Habitat for Humanity), but expand this concept to include the actual cast in on-location shoots (for promos), with actual fans, helping out in the demolition and construction.
Of course no talk of story improvement would be complete without mentioning what shouldíve happened with the baby switching. I have to hand it to head writer Megan McTavish for keeping us all on the edge of our seats, whether we like it or not, by refusing to reveal the exact time line of the full reveal or caving to popular demand by ending the agony months ago. She made us wait, and wait, and wait, sometimes with moronic stalling tactics (Babeís about to tell Bianca that Bess is really Miranda when, wait!, Babe has to go off into the woods, into a little church, to pray about it!), and heaven help us, weíre still waiting.
The obstacles Babe, Krystal, David and Jamie will have to overcome seem to increase the longer they keep this a secret. Not only will they have to figure out how to avoid legal and police action when word gets out, but they have to get through OLTLís Kevin, a prime candidate for Lt. Gov., and Tico, his El Tiburon mob tie. Adding to the misery, last week, JR whips out a blackmail scheme to entice Babe into signing a sole custody agreement, giving him Bess, body and soul.
Obviously, what should have happened was, Babe finds out, immediately returns the baby to Bianca, and everybody goes out hunting for Paul. The rest of it goes to family bonding moments, Erica with little Miranda and Kendall, renewing those ties, rediscovering her capacity to love despite the hate, Bianca learning the hilarious idiosyncrasies of raising a baby with David, Tad, Ethan, Ryan, etc. along for the ride, finally having a relationship with another woman that involves more than a few chaste pecks on the cheek, with another man, Ethan, after she realizes that, like Maggie, she can play both sides. Yup, I see the chemistry between James Scottís Ethan and Eden Riegelís Bianca. Theyíd be fools to ignore it. But they ignored Cameron Mathisonís Ryan with Alicia Minshewís Kendall...
At first glance, this show seemed a copycat of AMC, relationships, love, hate, family secrets. That is, until I looked closer. OLTL forces me to do that.
Itís more of a mental and emotional journey into the complex minds and subsequent choices of the over-wrought, over-stressed and over-worked working class. Careers and jobs, bills and taxes consume these characters a bit more than just who to love, who to hate, and who to let in on the latest secret.
Vikiís DID (Disassociative Disorder) and Karenís guilt over hooking on the side epitomized the dilemma perfectly.
The first time I tuned in, on my own, mind you, Karen married Dr. Larry Wolek, happily ever after, right? Not if youíre Karen and youíve been a prostitute for most of your life. I found the juxtaposition and the dichotomy of working those two disparate jobs endlessly fascinating, as I did the colorful, almost violent, presence of her pimp, Marco Dane (played with gleeful, but focused, abandon by the late Gerald Anthony).
OLTL, to me, was the first soap ever to introduce and embrace the colorful character actors, such as Daneís Anthony, who later went on over to GH to win an Emmy as best supporting actor... and the resultant laff-riots they introduced and embraced.
From Marco Daneís Gerald Anthony to David Vickersí Tuc Watkins, nothing was sacred, and these individuals brought the level of acting up several notches, transforming the stereotypical crying games into instant laugh tracks, using all of their physicality and verbal skills, within character to infect and inflect the others. As proof, currently Davidís Watkins is working a miracle by bringing out the cute and cuddly in recast Kellyís Heather Tom.
There always seemed to be more going on behind the faces and facades of these soap characters, to this day. Look at R.J. and Todd, two of the most ferocious, intense and revered of villain-heroes. They practically created a new category of soap characters, as un-soapy as to be Broadway stage-worthy. Not surprisingly, R.J.ís Timothy D. Stickney and the original Toddís Roger Howarth did time on Shakespeareís stage.
With colorful characters, mind trips and an in-depth exploration of class in our society, OLTL is rich in its multi-dimensional, multi-faceted historic references, diversity in race, religion, sexual preference, mental illness, obscure and well-known diseases.
Somewhere along the way, these in-depth characters got lost amongst juvenile plots that fail to capitalize on their off-center humor, pain and vision. Nowhere is that more clear than with Antonio, El Lion, trapped in a misfit of anger boy appropriating GHís Sonny Corinthos. Kamar de los Reyes can do passion, compassion and rubbing the edges raw between adulterous dalliances and noble sacrifices, but a Maurice Benard he is not, nor should he strive to be. Benard, while he can scare the manliest of men out of his boxers, far too often falls into the caricature of redundancy department; predictably throwing barware, shrieking in his worst Al Pacino-Godfather about betrayal and diluting the full effect of his abject guilt over the criminal choices he felt forced to make.
de los Reyes as Manuelito has been too painful to watch. Itís almost unbelievable that this is the same actor playing the same character with the same promise back in the 1990s, as a gang leader turned law student. Instead of rising above his Angel Square ranking, to become the kind of law and order Nora and Bo would be proud of, heís mired in an insulting West Side Story retread with GH undertones, a cartoonish example of anger gone too far, anger gone into macho posturing.
Have these strong characters, instead, fight for what matters, family, friends, innocent victims of a drive-by, a crack deal gone bad, another series of gang rapesóbut against homosexuals... in strong stories about gritty reality in the fabrication of a safe suburb with the seedy underbelly not far behind, and always keeping in mind the innovative off-center humor OLTL is known for.
I canít get too much into Blair and Todd, Kevin and his election campaign, Natalie angry at Paul, or much of anything else, when TPTB hardly bother to follow through with the inner machinations that make these people click, move forward, survive. Itís as if the writers have stripped away the layers of humanity, the caring, the consideration, the compassion, and left nothing but the going through motions of simply reacting to far-fetched, stupid two-week plots better served on a childrenís cable channel, like Nogginí.
Thereís nothing wrong with the characters themselves. Almost everyone belongs there, waiting for a chance to do more than recite lines designed solely to generate interest in the next explosive event. But they can, and should, do more. Theyíve done it in the past.
Remember Megan and Jake? Marty and her gang rape? Antonio and his saving grace in Angel Square? Rev. Andrew and his saved community? Viki, Dorian and their all-too-brief forays into mentally fragmented childhoods? Blair and her troubled sexuality?
Give these people a reason to live. Show them at their best and worst, alone wrestling with a problem, or with others coming up with a solution. Force them to care about more than a decimal mistake on a seven-year-old divorce decree. Donít drop an important social issue, then drop out within a month. Play it out. I promise, the audience will stick around and follow, to the bitter end. Because this cast is perhaps the finest bunch of actors around, surpassed only by GHís.
Prominently feature them, especially Adriana, Rex, David, Natalie, R.J. and Lindsay, in stories of conviction, stories we can all relate to, that tests their mettle and teaches us a few tricks on human development, the glorious, crazy paths toward enlightenment. And, make it be about more than a laughable mob of one very gay Tico, a lead-up into a cross-promotional murder mystery gimmick involving OLTL and AMC, stupid fallouts that paint many of the participants as gullible, obtuse fools who never learn.
Drop the Santis, Kelly and Paul, and anything else that even remotely smells of substandard. Follow through with what you started in the mystery at the Love Shack and Bo and Noraís something, or donít start it at all. Start giving R.J., David, Viki, Dorian, Lindsay, Bo, Nora, something else to do besides stand in the shadows of the under-30. But donít let those under-30 just stand there twiddling their jeans, shove them in with the over-30 crowd to mingle, make conversation, notice the resemblances and the contrasts. Michael and Marcie are two of the audienceís favorites; surely they can do more than sit around and talk about an off-camera family matter or book deal... like maybe Michaelís secret drug habit?
Letís have David dig deep into his roots and uncover Rex as his brother, cousin, son. Letís have them work capers and discover humanity in unlikely places, like, say, at R.J.ís and Toddís latest runaround over Blair, discover their abilities that go beyond the next con, Davidís innate editing skills at the magazine, Craze, Rexís with his architectural designs for both the Love Center and his next nightclub/restaurant.
Return jobs and careers back into OLTL. See Blair take charge at Craze and stumble into the Santi mob, a couple of cases Michael and Bo are working on. Vikiís president of the university, whatís she doing, besides yelling at her family? Dorian belongs in the hospital, tending to the sick and the depraved, perhaps someone that reminds her of Melinda. If Kevinís gonna be back in politics, have him be back in politics. I hear R.J. can croon a mean jazz standard...
Now, we come to the action-adventure portion of our daytime programming. GH began as an earnest little soapy drama surrounding the doctors and nurses in Port Charles, with a little patient confidentiality thrown in as diversion. But when that tanked in the ratings and threatened cancellation, the network called in big gun Gloria Monty to executive produce and save this soap before it was too late. Save it, she did, by transforming it literally overnight from a boring little The Doctors rip-off into its own genre, part film-noire, part detective-drama, part-Sting, part-Clockwork Orange, with a little-known stage actor named Tony Geary as the inimitable anti-hero, Luke Spencer.
Monty allowed the show to go dark in ways daytime has never experienced before, whether for the better or worse (some days, itís a toss-up). She glorified a rapist, had that rapist reform to earn the hand of his rape victim, and go on to make daytime history with the biggest wedding this show biz town had ever seen. Luke and Laura would go on to make more history by putting the vamp, the corny, the campy and the almost hysterical in their action-adventures from the Left-Handed Boy to the Ice Princess.
Anything can happen on this show, and often has. Thereís a very fine line writers and actors ride every day between inventive, gritty realism and atrocious liberties with the subverting of basic human values.
GH was the first soap to embrace criminals as reluctant, secret heroes and the cops as corrupt and inept buffoons quite often in the way of progress, justice and the American Way. On no other soap (sorry, GL) is the mob as blindly, wrongly worshipped as that of a canonized saint.
Against this warped background, the skyís the limit. Itís not so much what the characters do anymore, but what happens to them, what they do about their happenings, which are becoming more and more far-fetched, less and less sublime.
My primary suggestion to the writers is to reign back on the cartoonish, the accelerated plot points (how many times have the damsels been in distress within one week?!), just to provoke a reaction, any reaction, even disgust and revilement, and make each plot point matter, throughout at least a four-month story arc.
Remember Stoneís AIDS? B.J.ís heart? Monicaís breast cancer (Emilyís doesnít count)? Brendaís Jax or Sonny dilemma? Luckyís family shame? Elizabethís rape? Bobbieís prostitution and spousal abuse? Robert and Annaís ultimate love story over Cesar Faison?
These are the meaningful plot points Iíd like to see slowly work over the major characters, together, as a couple, as a family, as a group of friends, as a community. At least 3/4ths of the community should be involved in any one meaningful plot point at a time. Iíd start with Sonnyís manic-depression, revisit Monicaís breast cancer, and forge an everlasting bond between Elizabeth and Carly over their shared rape.
A paternity reveal is in Sonnyís future as Kristinaís life hangs in the balance, a repeat of Luke and Lauraís turmoil over their own then-baby girl Lulu, a welcome repeat. Iím hoping this paternity reveal and Kristinaís battle with leukemia will draw in more, not less, of the Port Charles residents, from long-neglected vets to memorable bit players. At the very least have Coleman come in to test his bone barrow and strike up a conversation (and friendship) with Bobbie. Jax can support Alexis, play devilís advocate, interact with Kristina himself, along with Ric, Nikolas and the Quartermaines. Alexis and Sonny affect many many other characters. I need to see that affect.
All indications, including a recent SID interview with Maurice Benard (Sonny), promises just such a reward heading toward November Sweeps. (And even better into February, if heís to be believed.)
Iíll do one better. Instead of EndGame, infect the town with an unknown virus, a virus that is killing the children, babies, toddlers, teens, one by one. Kill off Michael, threaten Morgan, Lucas, Lulu, Maxie. Concerned parents galvanize into action. Robert Scorpio and Anna Devane return as Mac remembers his renegade roots. Together with Jax, Ned, Carly, Jason and A.J., they conspire to reveal the true cause of this virus, maybe the ultimate plot to conquer the world by the Cassadines, maybe the unwitting act of Lorenzo in one of his many foreign shipments.
If any of GHís stories is to be believed, the plot points driving these stories must last longer than three weeks, one week, hell, even a day. If any soap opera requires the Doug Marland motto of making them wait, itís GH. Or, was that Agnes Nixon, Megan McTavish?
Regardless, you get my drift.
I miss the Nursesí Ball, too. I know soaps are losing money and must turn miserly with their budget, but thereís gotta be a way to bring this excuse for a fashion show and a catty party back. Maybe work with a couple of big-name sponsors in contributing the proceeds to an AIDS charity? Maybe ask the fans to chip in? I would.
It doesnít have to be a multi-million dollar endeavor. At the heart of the Nursesí Ballís (and the Crystal Ballís, and the Heart Galaís) success was the feel of the Little Rascals putting on a neighborhood show, with whatever talent and scraps they had available. To see the usually stodgy, straight-laced characters relax and perform in unexpected ways, reveal hidden talents, might be worth the price of admission. Jax plays piano as Carly sings a torch ballad. Sonny and Jason do stand-up. Lorenzo dances with Lois. Coleman and Nikolas do magic tricks with their penises. Something!
As I look over 11 pages while pretending to be ABC Daytimeís theoretical head writer, it occurs to me that Iíve not really laid out specific, alternate storylines, just some lame, repetitious he sucks, she stays generalities.
Now that I really had to give this some serious thought Ė and I stayed up two nights in a row thinking so hard I thought I had suffered an aneurysm Ė itís not easy coming up with new, interesting, often original stories day in and day out, especially with history constantly repeating itself and my sense of history as faulty as an Alzheimerís patient.
How many times can Erica suffer an addictive relapse?
How can Viki be expected to overcome yet another health crisis?
How should Sonny react to one more addition to his brood?
How might a soap opera concoct a murder mystery if it cannot kill off its best-known and best-loved mainstays, and still be taken seriously?
No wonder these head writers keep falling back on the long-lost sibling, twin thing, or the disease of the week, or copycatting whatís already out there in cable and the news. I would too.
Nope, sure donít envy them their jobs. Quite frankly, I couldnít remotely measure up.
Better to leave me with my armchair quarterbacking, after the fact, eh?
Besides, I still wound up writing and proofing 13 pages.