Llanview has certainly been one busy place in 2006! From jail breaks and stalkers to death by lethal injection and multiple personalities---there has definitely been enough drama to keep viewers interested throughout the year. While some stories soared, others fell flat while fans begged for change. Above all, though, 2006 was the year that the fans were finally heard! With Hillary B. Smith's new four-year contract ironed out before the holidays, what better way to celebrate the new year? So amid the holiday celebrations, take just a moment to assess your own best and worst of the year and see how yours compares:
Most Exciting Character:
Cole Thornhart. This is the perfect example of how to incorporate a young, new character into the canvas without sacrificing those older, more established characters who are the life and blood of the show. Kirsten Alderson's Starr Manning has grown up with many long-time viewers. This engaging actress has made Starr a multi-layered character with so many complexities. She is a young girl we've watched torture others with snakes and spiders and have seen her be a loving big sister to Jack. She also loves her father unconditionally, and that has been especially touching to watch considering Todd's tortured past. So when Cole was introduced as a love interest for the now-high school-aged Starr, it brought the young Manning to a whole new level. We've never seen her interested in boys---at least not like THIS. When she and Cole, the star football player, started developing genuine feelings for one another, it was just a matter of time before Todd would enforce his role as protective father and automatically hate this new boy in his daughter's life. Interestingly, Todd saw how Cole stood up for Starr during a humiliating experience at a school dance, and he liked the boy. What a brilliant set-up for the revelation that Cole was using steroids, that he forced himself physically on her (as a result of the drugs), and that he was (gasp!) the son of the woman Todd raped over ten years ago! This story effectively uses history while introducing viewers to the new generation of Mannings and Saybrookes. Cole is a likeable boy who is working to overcome his mistake while high on drugs, and both he and Starr look poised to be Llanview's new "Romeo and Juliet."
Most Boring Character:
She was a big bore last year, and she's an even bigger bore this year. One guess-two if you've only been watching OLTL intermittently this year and are a little slow on the uptake---it can only be the snoozer Dr. Paige Miller. I honestly cannot figure out for the life of me why Head Writer Dena Higley is insistent upon keeping this character on the canvas. She doesn't have a single connection to anyone in Llanview except for Bo, and their relationship lacks chemistry and substance of any kind. Killing her son, Hugh, and putting her ex-husband Spencer on "Llanview's Most Likely to be Murdered at Any Moment" list are hopeful signs that the writers have deemed this to be the time to finally cut its losses. Best Couple:
This vote probably should go to Todd and Blair, only for the fact that they continue to overcome such seemingly insurmountable odds---from wacky Margaret to the antics of Spencer; however, I'm tired of their mistrust and jealousy and anger. Those aren't traits of a "Best Couple." Instead, I thought that 2006's most energetic and truly devoted couples was that of Tess and Nash. Here is a guy who finds out that the woman he's fallen in love with has a multiple personality disorder. Most guys would make a beeline to door faster than most could blink, but Nash showed the resolve to fight for Tess and to make sure that she was seen as an independent person separate of Jessica. He loved her unconditionally, and the birth of their daughter only strengthened that commitment and devotion to one another. When Jessica and Tess's personalities were finally integrated, Nash suffered terribly at the realization that he probably would never spend time with Tess as he knew her ever again. Despite small glimpses of Tess's personality in Jessica, Nash still longs for the HOPE that he might share the same special relationship with Jessica as he did with Tess. Only time will tell.
Rex and Adriana. Let me make this loud and clear: John Paul Lavoissier's Rex deserves far better than he has right now with Adriana, a character who has not clicked since her introduction to Llanview years ago. As daughter to one of Llanview's biggest divas, Dorian, this character has the potential to be one of the most intriguing, mysterious, and diabolical young women on the show, but as she is portrayed right now, she exhibits none of the traits of any Cramer woman ever shown on-screen. Rex, on the other hand, is lively, funny, energetic, and smart. The two of these characters together exude no sparks of….well, anything. Maybe pairing her with the right person will bring her to the realization that she is the daughter of one of Llanview's most powerful women. Pairing him with someone who has as much passion for life as he has will make Rex the leading young man that he is intended to be.
Best Potential Romantic Triangle:
Dorian/Viki/Clint. Last year's best recast in Clint with Jerry Ver Dorn should have catapulted this romantic triangle to the very top of Dena Higley's priority list, but instead a brief (so brief, in fact, that you would miss it if you blinked) fling with Dorian only teased viewers with the possibility of a fight over Clint's affection. The problem is that while Dorian seems interested in Clint (For his money? Or because she thinks Viki wants him? Or because he's a Buchanan?), Viki has not been as certain or as direct in her admission of feelings for her ex-hubby. Also, David's presence in Llanview seemed to complicate matters for Dorian as he still remains the best matched partner in Dorian's life. Now that he is gone, though, there should be no excuse to have the two Divas of Llanview have an all-out Battle Royale for Clint's attention.
Most Shocking Plot:
Duke Dies! Back in February the idea of OLTL mimicking General Hospital's perpetual "Big Event" stories (i.e. Hotel Fire, Train Wreck, Flu Outbreak) with its own tornado sweeping through Michael and Marcie's wedding was preposterous. It only seemed like a big stunt to boost February Sweeps ratings. When the tornado ripped through the church and caused injuries to both Natalie and Evangeline, I thought big whoop-dee-do. Everyone knew that Natalie would recover from her wounds, and there was no doubt that Evangeline would eventually regain her vision. But the bigger shocker was that Duke and Kelly decided to have sex in a church (!) and then have a wall collapse on the two of them in their, um, less-than-clothed states. Both were near death, and it was up to Kevin (upon learning that his son and fiancé were in the process of having sex) to decide who would live and who would die. Well, that scenario sure sounds good on paper, and it probably generated lots of excitement around a discussion table, but seeing it on the screen was really a different story. Killing off Duke Buchanan, a character with truckloads of storyline possibilities, was a mistake of gigantic proportions, and despite the ramifications of his death and Kevin's role in choosing Kelly over his son's life, this storyline showed how short-sighted the writers were. If Duke's death led to a larger story that would affect Kevin, Kelly, and the rest of the family for years to come, then his death would not have been in vain; however, after killing off a core character, the writers chose to drop the aftermath of his death altogether and write them off completely. What a shame!
Most Obvious Plot Twist:
Is there any viewer who didn't come to the conclusion (almost immediately) that John was the one in the hospital bed wrapped in bandages instead of Hugh? Was it not clear that there was a mix-up at the crash scene and that Hugh was unfortunately the man who died in the crash, and John was badly burned? In an era with Internet spoilers being posted instantaneously, I suppose it's difficult to keep news like Michael Easton's renewed contract a secret. As a result, viewers knew that his character didn't perish in the highway accident. Years ago, this would have been a shocking twist that would have left fans with mouths agape, but in today's era, it was far too obvious. The challenge to writers in the future will be find ways to cope with leaking plotlines and how to write stories that still surprise and keep fans on their toes.
Todd and Evangeline. I know there are a great many Todd and Vangie supporters in the romantic sense, but I have been fond of this pair as the great friends they are. Leading up to his "execution," Todd and legal ace Evangeline developed a personal, deep connection on a level he wasn't able to share with anyone else, especially Blair. Vange worked night and day for Todd and was deeply affected by what she perceived to be her inability to help pardon Todd for Margaret's crime. Weeks later after Todd was cleared of the crime, he repaid his friend's generosity by exhibiting his own when he paid for her eye surgery that helped her regain her sight. These were two of the most significant events in each of their lives this year, and both Todd and Vange played a critical role in each other's journey. Their friendship transcends any romantic tete-a-tetes, and it's refreshing to have Todd be able to experience a true friend without any romantic complications.
Todd's Execution. More than any other story this year, this one had suspense and drama all balled up into one explosive plot. Margaret's alive! Todd's innocent! Spencer is the mastermind behind it all! Todd dies! All of these shocking twists in a year-long story led up to the ultimate pinnacle when Todd was being executed in front of his family and friend (yes, that is singular). When Todd realized he wasn't going to be pardoned and that his life was going to definitively end, all of the emotions he seemed to have held in all of his live came flooding out. Many viewers criticized the decision to have uber-strong Todd shed even one tear much less a stream of them, but I found this moment of catharsis and self-realization to be moving. Todd doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve (much less his face) often, so for him to look at Evangeline and Viki and ultimately Blair and to let his emotions overtake him was extremely powerful. The best part of this was putting a period at the end of Margaret's reign of terror over the Mannings. As much as I loved the cooky performance, it was time to allow everyone in Llanview to move on.
Nora's Recovery. Rewind to just over one year ago. Nora was reeling from the news that her then-husband Daniel Colson was not only gay but also a cold-blooded killer (news that she learned from her ex-husband Bo, I might add!). Shortly thereafter, Nora's health problems put her in a coma, conveniently timed around the end of Hillary B. Smith's contract. When that contract was extended by a year, Dena Higley had the chance to award Smith a blockbuster story, one that would show the struggle and the journey of a brilliant lawyer who had to regain her speech, movement, and career. This would have been the chance to see Nora interact with Bo, Viki, Evangeline, and R.J. It would have been the perfect story for the returns (albeit temporarily) of Hank and Rachel to help Nora with the recovery process. Instead, viewers were mortified to find Nora in a hospital bed for months upon months, and her recovery happened OFFSCREEN! And the few interactions between Nora and Lindsay were limited to one or two sentence jabs at one another. One instance during which Lindsay chose to push Nora home in her wheelchair would have led to a hilarious exchange of words, but once again, this all happened OFFSCREEN. This negligence on the part of Higley was not only a slap in the face to Hillary B. Smith but also to her long-time fans who rejoiced at the notion of seeing Nora for (at least) another year and were shocked to find her barely visible all year.
Best Backstage Decision:
Even though OLTL completely botched Nora's recovery, someone at ABC listened, because Smith's new four-year contract with the promise of a renewal of the Lindsay/Nora feud over Bo, of all people, re-energized viewers' excitement over a show that has been lackluster for much of the year. Message boards have exploded with conversation, and whether fans like or dislike the Lindsay/Nora relationship, nobody can argue that this brilliant decision to revisit their antagonistic relationship affords both characters more screen time (and that's a good thing, folks!). In an era when daytime seems inexplicably focused on the young, young, young, it's nothing short of monumental to have this long-time vet awarded such a lengthy contract coupled with a great story. I can't think of two more deserving actresses than Hillary B. Smith and Catherine Hickland, who have been undeservingly back-burnered for so long, to finally have their time to shine! Bravo, ABC. Bravo.
Worst Backstage Decision:
The firing of Dan Gauthier and the loss of Heather Tom really struck a blow to Llanview. I never could understand the rationale in killing off Duke, but the elimination of Kevin and Kelly from the canvas was beyond mindblowing. The situation surrounding Duke's death should have been fodder for Kevin and Kelly to play off of for YEARS upon YEARS. Instead, Kevin seemed to quickly "forgive" Kelly for her indiscretion with his son, and the two of them managed to forge a truce that would send both of them to London to live "happily ever after." Furthermore, Gauthier has been one of the best actors to assume the role of Kevin. He gave the character nuances that made Kevin the complex individual he is. Tom also proved her worth during the AMC/OLTL baby-switch story from several years ago. As the OLTL centerpiece to this tale, Tom proved her Emmy-award winning status and seemed primed to have another story scripted especially for her; unfortunately, she found her character relegated to that infamous soap opera abyss.
My Most Rewarding Part of 2006:
Last December, I avowed to remain vigilant in my fight to make ABC realize what an amazing talent they have in Hillary B. Smith. I devoted a part of most of columns to my favorite Nora moments, and I contributed along with so many of you in writing letters and emails to ABC, the Disney Board of Directors, and the OLTL producers. Over the last year, I was excited to meet both Hillary and Catherine Hickland twice and to help NoraDiva1 in her innovative and comprehensive creation of the CHERI initiative, designed to support the veteran actresses of OLTL including Hillary, Catherine, Robin Strasser, Erika Slezak, and Illene Kristen. Through my own involvement in this initiative, I have been overwhelmed by the support that OLTL fans have given to these actresses, and I firmly believe that through the on-going, year-long proactive campaign by CHERI and non-CHERI viewers, we were successful in giving Smith and Hickland their due recognition. The fans have been heard, and we should all be thankful for that!
On a personal note, I have also been fortunate to be able to lend my support to the endeavors of some of these CHERI women. Just a couple of weeks ago, NoraDiva and I ventured to New York City to help serve food at Catherine Hickland and Michael E. Knight's annual Christmas party at the West End Intergenerational Residence. This amazing and nurturing environment provides housing and services for three generations, and I was so impressed with the generosity of spirit I felt while I was there. From Catherine's generous Christmas feast for the residents to the Christmas room filled with gifts for the young children, every single person who was in presence surely felt the feeling of Christmas. Almost a dozen All My Children and One Life to Live cast members (too many to mention individually) came to spread some early Christmas cheer to the residents who flocked around the actors and had the chance to spend quality time with their favorite celebrities. It was an amazing experience for me personally as I do a great deal of community service work with my students throughout the year, and I look forward to helping this special community of individuals in the future. To that end, CHERI is sponsoring a fundraiser to assist with the West End Residence. If you would like to participate in this fundraiser, contact Denise at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will provide you with information to help make a difference in the lives of these individuals, and Catherine will surely appreciate your support.
It sure has been quite a year in Llanview, and it is my sincere hope that ABC continues to listen to its fans and to realize that a balanced show mixed with veteran stars and newer faces will make a more interesting show.
Have a very happy 2007!