No, you're not seeing things - it really is a Two Scoops column by your dear ole Soap Central founder, Dan J Kroll. Both Suellen and Mary are away from their computers this week and I decided to step in to fill the void. Gosh, it seems like it's been forever since I've written a Two Scoops column. It must be at least five years by now, but that said ... here I am back with a vengeance!
Since we're here at the end of another year, I thought maybe I would kick off our special year-end coverage with this special column and take a look back at the year that was on All My Children.
Soap Opera Digest recently dubbed AMC the "Most Improved Show" of 2004. Saying that there were "far more hits than misses," SOD praised head writer Megan McTavish for "making today's Pine Valley a consistently pleasurable place to visit." While I agree that All My Children is improved, I don't know that I would toss roses at Ms. McTavish's feet.
Off the top of your head... name a storyline from the past year. I would have to wager that the first thing that comes to your head is the baby-swap. Let's face it, most of the year was occupied with the tale of Bianca and Babe's babies. I think that this story more than any other story in recent years has troubled me the most. The last time I really remember AMC fans complaining about a storyline dragging on and on and in was back in 1999 when Erica's face was terribly scarred in a car accident and she ended up wearing a mask for several months before ultimately undergoing "revolutionary" and "miraculous" surgery to repair her scars. Before that, I remember a lot of fans grumbling about Natalie Dillon's weeks and weeks in the well on the Wildwind estate. The latter, however, was before the creation of SoapCentral.com.
Oh, and let's not even discuss the storyline earlier this year in which Erica became a showgirl in Las Vegas.
I think that the concept of the baby swap had extreme potential. Sure, baby swapping may be an overused plot device, but the story could have been done well. I think that the first misstep came the day of the actual swap. It would have served the audience much better if the identity of the swapped baby had been kept a secret - or if it looked like one of the babies had actually died. The farce was made worse by what was billed as a special "two hour event" to take place on All My Children and One Life to Live. Where was the special event? All that was different about the daytime lineup was the lack of ending and starting credits for AMC and OLTL, respectively, that day. If storylines from both soaps had been interspersed throughout the two-hour time period, it would have been more exciting for viewers. It also would have solidified the ABC Daytime lineup by possibly luring some AMC viewers over to OLTL and vice versa. But enough of that.
Over the course of the next ten months, viewers were constantly insulted with plot twists that were so unbelievable that many viewers became offended by the writers' audacity: switched DNA results in hospital laboratories, countless almost-confessions of the truth. Sure, there were viewers who were livid that Bianca's baby had been taken from her, but there will always be stories that irk viewers. Let's be honest, getting viewers roused about something is a great way to get word-of-mouth going. For most of 2004, AMC fans around the globe were asking, "When will Bianca get her baby back?!" It seemed like the same dialogue was being repeated over and over: everyone in the know wanted Bianca to get her baby back, but no one had the cajones to actually spit out the truth. The repeated near-confessions and dialogue bogged down the flow of the storytelling. Perhaps if the baby-swapping storyline had gone back burner for a bit it wouldn't have resulted in so many irate viewers because it wouldn't have been forced down their throats days after day after day. A nice diversion with other storylines would have been a welcomed change. I think that there are quite a few fans out there who would agree that if the storyline had played out differently, we might very well have been willing to have the storyline play out over a longer period of time.
Several years ago, One Life to Live pulled off what is still a terrific example of plot twist. The show initially revealed that one of its core characters -- Jessica Buchanan -- had been switched at birth. This was powerful because OLTL fans had seen Jessica (then played by actress Erin Torpey) grow up before their eyes over the course of a dozen or so years. So now when this young woman's whole world was shaken up, viewers were shaken too. There was emotion to be invested in the storyline - it wasn't something contrived to play out during Sweeps.
The payoff on the baby swap storyline was... well, it was lukewarm at best. In another "special" episode, only four characters were featured in the big reveal episode. The hour in which JR and Jamie duked it out and Babe finally confessed the truth to Bianca was overflowing with filler. Every segment was virtually the same... a 50-minute lead-in to Bianca kneeling down at Bess/Miranda's crib and getting the hint. There was so much missing in the reveal. If someone had stolen my child (or my rabbit, so I am currently childless), I wouldn't have let him or her get by with a simple slap on the cheek. There would have been a pummeling! I don't advocate violence, but let's keep it real: someone would have needed to pull me off of the person that had taken my baby from me. The episode the following day was actually so much better... more characters, better dialogue and more emotion. The problem with the reveal was that I don't think anyone really cared about the emotion by the time the reveal rolled around. Fans wanted Miranda back with Bianca and didn't care how it was done. Frustration and boredom are not the emotions soap fans want to feel when they tune into the show.
While on the topic of emotion, my heart goes out to Eva LaRue and John Callahan (Maria and Edmund). Their commitment to All My Children, their characters and their fans is truly inspiring. In the midst of their own personal difficulties, they were given a storyline that was way too close to home for comfort - and they've been simple superb. If you're wondering why Soap Central didn't publish anything beyond the news that the two performers were separating in real life, it's simply because I made the judgment call that their personal lives should remain personal and decided not to post anything more about it on this site. It is my belief that if either performer has a statement to be made, they will contact the site directly to make it. I personally would like to wish both John and Eva my prayers for strength and comfort.
So many of AMC's top performers went unused or underused in 2004. Julia Barr (Brooke) was on so rarely that some fans thought that she'd been let go. Brooke was a little more prominent later in the year, but it wasn't nearly enough. Another wonderful performer - Marcy Walker (Liza) - was released from her contract. When Walker returned to the show in 1995, I didn't really "get" why it was a big deal. I hadn't watched AMC when she was on previously, but over time I came to really enjoy seeing Walker's work. Another fan favorite - Anna Stuart (Mary) - was missing in action for nearly the entire year. Granted, Stuart is only a recurring player, but Stuart injected something into the show that's been missing for sometime. Stuart's Mary was the sassy, bitchy woman that viewers loved to hate. More importantly, they loved to see her on screen. David Canary (Adam and Stuart) was relegated to playing second fiddle to son, JR. There is scuttlebutt online that if an actress is over the age of 40, ABC Daytime president Brian Frons doesn't want them to have any airtime. While advertisers do crave the younger demographic, I really refuse to believe that a younger viewer doesn't want to see anyone who isn't plus-or-minus-five-years from their age.
I must admit that Eileen Herlie (Myrtle) had some phenomenal moments throughout the year. Most memorable was Myrtle's graveyard tongue-lashing of Thorsten Kaye's Zach Slater. This wasn't a one-line scene - it was several segments of material. Bravo to the writers for using a character with history.
Without upsetting any of the Ryan and Kendall and Ryan and Greenlee fans out there, I have to say that the triangle between Ryan, Kendall and Greenlee fell short of expectations. Kendall unwound before our eyes and Ryan and Greenlee suddenly determined that they were the love of each other's lives. I adore Greenlee (and actress Rebecca Budig - sorry Bachelor Bob!) and I want to see Greenlee happy, the storyline seemed to go against everything that these characters were about. With the exception of Kendall aching from having her heart broken, nothing about this triangle made "sense" to me.
Instead of seeing characters with history, viewers were force-fed tons of newcomers. Jonathan Lavery, Ryan's never-before-mentioned brother, proved to be very much a bore. As his sinister side is being revealed, the character has become a tad more interesting... but it's still wasted airtime.
So All My Children was abysmal in 2004, right? No.
With maybe the exception of As the World Turns, All My Children has some of the best dialogue in daytime television. It amazes me that even when stories are floundering, there are some wonderful exchanges between characters. What I like as a fan is seeing characters who otherwise wouldn't have a chance to interact get a chance to interact. This past week, Erica and Tad had a chance to speak to one another. A few weeks ago, a lot of Pine Valley's leading ladies got together to discuss the Miranda Center benefit - and the claws were all out. Adam and JR going tête-à-tête with Bianca over Bess had some highpoints during the year.
I think there was great storytelling with Bobby and Anita's marital woes. Usually, a marriage falls apart on the soaps because of an affair. It was interesting to see a married couple facing the demons of what had happened - all off-screen, I might add. People make mistakes and the Bobby and Anita storyline showed a man who had made a mistake trying desperately to make up for his transgression. It would have been very easy for the writers to have Anita jump into Aidan's bed while she and Bobby were having problems, but that wouldn't have been true to Anita's character. While both Christian Campbell and Natalia Cigliuti are newcomers to AMC, their characters are not. Plus, having Bobby and Anita in the foreground allowed for Palmer and Opal to have some airtime. Going back to that comment about younger viewers - I think that most "kids" love spending time with their grandparents. So to say that younger viewers wouldn't want to see "old fogies" on television because they are "too old" just doesn't make sense to me.
All My Children is still very much must-see TV for me, but there are a lot of things that I find myself missing. The characters that I care about seem to get shuffled to the background and the storylines often fail to really grab me. I find myself invested more in the murder of Mary Alice on Desperate Housewives - a woman that didn't even have any airtime on the show!! - than I do about some of the characters on AMC that have been around for years. I know that Megan McTavish is an incredible talent. In fact, I want anyone reading to know that I respect Ms. McTavish and admire all that she has done in her illustrious career in daytime television. However, I would like to see her devise some storylines that fans really want to see - even if it isn't popular with network executives. She's done it before and I know that she can do it again.
Dan J Kroll