A bold title, huh?
OLTL is an important show to me, as it is to everyone who reads this column and spends time visiting the message boards. The characters matter to me, and their stories are ones I become invested in. Months ago, I wrote a column urging everyone to hang in with the show during its ups and (especially) downs because during an era when daytime dramas are watching their viewership numbers tumble at an alarming rate, the last thing any of us want is for OLTL (or any other show for that matter) to be cancelled. With that said, I've reached my breaking point. I've watched a show that I couldn't wait to watch fall into one that is being created for the satisfaction of those in charge. I really believe this. Those execs in charge (namely Brian Frons, Frank Valentini, and Dena Higley) are approving, creating, and writing stories that are born out of their own agendas, their own likes and dislikes, and their own preferences. Without regard for the long-time viewers or the faithful supporters of their show, these individuals are throwing away all of the heart and soul of a show that is supposed to represent the diversity and the idea of family in America. To that end, let me provide you with a short list of the rants about Dena Higley's writing that have been festering deep inside me for a long time.
1. Slow Storytelling. Soap opera is all about the anticipation of the reveal, I know. But Higley's trademark has unfortunately been one that is tedious for the regular viewer. A quick review: Spencer has been around for well over a year, and we still have yet to know with specific detail what his vendetta is against the Buchanans---ALL of them! John McBain has been on the show for years, and he's been a one-dimensional character from the outset. He's been battling demons relating to his father for all of this time, and only NOW are we finding out some of the particulars!?! A little too late to care, if one were to ask me. Then there is the Todd/Margaret storyline which seems never-ending. I can't even remember what the last storyline was that Todd and Blair were involved in before Margaret came along. It's been THAT long! And as much as I'm a fan of the Tess/Jessica D.I.D. storyline, talk about milking a story for all its worth! This reminds me of when ABC was so giddy over the success of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" that the network eventually ran the show every single night, a move that ultimately led to viewer disinterest and the show's demise. I see a similar trend happening in many of Higley's stories, especially this one with Jess/Tess. But the best of all is the mystery involving Paige's son. One day, she gets a piece of paper indicating who the son is and in subsequent days, weeks, months, still nothing...not even a clue here or there for the viewers. Nothing. And that's exactly what I feel for this storyline. Nothing.
2. Lack of Originality. Okay, I'll give Higley credit for the Daniel is a gay serial killer storyline, because none of us saw that one coming! But the fallout from the reveal was horrible! Daniel was quickly shuffled off to prison, Nora seemed to recover from the incident rather quickly, and Mark (Daniel's lover) must have just fallen off the planet! She had an original, smart, and different type of storyline that had all sorts of ramifications, but she failed in the follow-through. The same is true with the Jessica/Tess storyline. She had an original, smart, and different type of storyline with the "Who's the Mommy?" aspect-is it Tess's alter or Jess's alter who conceived the baby---but she's now going to go down the road of the paternity test gone-wrong. Can't a show EVER have a paternity test that is valid, no tampering and no switches? I think it has become more of the norm to expect a botched paternity result than to expect an authentic one. This imminent test of Tess/Jess's child will just be one more way to extend this storyline even further, and thus keep the character of Tess around before Higley has to figure out what to do with integrating the two alters. It just amazes me that there is such a lack of creative juices flowing among the writing team that someone can't imagine a plausible storyline involving the conflicts and turmoil arising out of, say, Nash being definitively named the father. How about this: with a child connected to the most significant family in Llanview, Nash becomes a firmly-cemented character on the canvas. If Jessica is restored as the dominant alter, she is faced to deal with her love for Antonio and the father of her child who was conceived by her alter. Nash has to deal with raising his child and battling his feelings for the mother of his child whom he looks at and sees the love of his life but realizes she is someone who doesn't return the feelings. That type of emotional drama is non-existent from the show anymore. All we get are silly stunts and boring over-used soap opera clichés like the questionable paternity test.
3. Overexposure. Spencer Truman is a character who came onto the show roughly a year ago. Initially, he was an intriguing character portrayed by an excellent actor in Paul Satterfield. The problem was that Higley didn't follow her "Soap Opera Head Writer's Book for Dummies" handbook and instead shoved Spencer down our throats! He became entangled in everyone's storylines too quickly and was someone whom Higley and the producers MADE us want to care about. Frank Valentini of all people (he's been with the show in various capacities for countless years) should know that the fastest way to make a character unpopular is to force the viewers to feel a certain way about him/her. Spencer could have been a great villain in the likes of Carlo Hesser, Mitch Lawrence, or Jamie Sanders. But instead, he became irritating and a nuisance. Stories that were going to him and his ridiculous and mysterious agenda were taken away from the characters we viewers have grown to care about. Maybe Spencer is Higley's (or some other exec's) favorite character, but that doesn't mean he has to be ours, too. When the writing is on the wall that viewers aren't responding well to a character, that doesn't signal the need to say, "Well, why not just put him on screen even more and MAKE them [the viewers] like him like we do!"
4. Family Values. Where is the sense of family values or tradition on this show? Having been a long-time viewer of this show, I do remember the significance of the Buchanans, the Holdens, the Roberts, the Cramers, and even the Rappaports (lord help me!). There was a sense of stability at times, and I can remember a lot of Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations when episodes would be devoted entirely to gatherings and get-togethers. Stories were often put on hold (except for the time some villain had rigged the camera in Llanfair to explode when someone snapped the family picture!) to reunite the families and honor them in that way. Long gone are these days! Bringing Clint back to the fold in the form of the wonderful Jerry VerDorn was definitely a step in the right direction, but the family is so preoccupied with the drama of Tess/Jess that nothing else seems to matter. Viki's love-life has been on hold for what seems like an eternity, and the long-standing tradition of the family's interest in the Banner is lost on family members getting drunk. I remember thinking quite some time ago (before Higley) what a waste it was for the writers to kill off Bo's son Drew; there was so much unexplored potential between the two characters, and as a Buchanan, Drew had so much unchartered territory to go through. Unfortunately, I see the same thing happening with Duke Buchanan. (SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO NUMBER 5 IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ANYMORE...) When Duke first came to Llanview as a grown man, I was pretty impressed with Matthew Metzger in the role; heck, I thought he was just one of the singers from "American Idol" who didn't get past the semi-finals. But in a terrible move, the character went into a dull, boring relationship with an even duller character (Adriana) which polarized him from any other storyline. When that relationship fizzled with the characters and with the viewers, only then did Duke's possibilities as a character become more open. He and his father Kevin enjoyed more scenes together and faced their tumultuous past as father/son. And just when the best triangle in a long, long time has started to heat up with Kevin/Kelly/Duke, Higley goes and kills off Metzger's character! That has got to be one of the silliest moves yet. How can she possibly think Duke doesn't have a place on the show? Just the set up for this week's action paves the way for months of drama: in the aftermath of the tornado, Kevin finds a naked Kelly and Duke under a wall (after they apparently have made love). Both are in serious condition, yet Kevin is told in the E.R. that he can only choose one of them to be operated on---and he chooses Kelly. Imagine the ramifications of such a life-changing decision. Suppose Duke didn't die and instead became paralyzed for life. Now how does a father explain to his son that he didn't make the choice to save his life first over the woman he loves? How does a father tell a son he basically put him in a wheelchair for life? The fallout from a drastic decision like this is endless. Yet, Higley ignores these possibilities and goes for the all-too-easy route of killing off the character because either Metzger was no longer working out for them in the part or she grew disinterested in the character or she is planting the seed to also write off Kevin and/or Kelly or she is just too lazy to put time and effort into a storyline that doesn't involve HER characters or HER creations. Whatever the reason for this moronic move is, it's one more that should spell the end for Higley's tenure with this show.
5. Nora vs. Paige. Well, faithful readers of my column had to know this one was coming, and I saved my most pent-up frustrations for last. In the same spirit of Spencer Truman, Paige is a character Higley obviously adores. How else does one explain this fixation on a character who is boring, pathetic, and detached? I have yet to find one reader of this column who genuinely loves this character. I'm sure that there are a handful of them out there (all related to Higley, no doubt), but this character was D.O.A. almost from day one. I know I sound like a broken-record, but I cannot wrap my mind around why this character has supplanted long-standing characters on the show. The chemistry between Bo/Paige is completely non-existent, and I feel that the character was never served enough justice as a result of the revolving-door of actresses who have stepped into the role. Each one of the talented actresses filled a part that was completely wrong for her, and the lack of direction on the writers' parts regarding who Paige really is resulted in three different "personalities" for the character. Each actress sure did the make the role her own, and in doing so she transformed the essence of what the previous actress brought to Paige. I do not care that Paige was involved in John McBain's death---well, wait, I do care if it means she'll be arrested and brought up on charges which lead to her being sent to jail and out of Llanview! But I invest zero energy into her trials and tribulations. I cannot bring myself to root for her and Bo to work out their trust issues. And I certainly do not want her connected to any other person in Llanview by means of her long-lost son. Higley is completely out of touch with reality if she thinks that viewers of this show like this character.
This brings me to Nora. We all know the story here. Hillary B. Smith's contract runs out late last year, and Higley puts her in coma (on the record, the execs are quoted as saying this isn't a move related to her contract negotiations, but we viewers of intellect know better). On Smith's last day at work, she and Brian Frons have a nice chat which leads to Smith agreeing to stay on for one more year to see what direction the writers will take Nora. Higley goes on record saying that viewers won't see Nora on camera for a couple of months because story had been written that far in advance with the assumption that Smith was gone from the show. But, after this, we are promised good story for Nora. Well, after ABC plugs away in promotions that "This week Nora opens her eyes," viewers, including me, were ecstatic! And what is the "good story" that we get? I can't answer that, because Nora has only been on screen a handful of times. Six months into this one-year extension and Smith's Emmy-award-winning talents are being squandered on laying in a bed and staring up at the ceiling for four scenes a week. And get this: after last week's bedside chat between Bo and Nora, we aren't going to see Nora on-screen for another SIX WEEKS! You heard me-SIX WEEKS! Is there any other explanation for this other than a writer's desire to "play favorites?" The storyline potential with a powerhouse actress like Smith is there. A stroke recovery storyline could, in fact, lead to another Emmy nomination for the actress (and the show) if written well. A commitment to getting rid of Paige and reinstating Nora as one of the show's central leads will result in better use of a number of different characters. Look at poor R.J., stuck in a storyline abyss. Lest we forget that R.J. admitted years ago that Nora was his one true great loves in life? Involved with Lindsay now, imagine what a reawakening love for Nora would do to his relationship with Lindsay. And watch the sparks that would fly between arch-rivals Nora and Lindsay. If I can see these storyline opportunities, I'm sure that Higley and her team has thought of them, too. The million dollar question is: WHY ARE THEY NOT BEING CONSIDERED?
So I leave you with this mandate: flood ABC with your disgruntled thoughts. Call, write, email-do whatever you find most convenient for you. Resting on our laurels and "settling" for what we do not like is the apathy that leads these writers and execs to think that we must like what is on screen because they do not receive any complaints. Write to the sponsors of ABC; these advertisers pay good money to put spots on during OLTL, so it doesn't hurt to threaten to boycott their products until they pull out their support of the show. Daytime is one of the only entertainment mediums (save for reality shows like "American Idol") in which loyal fans have the power of their opinions often heard. Like I said, daytime is dwindling, folks. These execs, writers, and producers want to keep their jobs, believe me! They don't want to have their shows cancelled and to start sending out job resumes. We are the consumers here. We are the ones they have to satisfy. When the product isn't "up to par," we have to speak up and tell them what we don't like about it. And remember, there is an effective way and an ineffective way to communicate: saying that a show is terrible without any specific references is ineffective, but saying that a show is terribly written and naming specific reasons why will give the people reading our letters an idea of how to fix a sinking ship. If you don't like Paige, write to ABC and tell them. If you want to see more of Todd and Blair, write to ABC and tell them. If you want a John/Evangeline pairing again, write to ABC and tell them. And if you think it's time Nora wakes up from that coma, write to ABC and tell them. Thanks for indulging me in this unusually long and uncharacteristically negative rant. But our show is in trouble, and we are the ones who must take measures to fix it. Update on the Hillary B. Smith Luncheon on May 6:
I have to say, I've never attended a fan luncheon before, but I felt compelled to be at this one because of the way I've been supporting Smith and her character of Nora since this past November. If you recall, it was my New Year's Resolution to devote part of every column to the campaign to keep Nora front and center and to hope ABC would see the error of its way and give Smith a real contract. I didn't know what to expect at this luncheon; all I knew was that I was going to meet a few readers of my column and to express my appreciation for Smith's many years on the show.
With that said, I couldn't have been more pleased with how the afternoon unfolded. After having met Noradiva1 (one of SOC's staunchest Nora supporters on the board), we traversed over to the restaurant where another 40-50 Nora fans were ready to be escorted to the room. Upon descending the stairs to our private room, Hillary was at the bottom of the stairs greeting every single person as he/she came into the restaurant. She shook everyone's hand and wanted to know our names and where we came from. At that moment, I knew that this was going to be a classy and memorable afternoon.
Upon finding seats and mingling with other fans, NoraDiva and I were dumbfounded when Hillary came over and sat down with us at our table where there was an extra seat. One might have been inclined at that point to feel nervous or giddy, but Hillary was the most down-to-earth person you could ever imagine. She spent a solid 20-25 minutes at our table of four talking to us about the show, about Nora, about life, about her escapades with Catherine Hickland, and a host of other random topics. Never once did I feel like I was talking to someone I only see through a television screen. For those 25 minutes, it was as though I almost forgot she was the person I was there to see and just became caught up in good conversation like I would if I were sitting around a dinner table with friends.
Hillary sat down and spent time at everyone's table like that, and she indulged everyone in countless autographs, pictures, and conversations. She was there for her fans and made it clear above all else that she was hosting this luncheon out of appreciation for the support and love she received during that rough patch of time when her destiny with OLTL was uncertain.
NoraDiva and I suspected that Catherine Hickland would probably be at the gathering, but we were surprised when Timothy Stickney (R.J.) rolled in followed by Hickland followed by Dan Gauthier (Kevin) and then followed by Renee Goldsberry (Evangeline). What an extraordinary surprise! All of them were here for no other reason than to have a good time: show their support for their friend Hillary and thank all of their fans of the show. What a great time we had. There were trivia questions, silent auctions, pictures, autographs, and more conversations galore. There were laughs and smiles and outcries of support for recurring actors Hickland and Stickney. Hickland raved about David Blaine's new stunt in the water bubble in Lincoln Square, Stickney talked about some upcoming projects including a role as a vampire in a film, and Goldsberry convinced Gauthier to sing a song from the OLTL charity CD. Smith herself talked about what it's like to play Nora from a bed and asked what the audience felt about a Nora and Bo reunion (no, that isn't in the works, but we have to let ABC know what we think if that's a reunion we want to see).
In the end, I left with a giftbag of the OLTL Many Voices CD and more pictures and autographs than I know what to do with. It was an event that I truly did not expect to be what it was, and its success was due in large part to Angela, Hillary's fan club President, and Hillary herself. She created an atmosphere of relaxation and celebration. It was a time to share OLTL memories, laugh about odd or strange storylines, and walk down that memory lane. The respect that I hold for Hillary and these actors soared after Saturday afternoon's luncheon, and it became very clear to me that if we want our voices heard, we MUST be proactive and do something about it.
Enjoy your week,