The sun has indeed set for daytime's premier cowboy, as last week brought the heartbreaking news that Phil Carey will be leaving OLTL when his contract expires this month. [Click here for more information.] When I reflect upon how long Phil has been with the show, it is mind-boggling to comprehend that 28 years have passed so quickly. He created one of the most notorious and well-loved patriarchs ever to grace our screens, as Phil transformed Asa into a household legend that ranks among the daytime elite. What is particularly devastating is that he battled illness so bravely to return to OLTL, and we watched Asa fight his way back onto the canvas and interact with characters with which he shares extensive and rich history. This sickening scenario has repeated itself over and over again, whereby longtime vets have been bumped to recurring in an effort to force them out the door. It appears that Phil has become yet another network statistic, as we once again witness a redux of the vet-axing syndrome for which ABC is now infamous.
I discussed at length in my last column how we must intercede and fight for these vets, because this has reached epidemic proportion across the daytime spectrum. One might argue that it is not cost effective for the network to keep someone of Phil's health and age on contract. Here is what I put forth. The network is justified in approaching a veteran actor about a pay cut if that actor is not driving story. However, asking an actor to accept a cut in pay is a far cry from offering recurring status in a blatant attempt to push someone out the door. How about a little honesty, folks? I would much prefer to see the network approach an actor and be forthright about the fact that his or her character is no longer a part of the show's vision and respectfully part ways, versus engaging in deceptive practices as such. It is insulting to the actor, damages behind-the-scenes morale and riles fans. ABC is notorious for its circus-sized casts, as it continues to sign onslaughts of newbies to contracts. Meanwhile, not only is Phil a veteran of his craft, but the character he portrays is the cornerstone of OLTL's most dominant family. What an absolute disgrace!
When I lose touch with familiar characters in whom I am invested, and when I am barraged by countless new faces whose back stories are never developed, I cease watching. This isn't about demographic preferences; viewers simply want compelling, well-written stories that provide an umbrella effect for characters in which they are vested. The scenario surrounding Phil's exit certainly has the potential to get uglier, as I am desperately hoping the network does not make the same faux pas as it did with GH's John Ingle and attempt to recast the role of Asa. This would be a slap in the face of the man who devoted nearly thirty years of his life to a network that now deems him unworthy of contract status. I implore anyone who is outraged by Phil's exit and by what is transpiring with our veteran actors to please reach out to the network. If anyone needs contact information, please email me and I will be delighted to provide that for you. In the interim, I sincerely hope ABC has the dignity to honor Phil, the character and the fans by giving him a proper send-off. I am not holding my breath, but time will tell.
As ABC continually axes veteran actors, and struggles to keep other fan favorites on the canvas, what are viewers being offered in return? It simply appears that the show is being slapped together with little or no integrity, direction, or continuity. Characters connect and relationships blossom, and yet no follow through occurs for weeks - if ever. Episodes are not self-contained, and story is supposed to continue from scene to scene each week. Major players on the canvas must be woven in and out of one another's orbits to further connect plot points, and their interactions should fuel future story. While ABC has struggled with continuity on its soaps for years, we have reached a crisis point on OLTL where enjoying the fantasy now rivals viewer intelligence. If, for example, TPTB are banking on Miles and Marty or Tate and Adriana to be the future of this show, we have serious problems. Miles and Marty are quickly emerging as the most dysfunctional twosome on OLTL's canvas, and it was rather painful last week to watch these two emotionally-challenged characters interface and sob to one another about their personal tragedies and shortcomings.
I have attempted to embrace the Todd-Marty dynamic this second time around, but I am simply not feeling the history between these two. Christina Chambers continues to put forth her best effort in this role, and while Trevor St. John won my respect as Todd long ago, something is lacking. This version of Marty is being written as feeble, whiny and meek - and that couldn't be further from the character's true essence and who we know her to be. I also have a difficult time comprehending that Adriana can find her own way home, yet alone run a company. I would much rather watch Cassie battle with her mother and reposition the Cramer women as a force to be reckoned with on the canvas. Rex's character continues to suffer in this ongoing entanglement, and I would prefer to have him pursue Lindsay versus giving input to Adriana over boxers and briefs.
Very few can lend class and sophistication to a bottle of tequila and a wedge of lime - and Robin Strasser is one of them. Every scene she executes is meticulous and fresh. She slips into Dorian's character like a comfortable pair of shoes and I never tire of watching her. I truly enjoyed her scenes with Jerry verDorn last week, though I am still confused as to whether we will actually be treated to a Dorian/Clint/Viki triangle. I am also basking in the renewed interaction between Nora and Viki, because we have seen these characters interface more in the last two weeks than we have in nearly a decade. This is a prime example of the lack of continuity and haphazard manner with which this show is now executed. These two women are the best of friends, and yet most of their friendship has apparently been explored off-screen for the better part of eight years. Erika Slezak and Hillary B. Smith infuse such honesty, humor and humility into their characters' friendship, and I truly hope we see Viki and Nora further reconnect as time progresses. While Nora has endured her fair share of romantic disappointments, and self-acknowledges she may not be the best person to offer advice to the lovelorn, one thing is for certain: she extends her hand when friends need her, possesses both the patience to listen and the gift of counsel, and always speaks the truth.
One of last week's standout moments occurred when Viki declared that she needed an adventure of her own. Hallelujah! As far as I'm concerned, Viki is long overdue for her moment in the sun. While I have a soft spot for couples that share history, I am poised for the women on this show to create their own escapades, build their own lives, and juggle romantic prospects. Would I enjoy seeing Viki and Clint reunite and rebuild the history they have shared? Absolutely - but only if both characters flourish in the process. I also want Bo to keep his distance from Nora unless he locates his brain and along with it, some common sense. I cannot wait to watch Lindsay and Nora spar over Bo, mainly because I enjoy the onscreen dynamic between Cat Hickland and Hillary B. Smith and what they bring to the canvas through their characters' rivalry. Yet I would much prefer to watch Lindsay and Nora battle for Troy (Ty Treadway, anyone?) or R.J. instead.
My point is that I do not wish to see the women on this canvas pursue men who may or may not desire them. This feeds into a trend that has evolved in recent years with OLTL's female characters, and it is rather unsettling. The women of OLTL used to be the heart of this show, and men were woven in and out of their lives to drive story and create conflict. I say this with all respect and deference to our male viewers, but since the viewing majority is female, it stands to reason that women would dominate the canvas in terms of story. However, the tide has turned in an extreme manner, and unfortunately, females have morphed into appendages of the men in their lives. I am a huge proponent of balance, since strength and vulnerability can co-exist, but I am not an advocate of weakness. Weakness translates into victimization, and that is the sphere where the bulk of female characters currently dwell.
Here is my perspective. Blair continues to engage in self-destructive behavior and yearn for Todd. Natalie's entire thought process and existence now revolves around whether John truly loves her. Jessica continues to waffle over the men in her life and live a miserable existence - in fact, the entire DID storyline resulted in nothing more than a plot point for a love triangle. Evangeline fights her feelings for Todd and is dwelling in a state of unrest, while simultaneously pining for Cris. Starr grows desperate and nearly sacrifices her virginity as a high school freshman, and entertains self-destructive behavior in order to win the affections of a boy she barely knows. Paige's failed marriage and inability to cope negates accepting responsibility for all of her prior actions.
Meanwhile, Roxy owns her own business, is self-sustaining, and yet can't seem to find a friend that isn't at least 80 proof. BethAnn Bonner continues to impress, and yet Talia's back story goes undeveloped and she remains an extension of "the boys" in the police station. The list continues, but the point I am attempting to drive home is that this is not entertaining. Most of us watch OLTL to tap into the fantasy and because we enjoy the respite and escape. However, what we've seen unfold onscreen in relation to the women on this show is downright exasperating! This is more than coincidental; it reflects a pattern of victimization that has been in place for at least the past two years. If you examine the storylines during that timeframe, all of the women engaged in repeated cycles of self-destructive behavior - and none have fared for the better as a result of their experiences.
Does anyone remember "Live Week" and the fabulous stunts that transpired during Gary Tomlin's tenure as EP? Those are the kinds of things I am just craving as a viewer, and the last time OLTL truly entertained me in an exciting, unpredictable manner. I actually enjoy the arson storyline and where it is headed, but like every other story during Higley's tenure, it is stalled by sloppy writing, horrible pacing and unnecessary diversions. Spencer's character also continues to haunt Llanview, and I can't help but ponder how long his shadow will blanket the canvas in a cloud of endless gloom that is perpetuated through Miles. This reinforces my belief that network executives continue to drive a corporate agenda and micro-manage daytime. However, Higley needs to get her walking papers - and immediately. I believe that Ron Carlivati, who was recently promoted to Co-Head Writer, has the capability to turn this show around and restore OLTL to its former glory - if only he is given the opportunity. Carlivati has been with OLTL for more than a decade, is invested in the show and its history, and is spoken of very highly by actors who have been interviewed in response to his newfound appointment.
Standout moments certainly emerge each week, and I continue to believe that OLTL has the most talented, underrated cast on daytime. Those who are vested in the show and those capable of executing it with honesty and integrity are not being allowed to do so. As futile and bleak as the scenario often appears, only our voice can end the recurring nightmares of vet-axing and character degradation. We possess the ability to put the brakes on corporate politics that has run amok on our screens. So please type a letter, generate an email, send a postcard, or make a phone call. I hold the opinion that for each veteran actor OLTL loses, a piece of the show's history vanishes forever. We have witnessed the slow erosion of OLTL for months on end, and it is simply disheartening. How many fan favorites - from Dan Gauthier and Heather Tom, down to Phil Carey - have we lost in the process? We must support these actors, whose sole job is to entertain, and who contribute to the longevity of this show. Not only are we fighting for them and battling to save OLTL, but we truly are waging a war to secure the medium.
Have a wonderful week!