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Character evolution
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The week of September 24, 2007
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Ron Carlivati has taken this daytime drama, which was suffering in both industry buzz and viewer interest, and infused it with excitement and umbrella stories that affect the entire canvas.

RYAN: Nostalgic. That's the best word I can possibly use to sum up how I've been feeling in recent weeks as I'm watching OLTL. While there is certainly still room for general improvement, Head Writer Ron Carlivati surely has taken this daytime drama which was suffering in both industry buzz and in viewer interest and helped infuse excitement and those umbrella stories that affect an entire canvas of characters. Emmy-talk is already being bantered around for so many of the key players in the Baby Tommy storyline, and it is within this front burner story that I am looking at core characters like Todd and Lindsay and thinking about whether or not they really did change over the years and how that possible change plays into their current storyline perspectives. Viewer loyalties are very much divided in terms of whether Lindsay deserves sympathy as a result of her arrest despite having accidentally killed before or if Todd really deserves Tommy despite his flaws. Character evolution is a slow process, and sometimes viewers have a hard time believing that characters like the ones we watch are even capable of such change. I look at Todd and think, has this man REALLY changed to the point that he's now the "Mr. Brady" father? Or has Lindsay really given up her selfish, manipulative, and self-serving motives to emerge as a selfless woman who will go to any lengths to protect those she loves? Are such drastic changes even possible? Thoughts, Denise?

DENISE: Ryan, the word "nostalgic" certainly summarizes my reaction when viewing OLTL recently. Where has all this history been hiding? It's fascinating that you raise the issue of character evolution, because as I stepped back and analyzed Todd's recent behavior, I realized that more of his true essence has emerged now than we've seen in years. Instead of viewing him as a remorseful father who is pining for his long-lost son, I see him as the reckless, manipulative villain that fans love to hate. This is a man who lives on the edge and who has an insatiable appetite for power and attention. How many times have we heard Todd utter the words, "The child is mine" or "It's mine"? Add to that his offer of ten million dollars to Michael and Marcie, coupled with a proposal of marriage to Blair, and this reinforces how he views baby Tommy as a pawn in some perverse game of chess. Todd's skewed perspective on life enables him to view Tommy as the winning prize in an intense battle of wits and resources. I've experienced a similar reaction when watching Lindsay recently. What I enjoy most about this character is perhaps her ability to rationalize anything...and for a brief moment last week during her heated confrontation with Blair, Lindsay paused just long enough to see what Blair was offering in exchange for her freedom. While Jen's death has substantially impacted Lindsay, the degree to which she's changed is open for debate. Lindsay has always been equal parts venom and vulnerability; she is con artist, viper, damsel in distress, and wayward little girl all rolled into one. While it's imperative we see Lindsay's soft side, it's just as crucial that the character maintain her ruthless edge. So I believe characters should evolve, yet in a way where history is engaged to shape behavior and that which is consistent for the character. This brings me to reflect upon words of wisdom from the late Doug Marland, whose article "How Not to Wreck a Show" generated those infamous ten suggestions that served as guidelines for good soap writing. One of those reads as follows: 'Don't change a core character. You can certainly give them edges they didn't have before, or give them a logical reason to change their behavior. But when the audience says, "He would never do that," then you have failed.' This appears to be what Carlivati is striving to do. He is weaving in nuances that exploit a character's layers (as in the case of Todd and Lindsay) while restoring that core essence, which is vital.

RYAN: Douglas Marland was a visionary when it came to the art of the daytime drama. And the quote you mention is so true in every way. I, for one, think that people can certainly change as a result of traumatic experiences, and Lindsay is no exception. We have all watched her transform before our eyes since her daughter was murdered. Marcie became a surrogate daughter in her eyes, and Lindsay's mission became to help others (look at how she risked her life during the police sting to catch the arsonist!). So, for all of the people who think Lindsay is a cat who is unable to change its stripes, I think they might be shortchanging the significance of the life experiences she has had to endure. As for Todd, his days as a rapist have long passed. Should we forget what he did? No. And does giving someone like Todd the benefit of the doubt that he can change mean that we condone his past actions? Of course not. But, his attack on Marty Saybrooke happened over fifteen years ago, a short lifetime ago. And his attack on Margaret was mostly an act of self-preservation; that lunatic was like the Energizer Bunny---she kept going and going and going. To put an end to her madness is something probably anyone in Todd's position would have been aiming for, so I don't know that I entirely hold his actions against him when it comes to trying to drown wacky Maggie! But I love how other characters on the canvas are evolving as well. Natalie, in particular, is becoming more self-confident in her job at Buchanan Enterprises and Nora is finally getting back to her roots as a take-no-prisoners attorney.

DENISE: I believe Carlivati is working this same pattern of restoring character integrity across the canvas. Natalie burst into Llanview as a scheming, conniving spitfire of a character. She possessed an agenda, which was to turn Viki's world upside down and reclaim what was rightfully hers - that which belonged to Jessica and all of which Natalie felt she was robbed. Yet Higley stripped her character of any intelligence and vibrancy, and it was to the point where I couldn't accept that she could find her own way home - let alone assume the reins of BE. That is no longer an issue for me, because while shades of vulnerability peek through, Natalie's strength and self-worth remain intact. Carlivati has taken her character, plucked her from "victim land" and given her a renewed perspective that is consistent with Natalie of years past. The same holds true for Nora's character. Viewers are divided as many feel that she should've recused herself from prosecuting Lindsay and that her quest to "fry" Lindsay is more about seeking revenge and less about upholding justice; others are thrilled that Llanview's DA has reclaimed her fighting spirit and are basking in her take-charge demeanor. I doubt we would be as glued to our television sets if anyone other than Nora was prosecuting Lindsay. The fact that these two women share such a tumultuous past is what makes the current dynamic pop. The manner in which this will impact both characters from this point forward is also highly significant. It's absolutely thrilling to watch Nora reenter the legal realm with force and conviction, and I genuinely feel that the Nora I am viewing is the character that won fans' hearts some fifteen years ago. Yet she is better for wear this time around - stronger, feistier, more determinate. She is bolder and sexier - yet tempered by love for her children and the acquired skill to stop every now and then, smell the roses, and express gratitude for the gift of another day. So while she (like Natalie) has evolved because of life experiences, Carlivati is restoring those qualities that are intrinsic to the character. Equally impressive was watching Will and R.J. return to town to offer support for Lindsay and go head-to-head with Nora in defense of her. Carlivati made the effort to weave key players in Lindsay's life into this scenario, and is utilizing every means available to illustrate how character evolution doesn't equate to character assassination.

RYAN: I think that we as long-time soap viewers sometimes get so caught up in remembering what a character did in the past that we have a difficult time looking at the subtle positive changes that are made. And I'll use your example with Nora's attitude towards Lindsay as a prime example. To say that Nora and Lindsay have that tumultuous past is a huge understatement, because Lindsay did some horrific things to Nora over the past decade, so it's not tough for me to see that despite a few charitable and noble acts (i.e. replacing photographs of Jen and Sam after Nora's house burned to the ground), Nora still has severe misgivings about Lindsay's sudden transformation. But on the other hand, look at how Bo views her. Lindsay's manipulative decision to switch Bo's tests to "prove" he could no longer father any children was the impetus to breaking up his marriage to Nora, and one would argue that this is something Bo should never, ever be able to forgive. Yet, he has forgiven Lindsay. Like her, he has shared the emotional devastation of losing a child and he has been able to put the distant past behind him and look at Lindsay as someone who has refocused and redirected her life. He has enjoyed reconnecting their friendship, and there are signs that a more serious relationship could be in the works. To be perfectly honest, I'm really excited at the prospect of seeing Bo and Lindsay enter a romantic relationship again after ten-plus years of rocky relations. It will be interesting for me to see how the two of them, after so many changes occurred in their lives, relate to one another and deal with the mistrust and the deception that plagued their prior relationship. And speaking of Bo, it was very moving to watch him and Talia talk about her recent visit to Ground Zero on the anniversary of September 11. Here's another great way that Carlivati is showing the evolution of a character by emphasizing how certain catastrophic events can completely change and affect someone's life. Although we still know little about Talia's past, I'm sure that the devastation and loss that occurred on September 11 will be a significant part of her back story.

DENISE: I think Bo may be in for a rude awakening at the end of this journey, but we shall see! I'm so delighted you raised the issue of Talia and her conversation with Bo concerning the events of September 11. I must say that while I really found their discussion poignant, someone dropped the ball because it should've aired as the nation shared a day of somber remembrance and not several days later. That aside, I like the father-daughter dynamic between Bo and Talia and enjoy the fact that Carlivati continues to take his time in building her character. When he finally does accelerate the pace and pursue her relationship with Antonio, it will stand on its own and not come across as a rebound relationship for either character. As I watched Tim Stickney reprise the role of R.J., I was sadly reminded what a void his absence has created. This would be a prime opportunity to work R.J. back into the fold on a regular basis; his character shares immense history with so many key players on the canvas. I would be very interested in seeing how Carlivati might weave R.J. into Antonio's life at this point. I'll take things one step further and say that R.J. could create more potential conflict between Antonio and Talia than Jessica, Nash or any other outside force, simply because of the history both men share. I feel R.J.'s presence every time I see characters converge at Capricorn, and I really encourage fans of Stickney and the character to write ABC in his behalf. The concept of "character evolution" certainly takes on new meaning when you reflect upon R.J.'s character and his many escapades! This perfectly illustrates how a character can evolve yet remain true to nature and consistent with the passage of time. I think that we, as fans, must extend Carlivati the time and patience necessary to turn this show around, and the reality is that accomplishing this may take longer than any of us would like. Rome wasn't built in a day, and OLTL was nearly run into the ground before he assumed the reins, so this is something we must bear in mind. I'm very impressed with what he's accomplished in the last several weeks, much of which consists of restoring the heart and soul to these characters a bit more each day, by utilizing rich history and through a lens that is refreshingly "old school."

Have a wonderful week!

Ryan and Denise

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