Things are rarely what they appear

For the Week of April 29, 2013
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OLTL Two Scoops: Things are rarely what they appear
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On the eve of our return to Llanview, ex-Two Scooper Michael is still floored by OLTL's miraculous resurrection. In this week's Two Scoops he's back a one-night only special engagement -- and he might cuss.

Okay, right, so, first things first, both for those who remember me and those who do not: I am Michael, I wrote the One Life to Live Two Scoops column every other week from 2008 to the end of its ABC run in January of last year, and I am not, repeat not back, so depending on who you are and whether we agreed or disagreed a lot, please do not get a) excited or b) really angry. I am not coming back to the Two Scoops job full-time or part-time, because I simply do not have the...time. I started doing this gig way back in the winter of 2008 when I was in a very different place in my life, and over time, my real life and career got way too hectic. But just when I thought I was getting out of the Two Scoops game for good, the cancellations of OLTL and All My Children pulled me back in.

You see, I'd watched OLTL since I was eleven years old. It is a part of me, just as it is for most viewers, I expect, but in that particularly strange way in which I think it bonds to people who started watching soaps when they were very young, the daytime dramas and their worlds become a kind of family for children in the afternoon, which they take a special sort of comfort in. Nora was my favorite, Viki was my second mother, Dorian was fearsome and amazing, Marty Saybrooke was the externalization of my tween angst, and so on. I told a lot of this personal story when I last said goodbye to OLTL here, about fifteen months ago -- I never thought I'd be telling any of this to anyone again.

Anyway. OLTL was a part of me. And though I'd planned to leave Two Scoops in 2011, when the cancellation notices came down, I felt the least I could do after nineteen or so years of devoted viewing was see Llanview and the people I knew and loved off to its reward. Which I did. It was one of the hardest days I've ever had on any job, but it got done. And that was that. Or so I thought. Really.

And yet...

Look, you gotta understand, I'm kind of at a loss here, okay? I mean, who isn't? Did any of us really believe we'd be here a year ago? Really? Ever? I sure as hell didn't, and I try to be an optimist. I'm sure some people remember the things I said, the grandiose prestidigitation, my dogged belief that someday, somehow, these shows, these brands would return. And it's true -- I did absolutely believe that one day, both AMC and OLTL would return in some way, shape or form.

I believed that regular serialized drama, the concept of an ongoing shared narrative, was too intrinsic to human nature and imaginings, too deep in the marrow of our global culture to go away for good. I believed the worm would turn on industry tastes back towards scripted entertainment, and that eventually someone would dust off the old soap brands and revive them in some format, in some medium. And in that very vague sense, there is some slight personal vindication today.

But I sure as shit didn't think they'd be back on next year with most of the same people! (If the soaps can finally curse, I've got to have a shot, right? Let's find out!) And I sure didn't think I'd be back here so soon, agreeing to do a guest Two Scoops column to usher in the new OLTL as best I can, feeling more excited and passionate about the future of the daily serial drama than I have in many, many years.

I was very, very happy to come back and write about the miraculous return of OLTL. I wanted so much to share my feelings, and I hope to come back sometime soon and appear on the SOC podcast again, hopefully not sounding like a mumbling, mushmouthed fool as I did on my two prior experiences. (I blame the connection.) There's just one problem with all of those plans, one I've already shared with the lovely and talented Dan Kroll, my former boss: I just have no idea what to say.

Words escape me, at least words that aren't derivative of our collective reactions, and wholly inadequate to what we're all already feeling. It's all just utterly beyond me. So this guest appearance may end up being kind of a weird, woolly stream of consciousness thing -- much like many of my Two Scoops columns near the end, when we were bogged down in stories like "Stacy is her own twin sister!" and "Starr launches her singing career!" I'll try to cover everything, but just bear with me, won't you? And since this is me and I'm back for the weekend, it's gonna be long. Sorry not sorry.

Okay, so first, let me just deal with the fact that not all my predictions are gold. For example, my last appearance on Soap Central Live, prior to Ron Carlivati and Frank Valentini heading to General Hospital, in which I promised ABC Daytime was shipping it off to oblivion and that GH would also be off the air in 2012. "Period!" So yeah, that didn't pan out. In point of fact, a year later, GH is actually back, it's hot, and it's in better fighting form than it's been in years. I watch it everyday; I deeply, deeply enjoy it (most of it, anyway); and Carlivati and Valentini have brought back the spirit and fun of the GH I all but gave up for dead over ten years ago.

There's a certain demented genius the ex-OLTL creative duo bring to their work that very often works very well. Even when I both love and hate the product -- which I do on a regular basis at GH, just as I did in their later years at OLTL -- I cannot deny their skill at jam-packing their shows with as much content and energy as possible. They truly love soaps, and they've proven it twice over by bringing two legendary soap operas back from the brink. Is everything they do to my taste, or teeming with merit? Absolutely not; there's a lot I can still complain about on their GH, many of the same creeping, nasty issues I saw grow to hobble their OLTL. That said, it's still a far, far better GH than the one I left behind under Bob Guza and Charles Pratt in 2003.

This brings me, then, to the OLTL/GH crossover issue. I'm not gonna get too deep into this because it's all been said on every side. For my money, I felt it was a smart move to bring popular OLTL characters onto GH. I thought it worked, at least initially; I thought it got eyes on the show that had not previously been there, and I felt that for the most part each character fit well. I enjoyed seeing Todd Manning mix it up with Heather Webber, Connie, Sonny, and yes, Carly; I thought Starr Manning and Michael Corinthos made a cute young couple, though I thought it was nasty and callous to kill off Cole and Hope and I really, really wish she would've just stopped singing. And yes, I even liked John McBain for once -- with Sam McCall, far, far away from my Natalie Buchanan.

Obviously, my mileage varies due to my interests as an OLTL fan. Given his history of being a barnacle on the surface of Llanview, it wasn't exactly a shock to my system when John McBain abandoned his family for a big case (again) and chased after yet another damsel in distress (again) -- it was classic John. But then again, I haven't been remotely invested in the character for almost ten years. I simply thought John had finally found a place where he belonged, on a more action-adventure-oriented soap opera where he could thrive.

And while I didn't necessarily agree with the pairing of Todd and Carly, I couldn't fault the actors or their performances or chemistry. I didn't find Todd's history to be invalidated so much as glossed over. I thought that while Roger Howarth and Laura Wright gave it a lot of passion, the scripts seemed to be trite, rehashed material from Todd's greatest hits with Blair, Téa, and even the children he used to befriend while on the run from the law. (Seriously, there's got to be around 30 people Todd has called "my only friend" since the '90s -- take a number, Carly.)

All that aside, I didn't find there to be any permanent damage done to any OLTL character on GH. From my point of view, it was natural that if they crossed over to another soap opera that they would each find new stories, new love interests, and new adventures. In the end, I felt they were all just new stories and that no real, permanent harm was done, excepting a few wholly unnecessary deaths like Hope Thornhart and Téa's poor baby. If John returns to Llanview, McBain fans can write his dalliance with Sam off as a midlife crisis (his sixth, by my accounting), and Todd fans can always say he was running from his problems and losses back home. No one knows what happened to Starr, of course, but at this point, does anyone really care? You know it's true, Dan, don't edit it out!

Now as to the legal issues between ABC Daytime and Prospect Park over OLTL and GH -- I just don't care that much. I can't judge too harshly, at least not enough to not watch. I love both soap operas, I have watched both since I was a kid, and I will continue to watch them daily, back to back, rapt with attention. I think both parties had good intentions, and I believe Carlivati and Valentini were eager to keep a piece of OLTL alive any way they could. However, if some of the allegations in the suit are accurate then perhaps not all of the OLTL appropriated was GH's to appropriate. It's too soon to speak on any of that, and none of us are lawyers (okay, maybe just not me) or know all the facts.

What I will say is this: I deeply adored a lot of the OLTL that the "Cartini" team (I hate those made-up words!) put together. I think they truly loved my show, and I think they truly love daytime and wanted to do right by OLTL on GH, and that's way too much of a rarity in that business these days. I also do not think they are OLTL, and therein lies some of the controversy. I was one of this team's biggest fans when they started their joint regime in 2007, among the first cheerleaders; I took the Two Scoops job because I truly believed in what they were doing and wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Over time, I watched their work grow both more refined and winning and at other times, I felt it grew more degraded, lazy, and half-assed. They're very loving and devoted to their work, but they're far from perfect. (See: the Fords)

I tend to avoid any kinds of cults of personality surrounding head writers or backstage individuals in entertainment; in the end I feel that they're all just part of the larger tapestry, particularly when it comes to something as long-running and timeless as a soap opera. I've seen at least a half-dozen head writers and executive producers come and go from OLTL, and while Carlivati and Valentini gave me a great deal they are not the life force of this show or the be-all end-all. I wish them the best at GH, which I continue to enjoy, but OLTL belongs to OLTL, not to any single voice, and while I enjoyed the crossovers -- and I still kind of wish GH could take McBain and Starr off my hands for good -- I think it's time for the shows and their creative personnel to go their separate ways.

A new OLTL for a new time and medium needs new blood, new ideas; I'd grown to predict Carlivati and Valentini's choices, their moves and attitudes, way too often, and I'm ready for something fresh and different, just as they are now making GH fresh and different. I think it's a healthy change, and I'm ready for it. I love both soaps, I wish them all the best, and I just want everybody involved to be happy, hold hands, sing "Kumbaya," and hopefully stop suing each other. Any day now, guys. I was kind of hoping GH and OLTL could keep crossing over here and there, after all.

Anyway. As to Prospect Park, and the here and now, no one was angrier with Prospect than I was in the fall of 2011 -- I felt they had utterly mishandled the soap situation and, worse, used and abused a lot of very fine, loyal actors and crew, to say nothing of their strange tiff with Susan Lucci, a woman who has devoted her entire professional career to All My Children. I spat at the ground upon hearing their name and never wanted Prospect Park to darken my proverbial door again.

Then they did. I didn't believe it for a second when Prospect Park came back. I thought that nothing would come of it, that it was a shameless ploy to bleed more money out of ABC Daytime for the licensing fees to OLTL. Dan Kroll can attest to the hilarious series of baffled emails he received from me over the last several months: "these vultures! I'll believe it when they roll the f___ing cameras, not before! I won't believe it 'til I physically see a week of shows! Show me the contracts!" And then they hired actors, and writers, and then they rolled tape. And then I just started crying and couldn't stop. I still haven't stopped. I still just can't believe it.

Even now, less than 48 hours before AMC and OLTL are back "on the air," with me sitting here typing this, I still can't quite believe this thing is happening. It just doesn't seem real. I've seen the trailers and promos; I've seen the footage. More clips are released every day, full scenes, with characters, dialogue, beautiful sets, people who look so thrilled to be back at work, both in front of and behind the camera; decades of rich, lovingly detailed history unspooling again before our eyes. And yet a part of me still -- just can't believe it. It is beyond me. It steals my heart and takes my breath away. I thought I had put away this beloved childhood heirloom for good, or at least for a very long time. I was never prepared.

Whatever Prospect Park's past mistakes or foibles, they have more than earned their shot with me. I was the least trusting person of all in these last several, crazy months; I mocked the company and their alleged efforts at every turn. I didn't believe a word of it. But to their credit, they did exactly what they said they would and more. They've put on a show -- two shows, to be exact, both of which I adored from my childhood. They've spared no expense, rolling a fabulous PR offensive with some of the most beautiful advertising and press events I've ever seen, certainly a cut far above anything currently in conventional daytime.

They've treated these actors, these crews, these shows and their history like royalty, with real admiration and respect that has eluded these people and their work for way too long, to say nothing of Agnes Nixon's renewed role. I can't remember the last time I've ever seen OLTL or AMC treated so well at ABC Daytime, even before the ascent of the unlamented Brian Frons. What makes me particularly emotional and teary is seeing these people and their work, this work treated so, so well. It shouldn't be this foreign to them, or to me. Prospect Park has earned my respect, and I wasn't about to give it away. Here and now, I have nothing but gratitude for them.

The looser limitations for AMC and OLTL, also, are very exciting. You people don't know what it's taken for me to keep from spewing vile and creative profanity throughout my Two Scoops columns all these years! I've got a filthy, filthy mouth, people. But more than that, I think it's time for these shows to grow up. As the promos say, these shows are no longer daytime, they're "anytime," and drama is drama. If AMC and OLTL are to compete with the cutting-edge future of scripted entertainment then they must have the same realism and rules as primetime dramas like Mad Men, American Horror Story, The Americans, or Game of Thrones.

Conventional television viewing is dying out, and streaming and on-demand programming is rising from the ashes, with Netflix dramas like House of Cards or Hemlock Grove -- these shows have no limits. And be honest, how many times have you just really wanted to hear Viki or Dorian say to each other, "f__k you"? There's only so many knock-off weasel words like "heck" or "butt" I can tolerate when we all know that Blair or Téa just wanted to kick each other's ass.

In real drama -- as in real life -- people curse, they have sex, they do drugs, they take off their clothes, and they don't always stay completely under their covers. OLTL facing this new horizon may be a little scary sometimes -- I felt a real electric jolt when I heard Téa casually drop the F-bomb in a recent clip and couldn't help laughing hysterically earlier today when I saw Zach Slater on AMC turn to Jesse Hubbard and solemnly intone, "holy s__t" -- but I think it is very necessary and long overdue, particularly for Llanview, a town that has always straddled the line between heaven and hell.

I want more adult, mature storylines, more diverse casts of characters; I want to see AMC's bright new generation and OLTL's older Matthew and Destiny, both of whom look adorable. I want to see what's become of Dani and Jack -- good luck, Jack -- I want to see what my Natalie is up to with Cutter Wentworth, and what Viki and Dorian are feuding over now, with the handsome young Corbin Bleu in the middle of things as ace reporter Jeffrey King.

When was the last time any of us saw a front-burner male lead of color in a major first-tier storyline all about Viki, Dorian, and the Banner on OLTL, or a front-burner lead of color on any network soap? Exactly. That's the future of soap operas, and it's here right now. Finally. Long overdue. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the sure-to-be-epic conclusion of the Two Todds saga. Man, I hope we see another "undisclosed location" in the Louisiana swamp. I want it all.

I grew up watching All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital. Then, I watched two of them go away. I wrote about it as best I could, and I moved on with my life. On Monday they're all somehow here again, and despite what the last five pages of rambling might indicate -- I still just have no idea what to say. It's a miracle. It's unbelievable. I weep every time I think about it. I weep every time I see how happy these people are in their work, how their history and past is being honored, with people like Francesca James finally being welcomed home to Pine Valley, or with the simple image of Erika Slezak as Viki, opening the doors to Llanfair.

I'm going to be weeping all Monday, probably all week. Maybe all year, I don't know. It's just too big for me. And I had to come back and tell you how much I love that this crazy thing is happening and how much I love all of you.

I do not know who your new Two Scoopers are; I just know they are not me, struggling to get this out before Saturday midnight ever, ever (ever) again. I wish them all the best, and given Dan's incessant (and much appreciated) cajoling, I may in fact try to return to write from time to time, or do another edition of Soap Central Live. Mostly, though, I just want to be there, like you are, on Monday when these shows roll out and these worlds and people come back.

I always said that the most important thing about letting these shows go was preserving the idea at the center of serialized drama -- the sense that these homes and these families we held so dear were continuing on, that their world would continue on, even if we couldn't see it, even if we didn't know where they were. I felt that a living history that could showcase a black heroine in 1968, or a middle-class prostitute in 1978, or a gay teenager in 1992 was too powerful, too strange, too fierce to die. I needed to believe they kept on. OLTL's finale did that for me, as did their continuing presence on GH. In my heart, I knew they were going on. I just never believed I'd ever see it again -- not like this, anyway. Whatever becomes of it, however it turns out, the return of OLTL is an absolute miracle. And it's just too big to fit in my heart.

I never saw it coming. But it's like Allison Perkins said last January. Anyone who's ever been to Llanview should know: "Things are rarely what they appear."

All my love, and see you Monday,

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Two Scoops is an opinion column. The views expressed are not designed to be indicative of the opinions of Soap Central or its advertisers. The Two Scoops section allows our Scoop staff to discuss what might happen and what has happened, and to share their opinions on all of it. They stand by their opinions and do not expect others to share the same point of view.

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