On July 26th, a new team of writers ascended to the helm at All My Children. It's entirely possible that some fans have no idea that there's been a change. After all, unless you keep up with these things via The AMC Pages or closely examine the credits as they scroll on by, it's not the easiest thing to notice. Or maybe it is.
More than anyone, I think that I'm a pretty good gauge on AMC's lifeline. Since I write daily recaps Monday through Friday, I can tell how interesting the show is by the length of my summaries. For a while, the recaps topped out at almost two pages. There were times when the summaries were barely a page and a half. Since Dimitri's death back in July, I don't think that a day has gone by when the recap has been less than two pages. If you were to use this as a measuring stick, then AMC is better than it's been in quite some time.
But it's also worse than ever.
It's natural to assume that when a new writing team takes over on a show that they'd want to immediately put their personal touches on various storylines. Erica's scarred face storyline came to a quick head and now she's back and better than ever. Dimitri was promptly written out, although that was more contractual than anything having to do with the writers. Then came word that Amelia Marshall (Belinda) and Ara Celi were both being released from the show; their contracts would not be renewed. New characters have been added---Greenlee Smythe (played by Rebecca Budig) was introduced. And, of course, there's Finola Hughes (Alexandra Devane). Not to be outdone, after weeks of being missing in action, Ruth Martin was actually spotted on several occasions.
It's virtually impossible to please every viewer with every storyline, but right now AMC has something to offer everyone. If you like tales of young love, there's Scott and Becca. For Erica fans, Erica's found a new lover---even if she says she's not in love with him. There's a whole lot of mystery surrounding Dimitri's death and his new bride. Triumph and tragedy all struck at once for Tad and Dixie. Dixie defied the odds by becoming pregnant, but sadly her unborn child will never get to take its first step. Mateo and Hayley's back and forth bickering has produced heartache and furor. Numerous fans have dropped me a line to ask where they need to line up to swat Mateo across the head with a newspaper. Don't forget the offbeat humor---like Amanda's scam to get her parents to concede to a honeymoon and Tad's morning breakfast routine.
We've seemingly covered all the bases of emotion so that's gotta mean that things are on the upswing. You'll get no argument from me on that. As with anything, you need to make sure that you're building on a solid foundation. That's where things get tricky. By dismissing prominent cast members, the new writing team is shaking up an integral part of the show. In past columns I've mentioned my personal views on bringing in oodles of new characters only to have them flop and leave town. Kit Fisher and Camille Hawkins (who was killed) come to mind.
Granted Belinda Keefer has not had a prominent storyline in quite some time. The character helped defend Brooke when she was on trial for murder. Before that she battled demons from her past when her runaway mother returned to town. Now she's involved with Adrian Sword (portrayed by Mathew St. Patrick) and the two have come quite a long way. Unfortunately, it looks like Belinda is ready for a long-term relationship and Adrian just isn't there. There's absolutely no reason---no justification to get rid of Belinda. A few weeks back it was mentioned that Belinda has a half-sister, Ella. Surely this was a hint that there are even more possibilities for future storylines. Without Belinda, where will that leave Adrian? Another question comes to mind as well: Why does AMC have such a hard time casting and then keeping its minority roles? I've spoken only briefly to Amelia Marshall at a charity softball game, but from what I've heard through other online friends, she is truly a class act. I also had a chance to chat with Mathew St. Patrick and he too seems very nice. So it's even more upsetting to see that such nice people are getting treated so unfairly. Of course, St. Patrick will be remaining on the show.
Also leaving is Ara Celi. Many viewers will not care that the actress is leaving simply because they dislike Raquel. That's one of my biggest gripes---the inability of some viewers to differentiate between a character and a performer. That, though, will be the subject of a future commentary. Raquel has come a long way since she first breezed into town. She was a manipulator and an all-around troublemaker. When the scaffolding fell on top of her, she became rather helpless and pitiful. It seemed like a perfect ploy to lure Mateo back into her life. It took much soul searching, but Raquel was finally able to let go of Mateo and make plans to move on with her life. Then suddenly Mateo and Hayley separate and Raquel has decided that she really can't live with Mateo. I see this as a cop out by the writers. Raquel could definitely have moved on with her life. There really aren't any single men in town right now that would be suitable mates, but someone could have been added. Or perhaps Raquel could have been the exception and actually been happy by herself. As Erica once said, not everyone needs a man in their life to be happy. Instead of exploring possibilities, the writers have opted to revert Raquel to her scheming. Everyone knows that schemers only last but so long on the soaps...
AMC will have seen its cast shrink by three stars by the end of the summer---Michael Nader (Dimitri), Marshall, and Celi. Several new faces have been added, but are they really enough to take the place of these three established characters? With the way that newly introduced characters have flopped recently, AMC should want to do whatever they can to keep their existing faces. If viewers are tuning out when new characters are added, it should make sense that these same viewers would not want to see familiar faces disappear. It becomes too easy to look for a way out of a problem rather than fix it. Viewers don't like a storyline? End the plot and kill off a character. Viewers don't seem to care for a new performer? Recast the role. The character of Pierce was played by three different performers. In the end, viewers were alienated by all the different actors playing the role and Pierce was forced to leave Pine Valley. It is important to keep in touch with viewer reaction. The Internet is a great place for that, but all too often the executives overreact in their attempts to make everyone happy. Everyone knows the old adage about not being able to please all of the people all of the time.
I have never written for a television show, movie, or play. I can only begin to imagine the thought power that this would require. But as a fan of AMC, I feel that I am obligated and even qualified to give the new writing team a few pieces of advice. Hold on to the talent you have; you don't want to burn bridges. Stand tall when you create a storyline. Don't bow to outside pressure or give up when writers' block hits. Don't alienate the fans---but don't feel required to give them everything that they ask for. Viewers know what they want, but what they want may not be best for the show. And finally, do continue to provide us with that one hour per day of pure joy and entertainment. It's a pleasant addiction that keeps us coming back for more. If the writers can do this, I'll promise not to complain about having to write longer recaps every day.
Dan J Kroll