By now, you probably know that big changes are underway at One Life to Live. Dena Higley has been named the new head writer and replaces Michael Malone whose contract is expiring. As a former Malone cheerleader, I applauded his earlier work during his tenure from 1991-96, when he even earned an Emmy for Best Writing. However, during this stint, you all know that I feel he has made some major blunders along the way. Whether or not he was influenced by any executives above him, Malone just didn't pen stories that viewers connected with. In all of my years (almost 20!) of soap viewing, including OLTL, I cannot recall the show being as almost unwatchable as it has been lately, despite my trying to find the bright spots within each hour. Believe it or not, but there was one day this week that I used the fast-forward button through the entire hour and still knew what was happening without actually hearing the dialogue. Isn't that ashame? Because I feel obligated to watch the show consistently because of my responsibility in writing this column, I rarely do that, but I tried it one day just to see if I would actually be able to watch the next episode and still follow along. Guess what? It was a piece of cake! Malone is quoted in the most recent issue of Soap Opera Digest as saying, "Llanview will always be one of my favorite fictional landscapes...I wish all who live there every good fortune." And I sincerely wish the best for Mr. Malone as well. Even though I may not have liked many of the stories in the two years of his recent writing, I am a huge fan of his talent and capabilities.
So, in preparation for this column, I have been engaged in a conversation with one of this column's loyal readers, Jeremy, a busy student yet ardent OLTL fan. See what we discussed in regards to the big Antonio reveal and to his creative wishes when Higley takes over the writing reigns.
Ryan: So, what did you think of the big reveal that Antonio is really a Santi and not a Vega? Didn't you think that history was rewritten yet again just for the sake of connecting someone, anyone to this new family Malone seems intent on forcing down our throats?
Jeremy: I am glad that you asked me that, Ryan, because I have really been having a hard time dealing with this so-called revelation. From the moment the name Santi was uttered in Llanview, it seems as if Michael Malone has been trying to connect SOMEONE that was well established to this family so that we would -- what? -- care about them? First it was Dorian. Don't get me wrong, Robin Strasser is a WONDERFUL actress, but she has been far too abaused by this show to finally get linked to another family. Why her? And then the news that Adriana was a daughter to Dorian that she gave up while Ambassador to Mendorra? If I recall correctly, when Cord, Debra, and the rest went to Mendorra on their storyline to help Dorian, she told Cord that she had been doing nothing but working with the government to help maintain a good lifestyle for an ever agitated country. Where would she find time to "copulate" with Manuel while answering to the President of two countries? Could [Antonio's parentage] be the reason Dorian hired Carlotta as her housekeeper? To give her step son's fake mother a good job? Oh, how sweet of Dorian!
As far as Malone shoving this family down our throats, which he does SO WELL every day, I really think he needs to get a clue and have the Santi family blown up at some charity event (the one coming up would do the trick) or have them all catch a horrible case of West Nile Virus from burying bodies close to the lost city of Eterna on Llantano Mountain. And just for an additional thought: if Malone wanted us to care about this family from the very beginning, why not have Viki care about them? Her caring worked WONDERS for Natalie, didn't it? I mean, she is one of my favorite characters on the show and why? Because she is the daughter of Clint and Viki. So Dorian had a daughter by Manuel, who cares? So Adriana is Antonio's brother, who cares? So Jessica is falling for Tico, who cares? (See the pattern?) So this is the new One Life To Live. Who cares??
Ryan: I do think that you hit on one point...just because Viki is vaguely connected to a storyline or a character does not make it instantly likeable. Don't get me wrong, it could and SHOULD be a given that any story with Viki in it is a winner. But I didn't feel that way with her heart transplant story, even though I thought I would, and I certainly don't feel that way with her miniscule role in the Love Shack story. At least we are bound to be saved from the Santi mess with the revelation that Malone is going to be replaced as Head Writer in the next month. If you were coming in and making changes, what would be the first three urgent areas that need attention in terms of story and/or casting?
Jeremy: I think that the first thing I would take care of is the whole Santi storyline. No surprise there. Within a month of taking over as Head Writer, I would have Tico and Sonia on their way out of Llanview. Tico would meet his untimely death at the hands of his new wife, Jessica. Jessica would be playing a role in order to gain information about the whole Santi motives. After growing increasingly paranoid due to the drugs that Tico is slipping into her morning coffee because Tico is no fool and knows what his wife is up to, she would come downstairs one night to investigate a noise and, with gun in hand, shoot the figure who is Tico. Jessica sees the ghost of Mitch Laurence coming to claim the soul of Tico, but before he slips away, he says, "Everything I ever said was a lie." Turns out that Sonia knows the truth and that Antonio is NOT a Santi! Sonia and Tico were holding Cristian prisoner in a vault and the ONLY way Carlotta could get him back was to lie to Antonio about his parentage. That way, Tico could run the family without taking the blame. And to end this whole story, while on trial for the murder of Tico, Jessica has Larry discover that she was being drugged. Sonia is called to testify against Jessica. She is on the stand and we see a gun pointed at her and it's fired. Sonia is shot in the head and dies. Is it a coincidence that Cristian shows up at the end of the episode? Maybe, but Police Commissioner Bo, upon investigating Sonia's murder, makes a comment: "Should I care about Sonia and Tico's murders? Why should I? No one in Llanview liked them, and I doubt anyone anywhere else did either! Case closed." And he winks as a sign to ALL the viewers who are sick of this.
On to the next problem: Kevin/Kelly/Baby Chandler. Kevin needs to grow up and act like an adult instead of the spoiled little brat he has become. Turn him back into the son that Joe Riley would have been proud of, a son that Clint can see himself in, and a son that treats people with the love and respect that his mother does. And I would bring back the Kelly from the 90's. Not so much in the form of Gina Tongoni, but the spunk and the fire and the head strong woman that ran The Sun. I mean, Kelly going insane? Haven't we already seen this with Blair and Addie? Are they going to put Kelly into some psych ward or something? I would quickly put this story in rehab and sign a bill of release in 2 weeks so I could start over.
And last of all, the Love Project has run out of love with me. Viki would see that all the kids have tried their best so she passes them with a C and hires Lord Construction to build the community center. Julie would disappear, Mark would go away, Shannon would transfer to Indonesia, and the other kids would leave town. No more stripping, no more 'Mark's gay!', and no more stupid storylines. Those would be among the first orders of business because I think story is what drives a show above all else.
Ryan: Character-driven stories is what every soap opera should be about! Fortunately, Higley is quoted in Digest as saying, "I'm passionate about writing character-driven story, and that's what OLTL is all about." I have very little knowledge about her 19-year tenure at Days of Our Lives as a staff writer, but any new writer must respect any show's history and character relationships. Rewriting history and destroying characters are the two biggest mistakes any writer can make, and we're witnessing first hand what happens when a writer does that. As you mention, Jeremy, Kevin and Kelly have been destroyed as characters; their former personalities are completely erased. They are just shades of their former selves. And as for rewriting history with the Antonio revelation, well, I hope Higley can dig her way out of that one. Your scenario is as good as any I'd come up with. If a show can pass off underground cities, time travel, visits to Heaven, it sure can create a plausible scenario to explain why people lied to Antonio!
My wish list would be even more specific:
1. Bring more ethnicity to the show. As I mentioned in an earlier column, Agnes Nixon helped create this show under the premise that Llanview was a melting pot of diversity. Angel Square helped create that feeling again in the 90's, but since then, it's been just backstabbers and schemers with the absence of any minority population. Put R.J. and Evangeline in a front-burner triangle with John McBain. Throw in Natalie to make it even more complicated. But there is certainly room on that show for more Latino or African American characters! Add some diversity.
2. Focus on the characters we love and who have history with the show. David and Dorian are keepers. Viki is the heart of the show, so give her a romantic lead worthy of her attention. Todd and Blair as a couple of schemers is far more interesting and fun to watch than when they are running the same circles around one another as they lie and cheat. Bring back Tina to interact with her family. As Jeremy suggests, eliminate the Santis, get rid of that Love Shack crew, and only bring on Marcie's family if it is going to serve for a story that will involve more cast members than just a select few.
3. Write stories that utilize history and don't recreate it.
I think those three wishes are not only fair but also required. Look at the great strides All My Children is making in the ratings! Just a few weeks ago, it tied with General Hospital in the overall household ratings to be the number two show, just behind The Young and the Restless. In the meantime, OLTL struggles down towards the bottom of the ratings. Why? Mostly because the stories drag on, they involve characters we don't find interesting, and the pace is just completely wrong. AMC is telling compelling stories, using their actors effectively, and showcasing the best stories every day. OLTL would be wise to watch a week of those shows to see what great storytelling is about.
I'd love to hear from each of you what one, single wish you would make for the show!
Enjoy the week,