Is Mercury in retrograde? I must ask, because I simply cannot fathom what else accounts for the absolute madness running rampant behind the scenes of ABC Daytime. I discussed at length the heartbreaking news of Phil Carey's departure from OLTL in my last column. Here we are, two weeks later, facing the somber reality that Renee Elise Goldsberry has taped her final scenes and will not be renewing her contract with the network. While Renee possesses too much tact and professionalism to publicly discuss the details of her contract negotiations, this appears to be yet another instance where the network failed its actor and her fans. Most viewers recall that when Renee burst onto OLTL's canvas in February of 2003, it was in a recurring capacity. Her immense talent and passion for her craft immediately made their mark, and Renee was placed on contract in April of that same year. She was a powerhouse publicity maker and ratings draw for ABC, and her ongoing commitment to both the character and her fans speaks for itself. When details of how Evangeline's character would be written off the show were publicly released - in that she would lapse into a coma - I simply shook my head in equal parts disbelief and expectation. In fact, this is déjà vu all over again.
Rewind to 2005, when the network ceased writing for Hillary B. Smith's Nora at a time that just so happened to coincide with contract negotiations (subsequently rendering the character in a months' long coma), and I have come to expect nothing less from this network. As I watched Renee interact with her peers onscreen last week, I realized just how little we actually know about Evangeline based upon her length of time on the canvas. Josh Griffith and Michael Malone laid a strong foundation for this character that Higley squandered and failed to cultivate. Evangeline evolved into a tennis ball of sorts, as she was bounced back and forth between the men in her life. Further, the interpersonal relationships beyond that which she shared with John were never fully fleshed out. This includes a sibling connection that initially held great promise. Todd and Evangeline fans were strung along for months on end, and teased with a potential romance that was dangled in front of their faces like a proverbial carrot. Once again, the network loses a star talent and OLTL viewers receive no payoff.
Renee is incredibly gifted and her future will definitely be laden with the best of what life has to offer. So as in the case of Dan Gauthier and Heather Tom, our loss will most certainly result in someone else's gain. I can't help but chuckle at how foolish the network looks, in that three former ABC actors - Renee, Dan and Heather - are vying for Emmys for work put forth during their respective tenures on OLTL. That, perhaps, speaks louder than anything. As if the news about Renee wasn't sobering enough, viewers were hit with a double whammy and were sweating over whether Trevor St. John and ABC would reach a deal after hitting a contract stalemate. Fortunately, this scenario had a happier ending, and fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when Trevor broke the news on his website that he and the network finally reached a compromise. While I am incredibly delighted that he is staying put and keeping Todd in Llanview, this does not erase the serious problems occurring backstage at ABC Daytime. So please write and be heard. If you are fuming over Renee's departure, reach out to the network and express your outrage and disappointment. The door is open for her return, so communication from fans is vital. If you are thrilled that Trevor is staying with the show, network execs need to hear from you as well.
We have reached a place within the soap medium where contracts mean less than ever before. In fact, some actors on recurring status are working as much or more than those currently retained on contract. A prime example that contract status does not guarantee story is glaringly evident within the ongoing lack of material provided for Hillary B. Smith. The network courted Smith in October of 2006 with a four-year deal, pursuant to a year-and-a-half of intrigue and hijinks, even going so far as to commit to a rekindling of the fan-favored Lindsay/Nora rivalry. We received a juicy reminder last week of what happens when Hillary B. Smith and Catherine Hickland connect and when their characters face off, but this story couldn't possibly unfold any slower. I have also failed to determine if a story actually exists, because there is rarely (if ever) any follow through on scenes that Lindsay and Nora share. Hillary is now four months into her new contract, and just when viewers get a taste of what feels like front-burner material for Nora, the character vanishes for days or weeks at a time. She is not the only contract actor whose story is stalled, providing a sobering reminder of how crucial it is to reach out to the network in support of your personal favorites and the show in general. So if you are a Trevor fan and want to ensure he receives quality storyline material, now is the time to weigh in and be heard.
One bright light in an ongoing sea of darkness is Forbes March. He continues to make the most of mind-numbing, recycled dialogue, and deserves serious recognition for injecting enthusiasm into the ongoing Antonio/Jess/Nash debacle. Forbes has given one-hundred percent throughout this dizzying storyline, and he is the sole reason I won't fast-forward through most scenes involving these three characters. I especially enjoyed his interaction with Jerry ver Dorn last week, and whether the father/son dynamic that has evolved between Nash and Clint is foreshadowing or coincidence, I really enjoy watching these two fine actors work together because they just click. What didn't click was the entire courtroom scenario and subsequent fallout. The real victim here is Jamie Vega, who lost her birth mother and has now witnessed her stepmother emotionally break down in court and reject her. My heart truly broke for that little girl, and the devastated look on her face provided more drama than Jessica running from the courtroom in hysterics, getting into her car, plowing through the driving rain, and making love with Nash at the quarry. Bree and Forbes are incredibly talented and share immense chemistry, but that is not the issue. The issue is that this drawn-out storyline continues to sabotage the show and most viewers have ceased caring how it ends.
What brought me immense pleasure was seeing the multi-talented Tim Stickney back on my screen. I missed R.J.'s character terribly and genuinely enjoyed watching Stickney and Robin Strasser "dish" as their characters reconnected. Dorian and R.J. share some colorful and intense history, and this is another relationship that was conveniently forgotten with the passage of time. If ever there was any doubt that the writers have no intention of weaving Stickney back into the canvas, this was reinforced last week, which saddens me deeply. First of all, the R.J. I know would be outraged by the prospect of Jessica legally adopting Jamie - especially in light of her mental status. R.J. would fight with everything inside him and pull out his entire arsenal of tricks to prevent the adoption from happening. R.J.'s character was simply utilized as a plot device to further along the Antonio/Jess/Nash saga, as were Carlotta and Jamie Vega, and that was evident last week. It is a very sad commentary when mainstream characters are reduced to plot devices and this is exactly what transpired.
I was pleasantly surprised by my reaction to the scenes between John and Cole. The fact that Cole is the center of rivalry between Starr and her adversaries is pure fast-forward material for me. Yet watching John and Cole interact was enjoyable, and provided a refreshing change of pace for John's character. We have seen John dwell in such an agonizing state for so long, and if the writers intend on taking his character in another direction, this is a great way to do so. I also enjoyed the scenes between Cole and Marcie, which further reinforces that pairing younger actors with actors of varying ages makes for the best story. Though I have not warmed to this incarnation of Marty, the scenes between John and Marty were invigorating, mainly because both characters broke free from their respective spheres of darkness and actually enjoyed themselves in a different environment. I am not saying the writers should pursue a romantic involvement between the two, but I enjoy what each has brought to the other's character and this caught my attention. How much more entertaining is OLTL when characters are actually having fun from time to time?
Some of my favorite scenes last week were shared by Kassie DePaiva and Kristen Alderson. The bond between Blair and Starr is as tumultuous and intense as that of real life mothers and their daughters. What I enjoyed about last week's interactions is that we saw both characters interface on a deeper level. I found these scenes tender, honest and a refreshing break from the screaming matches in which they have recently engaged. I must also give Eddie Alderson a huge round of applause for the effort he has put forth these past few months, with last week being no exception. Often overshadowed on the canvas by his dynamo of a big sister, Eddie has matured into a fine young actor and one very capable of working meaty storyline material. I wish the writers would further develop the emotional trauma that Matt is experiencing as a result of the fire, because such an event would truly be devastating for a child to experience - especially in light of the fact that he is old enough to comprehend that both he and his mother were targets of a hate crime. The writers should be weaving the entire town of Llanview into the arson storyline, with Viki utilizing every available resource - including the Banner - to draw out the white supremacist faction from underground. This storyline could be a goldmine, if only it were written and executed with foresight, commitment and integrity. This is the kind of umbrella story OLTL needs in order to begin a slow crawl back to its full potential, but someone behind the scenes has fallen asleep at the wheel.
Finally, I must address an unfortunate incident that was perpetrated by a member of the written soap media and that which has left scores of readers chomping at the bit. I am referring to the erroneous and misleading headline put forth by Soap Opera Weekly on the cover of its April 24, 2007 issue, which reads as follows: "Emmy Winner Trashes Her Soap: 'It's Wrong!'" This headline targeted Erika Slezak, in response to an interview she gave within her March 2007 fan club newsletter. Erika spoke very candidly in the newsletter in a Q&A section that addressed, among other topics, a handful of issues pertaining to the show and Viki's character. It was a wonderful interview and I encourage anyone who missed it to log onto Erika's official website and enjoy the read. How pathetic that SOW conceived a disingenuous headline to use as an attention-grabber, and those responsible should hide their heads in shame. First of all, Erika Slezak is the embodiment of public restraint and polished sophistication. She possesses more class in her pinky finger than most people combined. Second, nowhere within the interview did Erika "trash" OLTL, and SOW reinforced that fact in its featured article, which consisted of nothing more than a regurgitated account of the Q&A content. Erika praised both cast and crew, reminisced of bygone times, and spoke very frankly about certain matters of great importance to her within the actual interview. She specifically addressed Higley's tendency to cross a line of decency with certain storyline material, as well as her failure to write for Viki's character. Erika never called Higley's competence into question - nor did she attack her professional credibility or personal character - and merely addressed her performance in relation to specific issues. The fact that Weekly would employ such a sleazy gimmick to lure readers and sell magazines is despicable. I have joined numerous fans in writing SOW and in demanding a retraction of that headline. Not only does Erika deserve greater respect than Weekly granted her, but the media bears a responsibility to its readers that should rise above deceptive practices and adolescent stunts.
Have a wonderful week!