A couple of months ago, TV Guide soap columnist Michael Logan, shattered the mirror for many loyal soap viewers by speaking the unspeakable. He alleged that the wishes and influence of fans on the disposition of characters and storylines in daytime drama is minimal, at best. In its May 9, 2000 issue, Soap Opera Digest quoted Logan as saying (among other things), "If fan campaigns worked, certain execs would be on the unemployment line. People are griping all the time and their hopes and wishes and dreams are not realized, so it's hard to say that any of it really works." When later questioned, many daytime drama execs reluctantly concurred with Logan's dismal assessment.
It has long been known that people with power over the direction of a storyline will frequently read the message boards and assess public opinion, but in the long run, it appears that the writers and honchos of our soaps have an agenda of their own to follow with little concern for or interest in what the fans want.
My mailbox is full every week with people stating that they are going to stop watching GH or OLTL or whatever soap is in question because they just can't stand where the story is going. The animosity many (especially long time) OLTL fans have with executive producer Jill Farren Phelps reflects their frustrations with how the show has been carried under her hand. Fans are very vocal and usually united (majorities being predominant) in their general opinions. For the longest time, there was a vein of frustrations that Davidsons and Rappaports seemed to be infiltrating Llanview to the point that every main character somehow had a connection to one. The breaking apart of key couples such as Cassie and Kevin (or Cassie and Andrew), Bo and Nora and now Antonio and Andy (even if by remote) are considered to be travesties by many. Even more so, the firings of favorite actors such as Stephen Markle (Mel) and Laura Koffman (Cassie) "for the sake of the story" have left fans cold. The departures of other faves such as the ever popular Clint Ritchie (Clint), Robin Strasser (Dorian) and the recently returned Roger Howarth (Todd) were shrouded in grumbles and rumors of discontent with the handling of the show.
The outcry of fans was strongest when it appeared that veteran favorites such as Ritchie and Strasser were being constantly back burnered to make room for new blood stories, not to mention when Wortham Krimmer (Andrew), Patricia Mauceri (Carlotta) and Michael Storm (Larry) were given only token recurring roles.
We would be idiots to not understand that this is a business and of course, more than fan input must be considered when storylines are determined. Often, an actor's interests and desires are taken into consideration, especially if it is a deal breaker to the actor staying. Many heavy hitters are not above using their status as a bargaining chip to get their way as far as working with or not working with another actor or whether or not a particular romantic linking will occur. James and Kassie DePaiva (Max and Blair) specifically asked to be romantically linked and despite a history that would seem to make their coupling impossible, Max and Blair were married. Sometimes it works the other way around and an actor is given a particularly undesirable direction for their character in an effort to encourage them off the show. This is most definitely a common practice, although The Powers That Be have vehemently denied that it is so from time to time.
Certainly, if an actor wants to leave OLTL and is anxious to explore new frontiers, the fans should be willing to put their own wants aside and allow for an individual to blossom. I'm sure that Tommy Lee Jones is making a tad more money now that when he played Mark Toland on OLTL (he probably digs the equivalent of his OLTL salary out of his couch cushions every month or so). People grow and as they do, their needs change. That's a fact of life. People get bored and need to be challenged in different ways to feel fulfilled. People get fired and laid off for any number of reasons. That, too, is a fact of life. It happens and we, the fans, roll with the punches.
What I'm talking about is not the day-to-day life stuff such as described above. I'm talking about continuous, blatant disregard for the wishes of the fans, without whom there would BE no OLTL. The idea is that we watch the show, the ratings soar, the advertisers pay more for the air time and the show is a success. We don't watch the show, the ratings plummet, the commercial air time is less valuable and the show is a dud. So who's fault is it that we are treated as dispensable factors in the chain? Dr Phil McGraw, life strategist, says, "Other people will treat us the way we have taught them to treat us." We talk a good game about how we are going to quit watching if things don't take an upswing, but do we really follow through or is it just a bluff? Is it a matter of "Them" knowing that they have us hooked and making character and plotline decisions based on what best serves the needs of the OLTL corporate fat cats rather than giving a damn about what we think?
Hey, I'm hooked. I'll be the first to admit it. I'll stand in front of all of you and say, "My name is Katrina and I am a GH/OLTL addict." ("Hi Katrina.") I'm not boycotting anything and I can fuss and gripe plenty about what's happening on OLTL, but you'd better believe I'm right there glued from the "Previously on One Life to Live" to the very last "On the next One Life to Live" every single day. I'm not a slack-jawed freak woman who lays on the couch eating Whitman's chocolates, yelling for the kids to come get Mama's Pryin' Bar to hoist me up off the furniture to go pee between commercials. I am fairly intelligent, college educated and shower every day. I watch the show because, overall, I think it's great entertainment.
It's a matter of familiarity, not desperation. Some of these characters I've known longer than my husband, my children, my FIRST husband or my best friends. When I started watching, Kennedy was still president (for a few months to go, anyway), music came on vinyl, no one owned a pc and you rented your phone from Ma Bell. Larry and Meredith were the beautiful people in town and Jim Craig ran Llanview Hospital with a gentle, yet firm hand. Vince was the cutest, sweetest cop on the beat and Joe and Viki were the King and Queen of Llanview. I was VERY young, mind you. These people are a part of my past and I'm sure will be a part of my future, regardless. It's like a book that might get boring for a chapter or two and might have a few characters that are blah, but it never stops having a page to turn and will always pick up eventually. ABC knows this mentality exists amongst viewers and they depend on it faithfully. I'll freely admit that I am part of the problem, but I'm enjoying the ride, no matter how much I complain.
Does fan input really matter? In the long run, who knows? Maybe it helps; maybe it just helps us feel as though we have done our part. My advice to you is if you have a cause and you feel it in your bones, then keep writing those letters and calling that comment line. Remember, if you want to contact OLTL, you do so by writing them at:
ONE LIFE TO LIVE
77 West 66th Street
New York, NY 10023
The good news is that this could all be a depressing ruse and the Powers That Be could be hanging onto our every word. Y'think?