Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Save This Soap" Challenge

A few months back, after reading a piece I wrote about what I would have done to try and save Guiding Light, had I been in charge, a poster challenged me to lay out plans for how I'd try to save All My Children. Robert was only kidding when he posed the challenge, but it's been on my mind, ever since. After all, I grew up watching All My Children. In fact, I actually watched the very first episode of AMC, right next to my grandmother, who was my caretaker, and who loved a good story.

For starters, let me lay this on the line: All My Children, as it exists today, is virtually unwatchable. It's a mess. If my grandmother were alive today it would break her heart to see the train wreck this show has become. And, really, there's no good reason for it. They still seem to have a decent budget. There are still several legacy characters around. In fact, they've even brought back some classic characters in the last few years, only to waste the actors' talents. Yes, I'm talking about Angie and Jessie. A great deal of noise was made about the return of Debbi Morgan and Darnell Williams, and the first two weeks they were back were great fun. It's now two years later, and there really is no evidence that bringing back these key characters was anything but a publicity stunt. Debbi Morgan is, perhaps, the most under-used actress on daytime television. Even the long-suffering Colleen Zenk Pinter (Barbara, ATWT), who is tragically under-appreciated, gets more to do than Debbi Morgan. But, I digress. This is supposed to be about how I'd try and save the sinking ship, so I'll get on with it.

History, History, History

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: soap fans know their history. People who have watched AMC for ten or 20 or 30 years know who is who, what happened when, and why their favorite characters behave in certain ways. If something's broken, it might be a good idea to visit a time when things were running smoothly, and examine how things have changed. The answer probably lies in the show's history.

It's all well and good to bring back characters such as Jessie and Angie, but only if they're connected to other characters we care about, and only if there are interesting, engaging story lines in place in which to involve them. Looking at the current AMC character list, three names jump out at me as Pine Valley indispensibles:
Adam Chandler
Erica Kane
Tad Martin
These three are lynchpins. Drama tends to revolve around them. Stories develop around their work, their relationships, their family lives. If you can stand to watch AMC today, though, there's very little going on in any of their lives to really bother caring about. The whole "Stuart has been murdered!" thing has been a huge failure. For one thing, no one wanted sweet, inocuous, comic-relief-on-legs Stuart to die. Stuart gave David Canary some balance on the show. Fans resent the fact that the character has been killed off, and the so-called murder mystery was never even an interesting one. Erica? Well, really, who the hell cares what she's doing? She's been relegated to being a bit-player in The Further Stupid and Pointless Adventures of Kendall and Zach. And don't get me started on Tad. Seriously...I do NOT want to go there.
What these characters - Adam, Erica and Tad - need is a good dose of... (drumroll, please) - Brooke English.
Yeah, I said it. Brooke fucking English.

I freely admit it; Brooke was always one of my favorite AMC characters. She had chutzpuh. She was the only woman who ever gave Erica Kane a real run for her money. She was also the only woman who ever tamed Adam Chandler for longer than ten minutes, and the first to ever make him show himself as anything other than a monster. And it was Brooke who basically ushered Tad from bad boy status to responsible adult. In my opinion, AMC was never better than during the golden era of Brooke and Erica at each other's throats, Brooke and Adam wrestling with their passion, and Brooke and Tad forging a friendship that would withstand a bad marriage, a child, and all sorts of adversity.

When Brooke English was written off of All My Children, and her exit made so uneventful that if you blinked you missed it, a big piece of an already-weary animal died.

Push The Freaking Envelope, Why Don't You?

Let's say you've got a burning building. Flames have overtaken the structure. Smoke is everywhere. There's no water source in sight. The only thing at your disposal is a dumpster full of soil. You could sit around, do nothing and wait for the flames to completely destroy the building, or you could dump the soil on the fire and hope it will put out the flames. Does soil put out fire? I have no idea. But I do know that trying something beats a blank. And, really, if you were to pour soil on the fire and the fire continued to burn, it wouldn't be as if you made matters any worse - it would have burned down th house, anyhow. Throwing soil on that fire would be a win-win situation; if the fire is extinguished, you're a hero for saving the day, if it continues to burn, at least you know you've made every effort to avert complete disaaster.

As I've said, AMC is unwatchable. The show is in deep trouble and, at this point, I think drastic measures need to be taken to save it. The show can't really get much worse (unless they start filming in Peapack) so why not try something that's never really been done before? Something that television has almost completely shied away from? Why not take a chance, push the envelope, go out on the proverbial limb? (Okay, I'll stop it with the inspirational cliches.) The worst that can happen is that the show gets cancelled which, as it exists at this moment, would be no great loss.

If I were the woman in charge at AMC, as it exists right now, I'd throw away all conventions and tackle a subject that's one of daytime's last tabboos: domestic violence with a female batterer and a male victim.

The Story

AMC has already paired Adam and Annie, and even married them off in a quickie ceremony. I don't paticularly like Annie as a character, but she's already there, and I'm assuming I'd have to make use of the tools I've been given. Adam is known to be ruthless and brutal, but he has never been physically abusive. I don't see Adam as someone who'd ever raise a hand against a woman - he'll tear Erica to shreds in the boardroom, humiliate Brooke or Eliza in public, but he wouldn't hit them. It's not his style and, believe or not, Adam has a certain code of ethics. I don't see physical violence against a woman fitting into his code. Annie, on the other hand, seems to be a woman with no such code. I can believe an Annie who would become violent against her Annie who is capable of losing her temper at the drop of a hat and becoming physically abusive. I can also see Adam Chandler as someone who would let shame and humiliation keep him from making his plight public and getting the help he needs and is entitled to in such a situation.

I'm not talking about an isolated incident, or a little slap. I'm talking about developing a story line around a relationship that is built on full-on, blatant, unprovoked violence perpetrated by a woman against a powerful man.

Such a story line would be nothing short of groundbreaking for daytime television. It would enable the writers to explore a whole new side of Adam Chander. How does a man such as Adam Chandler handle himself in the world of business when, at home, he's being victimized? How does he deal with his children? How does he explain his injuries? Do people assume he's been drinking, or that he's entered the early stages of dementia and become clumsy? If he's too ashamed to get help or tell anyone his terrible secret, does he end up taking out his anger on others? Who? And, finally, who will come into Adam's life and recognize that something is not right?

Enter Brooke English

Who knows Adam better than Brooke? It's not difficult to imagine that Brooke, after having been gone for a few years, would come back and recognize, right away, that something is very, very wrong with Adam...and that he's clearly hiding something. If there's one true thing about Brooke English it's this: she never, ever minds her own business. When it comes to Adam, especially, she's virtually incapabale of butting out. What better way to bring back an audience favorite than with a completely fresh, new, challenging story line, a plot that hasn't been used to death, and which revolves around a character she would naturally gravitate to?

Not only would a DV story with Adam as the victim provide David Canary with a chance to stretch his thespian wings further, and add depth to Adam; it would provide Julia Barr's Brooke with a meaty plot to become engaged in as Brooke returned to Pine Valley. It would also naturally involve other characters, especially legacy characters, in a variety of ways:
Erica - By turns Adams best friend and his worst enemy, she'd want to help him, especially if it meant getting back at Annie
Tad - Brooke's ex-husband and dear friend...he hates Adam, but he has a strong sense of justice
J.R. - Shares a love/hate relationship with his dad - does he seize the opportunity to pounce on Adam's weakness and take over his business dealings?
Scott - Has feelings for Annie, but loves his uncle
Angie - The doctor most likely to notice Adam's physical symptoms
Jessie - Like Tad, he hates Adam, but he's a cop with strong convictions about right and wrong

Nothing To Lose
If I were in charge at AMC, I'd not only go foreward with this story line, I'd go full steam ahead. No holds barred. There is nothing to lose at this point, and everything to gain. As with any big "issue" story line on a soap, the ripple effect would be palpible. We've all seen how a story line about alcoholism or cancer or child abuse has far-reaching effects. When soaps have tackled these difficult but important topics in the past, viewers have been forced to sit up and notice. AMC did this successfully years ago, when Cindy (played beautifully by none other than Ellen Wheeler) lived with and eventually died of AIDS.
Adam is the perfect character to for this story line. It's a a tabboo subject that should be assigned to a character who seems to be the most unlikely for it to involve, a character who seems completely in control of his life, and in control of the lives of others. Some people might not like this story line but I can guarantee it would not be boring. Daytime television has not seen this before, and it could just be the shot int he arm AMC needs to get back on track.
It's a sinking ship, All My Children. Toss it a couple of life lines, ABC: start with Julia Barr, and keep going with a story line that pushes boundaries, provokes discussion, and forces people to tune in for something completely different.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves


Robert said...

Awesome idea, Lana! This is exactly the sort of story soap writers like Agnes Nixon or Doug Marland would create: A topical story that would involve half the show's cast, and allow each character's involvement come out of genuine character traits rather than "story for story's sake."

Unfortunately, I can see Brian Frons thinking, "Hmm, how can I get Erica making out with Ryan at some point in this story? And is there a way to turn it into a Kendall & Zach story along the way?"

Simone said...

Well, Rebecca Budig is back and that's as good a reason as any for me to start watching again.

Once I do, I'll be sure to chime in with my own ideas. Great ideas, though. Now if those asshats would just do a few of these, we'd be in like Flynn.

Now that Pratt's gone, I'm stupidly optimistic I'll get some Greenlee/Kendall/Binks goodness like back in the days.

Snapper said...

I watched some of AMC last week and, I have to say,if they don't just get Ricky Paull Goldin off that show soon, there will be a plague of spontaneous vomiting among viewers. His character is is so awful and whiney, and the scary thing is, they're obviously setting him up to be the inheritor of the Martin legacy. Joe Martin basically said as much in his "Your mother and I are leaving Pine Valley" speech, which I found truly heart-breaking.