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Monday, May 27, 2013

A Little Rivalry Never Hurt Anyone: My thoughts on One Life to Live so far

If I had to choose one word to describe One Life to Live 2.0 it would be “rivalry."  We have Vicki versus Dorian, Todd versus Victor, Matthew versus Destiny, The Banner versus technology, etc.  While soap rivalries are always fun, there seems to be a little too much on the canvas right now for my taste.  Everyone and everything is clashing with each other.  These conflicts have been given so much importances that they appear to trump any emotional payoff that the audience may desire.

The misstep with Victor’s reveal has been critiqued a lot already but I really can’t talk about lack of emotional payoff without discussing it.  It was a mess.  After over a year of waiting for this story to conclude, fans were treated to lackluster performances and unanswered questions.  This was the story line that had everyone watching One Life to Live during it’s final year on ABC and yet it has completely fallen flat on the online version.  The Two Todds story line itself is ridiculous and it has always been yet fans cared about it because of the emotional connections we were given.  That is what made the story good and the lack of it has made the story a miserable failure.  The end result was a bunch of plot holes and slow moving story.  I’m not sure I care if we ever find out what happened to Victor now.  If this plot was just dropped I would be fine with it.

I really enjoyed the moments we got in Thursday’s episode and hope that this was the beginning of seeing more of the stories that appeal to me.  I liked seeing Todd and Blair work together as parents of a troubled teenager back in 2011.  It seems that story may be picked up again and it should be.  One Life to Live needs more of families working together instead of against each other.

I am enjoying roommates Dani, Jeffrey, and Matthew.  The actors are all very likable and play well with each other.  I’m enjoying Dani as the the troubled lost girl type and hope that gets explored.  I want to know more about her.  What was her major in college?  Is she artistic, athletic, or bookish?  What are her desires other than drinking and ogling a shirtless Matthew?  The answer to these questions would be a nice journey for the audience to go on.  And can we get her a job at the coffee shop a la Rachel from Friends?

Jeffrey is by far the best new addition to the show.  Corban Bleu is talented, charismatic, and handsome.  The three most important qualities a soap star should possess.  He is adding class to the younger set and holding his own with the veteran actors.  I’m very interested in learning more about his character.  I think he can be the show’s next leading man.  He manages to be a good guy without being boring.  He just needs the perfect leading lady.

As for Matthew, I’m not quite sure what my thoughts are on him yet.  I like the actor but the character is spoiled, clueless, and a deadbeat.  While unfortunately there are young men like this in real life, I don’t want to see them on my soap opera.  I don’t want to root for him or even understand where he is coming from.  More One Life to Live did hint at some interesting upcoming stuff for the character so hopefully I will change my mind.

I would have enjoyed seeing Matthew and Destiny struggling together as young parents as oppose to just Destiny as a single parent.  Their arguments could have been more about trying to work with each other’s schedules to take care of their son, how they wanted to raise him, whose going to take time off work to take him to the doctor, etc.  Instead Drew seems to be a unwanted burden on both his parents.  Although Destiny is suppose to be the victim in this story line, I think the real victim is Drew.

One Life to Live does have a pretty good single mother story line with Natalie.  We get to see her at work, trying to have a social life, picking up the dry-cleaning, grabbing a cup of coffee, cautiously starting to date after a broken heart, and pining for her son’s father.  These are all very relatable things for many viewers.  I wasn’t a big Natalie fan when One Life to Live was on television but the online version of this character is smart, sexy, and independent.  My only complaint is that we are not getting enough of her.  I want her to get together with bad boy Cutter and then have to struggle with her decision if John ever comes back to town.

It is nice to see Dorian and Vicki’s rivalry reignited.  Dorian’s oust from the Senate and decision to lash out to Vicki seem very in character for her.  It’s nice to see Dorian being a jerk.  I am also intrigued on what the fallout from her revenge will look like.  Vicki’s struggles with her family’s dying business are realistic and I’m glad that this story is being told.

Although One Life to Live has always been a darker soap (the original title was Between Heaven and Hell), it's lacking some of the humor and light elements it needs for balance.  David’s reality show is cute, Todd still gets some delightfully snarky lines, and Bo and Nora make lovely empty-nesters but the fact that the majority of the characters seem to be making war instead of love can be too much of a downer.  At least we are getting plenty of Todd and Vicki scenes to give the show some heart.

The online version of One Life to Live was suppose to be edgier and sexier.  The first episode teased at this but so far the show hasn’t delivered.  Cursing isn’t edgy.  Dani’s drug problem seems a little forgotten.  The Two Todds story line is uneven.  The seediness of Shelter just makes Blair look like a bad business woman (I’d rather it be more of a place for characters to meet and interact like Roadies was in the 1990’s).  The one love scene between Victor and Tea was really just Florenca Lozano in her underwear.  Todd and Blair are being promoted as a couple in the opening and the show’s social media but not much has happened for the former lovers.

I love the characters and the first weeks of One Life to Live have felt like they have been a lot about the characters.  This isn’t a bad thing because these are some of the greatest characters in soaps.  I do want good stories though to go along with these characters.  Right now it seems like the stories are slowly beginning.  I’m hoping that the new writers will be able to effectively speed things up and still have the characters drive the story.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they have in store for the denizens of Llanview, PA.  I know I’ll be watching.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Little Less Love in the Anytime

Prospect Park recently surprised fans of One Life to Live and All My Children with the announcement that the per week episodes were being slashed in half from four to two.  Prospect Park states this decision was based on the fact that fans were getting behind on the episodes already.  They wanted fans to be able to keep up to date on the episodes and the two episode a week format would accommodate.  This choice was made because fans were binge viewing the shows instead of watching daily.  You can read the full press release here.

Now if the two episode a week formula keeps these soaps alive, I am perfectly okay with it.  If Prospect Park found that it was more cost effective to produce less episodes, I can understand.  However the explanation we were given seems confusing.  Why would binge viewing be a bad thing for anytime television?  They wanted us to be able to watch the shows anytime right?  It seems restricting viewership to “day of” isn’t any different than how television is watch.  It was my understanding that the new online medium was suppose to throw that notion out the window.

The viewer solution to the getting behind on a show is typically marathoning many episodes in one sitting.  As I stated in a previous article, I watched All My Children in this manner on the weekend.  Why not release the episodes in a block instead?  Let viewers watch them all at once and give them time to watch them again.  This concept worked successfully for Netflix with the online show House Of Cards. 

These soaps are designed differently than House Of Cards though.  They are going to have much more episodes.  They are also very character driven with less plot.  They need fans to get attached to the characters and get in the habit of watching the shows.  I’m not sure if two hours a week will accomplish this.  If there are gaps between episodes, then viewers may forget about the shows.  Prospect Park wants us to fill the gaps with the opposite show if we are only watching one of the soaps but I’m not sure that will happen.

Viewers who do marathon viewings of the shows will have to set aside less time to do this with the two episodes a week so this could be a good thing for them.  I am curious though as to whether the plot structure of these shows would work for the hour/two episodes a week.  Although the pace of the shows are faster and it feels that a lot happens in just one episode, the actual plots themselves don’t particularly unfold fast.  Elements dangle in the background awhile before reveal.  The way these stories unfold may have to be adjusted.

While Prospect Park states this decision is based on viewership patterns, there is a lingering feeling that money may be the bigger issue.  Prospect Park did not just revive One Life to Live and All My Children because they are major soap fans and thought it would be fun.  They wanted to create online programming that would have a huge fan following and generate revenue for them.  This change in episode count raises some concerns about the profitability of these shows.  It is of course better to reduce the number of episodes if that is what it takes to keep the shows in production.

I get the impression that Prospect Park may have also made the same mistake that ABC Daytime did with Katie.  It seems they may have spent too much upfront making it difficult for the shows to recoup the costs.  Both All My Children and One Life to Live have been on Hulu’s top ten list since the debuted.  I don’t know what that means numbers wise but they are generating viewer traffic for Hulu.  However it seems that traffic may not be enough for profit to be made.

It appears the real culprit in this situation may be just doing too much in too little time.  Reviving the shows was a huge undertaking.  The shows had to start from scratch which isn’t a bad thing when looking to give shows a facelift but it had to have cost a lot.  With a deadline set, they also had to put in a lot of work to pull off these relaunches.  All My Children actress Jill Larson paints a good picture of this in her facebook posting which can be read here.

One Life to Live and All My Children are pretty good shows but are they as good as they could be?Taking a few steps back and a few deep breaths might not be a bad thing.  However, I’m not sure I agree with Prospect Park’s decision to reduce the episodes so quickly.  I think there are other options that would have been better such as releasing the episodes in blocks or just keeping them available on Hulu for free longer. I don’t know if the two episode a week plan will have the effect that Prospect Park is looking for.  We’ll all have to anxiously watch, wait, and see what happens.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Like a (Soap) Virgin: Are the One Life to Live and All My Children reboots appealing to new viewers?

Two weeks ago TOLN made soap opera history with the launch of the online versions of One Life to Live and All My Children. I was among the many fans that started setting their alarms early to watch the first episodes.  Both shows had a very good couple of weeks and audience reviews have been favorable. (You can read more about that here.)

The shows have had their critics though. Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times is one of those individuals.  His review of the soaps was pretty scathing to say the least. (link) While it is obvious that Ganzlinger is not nor ever has been a soap fan, I don’t think his harsh criticism should be totally dismissed.  His hate for the shows did seem to be rooted more in an odd dislike for the housewives that he stero-typically assumed were the only viewers of these programs.  However, I think under the vile he spewed there were some good points that were made.  Most importantly that the shows as they are may not appeal to new viewers.  I believe the shows deserve to have a more caring critique than the one Genzlinger provided.  

My viewing experiences were different for each show.  I am a long time fan of One Life to Life and decided to watch it daily.  I like how the show felt like it was taking off where it left us and had a feel that it had never been off the air.  The changes are easy for me to adjust to and everything seems very recognizable to me.  With All My Children, I am a new viewer and I decided to watch in a marathon during the weekend.  I think this worked best as I could spend two hours learning the show instead of only half an hour at a time.  I would recommend it to those unfamiliar with the shows.

As an All My Children novice, it was a little confusing at first to get the hang of who’s who and how everyone relates.  I do wish that TOLN would have some better guidance for new viewers.  I am not a fan of exposition typically but when it is done right it can be very helpful. Some of the gaps did get filled in from one episode to the next but vague references to him, her, that day, and five years ago were a little frustrating for me.  The five year jump for All My Children did make it a little easier for me to feel as though little historical knowledge was needed for some story lines though.

While I am knowledgable about One Life to Live’s characters and history, after being a new viewer of All My Children it was clear that that some of the stories were probably only understandable by those who were already familiar with the series.  I doubt a lot of the Two Todds storyline makes sense to those who have never watched.  I think having a narrator for the first episode as One Life To Live did on its last television airing would have been a good idea.  The show could have used a voiceover telling us “this is the story of Victoria Lord Gordon Riley Burke Buchanan etc. and this is her brother Todd...”  This approach would have been helpful for All My Children as well.

I had originally thought that having the character names in the opening credits of All My Children seemed silly but it helped me learn who is who.  This probably helped long time viewers as well as with some of the new characters.  I think adding this information to the official website would also be useful.

I would really like to see TOLN worked on is its website.  For a network that is producing online programing you would think that it would have a better website. Currently the website is just links to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Hulu.  The site needs a lot more meat to it than that.  There should be cast and character bios available so that new fans can easily learn about the shows.  They could have a few of the actors or characters write a blog.  Several actors already have blogs that would be easy to move over or link to the site.  There should also be a message board and place to give viewer feedback.  I would love for fans to be able to get information on the shows' fashions so they know how they can look like their favorite soap character.  It could also have a list of the songs in each episode complete with links to where fans can buy the music and learn more about the artists.  In a nutshell, the website should be a one stop shop for everything One Life to Live and All My Children.  Don’t make the fans go elsewhere for this information!

The Friday episodes of More One Life to Live and More All My Children are a great way that TOLN is providing some viewer education.  At first, I wasn’t sure if I would want to watch these episodes every week.  The first ones left me bored outside of the actor and executive producer interviews.  The most recent ones though felt truly interactive.  Fans got to ask questions and we got a nice look at some behind the scenes stuff.  It felt like I was watching a DVD extra instead of a talk show.

Being an experienced soap viewer it was easy for me to get caught up on the happenings of Pine Valley.  I am concerned that the shows could have been a bit hard to get into for newer viewers.  Behaving as if soap fandom is an exclusive club for members only isn’t the way to go.  I feel it is important to the survival of soap operas to look at how soaps can appeal to new viewers.  The new medium opens up a lot of possibilities for the genre.  Being online isn’t just a fall back plan for programs that television networks carelessly cancel.  It is an opportunity to refresh the genre and bring in new viewership.

For me, soap viewership has primarily been done via VCRs, DVRs, and websites.  I have always been an anytime viewer.  Getting me to watch a show anytime is easy.  It’s those who are not already soap fans that will be the challenge.  Do I think that these shows are appealing to viewers unfamiliar with the genre?  I'm not sure if they are but I believe they have that potential.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Breaking Blair: A look at the character of Blair Cramer

It’s New Year’s Eve 2011 in Llanview, Todd has framed Tomas for the murder of his brother/Blair’s ex-husband.  Tomas had Todd incarcerated for years and ironically is also Blair’s lover.  Blair is looking at a portrait Tomas has painted of her and wondering how she could be so stupid.  “What the heck is a manner with you?  What happened to the woman I fell for?” Todd asks.  Good question.

When Blair came to town in the 1990’s she was a bit different than she is today.  She was often refered to as the great seductress. She would purr when she talked, smiled coyly, and give a man just enough of what he desired to trap him.  If she didn’t get what she wanted, well let’s just say payback was a bitch.  She ran over a lover’s wife with a car, pushed a rival out a window, and tried to kill more than one of her husbands.

When Todd “died” in Ireland many years ago, Blair’s grief took the form of rage.  She irrationally blamed Marty for Todd's untimely death and set out for revenge.  That revenge took the form of seducing Marty’s man.  She did this through pure manipulation.  She’s dressed and styled her hair the way he liked, just happen to bump into him everywhere, and ask for a dance after playing a slow song on the jukebox.  I didn’t root for Blair because I thought in anyway that Marty deserved this punishment.  I rooted for her because she was fun to watch.

However, overtime the provocative qualities of her that I loved become a bit cartoonish and not in the Jessica Rabbit type of way.  Smart men started following her around like love sick puppies with little reason given.  The men looked like idiots.  I wasn’t sure whether to feel pity or annoyance for them.  What guy would believe that a woman loved and wanted him when she jumps into bed with her ex the first chance she gets?  I think it started with the recast Sam. The supposedly bright lawyer mindlessly chased after her while she strutted him in front of Todd every chance she got.  The end result was that Blair looked like kind of jerk.

Yet despite this behavior it began to seem that it had been decided Blair was now the tragic heroine.  Sure Blair was vulnerable and got her heart broken often but she was never the good girl.  She just wasn’t as bad as Todd.  Her relationship with Todd began to get stunk in an endless loop of her lying, him telling a bigger lie, her leaving him for some poor sap, and then Todd falling over himself to get her back.  It became less fun to watch.  She was only enjoyable for me in those small glances at happiness she had when Todd and her were back on again.

Blair’s leading man was then recast and the chemistry wasn’t the same.  This version of Todd (later Victor) didn’t have the same kind of obsessive love for her as the previous version. As Kassie Depaiva stated in an issue of Soap Opera Uncensored "Whenever Victor was with Blair it was because he was trying to prove a point. It was never because of Blair.”  The couple still continued to break up and make up though for several years.  Blair was never given any good leading men outside of this.  The one guy she ended up having some chemistry with turned out to be a serial killer.

Eventually Blair became the fragile woman who’d been beaten down one too many times.  She wasn’t the lively schemer who dressed up as Marilyn Monroe to trick David into sleeping with Dorian anymore.

One could argue that the changes in Blair show that she has grown as a character.  I think that is a very valid point.  Now that Blair is in her 40’s and a mother of three, I don’t think it would work for her to be the man-eating, vixen that she was but I think she can be better than how she turned out.  I want her to be vulnerable but not weak.

When the first of Todd and Blair’s marriages fell apart, she had quickly moved funds to her accounts and had him voted off the board of her cosmetic company.  She wasn’t going to be left penniless.  “Did you think I was going to crawl right under the covers and cry, Todd?” she asked him.  Back then the answer was no and now it is a very solid yes.

How fun would it have been if instead of crying over Tomas, Blair had helped Todd frame him?  The feisty young Blair that I loved so much would have wanted revenge on Tomas like she did on Marty years ago.  She wouldn’t have shed a tear over it either.  And after having tried to kill a few ex-husband’s in the past, it’s hard for me to believe she really would care so much about the death of one.  It would have been out of character for her to have done otherwise.  I think the story we ended up getting, though not perfect (you could tell there was some hurried rewrites), was in character for today’s incarnation of Blair.

While I’m enjoying the rebooted One Life to Live, I’m a little perplexed by the moping we are getting from Blair and her longtime leading man.  True these characters have had their dark moments and I can understand both feeling a little depressed right now but I am hoping to see some of that old fire spark up again.  Most of all, I want my strong Blair back.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Eyes on the Prize: A Critical Look at the Daytime Emmys

It’s that time of year again.  Daytime Emmy nominations have been submitted and the process of picking winners has begun.  While I love that daytime has it’s own awards that give honor to all the talented folks that work so hard to bring my favorite characters alive, it feels like the Daytime Emmys have become less about talent and more about behind the scenes politics.  Nowadays the Daytime Emmys are less about the actual shows while the shows themselves have become more about carefully navigating how they could best win an award.

I’m not sure specifically when it started to happen but somewhere along the line executive producers, head writers, etc. decided that it was more important to win a Daytime Emmy than to produce a good soap.  Instead of focusing on creating programming that was consistently engaging for fans and viewers, energy was used on producing a few episodes that were designed specifically for Emmy nomination.  In my opinion, Jill Farren Phelps is a very good example of one of these type of  producers.  With a whopping seven Emmy wins under her belt, she has got the strategy of this game down.

Phelps’s last win in 2012 for General Hospital is actually a great example of the disconnect between the Emmy’s and the shows.  In order to win an Emmy, one only really needs one great episode to submit.  General Hospital had this so it won.  But for shows that are on five days a week for an entire year, one episode can be a very poor example of the quality of a show.  I’m certainly not suggesting that all of General Hospital was bad during the 2011 year but a critical darling it was not.  Months before General Hospital’s Emmy win, Phelps (along with writers Bob Guza and then Garin Wolf) had been replaced with One Life to Live’s creative team.  It’s important to note that One Life to Live had high ratings, critical acclaim, and yet lacked an Emmy.

While “Emmy Episode" strategy works in terms of winning, what does it do for the shows themselves?  Nothing as far as I can tell.  Soaps need to focus on putting out great material year round to keep fans engaged and viewership high.  Focusing talent on only a handful of episodes does not create ratings or bring in new viewers.  If a new viewer pops in to watch a show, it needs to be good for them to invest their viewership hours into it.  Not having consistently good programing makes gaining viewership into a game of Russian Roulette. Winning an Emmy should never have been more important than keeping a show on the air.

Another issue that the Daytime Emmys has is which actors are nominated and more importantly in which category they are nominated.  Michael Mulhony got himself in the outs with some fans last year with comments he made regarding the leading actor category.  After Anthony Geary won for leading actor, he tweeted the following:

"Some old guy who has won a bunch of Emmys wins again? Is that really what soaps need to grow a NEW audience? We need new judges’ panels."

The general fan response to his tweet was not positive.  I wasn’t really impressed with what he said and when he said it myself.  I don’t know Mulhony so I can’t speak to what kind of person he is outside of twitter universe and tv screens.  He could be a total you-know-what or he could be nice guy who made some poor choices in wording.  I really don’t know but I do believe that within the negativity of his comment, he may have had a point.

Not only have the list of nominees become somewhat predictable but lead categories seem to be reserved for the baby-boomers only.  A sort of generational divide has taken place between leading and supporting role nominations.  Actors in the 50 plus age group tend to submit for the leading roles while the actors below that age group are resigned to the supporting category.  In the end actors who are clearly supporting get nominated in the leading role and vice versa.

To everyone’s credit, sometimes roles are both leading and supporting depending on what storyline you are looking at and on what particular day.  This can also change through out a characters time on a show.  For example the character of Todd Manning started out as a day-player, then supporting, and then lead.  For others, roles may start out as leading then over time move to supporting or even recurring.  This is not uncommon although there seems to be a reluctance for some to accept it.  For some reason, “supporting” seems insulting to them when it shouldn’t be.

While soaps have great veteran actors, fresh talents should be rewarded for hardwork and creativity as well.  Why should eager go-getters who pour their souls into their scenes be told they are not as good of a soap star because they didn’t work in soaps during the ‘80s hay days?  It seems petty and insulting.  I could see where this could be a sore subject for some actors that are newer to the genre.  I could also see where it could make the genre seem unattractive to new talent as well.  People want to be rewarded for doing a good job when they do it not 20 years after the fact.

This is also unattractive to viewers.  We know the difference.  Seeing our favorite new soap crush in the supporting category when they are on four to five days a week and the center of their own story is irritating.

I do think some fault lies on the soap stars who resolve themselves to submitting in the incorrect category.   For example, The Bold and The Beautiful has been focusing on the love triangle between Steffy, Liam, and Hope.  Yet Scott Clifton, the leading man of this story line, has submitted himself for supporting (and the supporting actors in this tale have submitted for lead).  I suspect some of this is the actors' attempt to submit in a way which will best improve odds of winning.  But that means that they are just playing the Emmy’s game like everyone else.  While I don’t blame the actors for wanting to win, this just further enforces a broken system.

It feels as though the end result of all this game playing is that Daytime Emmys are just a little less special than they used to be.  Many actors and creative teams as well as fans just simply don’t care as much as they used to.  As a viewer there is no longer the thrill of sitting on the edge of your couch with fingers crossed that your favorites will win.  You already know who is going to win.  All the soap reporters and bloggers have the exact same predictions because it’s so obvious.  The camera no longer pans out to a crowd of actors nervously biting at their lower lips in hopes that their names will be called out.  Many of the truly deserving don’t even submit anymore.  This is a far and sad cry from what a honor these awards use to be.  It’s no wonder that for the last few years The Daytime Emmys have had to struggle just to even be aired.

This last year soaps had to take a look at what was working and what was not and do some reinventing.  As bleak as things have been for the genre, one of the positive things is that it has started to re-exam itself and work to gain viewers.  I think now is a perfect time for The Daytime Emmys to be reinvented as well.  Most of this really needs to start with the shows themselves.  Creative teams need to start focusing on having consistently good episodes so that the one episode they submit for consideration will be an accurate representation of the quality of the show.  Actors need to start submitting for categories that correctly represent the work they do.  The Daytime Emmys may have turned into merely a game of wits but the shows allowed it to happen as well.

Do I think The Daytimes Emmys will ever go back to there glory days?  Probably not.  I would like to see them try though.