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Monday, September 15, 2008

When I'm Wrong...

...I like to know.

Thank you to the approximately four thousand people (or the people who stopped by twice) who read my little mini-meltdown on Friday. What can I say? It was a rough week, and I felt pretty cynical about the whole genre by the time I heard Victoria Rowell's interview. The post I wrote on Friday was a little... um... dark. And not very hopeful. And since I started this blog, I've tried to instill a bit of hope into those who feel the situation is hopeless. But I failed slightly in that on Friday, and a few days sleeping on it has proven that to me. As a friend pointed out to me, it all might have seemed a lot worse out here on the Internet - but we still don't know if the "average soap viewer" who doesn't surf the web even notices these behind-the-scenes changes. Perhaps I was wrong - perhaps the onslaught of web-based scandals this year isn't having the effect I think it does.

Which got me thinking - what else have I been wrong about? Lest you think I sit here on my couch in Brooklyn, passing down judgment from my elite pedestal of unemployment (), assuming I know more than others, I wanted to take this opportunity to say: I'm wrong. A lot. And I have no problem admitting it.

In no particular order, the list of things I was completely wrong about.

1) Steve Johnson gets Asylum-ed: I was thrilled with the idea of our "Patch" abandoning his family by locking himself up in a mental institution, for fear he'd hurt Kayla and Stephanie because of what the DiMeras had done to him. Throw in a return visit from Adrienne to help break him out, and I thought it was going to be a gold mine. Instead, it was a lead balloon that plummeted to the ground, amidst a group of extras that acted so silly, so ridiculous, it was an embarrassment to the mentally challenged. LESSON LEARNED: Never use camp to deal with a serious situation.

2) Bryant Montgomery's death: Okay, I give in. I've been hit with argument after argument about why Bryant shouldn't have been killed off. I admit it - you're right. He shouldn't have been. Given that I knew from Second One that killing Jennifer Munson off was a mistake, there really is no way I can defend Bryant's death. You all were right. I was wrong. :-) LESSON LEARNED: You better have at least a two-year-long planned story if you're going to kill off a legacy character.

3) Craig and Carly - My favorite couple that never actually happened, I really believed in those first few months that if anybody could rival Jack Snyder as the be-all, end-all love of Carly's life, it would be Craig Montgomery. Their fast-paced banter would easily give the self-righteous Jack a run for his money... and we were sure to sway a segment of the Carjack fans over. Did I "misunderestimate" (I love using that word! Oh, Dubya.... HAH!) the adoration Carjackers have for their couple? Hell yeah, I did! The triangle was quickly kiboshed... and thank God for Cady McClain. Her Rosanna made a much better partner to Hunt Block's Craig, and heartily approved by the fans at the time. But I was wrong to think we could even put a dent in the Carjack legend, and I learned a valuable lesson about fanbases during that time. LESSON LEARNED: If you need a storyline for your Number One couple, don't fall back on the old "Love Triangle" cliche that's been done so many times.

4) Rewriting Jessica's back story - Of all the things that transpired during my time at OLTL (Antonio being a Santi, GLAAD breathing down our necks about the Colson story, the ickiness of finding a dead fetus in the Llantano River, Dorian setting up her daughter to be stalked), the last thing I worried about was finding out Niki Smith used to take Jessica to bars when she was little. I thought it could easily have happened off-camera, so when I was told that's what the story was by the higher-ups, it didn't really phase me. Oh, how stupid I was. The fans still bemoan that as one of the worst ret-cons in OLTL history. And no matter how hard we worked to sell it, no matter how much Bree Williamson worked her ass off to make Tess as real as possible back then, the fans would not accept it. They saw little Erin Torpey grow up on that show, and there was no way they were going to accept that Viki OR Niki did this. After all, why didn't Lois watch little Jessica? Where were Kevin and Joey? Nope. They weren't buying it. LESSON LEARNED: Never assume the tiniest retcon will be accepted. Even if it gets you great story for a few months, it also shows a great disrespect not only for the head writers and EP's that came before you, but for the fans who invested so many decades watching the show.

5) Scotland, Teens on the Run on College Campuses, the Third Visit to "Cooley Island" (all ATWT), Tinda Lau (Days) - What do all of these stories have in common? They all isolated a couple characters in stories with a bunch of day players, away from their families... and they're all stories I initially liked when I read the long stories. LESSON LEARNED: Never isolate your characters in other places across the globe, where you're forced to play them with people no one cares about for a few months. The audience wants to see them interact with their loved (and hated) ones.

And this is just a sampling - I have many more in my list, trust me. A lot of them are from shows I never worked on, but I wanted to learn from the mistakes others made on other shows, should I ever end up working on those shows. I won't print them here, because having not worked on those writing teams, I find it a little presumptuous to try and guess what happened behind the scenes when a story was being written. But I think learning from other's mistakes on other soaps is just as valuable to us, as writers.

I keep a copy of Doug Marland's soap rules open on my computer whenever I'm writing, and have since I discovered them working as a writers' assistant on ATWT. (If you haven't read them, recently reprinted them, and they definitely need to be upheld as the Commandments of this genre) But I continue to add to those rules every time I learn a lesson from a story that flops. I've added the lessons above to Marland's rules, and I know that as I continue to watch the remaining eight dramas on the air unfold, I will continue to add to it. We who do not learn from our mistakes, are doomed to piss off even more fans by repeating them.

I'm wrong. A lot. But I think (I hope) I learn my lesson from these fumbles, from these missteps, from assuming I know what's going to work and it ends up falling flat. And I hope if I ever get work again, I can use this ever growing list of what to do (and what not to do) to serve you all better as viewers. That's the best promise I can think of to make to you guys and gals. And it's a promise I hope to keep.

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