To the surprise of nearly no one, professional football player Brett Favre changed his mind this week. Favre has decided to play football for the Minnesota Vikings.
Now, I’m not much of a football fan. (You’ll have to talk to Roger Newcomb over at We Love Soaps if you want to find someone’s who’s fanatical about sports and soaps.) When I lived in Wisconsin, Favre was second only to Jesus Christ in most people’s eyes. I’m sure he’s a talented player, and if I can be shallow for a moment, he’s a pretty damn good looking one.
But it’s been a weird journey since the spring of 2008 when Favre decided to retire. Then he un-retired with the New York Jets, re-retired, and is now changing his mind yet again.
What does this have to do with soaps, you ask? Bear with me – I do have a point!
Favre was, as I said, a sports hero and a near deity a few years ago. Now? I’m not so sure I’d want to be Brett Favre with a flat tire anywhere in Wisconsin. His professional decisions are his own, but his inconsistency has probably diminished the number of fans he has, and their intensity for what he’s accomplished.
We have some revolving doors in daytime, too, and I think in the big scheme of things, it’s a bad thing. It’s hard to be involved or invested in a story if it’s short-lived, or if viewers can’t count on the character or the actor being onscreen from day to day.
Probably the most high profile case of this in recent years is Eden Riegel. I love Riegel’s work and her performance as Bianca on All My Children. But after she left the show in 2005, Riegel’s comings and goings have been a problem for AMC’s writers. They came up with two high-profile stories that ate half the canvas, and made more of a spectacle than any emotional impact. (The first was the Zarf/Zoe story; the second was the controversial Bianca/Reese coupling.)
There are other actors, shows and stories where this has played out – Jonathan on Guiding Light comes to mind – and the same issue seems to apply to all of these revolving door appearances: They leave a giant hole in the canvas when the stories end and the actors leave again.
Daytime by its nature is all about building a story, properly pacing how the story is told, and telling the story over a period of time. Even though those time frames are much shorter than they used to be, there’s still got to be a certain level of consistency in order for fans to care.
There are actors who have it in their contract to take extended vacations of a month or so (Erika Slezak, Kim Zimmer, and Susan Lucci) but those breaks are usually well planned, and the viewers understand that Erica, Viki or Reva are coming back. Several performers have a longer break of several months (like Anthony Geary and Ingo Rademacher at General Hospital), and the impact of those breaks seems to vary by the quality of the re-entry story.
More often than not, soaps tend to go for the high-impact, attention-getting story to announce the actor’s return. They’re then forced to twist the story into outrageous or unreal pretzels in order to explain the return of the character and/or their latest departure.
For example, I have never, EVER been able to buy the reasons for Jonathan’s departure on GL. I cannot buy that Lizzie could live with Sarah not being at her side, and yet have her “grandpa” still be involved in her life. I can’t believe Beth would so much as breathe the same air as Alan, let alone live with him and be engaged to him (as she was for much of 2008), if Alan was responsible for Sarah’s estrangement from Lizzie and the Spauldings. It makes no sense whatsoever.
Yes, the hello-I-must-be-going revolving door CAN work to a show’s advantage. The classic example would be Tuc Watkins’ appearances on One Life to Live. But David Vickers is a supporting character who’s played primarily for laughs. It’s actually a wonderful thing for OLTL to use Watkins sparingly, because fans will look forward to David’s visits without overdosing on his antics.
I understand that the days where every contract actor appears on screen every week are well past us. But there’s a way to update the canvas and bring in fresh ideas and faces without losing consistency. Writers and producers need to think about how suitable a return engagement is – and whether it will generate new story and propel the show, or just leave a gaping hole when Johnny-come-lately takes off again.