Lessons Oakdale needs to learn from Springfield

newatwtlogo3Oh yes, I AM going there.

It may seem too soon – since Guiding Light only ended about 48 hours ago – but time is of the essence.

Yes, I loved Guiding Light. And I love As The World Turns, too. I was disillusioned with it for much of 2008 and 2009, and I had focused much of my energy in this blog on GL. But now Oakdale has my undivided attention! Lucky for them.

I’ve been watching ATWT since 1986, and I’m very worried – as many of us are – that it might be next to go. I think GL suffered from bad timing – it made necessary changes way too late in the game – so I’m hoping ATWT will learn from some of the lessons that GL had to learn the hard way.

Here’s some things ATWT should learn from its older – and unfortunately dearly departed – sibling.

Bring out the hook. The hook. As in, the big metal hook they had in vaudeville for performers who just weren’t clicking with the audience.

Time is of the essence, folks. If something, or someone, is not working, it’s time to cut those losses and move on. And the show already has six-to-thirteen week plot thrusts, so it’s not like there’s already a time interval where you can tell whether something’s working with the audience or not.

GL did NOT do this with some of its more unpopular characters and pairings (Hello, Grady! Goodbye, nuCassie!)  and it waited far too long to make those changes when they were needed. Or it didn’t make them at all (yes, you, Rafe).

I’m not pointing out any particular ATWT performers, but there are a few that haven’t been working, either because of the way that they’re written or an utter lack of chemistry with their partners. Bring out the hook, get ’em off the canvas, and introduce new or returning characters with a better connection.

Make friends with the Web. ATWT still hasn’t quite managed to take advantage of the fact that millions of fans are watching Luke and Noah on the Web. They are, in fact, experiencing the show almost completely via Luke and Noah scenes.

If ATWT was wise, they’d create additional Web content. (Hey, they have handheld cameras. This could be done in nearly real time at a very low cost, especially if those Webisodes were under 10 minutes.) A Web series with short episodes featuring Luke and Noah would not only be bonus content to engage the fans, but could also build a bridge where those fans might be willing to sample ATWT on a larger scale. A single episode could have the boys engaging with a single Oakdale character in a fun and interesting way – and perhaps in a way that could make those Web fans care about more than just two characters on the canvas.

And, y’know, on the Web you might have a LITTLE more flexibility with what the characters do than on CBS. Jus’ sayin’.

Remember your vets. The returns of Lesli Kay (Molly), Peter Parros (Ben), Paul Leyden (Simon) and Mark Collier (Mike) are all good news, but they represent only a portion of ATWT’s history. (I’m a little concerned that Mike and Simon’s return means we have a Mike/Katie/Simon triangle redux.)

Oakdale really needs to remember its vets, involve them in story, and use them to spin off new story and new characters.

This is vitally important no matter WHAT pathway the show takes. If it survives its next renewal, it will benefit the show because newer characters rooted in history will be accepted by the audience, who will also love to see those familiar faces.

If it does NOT survive, it would be a payoff for fans who have invested decades in watching ATWT to have characters they know and care about be part of those final days. (This is something GL did fairly well, and that ATWT needs to keep in mind – especially since the core Hughes family is still somewhat intact.)

I loved Kim and Bob’s recent brief forays to the front burner, but I wish that every story that’s being told about anyone over 50 wasn’t about illness. In the last several years, Bob, Kim, Lucinda and Barbara have all had major health issues. These are all engaging, exciting people (characters and actors) and there could be so much more for them to do.

There are SO many ways to entwine these characters into a story. Barbara is looking fabulous at fiftysomething, and is long overdue for a romance. She needs a Mark Derwin-esque guy that can challenge her – someone who’s different from Hal and James.

And Lisa has been criminally ignored. She has a wayward son (Scott) who’s probably old enough to have a family of his own. She needs to be engaged and challenged. And Lisa is a social butterfly, so she should be involved in the lives of others, not trotted out only on holidays.

ATWT has a wealth of choices if they’d like to add to the canvas. Two newer characters that are taking root (the recast Adam and Hunter) are doing so because they are connected to characters we care about, and ATWT has more in the pipeline.

For example, Kim and Bob could reconnect with some of their offspring. Jamey Giddens at Daytime Confidential had a great idea to cast Elizabeth Keifer (GL’s Blake) as Frannie Hughes. Kim’s granddaughter Hope would both bring in a younger character as well as an African-American one. (Yes, you’d have to age Faith too, but it can be done.)

Here’s hoping ATWT also remembers to tie its brand-new characters (like Tom Pelphrey’s Mick) to existing characters.

Respect the past. OK, ATWT, you had a really cute thing going for a while where you rebooted old Oakdale characters with new faces. And kinda reinvented them. Kinda worked with several characters for a while. More recently, Jon Lindstrom’s working well as Craig.

Please don’t do it anymore, though. Pay attention to what fans and, yes, bloggers have to say about some of those existing characters. Don’t drastically change a character so that the similarities between version 1.0 and version 2.0 are in name only. (I’m looking at you, Dusty and Meg.)

I know that 53 years of story gets awfully convoluted, and it’s impossible to touch on every twist and turn. But there’s some beautiful stuff that happened, yes, more than 10 years ago. And yes, some of us from the pre-glacier era are still watching. Drawing on that history, or using it to feed new ideas, isn’t a bad thing. Don’t fear the past! Honest, it won’t bite.

Make any production changes gradually. Self-explanatory. The changes at GL were all-encompassing, and perhaps it was too much all at once. ATWT actually seems to be doing this already – easing into hand-held camera use.

I’m all about making production cheaper – it’s quite frankly the best chance ATWT has for survival. Hopefully it can maintain a balance between the traditional look and the handhelds.

Get a great umbrella story and promote the hell out of it. The short thrust stories are certainly engaging, but there needs to be something that involves a cross-section of the cast. Hopefully that story is in the pipeline.

Once it launches, promote the hell out of it in every way possible. Print ads, radio, blogs, everywhere.

Soaps are in the public eye with the loss of GL and the changes to AMC. Jump into that conversation.

3 thoughts on “Lessons Oakdale needs to learn from Springfield

  1. I just hope that TPTB for the show, use this time and situation wisely. If things don’t pan out for them positively and the show does get cancelled, I hope that they take whatever remaining time is left and set things up for a well-rounded and sensible conclusion. I don’t want one storyline “left up in the air” for viewers to “draw their own conclusions” on how things ended aka (the Jeffrey/Edmund situation).

    That was ridiculous and I’m not a Jeffrey, Jeffrey/Reva or Josh/Reva fan. I thought that was a cop-out.

  2. Patrick, loved and agreed with most of your column, but, sadly, I don’t watch ATWT anymore. I gave up a few months ago in the midst of Katie’s baby drama. Not even Maura West and Cady McClain could keep me viewing.

    When ATWT announces that Bob, Kim, Lisa, Susan, Barbara, and Lucinda are back with MAJOR story, I’ll tune in. The only characters I really cared about at the end of GL were the older ones: Vanessa, Billy, Buzz, Lillian, Ed, Holly, Nola, etc. Some of them got (incredibly fast) happy endings…some got a cameo. But I tuned in for THEM. I am so bored with Parker, Liberty, Teri, Hunter, Riley, Casey, that BLAH Alison, and even Luke and Noah. Give me some vets with some history and, yes, I will watch.

    Don’t get me started on Marie Wilson’s Meg and how every man in Oakdale MUST fall in love with her. I haven’t seen such citywide adulation of a stupid woman since Judi Evans as Beth Raines on GL in the mid-80s (Phillip, Rick, Lujack, Floyd, Jackson, etc.).

    Will be tuning in for Lesli Kay’s return, if nothing else. Maybe her ex-lovers Andy Dixon and Chris Hughes could follow, played by the actors who worked alongside Kay…here’s hoping.

  3. I find ATWT pretty much unwatchable these days, which makes me sad. You said a mouthful when you said this:

    “Oakdale really needs to remember its vets, involve them in story, and use them to spin off new story and new characters.”

    If the writers of ATWT can’t get something interesting and juicy going with the likes of Colleen Zenk-Pinter on board, they need to look for other sources of income. And, why the hell is Elizabeth Hubbard off doing a soap in Holland? Oakdale is never more interesting than it is when Lucinda is raising hell.

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