Anatomy of a successful character

Oh, look - he CAN smile!

When many of us complain about crappy stories, one-dimensional characters or….really, anything that defies logic, it’s not because we hate the shows we watch. It’s because we know that with some common sense and logic, they’re capable of doing far better than what we’re seeing.

As The World Turns may have been on the chopping block in its last season, but it was both satisfying – and incredibly frustrating – to see that they still remembered how to introduce a new character.

I’m talking, of course, about Reid Oliver, as played by the immensely talented Eric Sheffer Stevens. Here’s why I think this character was a success.

ACTUAL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Most of the new characters introduced in the last 5 years or so weren’t defined any deeper than what their ultimate goal was on the canvas – villain, couple spoiler, pointless distraction.

But Dr. Oliver seem to have…..wait, can it be?……an actual character! True, it was a character that significantly stole from Gregory House, but it was a character all the same. A guy with a grumpy, blustery exterior and a heart underneath? That’s a character that many fans will fall in love with. And we did.

Reid’s deliciously snarky comments about many of the town’s citizens were hysterical and on the spot. They allowed the show to say the same kind of comments we do in the peanut gallery, but in a way that allowed for it as commentary, not disrespect to the veteran actors. A genius move.

SLOW INTRODUCTION: ATWT has shoved more new characters into front-burner stories three days after they were introduced than I could possibly count. That usually went so well….the Z twins, anyone? Brian Wheatley?

But Reid was brought on with relative restraint. It was a few months before we learned that he was gay (an eternity of time in the new soap world).

ACTUAL INTERACTION WITH CHARACTERS OTHER THAN HIS SCREEN PARTNER: I believe one of the reasons this character was so well received and ended up being so popular was that Reid was played with a number of ATWT characters.

I understand that, as Chris Goutman said in print, the budget cuts of recent years left the show “many times hamstrung” so many scenes now feature only two people….and it’s always the same two people, having the same conversation……zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

But Reid got to get close to Katie and Jacob, had a mentor in Bob Hughes, and a friendly-esque adversary in Chris (and Henry) in addition to his romantic partner in Luke. The way Bob warmed to Reid, in particular, was heartwarming, and the kind of relationship we don’t always get to see on screen in these turbocharged days. Despite his best efforts to resist, Reid was really finding a place where he belonged in Oakdale.

It’s a old soap technique from the Douglas Marland era and even before then to introduce characters and make other people care about them first. But it’s rarely done these days. It worked beautifully here.

CASTING SOMEONE WHO COULD ACTUALLY ACT: In my opinion, Eric Sheffer Stevens is the best actor ATWT has cast in years. I’d compare him to Tom Pelphrey in terms of talent and impact.

It was exciting to watch him, no matter what Reid was doing. I thought his performances had a great sense of balance – just when you thought you couldn’t take another minute of his frosty demeanor, he’d drop the mask a bit and let you see the wounded guy inside.

Reid Oliver was definitely one of the highlights of the last season of ATWT. But it still makes me wonder: if TPTB still know how to create a great character AND introduce him correctly…..why didn’t this happen more than once in, oh, the last five years?

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve blogged here a great deal about LGBT storylines on soaps. There have been spirited Luke/Noah discussions here.

I know people are very disappointed about the way things ended for Reid, and that it feels that the gay characters were given a second-class ending, vs. Chris Hughes.

Chris – who Soap Opera Weekly writer Mala Bhattacharjee correctly labeled a “secretive asshat” – is getting Reid’s heart.

I’m disappointed too, and I agree that it’s as plain as day that LGBT characters are still getting the short end of the stick on daytime. That’s not even a matter for debate. We could draw up a list of complaints longer than an unemployment office line and still not exhaust them all. I know. And I agree.

I will say, however, that I believe ATWT has at this time gone farther and achieved more in its depiction of LGBT characters than any other soap.

OLTL‘s Kish may have been more front-burner and more visible for a time, but they were unable to sustain that story for longer than six months.

AMC‘s Bianca has in and of herself been a visible gay character, but her romantic life has led to some very questionable storylines, and it’s beyond insane that her wife is living a continent away. The only reason we know Bianca is a lesbian right now is because she’s telling us she is.

Guiding Light, of course, had a story that was deeply authentic in many ways, but the lack of actual intimacy and kissing on-screen – paired together with the permanent attachment of Frank Cooper to the Otalia coupling – left many fans frustrated.

I give kudos to ATWT for sustaining a visible gay leading character, Luke, for several years. I appreciate his romance with Noah, which despite a lot of ups and downs was just as dramatic and tortured as many other young couples.

Unlike All My Children, which always wants to throw a man into the mix where its lesbian characters are concerned, Luke, Noah and Reid were allowed to be unquestioningly gay. (Yes, Noah married Ameera, but that was a matter of immigration – you never sensed he was in love with her.)

And I especially appreciated his romance with Reid. We’ve had some spirited debates about Luke and Noah in this blog (see here and here). I was frustrated with the deadlock in their story last year, and at that time I said: I think it would be a great thing for the boys to be mature enough to acknowledge their differences, affirm their love, and go off in separate directions. I’d like to see Luke with a boyfriend who can challenge him more and take him to a different stage in his life.

I loved Luke and Reid, because I do think Reid did that for Luke. And I don’t think that’s a negative about Noah, either. They’re both on their own journeys. I think many of us, straight or gay, have that person in our life who we met in high school or college that was an intense love, but that goes in a different direction as you get older. This story was, quite frankly, all the things I’d hoped for Luke.

And it’s nice that Noah is there for Luke at the end. They still love each other, and as people change and mature, sometimes they can be right for one another again. It took Bob and Kim – and Jack and Carly – a long time to get it together. Unfortunately, we won’t see where Luke ends up – the one luxury he doesn’t have is time.

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10 thoughts on “Anatomy of a successful character

  1. Beautifully said. I’ve watched atwt faithfully since 1958. Never watched any of the other soaps. In it’s prime the stories/characters did evolve slowly – we could miss some days and never lose the thread and finally video and DVR kept our viewing solid. In the early days, as one story-line was drawing to a close, they would skillfully, seamlessly introduce another to keep us enthralled. The characters became our friends and family. It was a soothing constant in our busy (and sometimes painful) real lives.

    Seems TPTB believe there is no longer an audience for quality daytime drama. In my eyes Reid/Eric/Kriezman proved them wrong. But too late, at least for me. The way the atwt ending is playing out is a such huge disappointment for me, I will not be transferring to another soap. Just hope to watch many performances of Eric’s throughout the coming years – and Van’s too!

  2. Reid Oliver was definitely one of the highlights of the last season of ATWT.

    Again, I really love reading your thoughts about ATWT and I agree with your assessment of the Reid character and how wonderful it was to get the opportunity to see someone like Eric Sheffer Stevens bringing life to that character, even only for such a short time.

  3. Great analysis, Patrick! I actually agree with most of what you’ve said here. You’ve articulated a lot of what I’ve been thinking. (And I still think Chris is an asshat!)

    • ‘Asshat’ is the perfect descriptor for Chris – it might have been coined especially for him!

      Thanks to Mala at Soap Opera Weekly for that one!

  4. ATWT ending for Luke is pretty awful and cliche and conservative but its true that its the only soap that has actually committed to a story for a gay couple that lasted onscreen for more than a year so I will give them some credit for that.

    I will say this for AMC though. Bianca was actually allowed to sleep with all her major love interests without too much of a fuss. It didn’t occur onscreen but we knew it happened. Bianca also typically appeared much more often than Luke and usually was only backburned when there was no story to tell . Meanwhile Luke was frequently not on nearly enough even when he had a hot story. Otherwise AMC has been pretty awful with Bianca’s love life but I’ll give them credit in those areas.

    No show has done it right yet, Anon. And I don’t think any daytime soap ever will, unfortunately. It’s sad, because LGBT viewers are some of the most dedicated ones around (and quite frankly, within the demographics advertisers want).

  5. Wonderful article, Patrick, and I agree with every word. Reid Oliver and Eric Sheffer Stevens were the reason I started watching ATWT a few months ago, for the reasons you’ve pointed out: careful intro, excellent integration, sharp writing, and of course, a highly talented actor! Besides, I always love characters who say what we the audience is thinking – namely pointing out everyone else’s insanity! (And am I the only one who noticed a similarity between Dr. Oliver and Dr. Cox of Scrubs [the sitcom, not the once adorable GH couple]? They’re both snarky, red-headed doctors after all!)

    So for such a careful, deliberately crafted character to meet with the ending this show has dealt him leaves me more disgusted than I can say. I’ll admit I haven’t watched too many soaps end, but this has to be hands down the worst ending I’ve ever seen on anywhere: for a character, for a storyline, for a show. As of last Friday, Reid Oliver officially joins my list of characters who aren’t really dead in my mind (along with the likes of Stuart Chandler, Julia Santos, and anyone named Quartermaine, to name a few). As far as I’m concerned, Luke and Reid got their happily ever after, in a storyline far from the likes of Chris and Katie!

  6. approve :)!! Reid is the best caracter in ATWT.. I love him so muc! and i stil can’t believe I’m not going to see hime after 9 month of watching non stop!
    kudos to eric!

  7. “No show has done it right yet, Anon. And I don’t think any daytime soap ever will, unfortunately. It’s sad, because LGBT viewers are some of the most dedicated ones around (and quite frankly, within the demographics advertisers want).”

    Oh I agree. They have all done some things okay that others have not but none have really not done it right and its unlikely that they ever will. And I agree that LGTB seem to be very dedicated and loyal. Its too bad that ATWT did not reward that dedication.

  8. Wonderful analysis of this great character (and actor). Reid re-ignited the Nuke storyline which led to a lot of buzz in the soap opera press and in the fandom. It was a character you either loved or hated passionately. I haven’t watched ATWT too long but no actor had interested as much as Van Hansis did . . . until Eric Sheffer Stevens came along. And that he was paired with Van was the best thing the show did for both characters. Will miss Reid and LuRe tremendously.

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