Inherit the Wind
I would be willing to bet that the most terrible words for daytime executives is "lapsed viewer." One might think that "cancellation" would be at the top of that list, but when a show goes off the air it is essentially a period at the end of sentence with everyone eventually moving on to something else. One also might think "lost viewers" might rank high, but the top brass is keenly aware that the television world has changed; viewers who have exited stage right have either different things to do or are far more selective with their viewing choices, two things that often go hand in hand.
As it turns out, the "lapsed viewer" is the elusive "independent" or "undecided" voters of the daytime world. Not unlike presidential hopefuls, network executives, producers and head writers stumble all over themselves to reel these people in to a new show or back into the fold of an old one. Their efforts vary from sincere to misguided to empty lip service depending on their audience or agenda.
They will try anything: lure back popular stars for meaningless guest stints, create huge event stories with no repercussions, generate fake controversy, revisit storylines of the mythical days of yore, resurrect the dead and reinvent the living. Or not. At the end of the day, their objective is to capture the fickle, jaded heart of the lapsed viewer and perhaps recapture the high ground or, at the very least, hold the center.
Soap fans are knowledgeable enough to discern who is shoveling bullshit talking points compared to what appears to be a genuine effort at outreach and a sincere attempt to write good story. As in politics, the soap viewer has heard many a pledge made only to watch them be broken, not followed through or emerge as something different from what was promised. Therefore, genuine shock sets in when someone comes along who says they will make things better and lays the groundwork to deliver on that undertaking. Soap viewers sense when real change is in the air.
After watching Friday's episode of All My Children, I think we've witnessed the beginning of the promise of a new, stronger show rise from the wreckage the old. There are many obvious metaphors in that last statement. My intention is to avoid them in favor of deconstructing some of the most important and exciting elements of what I think has been one of the most successful soap "reboots" since Hogan Sheffer took over as headwriter of As the World Turns in 2000 and, interestingly enough, The Young and the Restless this year.
Fans have every reason to be jaded, but I think it would be a grave mistake to underestimate what Chuck Pratt accomplished with The Pine Valley Tornado of 2008. For months, Pratt (with a reported assist from Agnes Nixon) has been laying the groundwork for both redefining AMC and returning the show to its roots as a character driven, au courant, socially conscious, progressive daytime drama. Friday's episode demonstrated why AMC fans have reason to be hopeful about the direction of the series in Pratt's hands:
EVERY STORY IS DEFINED: The best that can be said about Megan "Maddog" McTavish's storytelling is that things are always happening. The problem with her writing is that those things are usually the wrong things, so erratic, out of focus and plain misguided that even when one knows what is going on, it is very hard to figure out why it's happening at all. James Harmon Brown and Barbara Esensten tried to improve on McTavish's toxic, tangled knots of Zarfy, unaborted craziness, but it was a little bit like what might have happened if the Carpathia had reached the Titanic just before the latter went down: a lot more lives would have been saved, but the ship would have gone down anyway.
Pratt took a look at the situation and decided to not simply to level the town with a series of fictional tornadoes, but to refocus existing characters and his new ones. From the whimsical (Pete's pursuit of Colby) to the melodramatic (David's vow of revenge against half of Pine Valley for Babe's death) or the short term (Emma's kidnapping) to the long term (the fallout from Jesse's newly revealed "secret" family), not only are the possibilities nearly endless, but from nearly every angle and about any direction these stories may go should have the kind of clarity of purpose long missing from Pine Valley. More...