Wednesday, November 22, 2006


My earlier post about the many faces of ATWT's Tom Hughes got me to thinking: It seems that almost every soap has one character that keeps getting cast and recast constantly, changing visages as well as personalities with every incarnation. And that character is usually a member of a core family, to boot.

Besides Tom, there was Chris Hughes on ATWT, whom 4 different actors couldn't quite make work as a teen or an adult; Joey/Jake Martin on AMC, also with four strike-outs; GH's Tom Hardy, and, of course, OLTL's many, many Kevin Buchanans -- #11, Dan Gauthier is on his way out as we speak.

(Over on Another World, Jamie Frame had 10 portrayers from 1970 to 1993, while Search for Tomorrow's Patti Barron was practically the female Tom Hughes, played by everyone from a pigtailed Lynn Loring to, eventually, GL's Tina Sloan and ATWT's Jacqueline Schultz).

The reason for these characters being so problematic is two-fold.

One the one hand, these are characters that TPTB are tempted to bring back again and again specifically because they are such a huge part of the canvas. Their absence is noticeable, and their presence is a simple way to introduce a new face with instant ties to the old. (Who would ATWT viewers rather welcome, another Chris Hughes, or some heretofore never mentioned Hughes cousin?)

But the problem with returning to the same character over and over again is that someone we saw grow up on the canvas offers less freedom for a writer to exercise his story options.

When Ben Reade returned to Guiding Light and eventually was revealed to be a disturbed serial killer, viewers objected. They remembered the cute little Ben who palled around with cute little Michelle Bauer and Bill Lewis (another frequently recast pair) and couldn't believe that their little guy could grow up to become a killer, even though it was explained that Ben's disturbance stemmed from being sexually molested while at boarding school and off the show.

It's hard to offer such soap staples as deep dark secrets and/or a traumatic past when viewers remember you having cookies after school with Grandma. (Not that the writers don't try. Any minute spent away from home is fair game. AW's Sally Frame turned out to have given birth to an illegitimate child while away at nursing school. Tom Hardy secretly married a Black woman in the few minutes his parents weren't looking. Tom Hughes fathered a daughter in Vietnam.)

Such storyline straitjacketing is my guess as to why these core characters have such a hard time catching fire.

What do you all think?

1 comment:

StarFire said...

I do agree that the storyline 'straitjacketing' is probably why most writers are cautious about really utilizing those staple characters. It's a tread onto shaky ground - because of how extensive their history is, and because they're so close to a fan's heart, there are certain limitations to the creativity. Those guideline, or boarders, are a little more difficult to work with than a fresher character still coming into their own would be. But, I think story potential does still exist. The stories can shift to reflect the growth and maturity of the character, focusing more on their reasoning and emotional struggles. Many times, there can be an unresolved fear or insecurity derived from the past that the character can confront and overcome.

With Tom Hughes as an example -- he's suffered from a lot of abandonment in his life. His parents weren't exactly around while he was growing up, Lien's mother never cared enough to tell him about his daughter, Carol and Natalie both moved on to other men, Barbara left him at the alter for James...those insecurities could be so deeply rooted into his psyche, that it constitutes for a lot of his actions. He's tried to soothe his, at times, strenuous interactions with Emily for Daniel's sake because he doesn't want his youngest son to be exposed to the same kind of abandonment that he was. A main reason why he even had Daniel to begin with was because Margo wasn't really emotionally available to him during his crisis, and Emily played upon those fears that Margo might be abandoning him. He's always been a staple in Casey's life, and Adam's, so they would never question that they were loved. Having him confront those fears would be the kind of engaging and profound material that some fans, I know myself especially, would love to see. There would be so many complex layers to tap into. If he were to confront those fears with Margo at his side, that would increase the emotion behind it. From what has been revealed about her past, she also has dealt with her share of abandonment and heartache. She was raised to believe that her stepfather hated her without knowing the truth, which has probably caused a lot of her character's defensiveness. Although their personalities and their coping skills are very different, the essence to their characters is the same. They would be able to relate to each other's inner pain. As Doc proved, an affair is overdone for this couple. It's a contrived way of giving them airtime without a direction. There's enough history, strength and realism to this that the conflict doesn't need to derive from a third-party. It can be emotional. They could investigate a case and accidentally stumble into an adventure like the old days; Margo could discover she and Tom are going to have a later-in-life child, which would cause her medical history to come into play and cause them to change from an 'empty nest' to an 'expecting' mindset; with Tom unemployed, the pressures of being Chief could start to overwhelm Margo and inspire her to also make the drastic change of leaving her job...and opening a PI agency with Tom; Adam could turn out to be Tom's biologically, or Daniel could be David Stenbeck's; the child Margo miscarried in the catacombs could turn out to be alive, and raised by James; there could be a series of flashbacks to show how Margo won Tom back after the Doc fallout; they could have another upbeat date, like the dance competition, to give us a break from all the drama; Tom could fall ill, or be injured by a stalker or someone he prosecuted that wants revenge, and Margo takes care of him - which would atone her for the blow she endured among fanbases in 2004, and restore more of the softness that she used to have. The possibilities can keep going, but the desire to want to write for a staple character also has to be there. Ususally, it just isn't.