You seem to think I have the time of day for you, and I’m curious as to why.

— Reid (to Luke)

News and Updates | 27 December 2010

Another day, another bests list (ho hum)

As hinted in her Soap Central Live interview on Christmas Eve, Jennifer Biller has come out with her Best and Worsts of 2010 ATWT Two Scoops column. Among highlights, she says, “Reid Oliver. I would say he was the best new character anywhere on TV this year” and Chris and Katie feature prominently (and repeatedly) in the “worsts” category. Soap Central’s other ATWT Two Scooper, Reggie Jackson will post his list next Sunday, so stay tuned. More details after the jump….

Susan Dansby interviews featuring Eric Sheffer Stevens

Susan Dansby has posted three interviews featuring Eric Sheffer Stevens – two with the man himself, and one where he is mentioned as part of her series of eZine articles on getting one’s dream job (the one on auditioning is #2 among performing arts articles on eZine’s website).

By the Pond

Last, I was just watching the September 14th and 15th episodes of the show (Carly and Jack’s wedding) – research for the upcoming chapter of Simple Gifts, when this imagery struck me:

Carly before her wedding

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Luke with Reid’s ashes

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Miscellaneous Updates

And just to remind us that LuRe may be off our screens, but not forgotten, AfterElton.com’s snicks posted an update in last week’s "Briefs” column promoting Kate Davies’s terrific interview:

Kate Davies has a fun four-part interview with Eric Sheffer Stevens about his life after As The World Turns, and he reveals how surprised he was by the popularity of the late, lamented Dr. Reid Oliver.

Details on the Jennifer Biller Two Scoops column and Susan Dansby interviews to follow after the jump, along with musings prompted by the pond-side imagery to follow the jump…

Jennifer Biller’s Bests and Worsts

Starting off with the biggest highlight for LuRe fans:

Best new character: Reid Oliver. I would say he was the best new character anywhere on TV this year. You couldn’t help but love to hate him. He came to town as a brilliant but surly doctor. He was quick with an insult and didn’t care who was the target of his verbal vomit. Not even beloved Bob Hughes was safe from Reid’s slurs. He was daytime’s Dr. House.

Despite Reid’s demeanor, viewers couldn’t look away and quickly fell for this refreshingly honest character. As months went on, we discovered that Reid was gay, and he was soon pitted in the middle of one of the show’s most popular couples, Luke and Noah.

I know many of you championed Reid’s storylines because he was gay, but as I said before, not me. His sexuality rarely crossed my mind, and that’s why I loved him. His storyline wasn’t about the fact that he was gay. He was such a successful character because his sexuality didn’t define him, as it often does on daytime, when a gay character is introduced.

In the end, Reid became a hero. He died a grisly death, by train, as he heroically tried to race to a hospital to get a heart for a dying Chris Hughes. (Trying to outrun a train, Reid? Dumb move!) Although Reid’s time in Oakdale was short, he made an impression, and he’ll go down in history as one of daytime television’s all-time best characters.

And I couldn’t agree more with Jennifer: “His sexuality rarely crossed my mind.” I wouldn’t go as far as to say that’s WHY I loved him, but that’s certainly a big reason why the part of me that hopes for “world peace” intellectually thought he was big WIN for civilized society. But I loved him because he made me love him – for his snarky overconfident exterior, for his soft underbelly, and for loving Luke like he deserved to be loved, and for making me fall just as deeply for dear, dear, Luke Snyder.

Then Jennifer went on to (deservedly) splatter Katie and Chris in just about every possible “worst” list:

Most disappointing storyline: Simon Frasier came home, but left again!…. Simon was Katie’s first true love, and I had hoped he would return in the end to tell Katie he was ready to settle down once and for all. Instead, we got Katie propelled into a rushed love story with Chris Hughes. Sigh.

Here, here. Simon+Katie = WIN. Chris+Kate? Not so much. And if that wasn’t enough Chratie bashing, we have:

Worst couple: Katie and Chris. Chemistry plays a major role in whether a couple works or not, and sadly, this couple lacked it. Their relationship was so rushed it felt like the writers were throwing them together simply so Katie wouldn’t end up alone. Chris had much more chemistry with Alison. In new Chris’ defense, he had some big shoes to fill. Katie had major sparks with Brad, Jack, Simon, and Henry.

I’m not so sure I bought Katie and Jack, but I initially hoped that they would go Katie/Henry since I loved how deep their friendship ran (though it sometimes took them to some scary, warped places). I thought the show might be going there with the Reid as matchmaker episodes (“Prove me wrong, Hank”) but yet again, we got Chris and Katie. Truly zero chemistry.

But wait, there’s more. Not only does Jennifer put Chris and Katie in their rightful place, along with calling out Frannie Hughes’s “blink-and-you-missed-it walk through, she lists:

Worst return: Runner up: Chris Hughes. In theory, it made sense for Chris to come home and take over as chief of staff for his retiring father. But, this version of Chris came back with a deadly heart condition that apparently made him stupid. He refused treatment, didn’t listen to doctor’s orders, and almost died before receiving a transplant. And did I mention that he somehow fell in love with Katie overnight?

I just rewatched the September 16th stethoscope scene yesterday as well, and I was still smacking my head over how the writers developed Chris’s character (or lack thereof) over the last two months of the show. Not only was he STUPID (with a capital S the size of Texas), but they made him SO unlikeable and wholly undeserving of Reid’s heart.

When Luke very generously mentioned that he had recommended Chris for Chief of Staff, and Chris said “I’m not sure if that’s the path I want to go down,” I (once again) had to resist the urge to beat my poor innocent-bystander laptop into a bloody pulp in an effort to slap some sense into Chris.

Although I don’t agree with the creative direction of the endline, I get what TPTB were trying to accomplish (and in a cold, objective way, why they went there – the subject of a future post). But what I have never understood is why they did it they way they did.

Chris’s character (after previously trying to steal the Chief of Staff position from beloved old Doctor Bob) had some serious redemption to do – both to heal the relationship with Bob, a big long-running story arc, and to make him deserving of taking the proverbial mantle from Bob at the end of the show (let’s not even start on what it would have taken to make him deserving of Reid’s heart!).

I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again – Guiding Light did this SO much better with healing Philip and Alan’s relationships, by choosing the right character to kill off in the last week, and by making his death matter. Yes, Philip’s quest to make things better before dying from his weird fatal illness was contrived (as contrived as, say, a fatal heart condition caused by a tropical virus), but at least they made an effort to give these characters a chance to heal one of the central relationships at the core of the show. (Craig and Gabriel? Not so much.)

And Philip’s imminent death was the catalyst for healing more than just his relationship with Alan. It was the engine that propelled several storylines, rather than fragmenting relationships. It also provided the excuse for Beth to instantaneously get over Coop’s death, and finally made James man up, hinting that Philip and James might finally break the cycle of dysfunctional relationships between the Spaulding men.

Like Chris, Philip initially hid his fatal condition from his family, and like on ATWT, the truth came out. But it came out early enough to see how the fear of Philip’s death impacted those around him – especially people like his daughter Emma, who wondered how she might be able to help him (and his devastated parents struggled with telling her that nothing was likely to help).

Another HUGE difference, though, is that Philip refused treatment – not to hide his secret, but because the treatment that might save his life was risky to the potential donors. And the fact that the two donors who stepped up were father Alan and son James only added to the poignancy of Philip’s refusal, and the drama of these strained, but healing relationships.

Philip was always the golden child of the show, despite having some out-of-character psycho soap character moments, so unlike with Chris, I certainly hoped that Philip would be saved. Had the show lived on, (at least to me) Philip had proven himself worthy would have grown into a central patriarch (although perhaps not sufficiently villainous for a true soap patriarch).

At the same time, in the last few weeks of the show, again, although contrived, GL went out of their way to redeem Alan. Ruthless, conscious-less, wicked Alan Spaulding. Starting with the backstory about Alan allowing his family’s money to send an innocent man to war, to die in service in his place, they showed regret on Alan’s part about past mistakes. By having grandson Rafe enlist, they not only gave Rafe a believable endgame (given his record, a career in law enforcement seemed unrealistic, but the armed forces seemed like a suitable tribute to dad Gus), but also brought closure to Alan’s story (“first Spaulding man to serve his country”).

And despite all the ways Alan had tried to sabotage Philip in the past (as Chris to Bob), in the end, he chose to face his fear of mortality (tying back to the reason he skipped out on his civil duty), and to participate in the procedure that would ultimately save Philip. In his last scene, the troubled trouble-maker seemed at peace as Philip gratefully told him that he had saved them all. (Cue the bucket load of tears.)

When GL ended, the patriarch of the show died to save his legacy. He died an honorable death to save a character who was tied into virtually all the families in Springfield (don’t forget, Philip shares a child with Harley Cooper) and whom both the characters on the canvas and viewers wanted to see thrive. He had loved, used, and dumped virtually all women of appropriate age in Springfield, so arguably the most important endgame plot points for Alan was healing his relationship with Philip, and saving his soul – which he got, by virtue of his sacrifice.

This is in sharp contrast to Reid – I always felt that Reid arrived in Oakdale with plenty of reasons to live on paper (fixing brains, saving lives) but that until Luke came along, he had no emotional reason to WANT to live, to want to fight for life. Reid had finally gotten to a point where he had someone to live for – and instead he tried to outrun a train? *Headdesk*

And unlike with Reid’s death where people who didn’t know him from Adam (at least as far as we viewers could tell), all of a sudden were raving about how heroic and what a great man Reid was, everyone in Springfield actually knew Alan and had years of on-screen history with him. And they made the most of it in the spot-on penultimate episode devoted to people hearing the news. People who in the past would have celebrated his demise in the past (Beth even admits that “half the time I wished he were dead”) were instead contemplating his final act and what Springfield will be like without him. But he was NOT universally declared a well-loved uber-hero, and emotions were clearly conflicted. People who truly had cause to hate Alan (e.g., Beth, Olivia) gained so much from his death (Philip’s life) – that’s good drama.

And in fact, many of the reactions not only had no fake adoration for the deceased, but had very little dialogue or reference for Alan at all. Take the reaction of Philip’s best friend Rick’s response, for example. Long-time fans have watched them grow up on screen for nearly 30 years; their familiarity with each other, and with Philip’s relationship with Alan needed no last-minute exposition. Instead, Rick’s focus was on Philip (“I’m so sorry”) and most of their communication was handled in knowing looks and sympathetic glances.

Similarly, Beth’s first response (aside from silent weeping for nearly a scene and a half) was concern for the daughter she shared with Alan. As each person heard the news, viewers heard the news from the survivors’ point of view and we saw the support networks in place from the very family-centered drama. When Philip leaves to tell his own children in person, he couches that by offering to stay to comfort Alex (Alan’s sister, who truly loved Alan in a way that only soap villains and villainess siblings can love) – again – concern for the living above all else. When Philip tells daughter Lizzie, it’s all done in the distance underneath a musical interlude, but there is no doubting the sentiment conveyed – and again, you see Lizzie’s shock, and immediately, she is comforted by a hug from dad. Even the hired help are concerned about Alex’s well-being, and she in-turn takes the time to tell them how much they meant to Alan – again, a focus on the the survivors and how the death impacted them.

How long did the September 3rd episode drag on before Luke got his first hug? Instead he had Hugheses with a massive conflict of interest badgering him to pull the plug. Ugh. (It sounds like there’s a morbid Dr. Seuss poem hidden in there). The complete lack of attention to Luke during Reid’s death was yet another HUGE misstep in the execution of this storyline.

Also, those that were most affected by Alan’s death, were all given happy endings. Philip had his life and a renewed relationship with estranged son James, another chance with love of his life Beth, a healed relationship with Olivia (the mother of another daughter), the return of grandchild number one (Sarah), and grandchild number two on the way. After living for years as “Alan’s sister”, Alex had a chance to have a second try with Fletcher “Deus Ex Machina” Reed. Beth reunites with Philip, Olivia has Natalia, James has Lizzie.

And through it all, the interconnections between the Lewises, Coopers, and Spauldings as well as how every other character on the canvas is interconnected is hammered home through the last week of episodes.

And even though the small gathering at the scattering of Alan’s ashes were explained away by “he would have wanted it that way,” the people who were there were all so intertwined with Alan in life, it was only fitting that they be there at the end (if only Alan-Michael and Lucy could have made an appearance – difficult, with Rick Hearst over on B&B). And at least they had the dignity to put Alan’s ashes in a nice wooden box! That Katie and Bob were not there for Reid’s memorial was yet another monumental crock. If they were going to kill Reid off and show what an impact he had on people’s lives  that’s one thing. But the fact that Katie and Bob were absent, and Noah was there dressed like he was just finishing a shift at Java was an insult to the viewers’ intelligence and loyalty.

So, back on topic – Chris. If they wanted to make Reid a hero to save Chris, so be it. But why on earth didn’t they make Chris someone worth saving? Someone worth being Chief of Staff, of being the moral and emotional center of Oakdale as it lives on without our watchful eyes? Someone deserving to be Jacob’s father and husband to the “show’s sweetheart”?

After Reid’s death, I desperately hoped they would do something to make Chris worthy and what we got instead was “I’m not sure if that’s the path I want to go down.” Could they have made him any less appealing?

And on that subject, one last set of non-sequiturs.  Knowing Reid’s ultimate ending and that the writers were setting it up for an open-ended Nuke reunion, I desperately hoped that they would really show some growth in Noah as well, making him worthy of the much more appealing man Luke had become.

Instead we had Noah’s self-centered lament about everyone missing his goodbye party, and “There’s nothing you can say about Reid that I want to hear.” Of all Noah lines, this ranks up there among my top 2 or 3 least favorites. It made him sound so petty. If they wanted me to root for Luke and Noah, they could have made Noah so much more sympathetic. Instead, they made me want to shout at the screen – RUN, LUKE, RUN!

This was nearly matched by some later lines from Noah about Reid being brave and great and wishing that we could all be like him. These lines struck me as SO insincere I wanted to barf, especially coming less than a week after the “nothing you can say” line. When Alan Spaulding died, no one who knew him made any pretense about him being great and universally loved; instead, they were true to his character’s history – even Buzz’s eulogy called their relationship “complicated".”

Okay, back on subject with the rest of  Jennifer’s picks. One of my pet favorites:

Most surprising couple: Henry and Barbara. I always thought that Henry and Katie would end up together, if Simon didn’t return. So, I was a little disappointed when it seemed Henry was spending most of his days with Barbara. This unlikely pairing grew on me, as it became clear that Barbara, unlike Katie or Vienna, accepted Henry for the drinking, gambling, rogue he is.

Her other "best" moments includes:

  • Janet and Dusty reuniting and the baby turning out to be his. I could take it or leave it.
  • Lucinda and John showing us that romance isn’t dead past 50. I’m all in favor of this. And though John was largely a prop in the Lily/Lucinda and Chris/Katie story, he did have some real scenes and his chemistry with Lucinda (and Reid!) was just great.
  • Parker’s decision to follow in both his fathers’ footsteps and become a cop.  Perfect soapy sentimentality. Made complete sense to me.
  • Paul and Henry’s family bonding scenes.  Plus the scene with them in the lingerie shop – hysterical!
  • Lisa’s tribute show.  Sorry, missed this one, so can’t comment on it.

But she lost me on the last couple:

  • Parker and Faith’s burgeoning romance.  Ewww….
  • A possible Luke and Noah reconciliation.  This boat had sailed for me (and like with Chris, they could have made me open to the possibility, but with the way they wrote Noah, instead they made me all the more adamant that this would be a mistake). For me, it would be like reuniting Henry and Vienna at this point. Ugh.

Last, on Jennifer’s list of Best Lines of the Year:

(Bob is at Al’s having breakfast and invites the always-busy Reid to join him.)
Bob: "You’re allowed to sit down and have breakfast."
Reid: "Yeah, maybe when I’m 600 years old like you."
Bob: "I’m a little younger than I look."

Susan Dansby’s interviews about ESS

Back in September, Susan Dansby tweeted that she was “interviewing Eric Sheffer Stevens,” though at the time it wasn’t clear whether she meant that she was interviewing him for a project she was developing (she’s a former soap director and producer as well as writer), or whether she was doing a more journalistic-type interview.

Several weeks ago, it became clear that it was the latter. Susan, who has been plugging her book. How Did You Get That Job? book, and accompanying website, yougetthatjob.com, conducted a series of interviews with people who have had or hire for “dream jobs.” Among those interviewed was Eric Sheffer Stevens (he’s also mentioned in an interview with assistant casting director Kate Martineau Adams.

Although much of the ground has been partially covered in other interviews, Susan asks specifically about the auditioning process (makes sense, in light of her “how did you get that job” theme), and about soaps vs other media (some overlap with Kate Davies’s lengthy interview).

I know Susan has taken a beating from LuRe fans for the Nuke epilogue, but a quick tour of Nuke sites will show that many Nukies hate her with equal passion, so in a way, she must be doing something right, since it was clearly TPTB’s intent to string along both camps as long as possible.

She’s also had more than a few shots fired across her bow for promoting her book and capitalizing on her “15 minutes” before the ATWT allure fades completely (the posters’ thoughts, not mine – I’m staying out of that fray, personally), but the interviews do contain some insight and some interesting new content, so I’d suggest that any open-minded readers read the interviews before passing judgment on them (opinions of Susan Dansby notwithstanding).

Some of the questions are definitely a little empty, and were perhaps not as well researched as they might have been (she doesn’t seem to realize that ESS had prior acting experience before ATWT as she asks “Had you been put on tape before in different audition situation? Was this a new experience for you?”), but there are some good questions that result in interesting answeres as well.

One of two articles that arose from the interview, Actor Eric Sheffer Stevens: Auditioning For – And Getting Cast As – Reid on As the World Turns is currently #2 among Most Viewed EzineArticles in the Arts-and-Entertainment:Performing-Arts Category (60 days). Among the highlights, Eric says (about Reid and the auditioning process):

I understood who the guy was — or how I would want to play it — and did that, and it went well. But that doesn’t get you excited or anything. You have so many auditions that go well, but never go anywhere. So, you train yourself not to get drawn in. Otherwise, you just, emotionally, would be battered all the time….

I felt comfortable with that, auditioning for that, I knew what it was. I definitely stunk at the beginning auditioning for commercials, auditioning for TV. It’s a completely different style, it’s also just a different room than the audition room. 

Auditioning is completely different from your actual work. It’s a whole other skill. Being able to audition well is very different than being able to rehearse and be a good actor. So, it takes a little while to develop that. 

Any experience you have behind you always helps, because it makes you more comfortable. The more comfortable you are, the more likely you are to actually do what you had prepared, and not be thrown off of that….

I think you have to get to a place where you’re very comfortable with who you are, and comfortable with new people, and a situation that’s completely unknown before you walk into the door. The more you do that, the more prepared you are to do it.

A second interview (I’m not sure which one was actually posted first), Actor Eric Sheffer Stevens: His Training, and Adjusting to Acting on a Soap Opera, adds a little more depth around some topics covered in other interviews. Some highlights:

Susan Dansby: Well, that’s one of the things that really impresses me, because soaps are so fast. They move so quickly. And the writers call it a "first draft" medium. Whatever the acting term would be for that, it’s probably kind of the same thing. Where you are more going with your instincts than having a lot of time to delve into the text.

So, the classical training, and certainly working with an acting teacher, really serves you well — which a lot of people don’t really think about.

Eric Sheffer Stevens: Yeah, it’s funny, too; but it’s its own very unique experience — which I thought was fantastic exercise. It trains a whole different set of muscles. So, you can’t be in your head too much. You do as much preparation as you can memorization wise, then you sort of make instant choices.

And because we don’t really rehearse in the soaps, a you don’t have a lot of time with the script — you’ve only had it for a couple of days before you go in to actually shoot it — then they just put you down there, on the floor, in front of the camera, and you do it. And so it was — I liked doing that.

Are you kidding? Instead of spending a lot of time wondering how to approach it, you just kind of do it.

And that is also very helpful — to balance your thinking side or your "background study" side.

There was also an interview with ATWT assistant casting director, Kate Martineau Adams where they specifically talk about how Eric stood out in auditions:

Specifically with Dr. Reid Oliver, and seeing Eric, that audition scene was very difficult; because it was so easy for actors to come in and read it, and make the character so unlikable. There needed to be a kernel of likability there that we saw from the beginning. Otherwise, why would we want to see this character on our screen on a daily basis?

And Eric was one of the very few people that made this character interesting and likable. Everybody else just came in and made him a total mustache twirler. So, that tipped us off from the very moment he stepped in the room, that he was a contender for the role.

It sounds like Eric really stood out in his auditions for a lot of reasons. Van Hansis also touched on this in the Luke and Noah in Paris fan event interviews as well.

Of idyllic ponds and supercouples

I had read about the scene with Carly by the pond, but only saw it yesterday for the first time. Before the wedding, she runs away to go clear her head – to Snyder Pond? As she stands by the pond reminiscing, there there is a nice flashback to when Jack gave her a symbolic compass so she can always find her True North….then she drops the compass in the water (prompting a heavy-handed, symbolism-laden discussion about how they don’t need the compass to find each other any more).

Although the lighting is completely different when you look at the images side by side, I got the feeling that it was filmed on the same location. Now, I realize that ATWT had a limited budget, but somehow it just didn’t feel right. Why would Carly be at Snyder Pond? Did the wedding take place there? I didn’t think so when I watched just the wedding episode, but when you add the before and after scenes, it looks like it does. If so, why are there all those lovely stone steps and sculptures at the pond? The Snyders seemed to have no-nonsense midwestern values written all over them, and the wedding venue didn’t look like Snyder Pond to me. Plus, I always thought the pond was a lot smaller (even than Luke’s incarnation), based on my very vague memories of Holden and Lily’s teen years (or maybe I’m mixing it up with Laurel Falls from Guiding Light).

And speaking of Holden and Lily, what a crying shame it is that Martha Byrne wasn’t brought back. The CarJack/original compass scene was timeless. And seeing Carly with her super-short boyish haircut with her buff young G-man only gave visual emphasis to the concept that maybe Carly (with her full head of siren-esque hair) was no longer the same young woman who made all those foolish mistakes.

Can you imagine the emotional impact of seeing the original Lily and Holden teenager scenes? They pre-date Jack and Carly by a good dozen years on the show. Though I have always liked the character of Holden in concept, he can definitely come off as holier than thou. Many have said that Jon Hensley was clearly channeling Martha Byrne in those final scenes with Noelle Beck.

At any rate – what a contrast – almost the exact same camera shot setup for Carly and Luke, but what a difference in story line. Carly, looking forward to a life with the love of her life, and Luke saying goodbye to his. Sigh. 🙁

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