All My Children has in toned down on the amount of screentime devoted to the older actors, replacing them with fresh-out-of-acting-school newbies. This is not a new trend. Soap operas like AMC want to draw in more age groups, more people, by expanding the number of younger characters. Younger characters = younger and newer viewers.
Longtime fans of all my children have taken to calling this trend of not utilizing veteran actors as putting them in the “Backburner Cafe”. Rarely on AMC do you see Palmer, Opal, or Myrtle. In fact, a good portion of the cast is under-used.
In June of this year, two veteran contract performers, Jill Larson (Opal) and Tonya Pinkins (Livia Frye), were released from their contracts to make way for the summer surge of young flesh. Both actresses are now on recurring status, but may continue to make appearances on the show in the future. This is bound to make other vets on the show apprehensive about their own contracts, such as Ray MacDonnell (Joe Martin) or James Mitchell (Palmer Cortlandt), who have little to no screen-time as it is.
Many viewers feel that headwriter Megan McTavish is to blame for not utilizing seasoned pros who could contribute richly to the canvas of the storyline. In the world of soap operas, McTavish is a pariah. She is accused of everything, from writing only silly plot-driven stories rather than character-driven ones, rewriting the history of the characters on her whims.
More recently, outrage was cried from fans in a major backlash against McTavish’s handling of a storyline involving Erica Kane (Susan Lucci). In the shows infancy, a storyline where Erica got pregnant by her husband. Erica was a model and didn’t want to ruin her body and career for a baby, so she secretly had an abortion. At the time, and even today, this is still a hot-button issue. The character was always clear that she wanted the abortion because she wanted to model.
Fast forward to this year, McTavish had Erica giving other reasons never mentioned on the show. In addition, she wrote that the ground-breaking abortion story that drew fans to All My Children never happened at all. Instead, Erica’s embryo was stolen by the doctor who performed her “abortion” and implanted inside the man’s own wife and is now all grown up as a late twenties man named Josh. McTavish stands by her decision and in interviews denied that she had changed or altered the history of the show.
Rumors abound as to whether she will be able to hang onto her job as headwriter. Ratings have slid, fan have written nasty letters. Megan McTavish is not a popular person right now. Until the producers of AMC release a statement about her further employee, the rumors are just that…and wishful thinking from its faithful audience.
Now with Larson and Pinkins released from their contracts, it’s unlikely that McTavish has any plans to use any of the veterans in the tapestry of the show, other than quick cameos to prop up another character’s storyline. One big reason that fans continue to watch a soap opera year after year is because they see these characters grow and evolve through the years.
The vets so important to a soap opera, not because of their age, or demographics they draw in but because the veterans carry the history of the show. They are the keepers of the history. Blending them into current storylines with the younger actors keeps the soap feeling true, intact and keeps the history going. Society does not run on young people alone, the “more experienced” members of society carry it’s history and experiences with them. The blending is what keeps us all together.