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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gay Thursday: One Life to Live

In Chicago for a farewell to One Life to Live and knowing that Mark Dobies will be joining us to celebrate Llanview, it brought to mind the following, one of our first posts back in 2005. Perhaps it is fair to say that One Life to Live has the best score card telling gay stories among its Soap Opera competition, mostly re: the character of Billy Douglas and the subsequent AIDS quilt story. However, like most if its competition, the show was held hostage by network executives and shrill fans. Gay storylines, among others, became the victim of bad writing and uninformed individuals. What needs to be remembered by the remaining shows is that this is a genre that is character and actor driven. Soap Operas fail miserably at plot driven scenarios. Anyway, back in 2005 this was our take on it. Now Mr. Dobies is in Chicago to greet his fans. The character of Daniel Colson is just a strange blip on the gay character radar screen.

Perhaps it’s a viewer’s own pretense to expect daytime drama to rise to the occasion of the depiction of gay people consistently and realistically since lately there has been much to be desired in the depiction of everybody no matter their sexual orientation, skin colour or gender.

Many viewers, it is suspected, have had a desire to see gay people integrated into the canvases of various afternoon serials. In the past, All My Children, One Life to Live and As the World Turns have made valiant efforts in that direction. During those memorable moments in Daytime TV history, the creative quotient was much higher than one might find in this not so memorable moment of the genre’s history.

Those stories centered around acceptance of gay people and AIDS while leaning toward the goodliness of the gay character and sometimes the not so gay characters involved in their lives.

Mark Dobies as
Daniel Colson
One Life to Live is currently at the tail end of a story involving a closeted, murdering politician, Daniel “Ted” Colson portrayed by Mark Dobies.

When Dobies came to the show his role was non-contractual and he was there as a prop to the long suffering Nora Gannon Buchanan. Colson was portrayed as an abusive, alcoholic father who had ambitions for Nora’s ex-husband’s position as the District Attorney and, as fate would have it, a position that would make him the boss of Nora’s other ex-husband, Police Commissioner Bo Buchanan. Nora and Daniel ran against each other for the position.

Colson’s is/was a character that seemed to be placed in any position that the current writing committee found necessary. Soon he was sober and ready to change his life. He and Nora were dating. Wait, then he was involved peripherally in the great baby debate as a pawn of Adam Chandler which emphasized his higher political ambitions when all of sudden he did the right thing and decided not to lie for the powerful Chandler family. Shortly thereafter he not only wants to marry Nora in a hurry but also wants to railroad his son’s love of life, Jennifer, into jail for the murder of Paul Cramer who set above baby case in motion; none of which was adequately explained unless mere political ambition can set in motion all of those things all at once. Colson, of course, became guilty of murdering the blackmailing Paul Cramer and eventually Jennifer Rappaport when she realized what he had done.

It seems de rigueur these days that daytime serials play fast and furious not only with facts but also with consistency of character development. Characters who hover about in the gray areas are the most interesting, so it isn’t necessary that characters be cast in either black or white. Gray is just fine for the Dorian Cramers and Erica Kanes of those worlds, although at times their claim to consistency can be quite tenuous. The aim of TV Executives, Show Producers and Head Writers is to achieve long lasting ratings. They are failing miserably.

The character of Daniel Colson has changed a lot since its inception mostly as a prop in order to recouple the Nora and Bo characters which is an alleged long term ratings boost. It has almost nothing to do with Colson’s homosexuality, which was a May Sweeps stunt for a short term ratings boost. Dobies is a trooper and the industry should do the man justice for his character’s being all over the plot driven map and the actor’s acquiescence. It is a fond hope that he continues to be gainfully employed. He did very well with what he was given. He was taken out of that gray area and was put in the very black, unredeemable area.

In Soap Opera DigestIn Chica, Vol. 30, No. 21 in Thumbs Up! & Thumbs Down! “One Life to Live: The Daniel Dilemma” an editorial states:

OLTL’s decision to make psycho murderer Daniel a closeted gay man who kills people to hide his sexual preference is somewhat disturbing. We probably don’t need to add to some individuals’ already rampant fear of gay people with a story about a guy who would kill the love of his son’s life and trick an innocent woman into marrying him just to mask the fact that he sleeps with men.

What is shocking in the first place is that an editor would use the word, preference re: a person’s sexuality. What is also shocking is that suddenly Soap Opera Digest became a supporter of positive gay images on Soap Operas. There is a positive gay character in this story, unfortunately it is a character portrayed as naïf and unknowing whose motivations are not fully explained. If the so called Soap Press truly cares about the state of gay characters on Daytime TV, perhaps actually brokering for well written characters is what it should be up to.

All the positive proclamations and posturing come from heterosexual female characters on the show further emphasizing Colson’s downfall as a plot device for the saintly Nora to exclaim that homosexuality is not a disease. Thank you very much, but the American Psychiatry Association told us that over thirty years ago with all due respect to Hillary Bailey Smith who, also a trooper and very good actress who has endured turning Nora into the eternal victim. Is this the same woman who ran against Colson for District Attorney?

The trailing of Colson to a New York gay bar was not as comical as it might have been. Belief had to be suspended because it is very unlikely that a paranoid closeted public individual would go to a gay bar in Chelsea. Belief had to be suspended because it is unlikely that his very young lover, also very recently out of the closet, would take him to a gay bar for a special night out. Belief had to be suspended that the Police Commissioner with his snitch would go to a city outside his jurisdiction to find Colson drinking in a bar. It was enjoyable only from the standpoint of watching Woods and Lauvoisier work together. Unfortunately it was in a contrived situation.

Disney, ABC-TV’s parent company, is a gay friendly company and survived, so to speak, a Baptist Church boycott; it is, therefore, difficult to follow GLAAD’s lead in boycotting ABC. GLAAD endorsed the highly flawed Bianca Montgomery character and story on All My Children. It’s easy, a cheap shot if you will, to paint ABC and even the ubiquitous Brian Frons bogeyman with a homophobic brush. GLAAD gave an award to its positive depiction of Marcie’s brothers’ woes. It somehow got lost that her brother’s sexuality and Mark’s for the matter were all about Marcie.

Returning to basics it is better to say that whoever is writing at ABC-TV about a variety of subjects is not doing a good job*. It’s as simple as that. Ratings, at least in this case, are at an all time low in an ever increasingly competitive television market because the product is ever increasingly inferior. It has been a cliché for years to belittle Soaps because of their style and plot devices, and unhappily they remain in that rut. Those who continue to watch are those who are obsessed with the continuity of the story telling and often watch with the motivation of following a plot to its logical conclusion as evidenced by the tiny ratings spike that the baby switch story on All My Children engendered. It is looking more and more like that’s about as good as it gets. Those who are inevitably loyal to the storytelling are not necessarily as fierce in their loyalty as they once were.

The issue is not as some allegedly progressive editor in the so called Soap Opera Press might call rampant homophobia, but rather if the story is told well with all its elements in place. The Daniel Colsons of the world are real. Al Pacino gave a memorable performance in Angels in America as did James Woods in Citizen Cohn of a public figure who persecuted his own kind and died of the “gay cancer” which came to be known as AIDS. Jon Stewart has said something to the effect of if you want to meet gay men go to the anti-gay buffet. Just follow recent news events. Of course, it is seldom that these individuals resort to murdering their sons’ girlfriends, but is a fictional story. Governor McGreevey, although a day late and a dollar short in his “I-Am-A-Gay-American Speech” is the least despicable of all the possible self-loathing gay men in government who persecute their own kind. The persecution takes on many forms. It is useful to call to mind the AIDS activist slogan, Silence=Death. Colson’s story might have been more believable had it gone along the lines of those who take out their self-loathing in anti-gay public policy.

A recent real life story out of Columbia, Missouri has a closeted gay policeman allegedly murdering his young male lover. The judge in the case was quoted as saying that the case had more to say about the officer’s state of mind rather than Columbia’s which would have been accepting of having a gay officer on the force. Perhaps the Colson story will say the same thing about the state of mind of the community of Llanview, Pennsylvania. It should be hoped that Rick Santorum (R-Pa) is not their Senator.

So, what is needed are writers who are aware of the human condition and know how to express it. What the genre needs are actors and characters who can give us pathos. It doesn’t necessarily have to be original, very few creative efforts are. It is the expression that need be unique. The originality within this framework has to be devoid of knee jerk liberalism. The story of someone like the character that Daniel Colson turned out to be should be told; his young lover Mark’s story and his coming out needs to be told, but not through Marcie eyes – through his own.

Daniel Colson is a tortured individual who was an abusive, alcoholic father but was also driven to aspire to public office for all the wrong reasons. He was somehow able to win Mark who for all intents and purposes is a good person. Why does Mark love Daniel? Why does Daniel love Mark?

Nora can be applauded for reminding us in the middle of her own hysteria that homosexuality is not a disease. The disease is that Daniel brought himself to this precipice. Now we can begin.

Yesterday’s episode saw Daniel’s admission of guilt and his departure for Statesville Prison.

Frank Valentini, the Executive Producer of One Life to Live was recently quoted as saying that Marcie’s brother resolves the issues with his homophobic father in a special Father’s Day episode. That will bear some regard and we’ll do our best to do that justice.


*A notable exception may be John Loprieno. When his name appears on the writing credits, some characters seem more articulate and believable.

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