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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why One Life To Live Got Un-Gay

One Life to Live’s landmark same-sex duo, Kyle Lewis (Brett Claywell) and Oliver Fish (Scott Evans), will abruptly exit the soap next week, amidst speculation that ABC dumped them due to complaints from homophobic viewers. The guys’ final scenes together air April 12, when Fish, who’s a cop, goes to court and wins custody of baby Sierra Rose. Kyle, a doctor, is seen just once more after that, on April 16, confirming some huge DNA news to Rex (John-Paul Lavoisier).

None of the OLTL brass has been talking on the record about this controversial termination, which came three months before Claywell’s contract was due to expire. Claywell at least got official word from the show the day before the news broke. Evans, who is considered a recurring player and therefore not entitled to official notice, had to hear about his axing via Twitter.

At first, ABC tried to play down the double firing in a press statement that trumpeted the Kish story for its boldness and its GLAAD awards, claiming that the couple did indeed resonate with the audience, and making it seem as if their story had simply played itself out and come to a natural conclusion.

But, finally, we have some honesty and a little bit more clarity! In an exclusive statement to TV Guide Magazine, ABC Daytime PR chief Jori Petersen now says “The Kish story did not have the appeal we hoped it would. We are going to spend our time on stories that have a more favorable reaction from our audience.”

Naturally, the situation has the Kishinistas apoplectic. “It’s the most angry and vocal fan reaction to a firing I’ve ever seen and a lot of it is coming from straight women,” says Jamey Giddens, editorial director of the popular Daytime Confidential Web site. “This goes far beyond the response we got when Days of Our Lives fired Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn.”

Gay media, which applauded OLTL for its realistic and passionate depiction of men in love, is handling things way better than the fans. “Kish brought a lot of attention and energy to OLTL, so this is not a smart move from either a business or a karmic point of view,” observes editor Michael Jensen. “Still, we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. ABC made history here. The network deserves credit for making a lot of progress.”

Claywell seconds that emotion: “Pulling the story off the air is like taking two steps back but I don’t fault ABC,” the actor says. “The fact they let us tell this story at all is what’s important, and if I had to lose my job to get this on TV, then I’m proud of that. I’m just kinda sad and really sorry that there’s still so much fear and ignorance in our society. Maybe five years from now, this won’t happen to two other actors portraying this kind of story.”

Claywell suspects the writing was on the wall back on December 30, 2009 when OLTL showed Kyle and Fish in the throes of lusty sex, a first for gay males on a daytime soap (if you don’t count that down-low guy and the psychotic hermaphrodite on Passions). ABC chose not to promote the event in advance, as if hoping not to alarm or infuriate viewers. “I was definitely hurt by that,” Claywell says. “We should have gotten a lot more attention for those groundbreaking scenes. For them to not tell anybody that we were about to make history makes me think the wheels were already in emotion to get rid of us.”

Of course, it’s entirely possible Claywell and Evans might have survived had OLTL’s openly gay head writer Ron Carlivati not gone overboard with other gay-related stories. At the same time the Kish relationship was developing, nutjob Dorian (Robin Strasser) claimed to be a lesbian and began a faux romance with her campaign manager, Amelia (Tia Dionne Hodge), in order to win the town mayoral election. (In a plot twist goofier than Satan invading Salem, the outcome of the vote actually hinged on the LGBT community.) There was also a mass wedding involving more than two dozen same-sex couples, which triggered a feverish face-off between anti-gay protestors and the Llanview police, as well as a sub-plot involving Kyle’s former boyfriend Nick (Nicholas Rodriguez) getting gay-bashed.

“From the beginning, Scott and I were uneasy about that big gay political wedding,” Claywell admits. “We were telling a slow, subtle love story about two guys who just happened to be gay. We didn’t want to make it in-your-face, which is what the wedding was. It pulled us away from what we were trying to do. We wanted to exist separately from that. It was too much and, in a way, Scott and I became the sacrificial lambs.”
The firing will leave CBS’ As the World Turns as the only soap with vital gay characters right now, and that has AfterElton’s Jensen noting a disconnect. “Isn’t the goal of the soaps—and really all programming—to lure younger viewers?” he asks. “Well, it’s the younger viewers who are just fine about seeing gay people on TV. They are much more tolerant than older viewers. They live in a world where diversity is increasing and is an accepted part of life.”

Jensen adds that gay fans feel a sense of ownership when it comes to gay characters. “We have so few good representations out there that you become attached to the ones that do exist,” he says. “Obviously, we can’t demand that OLTL keep gay characters on its canvas. It’s their show, not ours. But we sure have a right to say ‘If you have no gay characters then you’re not doing your job when it comes to reflecting reality.’”

Right now, ABC isn’t concerned about that. OLTL hit its lowest ratings ever during the Kish romance, though the blame for this could just as easily be laid on the much-hated storylines involving toxic villains Stacy (Crystal Hunt) and Mitch (Roscoe Born) that were sucking up a lot of airtime during this same period. Whatever the case, there is much work to be done to win back the mainstream audience and right now the network can’t afford to care about Kish fans bailing.

“We know that, at the end of the day, soaps are a business, but I wouldn’t want to cater to an audience that was upset about watching a young, gay couple who were committed to each other and leading good lives,” says Daytime Confidential’s Giddens. “To end things this way leaves a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouths. To make the gay characters the scapegoats and to not give them a proper send-off is Bad PR 101. It’s a recipe to anger and enrage a fan base that’s been loyal and supportive of the show. Those fans might not be the core demographic OLTL wants but you’d think in this day and age—when everyone is worried about their ratings—that every eyeball ought to matter.”

ABC’s Petersen reminds us that Kish is not leaving town, and that we may see them again when there’s a brief need for a cop or a doctor. ”We are sunsetting the storyline but Kish will remain in Llanview,” she says. “The door is open.”

Claywell doesn’t think this is baloney. In fact, he’s strangely hopeful. “I can’t imagine that OLTL will never revisit this story,” says the actor. “Who knows? Maybe someday they’ll have us back and there will be a wedding for Kyle and Oliver. I would not be surprised if that happens before the end of time.”


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