I don’t think the show utilized the university as well as it could have. The pilot movie did a good job dealing with the politics of education with the impact the prostitution ring and the murders had on the campus and the president’s need to get things under control. I think the presidential rivalry between Garth and Roger was doomed though due to the fact Garth was raping Lily and Roger’s ambitions were always bigger than Corinth. The show should have used Garth’s murder to keep Roger in Corinth by Roger’s advisors deciding to wait on backing Roger until things cooled down in his family. By December, 1983, the show was pretty much done with the college campus and started shifting the characters into more business roles. The last college centric story I recall was Doug and Rita Mae’s flirtation while they planned the Faculty Follies.
Structurally, the different family units were nice, but too compact. There were way too many married couples when the series started. Personally, I would have had Rose Donovan as a single mother, learning to live on her own after the recent death of her husband. Also, I would have Patrick’s death be a catalyst for some of Mike’s emotional issues reemerging: his father, his hero, the cop having died. Instead of Patrick Donovan, I would have Victor Vochek, father of Jim, Noreen, and Merrill, who would work for Alden University as a groundskeeper. Victor would claim he is a widower and would have a C-level romance with Rose. The death of Gina Vochek, Victor’s wife, would be a mystery alluded to, but not dealt with directly, until Rose and Victor became more serious, at which point Victor would reveal that Gina ran off years ago and he didn’t know where she was. Mike would be suspicious and this angle would create tension among members of both families, which I think was desperately needed. Eventually, Victor and Rose would marry and Gina would return to cause conflict.
Along the lines of the families, I think I would have also downplayed the Bristows. They could be a recurring feature, but I don’t think I would have brought them on contract. Instead, I would have given Lilly Slater a brother, which I think would have given the Lily story a different beat, and given Lorna someone to play off of.
It's amazing how well the show did given everything that happened. In the first six months, there were only two major plotlines: the Ann / Roger / Merrill / Doug and Jack / Lily / Curtis. Most of the other characters were either reacting to one of the two plotlines or involved in short vignettes that didn't really lead to much story (almost everything having to do with Mike Donovan). I think there were some promising stories (Lorna flirting with Doug Donovan, Noreen's work with AIDS patients) but they never went anywhere. In my opinion, the show didn't really blossom until they introduced a duo of schemers: loyal Alden Enterprises employee Dane Hammond and cunning lawyer Shana Sloane, Cabot's illegitimate daughter. Once they arrive, I think the story starts to solidify with the show's first multi-year arc (Dane's pursuit of everything Cabot Alden possesses).
Of course, with the departure of Lily in January, Merrill in March, and Roger in April, 1984, the show basically threw itself into the Dane / Shana revenge plot which slowly brought in Cabot, Isabelle, Ann, Jack, and Mike and also introduced Harry Sowolsky and Kate and Ava Rescott. The show continued to play a lot of mini arcs (the short lived Lorna / Tony / Stacey triangle) or stories that went nowhere (Warren's much talked about but never seen daughter). Dane's revenge linked the remnants of the show's last two storylines and brought them under one story umbrella. With the strong story in place, the show was finally in place to develop other parts of the canvas with the introduction of rich bitch Gwyn Alden and her teenage daughter, Trisha.
By this point, the show has pretty much abandoned the college canvas in favor of Alden Enterprises. Curtis Alden, Colby Cantrell, and Lorna Forbes are involved in the work at Burnell's. Gwyn is in charge of the cosmetics company where Keith Lane worked. Dane purchased Forbes Construction which employed Jack Forbes and Ava Rescott. Later, Dane aligned himself with the Beecham brothers in order to get control of AE. Once the business storylines were in place, the show appears to be much stronger.
I think one of the biggest misfires in the show's early years was trying to make the character of Jonathan Maitlane happen. Initially, Jonathan was introduced as the villain in the Doug / Edy storyline, a B-story at best, which took Doug away from Corinth and sent him to the West Coast where he was developing a TV show and trying to solve a serial killer storyline. The Doug and Edy story came to an end with Edy's death, Doug's departure from the canvas, and Jonathan's death on the bridge, or so we thought. The show kept the actor, John O'Hurley, around in another secondary role, Keith Lane, a chemist working for the Aldens perfume company (Amourelle? or maybe there was another company). I think they chemistry tested Keith with several characters: Lorna, Colby Cantrell, and Gwyn Alden. Jonathan returned while Keith was involved with Gwyn leading to the first of Gwyn's three sexual with a doppleganger for her current lover. This storyline lead to the awful storyline where former prostitute Dolly believed the daughter she was given up for adoption was involved in a kiddie porn ring. Thankfully, someone wrote Dolly and Keith out after Dolly saw her daughter was safe with her adoptive parents.
I’m also not sure how the Shana / Jim storyline would work. Having seen what “Days of our Lives” did with Eric and Nicole, I can see the kind of angst this type of story could serve with strong actors, which I gather Keith and Davies were, but, on a soap, I think this kind of story ruins a character like Keith’s Shana Sloane. Shana was a woman scorned, abandoned by her father, abandoned by the man she loved. It’s this abandonment that drives her. Her relationship with Dane worked because they were both using each other. Shana’s relationship with Cabot remained a rollercoaster, and Taggert and King were smart to link Jim’s death to Cabot in order to fuel that dynamic, but foolishly wrote Cabot out before any of the fall out could be played. The Shana reset in 1990 never played to its potential because Shana was again domesticated with her marriage to Leo Burnell and the birth of her daughter. I think Shana, like Ava, should have been allowed to suffer a little longer and eventually the two should have crossed paths in a more serious storyline.
The problem was Marland and Nixon were too different. When Marland leaves, there is a complex business world active in Corinth, which Nixon simply isn't able to maintain. Instead, she emphasizes the emotional aspects of the story and employs some lame twists in order to make them work. For example, Dane Hammond had supported Lorna Forbes' modelling career in return for her shares of her grandfather's company. In the meantime, Lorna was romanced by businessman Linc Beecham, unaware Linc and Dane were plotting to takeover Alden Enterprises. The takeover happened in the final months of Marland's run (early 1985). Instead of continuing the complicated relationship between Linc and Lorna over Linc's business practices we segued into a story involving a meddling mother (Jane Powell's Rebekah Beecham), a secret wife (the Henry Sleasar inspired Zona), a fake pregnancy, and murder trial which results in Linc's departure from Corinth and Lorna's pairing with Zach Conway.
Similarly, Dane and Ann’s caustic marriage, which has resulted in the return of Ann’s alcoholism, is quickly scuttled and Dane is shipped out of town. Dane and Ann’s marriage had the potential to be a powerful dynamic to the show by enhancing the relationship between Dane / Lorna, Dane / Jack, Dane / Ann, Dane / Cabot, Dane / Shana, Shana /Ann, and Cabot / Ann. Also, before Roger disappeared in the plane crash (his body was never recovered), Roger revealed he had known Shana from his days in Washington. While I think it was perfectly innocent, dropping a returned Roger Forbes into that story would have opened several wounds and created a new ripple in that storyline. Unfortunately, it was a beat never played.
Dane’s departure was significant because it highlighted the lack of complex male characters on the show. The next character of Dane’s type would probably be Randolph Mantooth’s Clay Alden / Alex Masters. Alex is definitely a credit to Mantooth as the storyline was started Ralph Ellis, had a huge thrust written during the writers strike, before being turned over to Tom King and Millee Taggert. Initially, I think the writing for Jeff Hartman suggested that Jeff could have been a complicated male character who created conflict while also creating a bond with the audience, but from the sounds of it, casting could never get it right. By the time Richard Steinmetz was in the role, Taggert and King had already introduced Steve Sowolsky-lite in the form of Trucker McKenzie and decided Jeff was going to go crazy. What a shame.
Christopher Marcantel’s Curtis Alden seemed to get some of that sort of writing, but he seemed to be watered down with each recast from playboy racecar driver (Linden Ashby) to heir to the family fortune (Burke Moses). His return in the late 1980s de-ages and whitewashes the character completely. It’s hard to imagine the Curtis Alden of 1983 flirting with Rita Mae while calling himself Jack Forbes would be in competition with Todd Jones over Rocky McKenzie. I think the complex backstory and haunting presence of Perry Stephens may have been put to better use had a writer like Marland stayed. Instead, Jack is pretty much a dud when it comes to Ava’s baby deception and falling for Lilly Slater’s seduction. Also, the absence of both Roger, Dane, and eventually Ann make a lot of that backstory unimportant. I think I would have written in a character who was a brother of Jack’s late mother Linda, who would have toyed with Jack’s moral compass and allowed him to waver between Alden and Henderson. There is no reason Jack Forbes couldn’t have been “Loving’s” answer to Phillip Spaulding.
Anyway, my main point is I think “Loving” had potential, but the potential was never properly utilized by any of the show’s writers.