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AMC: SOD Online Interview with new headwriters

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— By Mara Levinsky

In May, after a months-long search, AMC named the team of James Harmon Brown and Barbara Esensten as its new co-head writers, succeeding Megan McTavish. The scribes, who officially reported for duty in early June, spoke to Digest about settling in to the show and their creative plans for Pine Valley.

Soap Opera Digest: Welcome!

James Harmon Brown: Thank you!

Barbara Esensten: Thank you!

Digest: How has the adjustment process gone for you?

Brown: It’s gone very well. Very well.

Esensten: We’ve worked with some of the writers before and some of the actors. Of course, we worked with Thorsten [Kaye, Zach] really closely on PORT CHARLES [where he played Ian] and love him, so when we arrived, it was wonderful to see and work with him again.

Brown: We also met a lot of people from LOVING and THE CITY, oddly enough, which we did all those years ago, who are working in Pine Valley now. So that was kind of fun, to meet some of them, the crew and directors. It was kind of like old home week.

Esensten: Julie [Hanan Carruthers, executive producer] gave us a little cocktail party so that we could sort of remeet the people who we’d worked with before and get acquainted with the new people we’d be working with, which was lovely.

Digest: I spoke to several of the attendees of that party, coming from different pockets of the show, and even people who’d been nervous about the change in head writer came away feeling really positive and very reassured.

Brown: We really like to create an atmosphere that’s fun. That includes all the writers. To make it the kind of environment that you’re not afraid to speak your mind in or have a silly idea or a crazy idea.

Esensten: Yesterday, when we were meeting with the writers, someone said, “Well, this is a really bad idea....” and we said, “Whoa! There are no bad ideas, only ideas that don’t work.”

Brown: And it applies to the actors, too. We like to keep an open door. They know these characters far better than we do, and if something isn’t working for them, as long as it’s not affecting long-term story, we want to make sure they know it’s okay to come in and see if we can fix it. That just adds, I think, to the idea that this is a team and that the team wants to go forward in a positive way.

Esensten: And of course, Julie, who we love working for [she was their boss at PC, as well], she’s very open to having the actors speak with us. So within reason, we really want to hear from them.

Digest: Let’s talk about your storytelling goals for AMC.

Brown: Our main goal is to make the stories a tree with many branches — the so-called umbrella stories. That’s always the goal when we come to a show, but the positive thing about this show is that there are so many great characters, rich history and family entanglements that it’s really not that difficult to make those branches grow.

Esensten: The stories that we have planned, as we sit down and talk about what’s going to be happening, it’s like, “Oh, my God, well, that’s really going to affect him because that’s his brother-in-law!” We play off that and the characters are so intertwined to begin with, it makes storytelling much easier — our type of storytelling. We just got off the phone with our scriptwriters and another thing we’ve been talking about is that you have to write the way that people talk today and make it conversational. You want the audience to believe that this really could be happening, and once you start doing so many stories that are so unrelatable, you get a little tune-out. So even if some of our stories appear to be larger than life, the goal is for the audience to think, “Wow, I’ve been there! I wonder what she’s going to do.” It may not be as operatic as the story we’re telling, but they’ve experienced the same kind of situation. I guess what we’re saying is that we’re trying to make our stories more real and our characters more relatable.

Digest: As you watch the show as it stands today, what areas of the canvas do you think need shoring up?

Esensten: You don’t go into a show and say, “Well, this isn’t working so well, so let’s change it.” You go in with your own ideas and say, “How can we make this show better because the show is working perfectly well? What would we emphasize?” One of the areas is that we need to have our teenagers really be teenagers and have a relatable place for them to gather and talk about some of the things that teenagers are going through today so that they’re not always talking about the same kinds of things their parents are talking about; they’re talking about their own lives. That’s an area we’re working on.

Brown: We think all the ingredients for this show to flourish are right there.

Esensten: We were very fortunate to be able to inherit this show with the actors and writers and, obviously, working with Julie ... We feel very fortunate to be here and actually, we’re having a good time! The first month is usually, “Oh, my God,” turning things around a little bit, but we’re really having a good time. We have a lot of humor injected into the meetings, some of which we can’t repeat, but we’ve taken our writers our for dinner and drinks and stuff and just had a lot of fun with it.

Brown: You gotta make it fun. On-screen, too. The calamities that happen to these characters are difficult enough, but if there isn’t a balance of some lightness, it becomes a dirge.

Digest (sarcastically): Well, gee, I only wish you had some actors on the show who were gifted comedically!

Harmon: Oh, I know! It’s just amazing when you come in and see what they’re capable of.

Esensten: It truly is. If you look at Tad and Jack in a scene together, it almost writes itself!

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"Esensten: The stories that we have planned, as we sit down and talk about what’s going to be happening, it’s like, “Oh, my God, well, that’s really going to affect him because that’s his brother-in-law!” "

How CUTE is she? Couldn't you eat her with a spoon?! Damn, this gal may get me to tune back into AMC! I could just picture her plotting story and then say that: "Oh, my GOD! Well, that's REALLY going to affect HIM because that's his BROTHER-IN-LAW!!"

Couldn't you DIE?!

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Lol JSF, you're too cute.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I have no problem w/ B&E. I actually liked their work on PC. Since AMC is a completely different show than PC, I don't expect to see vampires, werewolves and angels running around town.

Cautiously optimistic is how I feel. They have a lot to prove, but anyone, AND I MEAN ANYONE (with the exception of Higley, Jean Passanante [sp?] and Kreizman) will be an improvement over McTavish.

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They already said in SOD that there'll be no vampires, angels and whatnot LOL ;)

Here's the SOD interview, Angela posted originally at the Zen board:


When JHB and BE took over the head-writing reins of AMC last month, they were met with a mix of the familiar (actors and behind-the-scenes personnel with whom they'd worked at defunct ABC sudsers LOVING, THE CITY and PORT CHARLES) and the strange. Chuckles JHB. "This is the first time, in all our head-writing jobs we've gotten, that we've come onto a show that isn't on life support! We see this as an opportunity to take a show and see it really blossom, and we've never had that before."

Says BE, "This has always been the show that we wanted to work on. When I was growing up and raising my children, we watched AMC. So it's really, really nice to be here, and fabulous to be working with Agnes [Nixon, the show's creator and story consultant] and Julie [Hanan Carruthers, executive producer]," who was their boss at PC, and according to JHB, "our all-time favorite producer."

What are the scribes' top plot priorities? "One of the goals," Brown says, "is to bring back the show to the core characters. We're very strong believers in the story called umbrella story which begins with one thing and involves as many members of the canvas as we can put in there." To that end, "The return of Greenlee and it's impact [upon] not only Kendall and Zach and Ryan and Annie, but Erica and Jack and the many other branches, is something we are going to focus on immediately, with events that will trigger all of those characters into motion - and, we think, create story for the next year."

BE notes, "When we sat down with Brian and Julie and Agnes, [we agreed] that we also need to become more culturally and ethnically diverse. That's something that we're hoping to begin to make happen in the next couple of months."

What else can viewers expect? "We want to put more humor in the show because that's very important for balance," JHB offers. "David and Susan and Bobbie... There are so many people on this show who do comedy great and then turn on a dime and break your heart."

What won't fans see? "There will be no vampires in Pine Valley!" JHB laughs of one of PC's more out-there arcs. "And no mass murders!" adds BE of the serial killer tales that struck LOVING, THE CITY and, earlier this year, AMC. "No more mass murders!"

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The thing I do like that they said was that there was going to be no Mass murders. Thank god! Its all boring! Also I like that they do have a positive attitiude even though right now AMC is not that good. They wrote for PC when they were nominated for Oustanding Drama Series in 2003. I hope they can do the same!

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