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ARTICLE: Megan McTavish, November 19, 1998


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IT'S ALL A PLOT

Former soap actress finds her forte is scriptwriting.

by John Morgan

Correspondent

Forget about Erica Kane, Adam Chandler and Palmer Cortlandt. The true powerbroker on All My Children is head writer Megan McTavish.

Six days a week most every week of the year, McTavish works with a team of writers dreaming up the next plot twist in Kane's sordid love life or the next scheme Chandler will put into motion in Pine Valley. If that's not pressure enough, McTavish and her team must write stories for the other fan favorites in the cast like Brooke and Liza, Palmer and Opal, Tad and Dixie, and Hayley and Mateo, to name just a few.

"Sometimes this job is great fun, and sometimes it's utterly terrifying," says McTavish. "There is a certain amount of stress, but it's great to live in your imagination and have all these people do all these interesting things."

McTavish, who is single, splits her time between New York City and her home on 35 acres in Litchfield County, working with [her] four associate head writers, including Victor Miller of Trumbull. Each week, they construct each episode from scratch, working several weeks ahead.

"The process we go through is like this giant harvesting machine," she explains. The writers' proposals are sent to the network for review. If they are approved, they head to production before being sent to the dialogue writers and editors. Then, the editors pass it back to McTavish for one more glance before she turns it over for taping.

Writing wasn't the role McTavish envisioned herself playing when she graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in theater. She first worked as an actress in regional theater in Chicago before landing her first soap opera role in 1983 on Guiding Light. "I played Lola Fontaine, a hooker turned good. She always wore fun clothes -- stretch pants and leopard prints. I had a really wonderful time doing that part."

One day while on Guiding Light, McTavish found herself in the show's control room, reading scripts and indulging her burgeoning fascination with daytime television. "Pam Long, the head writer of the show at the time and the current head writer of One Life to Live, and Gail Kobe asked me to write some dialogue for the show," she says. "I did, and lo and behold, I got a job."

McTavish spent the next few years at Guiding Light before moving over to All My Children in 1987 as an associate head writer under the legendary Agnes Nixon, who created the show in 1970. "Agnes helped me a great deal," McTavish says. "I would offer story ideas to her, and she would tell me what she thought."

In 1992, McTavish became head writer at All My Children, a position she held until 1995, when she returned to Guiding Light to assume the top scribe's post. While at Guiding Light, McTavish penned arguably one of the most sensational mysteries of the decade when she had rapist Brent Lawrence return to Springfield as a cross dresser hell bent on exacting revenge on his victim, Lucy Cooper.

That storyline was pure McTavish," says Miller, was has worked with McTavish on both shows where she has served as head writer. "The Stuart and Marian relationship on All My Children is also pure McTavish. Megan has this ability to see possibilities that other writers don't. No one ever saw Stuart and Marian together as a couple, but Megan said, 'Let's try it,' and everyone went wild."

"I have an imagination, and I like to go out there a bit. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The best stories I have told are the ones that had a bit of hugeness to them, but were based on very realistic emotions." McTavish says. "Sometimes you get to add waht I call the spin. The cross dressing story on Guiding Light was a spin on a very old story. Brent came back for revenge. The spin was how he did it. That's what caught people's imaginations."

McTavish admits the pressure is on these days to come up with stories that "spin" viewers back to the glory days of All My Children. The show has lost viewers in recent months, currently sitting seventh in the ratings. McTavish started her second stint as head writer about a year ago.

"Clearly the Camille story didn't work for a lot of reasons. We were also lacking compelling couples -- that's why we brought the character of Dixie back. Starting in July though, I think viewers started to see a clearer vision of what this writing team is doing."

During McTavish's two years away, the show lost many popular cast members, including Sydney Penny, who played Julia. Eva LaRue, who played Maria, and Sarah Michelle Geller, who played Kendall.

"When I left the show, there were seven popular young women," she says. "When I returned, there was just one. One of our goals is to rebuild the younger age group with heroines, heroes and villains. That's why we brought Vincent Irizarry back to play David."

Miller, who has also written for Another World, says McTavish keeps a close eye on ratings and demographics. "I think she's most sensitive to her particular audience in trying to figure out what they most want to see on any given episode. I don't know any other writer who has memorized the ratings and demographics the way she has. She can rattle them off the top of her head. She's really an incredible student of viewership."

No matter what twists and turns the show takes, McTavish also needs to be mindful of writing quality stories for Susan Lucci, the industry's omnipresent powerhouse who has never won a Daytime Emmy Award despite 18 nominations.

"Susan and I have talked about this in the past," she says. "Why she doesn't win an Emmy, there are about 500 reasons for that. I think there is pressure in writing for Susan -- you want to keep her front and center because she is such a fan favorite. That to me is much more important than trying to write to win an Emmy for myself or anybody else. Emmys to me are gravy.

"The true grist of whether what you're writing is good or not is how many people are tuning in to watch it. Besides, three weeks after the Emmys are over, nobody remembers who won, anyway."

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Who were the seven popular young women? SMG, Eva Larue, Kelly Ripa, Sydney Penny...?

Stuart/Marian was probably my favorite part of McTavish's second run, along with Opal and her long lost son Adrian. I think those two stories could have brought a lot to AMC for some time.

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Who were the seven popular young women? SMG, Eva Larue, Kelly Ripa, Sydney Penny...?

Maybe she's including Dixie too, then there was Taylor, An-Li, Mimi... I dunno, and she could be exaggerating.

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She was flat. She didn't have much of a chance to act anyway, as she was mute for a while, and saddled with such a heavy backstory. I didn't see a lot of chemistry with MEK, although she's far from alone there. I don't think she had much of a chance. Her best work was in her last scenes where she was fighting with her crazy father Lee as he planned to blow up Holidays. In the long run I wish they'd kept her and tried something with her, since she was not as bad as Kit (the idea of Jack's sister returning from the dead...not bad...the rest....unforgivably awful).

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She was flat. She didn't have much of a chance to act anyway, as she was mute for a while, and saddled with such a heavy backstory. I didn't see a lot of chemistry with MEK, although she's far from alone there. I don't think she had much of a chance. Her best work was in her last scenes where she was fighting with her crazy father Lee as he planned to blow up Holidays. In the long run I wish they'd kept her and tried something with her, since she was not as bad as Kit (the idea of Jack's sister returning from the dead...not bad...the rest....unforgivably awful).

Right, Kit is the one I remember being so awful. Braden wasn't much better, though the actor was decent on that Sinbad showhe got after. (Did Camille die in the explosion?)

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It's amazing how many forgettable blent together characters have populated Pine Valley over the years.

I think it's because AMC has struggled to make popular new characters in more recent years, not to mention casting, and there's a lot of turnover. This seems to lead to odd decisions. I still don't understand why they decided Greenlee needed to be with Carlos and then Juan Pablo back to back. Since the first pairing was so popular...?

AMC also has a certain "type", or at least some of their writers do. And then when they try to break out of this type, that doesn't always work either (here's redhead Liza and here are her panties on the ground).

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