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KISH & Tell: Shifting The Blame

KISH And Tell

An honest and raw take on the controversial firing of One Life to Live’s Brett Claywell (Kyle) and Scott Evans (Fish).

DISCLAIMER: The thoughts represented in this column are solely those of the author and do not represent the thoughts of TVSource Magazine, it’s advertisers or its staff. 

Sorry if I get a bit long winded, but I’ve just listened to podcasts and read varying news reports and message board posts about the demise of the KISH storyline and I have a lot to say about the commentary and the responses.

First let me say, I am not a KISH fan.  I don’t hate them. I am not offended by them. I think Ron Carlivati obviously wrote these characters and this story with tremendous affection and care, and the performers were also very talented and dedicated to the story. But I never liked Fish as a character.  I thought he was kind of goofy, spineless and wishy-washy and he didn’t have much fire.  He didn’t have any edge to him and I never found him in the least sexy and that’s when he was presumably straight so it has nothing to do with his sexual orientation.  Then, I really detested him for using Layla, who is one of my personal favorites on the show, as his cover. Then when Fish’s coming out scenes aired and Tika’s performance, the MOST amazing part of those scenes in my humble opinion, was treated as an afterthought on most sites, I was really resentful.

I generally avoided posting in KISH gush threads on message boards and telling anyone that I didn’t like them, because I don’t think any character is supposed to be universally liked by all the viewers, but on the rare occasion I did express my sentiments about Fish and KISH, I inevitably was labeled a homophobe.  Sigh!  It doesn’t matter that I don’t like other goofy unsexy characters that are straight, like Charlie.  It didn’t matter that I liked Kyle a lot, and loved his relationship with Roxy.  I was a bigot because I didn’t like the pairing.  I really wish I liked them, because they were THE topic of discussion on every board and if you didn’t feel the love, you didn’t have a whole lot to talk about with anyone.

All that said, I think the firing of the actors and the abrupt termination of their story is a huge mistake.  I also think it is such an extreme and entirely avoidable PR disaster that whoever was responsible for leaking all these excuses to different outlets should retreat from the public embarrassment.

1) There is no way to convince me that the suits at ABC genuinely believe any single couple, character, pairing, or story is predominantly responsible for the decline in ratings.  There will always be stories that are offensive to some viewers but appeal to others.  That’s what the FF button is for.  It’s insane that any intelligent savvy media executive would actually try to lay a decline in the ratings on ANY single factor.  If every other story on the show were firing on all cylinders . . . KISH wouldn’t have made a dent positively or negatively.

Laying the ratings disaster at KISH’S feet merely encourages uneducated viewers who neither understand the rating system, nor how the powers that be use the data as a decision factor, to continue tossing out amateur analyses about what made 40,000 viewers tune out or tune in on such and such day purely as a way to justify their preferences for or against specific stories.  It’s difficult to explain to those viewers that it’s not that simple if the powers that be basically do exactly the same thing, as in this case.  What happens if the ratings continue to fall (and I believe they very well may) after Kish is no longer on the show?  Do they just try to find something else to blame?  How are they going to explain that to all the irate KISH fans?  They’ve really headed down a slippery slope here.

2)  KISH does have a strong fan following.  OLTL can ill afford to alienate any fans right now, and they just flagrantly dissed a large portion of their audience.  It’s not as if KISH were on every day and chewing up screen time at some alarming rate.  This isn’t the first time ABC has abandoned a popular pairing just because they wanted to, but anytime they drop a pairing that represents "diversity" there is always a huge backlash, so how they didn’t anticipate this is beyond comprehension.  Even people who didn’t particularly care for the pairing cannot in good conscience support what appears on its surface to be unabashed bigotry.  That’s offensive to almost everyone (well except bigots).  And it wasn’t necessary to drop KISH.    Kish could have been the new Marcie and Michael McBain.  There were many different avenues they could have taken.  They could have at least ridden out Brett’s contract and used the old "we couldn’t come to terms" spiel.  Fans would have complained about it, but it would have been infinitely less painful than the backlash OLTL is currently enduring.

3) I honestly believe it WAS storyline related.  I don’t know why they decided to end the custody story.  Perhaps it was budgetary and they needed to shed a lump of cast members at one time.  It’s impossible to ignore that the vast majority of the recent firings were directly related to the custody story.  They gutted Rex and Gigi’s (the sacred cows) future story arc for a reason.  Almost all these characters were isolated and had little interaction with the rest of the canvas, so if the goal was to pare down the bloated cast of OLTL quickly; the custody story was an obvious and expedient focal point.

I believe KISH was collateral damage through no fault of their own, and I also think this was the reason for Farah’s little meltdown.  But instead of blaming the characters who are (arguably) at the center of any failure for that story (ummmm Rex and Gigi), OLTL executives deflect the blame on KISH?  When was the last time Rex and Gigi had a story that was a raging success with or without KISH?  I’m not making stuff up here.  Rex and Gigi fans have complained about their stories on the message boards.  John Paul Lavoisier and Farah Fath have complained openly about their stories in the press which is irrefutable evidence that not even they believe their stories have worked.  There’s a simple rule in PR.  Never lie when the truth will serve better. 

Now I’ve just told you what I think, but even if you presume that all my beliefs about what really happened and why KISH was terminated are completely baseless, doesn’t my explanation sound far more plausible and far less offensive than any of the multiple excuses OLTL made?  All OLTL had to say was the custody story was being abbreviated for any nonsensical reason they chose (it could be because this is a leap year or tax season is approaching – ANYTHING) and it would have offered a plausible explanation that didn’t point the finger at KISH!  That the PR department didn’t have anything better prepared for this news flash is the height of idiocy.

4)  If gay overload is a legitimate concern (which seems even more archaic a term when I see the words in print) then don’t make all Kyle and Fish’s stories about being gay or being a couple.  Being gay men is one aspect of their characters but it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the center of all their stories.  Layla is African American but that’s not the source of all her stories.  Brody is a war veteran but that is not at the center of his stories.  Jessica is mentally ill but . . . wait, that’s a bad example.  But you get my meaning.

Like all characters, being gay was a part of their introduction to the canvas and an important part of their back story, but there are many other ways to thread them into the stories that are playing out that would not only keep them on the show, but would also improve those stories by their inclusion.  That doesn’t mean ignore that they are gay, but simply don’t make their sexual orientation the focal point of everything they do because being gay is not all that they are.  Furthermore, isn’t the ultimate goal of diversity to have all characters treated with equal care and respect as their straight Caucasian male and female counterparts?  Well that means after their love story is told – AND IT WAS TOLD – then we don’t see them having sex all the time, or even kissing.  They get filtered into other stories and play a different yet active role in those stories.  When was the last time John and Marty had a love scene that wasn’t fade to black?  Bo and Nora had one love scene and we rarely even see them together.  When was the last time before she was brainfried that we saw Jessica and Brody have a love scene?  How many love scenes have Cris and Layla had?  That’s what happens to the “mainstream” (whatever the hell that really means) couples after they become committed couples, so if KISH is treated equally, that’s what is to be expected.

Finally, I want to add that I think KISH fans MAY actually be hurting their cause by how they’re approaching this turn of events.  I do sympathize with the KISH fans’ outrage.  However, most recently, the reactions to the KISH ouster almost inevitably point to all the other stories on OLTL as somehow less worthy or entertaining than KISH.  To hear many KISH fans speak, the show really sucks.  All the prior gushing about the glory that is OLTL being the best daytime drama was solely related to KISH, which was by most standards a secondary storyline at best and in its latest arc was propping Stacy, Kim, Rex and Gigi.  Now that KISH is ended, the show is supposedly unwatchable. The Buchanan twins are a disaster.  Kelly’s introduction is a disaster.  The teens are a disaster.  Blair and Todd are a disaster.  All the characters that long term viewers have been tuning in to see for years are just a waste of space. Nothing is good.  I’ve been saying for months that the show is disastrous.  I quit submitting the column THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE FUGLY because I struggled each week to find something good.  Even the stories for characters I love are not good, and the stories for characters I don’t love are atrocious.  But if the show should be about KISH and all the other characters are superfluous, then make a new soap and call it something else because it’s no longer One Life to Live if you eliminate the Buchanans, the Lords and the Cramers.

The solution to improving the show cannot rest solely upon restoring KISH to the canvas and proclaiming OLTL as groundbreaking and simply the best because of them.  The same loving care and attention to detail that Ron Carlivati devoted to the story of KISH must be given to all the stories he’s trying to tell, whether they’re of his heart or not.  They all must be improved.  I don’t believe that the best approach to promote a change in this decision is to condemn the other stories on the show in favor of KISH because it appears agenda driven, and we all know how the powers that be respond to agenda.  I would recommend outraged fans continue to write in and continue to be vocal about wanting them back, and explain how their insertion could improve the current stories of which they are so derisive. Wouldn’t it be great if Kyle conspired with his best friend Roxy (Marty’s new champion) to keep John and Natalie apart, while Fish was actually covering for them as they tryst in the afternoon?  Couldn’t Fish run interference for Layla and Brody to keep Cris from succumbing to Jessica’s teenage seduction, while Kyle was busily working to find some medical treatment to restore her memories?  It’s not that hard people.  That’s how the fan base game is played.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  There are no guarantees.

Focus on the solution to OLTL’s current problem of how to extricate themselves from this quicksand of suckage they’ve created.  A graceful exit will go a long way toward achieving everybody’s goals.  OLTL doesn’t want to suffer the wrath of bad press and ill will from the KISH fans, and KISH fans don’t want to lose their couple for good.   

So if I built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in fences and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge
For I cannot fill the chasm
Let me set the battlements afire.

— Sting





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