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Friday, October 12, 2012

Death Of A Soap Opera - The "Loving" Murders


Television can be a rather fickle industry. One year, the show could get everyone gathered around the water cooler having in-depth discussion on it, and the next, people use it as a method to cure their insomnia.

Certainly, the television industry is such that producers sometimes have to work overtime to keep their shows fresh and current. Sometimes that may involve a new style of filming, it could involve adding some new cast members (or in some cases, re-casting characters that just don't work), and sometimes it could involve moving the show from one location to another.

Depending on the type of show, and the number of years that the program has been on the air, the changes can range from being minor, to a complete overhaul.

For today's blog topic, we're going to look at a television show that falls under the heading of “Extreme Makeover”. And what is interesting about this case is that this show happened to be a daytime soap opera.



Have any of you ever heard of a daytime drama known as “Loving”? It's okay if you haven't. It wasn't exactly a show that garnered high ratings. But despite this fact, “Loving” ended up running for twelve years.

Loving” was quite unique in the sense that it debuted as a two-hour Sunday night movie, on June 26, 1983. At first I thought it was the only one to begin in such a fashion until I did a little research and found that the “General Hospital” spinoff show “Port Charles” debuted the same way in the summer of 1997.

Loving” was set in the fictional college town of Corinth, Pennsylvania, and the show's first storylines revolved around the college campus, Alden University, as well as the daily lives of the rich, privileged Alden family, and the blue-collar Donovan family. The show also featured some strong, powerful storylines that focused on incest, post-traumatic stress, business, adultery, and of course, murder...which made sense, given that the show creators were two key figures in daytime drama, Agnes Nixon and Douglas Marland. Many actors and actresses got their big breaks on “Loving”. Bryan Cranston, Patricia Kalember, Luke Perry, Noelle Beck, Michael Weatherly, Elise Neal, Rebecca Gayheart, and Kirsten Dunst all had roles of varying degree in this soap opera serial, and already established actors like Randolph Mantooth and Catherine Hickland also starred in the serial.

That's about all that I have to say about “Loving”...but you may have noticed that I bolded the word “murder” in the above paragraph. There is a reason why I did this. It's related to today's topic, and it's also a fitting topic for Halloween.

Loving” did its best to get noticed, and certainly many fans dubbed it “the little show that could”. But by 1995, “Loving” was at a distant last place in the ratings, and the decision was made to completely revamp the entire show. It was an ambitious project that then showrunners James Harmon Brown and Barbara Esensten were given.

That project was to change everything. The show would relocate from the sleepy Corinth, Pennsylvania to the hustle and bustle of New York City's SoHo district. The style of filming would change as well, going from videotape to a more processed film look. Even the name of the show would change, from “Loving” to “The City” (although initially it was to be called LOV*NYC).

Of course, the producers faced another challenge as well when the plans to take “Loving” and transform it into “The City”. When the announcement was made, “Loving” had twenty-four actors and actresses in regular contracts...and part of the change meant included hiring brand new cast members specifically for “The City” (which included high-profile actress Morgan Fairchild). Therefore, it would cost a lot of money to bring all twenty-four cast members over to “The City”.

So, what would be the best way to go about leaving “Loving” behind and moving ahead to “The City”? According to Brown and Esensten, the way to go was simple.

Kill off the “Loving” characters who wouldn't make the trip.

Thus began one of the most chilling, exciting, head-scratching murder mysteries during the summer of 1995.



The “Loving Murders” began airing in July 1995, and it was, ironically enough, one of the show's most well-received storylines. I should know...I'll be the first to admit that I got hooked on it while I was on summer vacation that year (it wasn't like there was anything else to watch, and besides, I love a good murder mystery). Over a period of four months, a serial killer ended up in the city of Corinth, and by the end of their reign of terror, six people would lose their lives. Many more left town, never to come back again, due to fear of the serial killer going after them. By the end of the mystery, only half of the 24 regular cast members of “Loving” would cross over to “The City”.  Talk about cleaning house, eh?



So, how did it all begin?

Well, first you need to have a little bit of background information (this part I had to research, as I didn't know). Apparently, a couple of years before the storyline kicked off, the heiress of the Alden family fortune, Trisha Alden McKenzie (Noelle Beck) was carjacked and presumed dead. But in 1995, evidence proved that she was actually alive, and living in Rome. The unfortunate part about it was that Trisha had amnesia, and couldn't remember anything about her life in Corinth. Her family tried their best to reach out to her, but in early 1995, she wrote them a letter, telling them that she didn't remember them, and that they should leave her alone so she could finally be happy. This devastated the entire family, particularly the Alden matriarch, Gwyneth (Christine Tudor-Newman). Little did the audience know that this plot point would be the catalyst towards the Corinth Serial Killer making their first move.



In July 1995, the first victim was targeted. When Stacey Forbes (Lauren-Marie Taylor) received a package outside her door with an unsigned card attached to it, she automatically assumed that the package was from her boyfriend, Buck Huston (Philip Brown), and wasted no time in letting everyone know it. Big mistake on her part. Inside the box was a container of scented body powder which she immediately dabbed all over herself.

A few hours later, Stacey was dead. And when the body powder was tested and revealed to be poisoned, Buck was arrested for the murder (Stacey had recently changed her will so that Buck would inherit everything). It seemed to be one of those cases where the case was closed, and that was that. But while all this was going on other suspects seemed to emerge as well including Tess Wilder (Catherine Hickland), who had been humiliated by Stacey and who tried to steal Buck away from her, and Curtis Alden (Christopher Marcantel), the Alden son who was recovering from a mental breakdown, who had deep hatred for his father, and who developed an unhealthy obsession with Stacey.

TRIVIA: When the order was to get rid of “Loving”'s past was made, the producers handed Lauren-Marie Taylor the first pink slip...which was shocking, as Lauren-Marie was the only person to last the whole 12-year-run on the series. Although, playing a murder victim was no stretch for her...she did get killed off in the second movie of the “Friday the 13th” series.



Two weeks after Stacey died, the Alden patriarch, Clayton Alden (Dennis Parlato) ended up victim number two when he died of a heart attack while...ahem...making love to Tess. The cause of death was linked to poisoned brandy, and Tess and Curtis soon moved up in the suspect list, as did Deborah Brewster (Nancy Addison-Altman), who hated Clay for messing with her daughter, Stephanie (Amelia Heinle). Another clue was left behind at the murder scene...a piece of a photo. Since a similar piece of the photo was left behind at Stacey's murder scene as well, detective Alex Masters (Randolph Mantooth) deduced that Stacey and Clay were killed by the same person, clearing Buck as a suspect.

TRIVIA: The viewing audience would know when the killer was around from the very beginning. Although we never saw the killer's face, we would hear a clicking sound, and the screen would fade into black and white. Remember that clicking sound for later.

Alex launched an investigation, and soon discovered a clue from his wife Ava (Lisa Peluso). Apparently the jar that Stacey's powder was in was purchased from a department store that Ava worked at, and that only two had been purchased, one of which was allegedly purchased by Curtis.  Curtis also worked at his family's cosmetics company as the head of product development, so he had access to the product base, which was where the body powder was manufactured.  As well, the brandy that was used to poison Clay was recently purchased by Curtis as a peace offering.



With Curtis being suspect number one, he sustained another nervous breakdown and almost ended up killing Tess and later Gwyneth in a standoff at the department store...but in the end, Curtis was taken to a mental hospital where many people believed that the killer was off the streets.

At least they believed that until Curtis was found floating on the surface of a small pool inside the mental institution. (clicking on the links will take you to the episode where Curtis is killed.)



The cause of death? Someone turned on the gas pipe while Curtis was relaxing in the pool, and the gas knocked him out enough for him to sink under the surface of the water and drown. Floating next to Curtis' body was the third photo fragment, indicating that the killer had struck again. Also, a new clue was found...a long black hair.

In this case, more suspects began to emerge. With the mental institution having a strict visitation policy of only family members being allowed to visit them, pretty much everyone with the last name of Alden became a suspect, including Gwyneth, Cabot (Wesley Addy) and Isabelle Alden (Augusta Dabney). Cabot and Isabelle were quickly excluded as suspects, and Gwyneth was too emotionally disturbed for anyone to really suspect her at the time. But to Alex's horror, Ava found herself on the suspect list after she revealed that she went into the mental institution to visit Curtis by telling the staff that she was Trisha. This would eventually cause a lot of problems between Alex and Ava.



Just two weeks later, before the lab technicians could do forensic tests on the hair and look at the photo fragments in greater detail, a shocking double murder would occur. Cabot and Isabelle Alden were killed in their bed after celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The cause of death were poisoned candles that when melted down revealed two more photo fragments. At this point, Gwyneth was inconsolable despite efforts from her friend Stephanie, her boyfriend Jeremy Hunter (Jean LeClerc, who crossed over to “Loving” from “All My Children”, and the kindly, elderly diner owner Neal Warren (Larry Haines), and she wondered if she would be next. One more haunting clue...the candles were supposedly mailed from Rome...which was the location that the amnesiac Trisha was supposedly living in, making HER a suspect.



Be careful what you wish for, Gwyneth.

The following week, the Corinth Killer attempted to strike again, this time locking Gwyneth and Ava's niece Ally Rescott Bowman (Laura Wright) inside a sabotaged car that was filling up with carbon monoxide. Luckily, the two women's lives were spared, but the discovery of another photo fragment inside the tail pipe soon sent chills down Ava's back. The good news was that Ava was cleared as a suspect...the bad news was that if the killer was killing or attempted to kill everyone that was associated with the Alden family (Stacey was once married to an Alden cousin, as was Ally), she feared being the next victim (Ava was once married to Curtis), and she made plans to leave town.

But not before Ava discovered a clue that would bust the investigation open.

When Ava was going through Jeremy's belongings (not sure why she was doing that unless she suspected Jeremy as being the killer), she discovered a photograph that was taken in 1975. On the surface, it looked like an ordinary vacation photo...but because Ava had lived in Corinth her whole life, she immediately recognized the kids in the photo as a young Trisha and Curtis Alden.

The discovery may just as well have been a neon sign that flashed “ALDEN” over and over.

But with most of the Alden family killed off, who were left as suspects? Gwyneth? Trisha?  Neal Warren was added to the suspect list as well after it was revealed that he was Gwyneth's biological father. There was also the possibility that the killer could have known the Alden family for years, and somehow they did this person wrong, and they could have been seeking their revenge.



Now, here's where things got very interesting. At some point before the mystery wrapped up, Trisha ended up making a surprise appearance to Gwyneth outside of Jeremy's art studio. Gwyneth later learned some rather sad news. Trisha still didn't remember anything about who she was. She thought that by coming to Corinth, it would help jog her memory, but instead it confused her even more. Gwyneth tried to get her to remember, but Trisha was not in the mood. Gwyneth was also shocked by the revelation that Trisha had been in Corinth since the early summer...right around the time that Stacey was killed.



That same day, Alex ended up getting another shock when Jeremy Hunter became the sixth victim of the Corinth Killer, finding him smothered to death by - believe it or not - a bucket of plastic modelling clay.

(Now, I've heard of death by statue before...but death by BECOMING a statue? That was a creative one, I'll grant you that one.)

The strange thing about Jeremy's murder was that the method of death didn't match the others. The previous five seemed to be planned meticulously, whereas Jeremy's seemed more impulsive. And there was also no photo fragment present at Jeremy's murder scene. But Alex also remembered that Jeremy had tried to alert him of a huge discovery that he had come across at the Alden mansion the very day that Jeremy died, so Alex took that information and ran with it.

He started by attending Jeremy's memorial service (he felt that the killer would likely show their face there). The only major thing that happened was that Trisha ended up crashing the service, but other than that, not much. Someone actually posted the link to the episode that showed Jeremy's memorial, and you can watch it HERE if you like. See if you can figure out the murderer before you read on.

Anyway, after the service was over, Alex and his partner, Tony Soleito (George Palermo) arrived at the Alden mansion following Jeremy's final message, and soon found themselves inside the servant's quarters, where they made a stunning discovery. Inside were enough bottles of poison to kill the entire town of Corinth, as well as numbers of photo fragments on a desk, and the photographs of the first five victims hanging up on the wall.

It was painfully obvious that the killer was someone who had clearance to enter the Alden mansion. And, Alex was thinking that the poor, amnesiac Trisha was the killer. Tony also discovered that Jeremy's photo wasn't up there, nor were photos of Ally and Gwyneth, but Alex deduced that Ally and Gwyneth survived, and that Jeremy was likely killed because he likely knew who the killer was and he tried to warn them before he was killed, so there were no need for photographs. But with Alex thinking that Trisha was the killer, he knew he had to work quickly to stop her, as Trisha had a LOT of connections in Corinth.

But there were two problems. One, Trisha had left town the day after Jeremy's memorial and was no longer in Corinth. And two, remember the hair that was found at Curtis' murder scene? Lab tests showed that the hair came from a synthetic wig, meaning that the dark hair was just a cover-up! And while the Corinth Police Department were figuring out what was happening, the Corinth Killer had broken into the ad agency that Tess owned and made plans to kill her the same way they killed everyone else!

But then Stephanie Brewster entered the agency, and stumbled upon the truth.



The Corinth Serial Killer was Gwyneth Alden! Her long, black wig covered her short red hair perfectly, and the clicking noise that the audience heard came from a locket that Clay had given her as a present.

TRIVIA: The big reveal aired appropriately enough on the day before Halloween, 1995.



Tess wasn't dead yet, but Gwyneth was armed with a syringe filled with poison, and Stephanie tried to tread with caution so that Gwyneth wouldn't use the syringe on Tess...or herself. Stephanie calmed Gwyneth down enough for her to explain what had happened, and Gwyneth made the surprising revelation that Trisha was the killer. Trisha knew how to hurt people just like the day that she wrote that letter to the Alden family six months earlier. Stephanie recoiled in horror as Gwyneth explained that she switched back and forth between being Gwyneth, and being Trisha, because only Trisha could kill everyone she loved. Gwyneth ended up developing split personalities over the amount of pain she was suffering from as a result of her daughter's rejection. The Gwyneth side of her didn't want Stacey, Clay, Curtis, Isabelle, and Cabot to feel pain any longer...so she brought Trisha out to hurt them until they could hurt no more. It was quite complex, but I think the complexity of the storyline made it work.



While Gwyneth was babbling on, basically confessing to killing the first five people, Ally happened to come across the scene and also heard the conversation unfold. She managed to alert Alex and Tony of what was happening, but ran back inside to watch over the situation in an effort to protect Stephanie. At the same time, Tess was regaining consciousness unbeknownst to Gwyneth. And as Gwyneth was telling Stephanie about the photo fragments (Gwyneth claimed that the photos were symbolic as they were visual proof of Trisha taking happy memories and ripping them to pieces), Tess attacked Gwyneth with a stapler, rendering her hands useless and escaped. But Tess was so concerned for her own safety that she left Stephanie behind with the deranged Gwyneth. Ally and Tess were forced outside as Stephanie and Gwyneth remained in Tess' office. But then Stephanie asked Gwyneth why she killed Jeremy, and when Gwyneth tried to reason why Trisha would want Jeremy dead, she couldn't, and she ended up coming back to reality...coming upon the grim conclusion that she killed everyone she cared about herself.

She completely shut down, and she soon decided that she couldn't live with the pain of being along. She instructed Stephanie to pick up the poison filled syringe and inject her with it. At first Stephanie refused to do it, but Gwyneth begged her to do it because the very reason that she killed her loved ones was because she couldn't deal with her own pain over losing Trisha, and that if she went to prison, she would forever be tortured with the memories of murdering everyone she loved. Stephanie realized that Gwyneth was right...and so with one final goodbye hug, Stephanie administered the lethal dose of poison into Gwyneth, ending the run of the Corinth Serial Killer. Oh, and as for Stephanie, although Ally and Tess ended up witnessing Stephanie sticking in the syringe, both of them covered for Stephanie, so Stephanie ended up not getting charged.



So, with the Alden family basically eradicated from the “Loving” canvas that Halloween, the remaining cast members headed off to “The City”...which only ended up running for sixteen months, ending its run in March 1997.

So, the “Loving”/”The City” experiment ended up being a huge failure anyway...perhaps being the real final casualty of the Corinth Serial Killer storyline.

But for a soap opera to end its run, killing off its core cast members and taking off to a brand new life in New York City...well, what a way to go! Luckily, the murder mystery worked for the show's favour, and ironically enough, ratings were climbing while the storyline aired! Go figure.

Coincidentally, the way “Loving” ended transitioned nicely to “The City”. “Loving”'s final episode aired November 10, 1995, and here was the final scene as well as the last closing credit crawl.



Three days later, Angie (Debbi Morgan) and Jacob (Darnell Williams) had the first scene in “The City”.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a great story. Has that glued to the edge of your seat story right there.

    ReplyDelete