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Back to the Future:  Interview with Gary Tomlin
By Travis Kinsey

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Executive Producer Gary Tomlin leads OLTL forward by using the show's history in innovative ways

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This article originally appeared in Soap Opera Weekly on September 18, 2001.

Gary Tomlin has an intimate knowledge of One Life to Live. Executive producer since January 2001, Tomlin served as a director on the show from 1992-'95. He continues to direct episodes even while he fulfills his duties at the top. His familiarity with the Llanview community has manifested itself in a way that matters most to daytime fans: the utilization of the show's rich history.

Well into his first year at the helm, Tomlin is pleased with the state of the show, and even more excited by what he has planned for the future. Tomlin sat down with Soap Opera Weekly's Travis Kinsey to talk about the present and future of Llanview.

TRAVIS KINSEY: When you took this job in January, what did you like about the show? What did you think needed fixing?
GARY TOMLIN: I thought the show had a very strong cast. I thought the writing was strong. But I felt it was a little too dark. The show didn't have as much humor as I'd like, and I knew that the show was capable of humor.
Also, I didn't think there were enough young people, and the young people weren't strongly involved. You have to keep replenishing the audience. Otherwise, the show's just going to die.
An article came out saying, "Gary Tomlin's taking over One Life to Live and he's bringing on 15 teenagers and the show's going to be Beverly Hills, 90210." It's not that at all, but I am trying to get a balance with the kids.


Sherri Saum (Keri)

TK: You've done a good job spreading the wealth. Pretty much every character has story.
GT: We're trying. We're very determined that Tim Stickney and Nathan Purdee (R.J. and Hank) are going to have story, and we've brought on Sherri Saum (Keri) and also Kamar (De Los Reyes, Antonio) is going to be heavily involved in story. It's a minority group, and a group that has been ignored. Timothy has worked really well but not had any kind of front-and-center story. Nathan was wonderful during the trial, but he hasn't had any front-and-center story. We're toying with romances for both of them. We're determined to use these people more effectively.

TK: Your familiarity with the show is evident through the large amount of show history you're using to tell current story Max and Gabrielle, the return of Allison Perkins and Viki's alters are just three examples.
GT: In watching the show initially, I missed a lot of the characters. So I thought: Gee, what about Gabrielle coming back? Fiona's (Hutchinson) such a wonderful actress, and also [it allowed us] to bring back Al and shore up the family thing and have a young character on the show.
The same thing with Allison Perkins; it invigorates the Viki storyline, and [Allison] kidnapped Jessica, so there's a history there. With Allison stuff, Chris and Lorraine (Whitesell and Broderick, the show's head writers) said "OK, where can we do something where we do bring back that history but also explore something that's going to affect the future of this show?"
We were so fortunate to get Barbara Garrick, who played the role originally, because we used those flashbacks from 13, 14 years ago. It's a treat for the audience that has invested in the show for that long, and the audience that doesn't know the story and gets to see what happened and realize, "Oh my god, this is real. This isn't something they're making up."

TK: Is having directed the show before an advantage?
GT: Knowing the history, knowing what the audience responded to, knowing what a terrific cast we have here and what they're capable of is helpful. I'm not sure if I just started watching the character of Max, if I would've said, "Hey, this guy can be funny," if I didn't have a history of knowing what James (DePaiva, Max) is capable of.

TK: And you continue to direct, even as executive producer.
GT: It gets me into the trenches, so to speak. I work with the actors as actors, as opposed to talking with them here in my office. They get a sense of what I'm looking for.
Same thing with the crew. It's good to see what difficulties they might be having. We have the smallest studio in daytime. It's very hard to move around. Our design team does a phenomenal job. Watching the show, you never realize that our studio is tiny.

TK: Some producers don't believe the Nielson ratings accurately reflect viewership. How much stock do you put in them?
GT: The ratings are all-important. The 18-to-49 demographic, that's absolutely critical. But the thing that I've said to Angela (Shapiro, president, ABC Daytime) and Felicia (Minei Behr, senior vice president, programming, ABC)--and the thing we all agree on--is we need to get the younger audience and not just be satisfied with the fact that our old audience continues to watch. You try to keep them happy but also encourage the younger audience to watch.
A lot of people say the ratings are bogus. It's hard to tell. They bounce around so much, it's crazy. But those are the numbers people live and die by. Until somebody comes up with a better system, that's what we have to live with.

TK: How do you see OLTL as it relates to the other three ABC soaps?
GT: I think all the soaps should do their own thing. The Linda Dano (Rae) crossover was a noble experiment that worked very well, as long as you don't have something that feels like it's plopped in.
Certain people are going to be able to watch more than one show, but a majority are probably going to be committed to one show. Keeping the individuality of those shows is very important. All four shows have their own personalities. What they've done with Port Charles is a very smart move.

TK: Your last job as an executive producer was Sunset Beach, a show that was infamous for being out-there. You then directed Passions, which is even more outrageous. How much of an adjustment is it to work on a show that's far more traditional?
GT: One Life to Live had Eterna; it had the Old West. It's not as if a lot of this has never been done before. This show has been doing crazy stuff for a long, long time, and they're getting back to that on General Hospital with the whole Stavros thing. We're not interested in that kind of science fiction, but we are interested in putting the fun in it. The most dramatic story can have a very fun aspect.

TK: What do you hear fans saying about the show?
GT: We do focus reports, which tend to be more representative of the regular fans than the Internet, because you get a real cross section of a lot of people. They'll say very supportive things, and you'll think: That makes sense. You try to address what people are saying.*

 © Soap Opera Weekly, 2001

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