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Magazine Articles and Interviews

1) 'What the Dickens!  After years of contemplating his novels, Michael Malone turns his talents to an ABC soap' People Magazine (February 1992)
2) 'One Life to Live Went Looking for a New Writer and Found a Novelist' LA Times (June 23, 1992)
3) 'Scared Scritpless' Soap Opera Digest (January 18, 1994)
4)  Emmy speech from 1994 win
5) 'Sweeps Saved By Old Masters' Soap Opera Weekly (June 10, 1997)
6) 'AW: Malone Alone' Soap Opera Weekly (November 18, 1997)
7)  'ATWT'S Batten Down The Hatches'

  What the Dickens!
After years of contemplating his novels, Michael Malone turns his talents to an ABC soap
by Michael Neill and David Hutchings

Michael Malone insists he is not at all defensive about his new job as head writer on the ABC soap One Life to Live. "If Dickens were alive, this is what he'd be doing, " he says. Then, to further emphasize his absolute, total lack of any insecurity whatsoever, he invokes . . . who else? "Shakespeare was considered low culture in his day, " he says. Then he drags in The Novel. "Novels were low culture in the 18th century, " he says. "Lord knows what the low culture will be in the future! "

The problem is that in the literary and academic world where Michael Malone has spent his life, any conversation about low culture can move rather quickly to soap operas. As a visiting writer-in-residence, first at Yale, then Swarthmore and later at the University of Pennsylvania, Malone taught writing and produced seven novels before plunging into the frenetic world of daytime last July.

The new job pays obscenely well by the parsimonious standards of academia -- which was one reason Malone signed on. And since he joined the show, the venerable ABC soap has jumped from No. 11 to No. 4 in the daytime ratings. But there remains the nagging question: What will the neighbors think?

Many of them, it turns out, are thrilled. "I've found an astounding range of people in academia who admit they sneak home to watch soaps after teaching, " Malone says.

Still, the high-culture/low-culture rift almost kept him from even finding out about the One Life job. He had met producer Linda Gottlieb in 1980, when she was negotiating to buy the movie rights to one of his novels. When Gottlieb became executive producer of One Life last year, she thought of Malone. "She told the network she needed a novelist, someone who wrote huge-canvas novels, " he says, "and that's when a mutual friend called my wife and told her. " His wife, Maureen Quilligan, is a professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. "She didn't even bother to tell me about it, " says Malone. "She laughed and said I'd never be interested. A week later I got the call from Gottlieb, and I started watching the show. "

Malone had just finished writing Foolscap, a comic novel about vicious academic politics. (Published last fall, it won mostly positive reviews.) He had never even watched a soap opera before -- and Maureen advised him not to start. "She said, 'You're an American novelist. Your duty is to your art,' " Malone says. "But then she started watching them too, and we saw all this interlaced structure and an endless chance to tell stories. "

Storytelling has long been Malone's forte. The son of a physician father and an English-teacher mother, he was born in Durham, N.C., the eldest of six children. "I wrote plays when I was young and forced my brothers and sisters into costumes, " he says. "I'd make them sing 'Be My Little Baby Bumblebee' in bee wings. "

He went to Syracuse University and then pursued a Ph.D. in English at Harvard, where he also met Maureen. "She was a real scholar, " he says. "My dissertation was on archetypes of innocence and eroticism in American film. Hers was on the Renaissance. " It was at Harvard too that Malone began writing Painting the Roses Red, a novel about graduate school, published in 1975. "I got $2,000, " he says. "I thought I was rich and I'd go off to Europe and be this artist. " Instead he married Maureen and began to bob along in her academic wake, all the while writing his novels. "Maureen thinks it's very convenient to marry a novelist because you just move them with you from place to place, " he says. "All they need is a pencil and paper. "

Malone expects to return to writing books eventually, but for now he's in New York City five days a week, writing in his One Life office about people named Asa and Clint, while Maureen stays with daughter Maggie, 15, in the family's restored Philadelphia townhouse. Malone works long hours, often until 10 at night. He's writing soaps, but he still has standards. "Agnes Nixon, the creator of this show, had a very clear vision of what she wanted -- class problems, differences between the haves and have-nots, " he says. "I've tried to put that back in. "

The show's actors like his style. Says Erika Slezak, One Life's Victoria Lord Buchanan: "Michael has created such wonderfully complex situations. I've never had much of a relationship with my children on the show -- and that is happening now. "

There are, however, special problems with soap writing. "You get actors who come and say they are quitting, and you have to write in their departure, death, disappearance, " Malone says. "And you have to watch death. In soaps you can be dead -- or you can be dead, dead, dead. The actors we know won't come back we make dead, dead, dead. "

He receives plenty of kibitzing from home -- from both Maureen and Maggie, a high school sophomore. After school she watches the show on tape and is generous with advice. "I'll say, 'Oh, Dad, why are you putting those two together? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.' "

If only Shakespeare and Dickens had had that kind of input, think what they might have accomplished

(People Magazine February,1992)


  One Life to Live Went Looking For a New Writer and Found a Novelist
by Kathy Henderson

When ABC hired movie producer Linda Gottlieb ( "Dirty Dancing ") to revitalize its ailing soap opera "One Life to Live, " she didn't round up the usual bunch of daytime soap writers.

"What she said was, 'I'm looking for the American Dickens,' and what novelist could resist that? " said Michael Malone, who had published seven novels and worked with Gottlieb on a screenplay but had never watched an episode of a soap opera, not even "Dallas. "

"My wife thought the idea was so hilarious, she didn't pass on Linda's first phone message, " said Malone, a soft-spoken Harvard Ph.D. who looks like he could be the Pillsbury doughboy's bearded uncle. But, as he sampled the show, Malone began to realize that soaps -- or "the stories, " as he prefers to call them -- had a lot in common with his work. "I write big novels with lots of characters and interlaced structure, " he said (his most recent, "Foolscap, " is a funny adventure in an academic setting). "For someone who likes to tell stories, this is heaven. "

"One Life " needed a jolt when Malone joined it last summer. Created 24 years ago by soap doyenne Agnes Nxon, the show originally centered on the push and pull between classes and races in Llanview, a fictional suburb on Philadelphia's Main Line. In recent years, plots had grown increasingly bizarre, including the introduction of an underground city called Eterna and a story featuring rap music that Malone deemed "terrible. "

"One of the dangers of this form is to try to go around what it (a soap) can do best, " he said, "which is draw viewers into the characters' lives and emotional relationships. I wanted to re-create a sense of place and then unfold what seemed to me to be the essence of these characters. "

In taking the soap from a low of eighth place (out of 11 daytime soap operas) to a sustained rating of fourth or fifth, Malone has balanced stories about the show's core family, the Buchanans, with quirky new characters and unexpected cameo appearances by the likes of Dick Cavett (as a sleazy radio talk-show host), Paul Bartel (as a nervous lawyer) and Wallace Shawn (as a restaurateur). "One Life " reaped high ratings and extensive publicity last winter with a week-long clip retrospective during the death throes of Megan, a popular heroine, and a Valentine's Day show using classic lover poems to spotlight each of the show's couples.

"He's very clever, " Lynn Leahey, editor- in-chief of Soap Opera Digest, said of Malone, "and he takes chances with the characters in ways that might not occur to a more experienced soap writer. But he can also pull off good old cliches like 'Wife Coming Back from the Dead' and reposition characters that aren't working, which is just as important. "

In one startling transformation, Malone made Alex, a run-of-the-mill blond vixen played by Tonja Walker, into a sassy, hilarious mob widow who said to her late husband's henchman, "May I call you Bulge? " When he replied, "Only my friends call me that, " she cooed, "I'm looking forward to finding out why. " Another lovely young home wrecker turned out to be a virgin. "That's a rare one these days, isn't it? " Malone said with a laugh.

Without irony, Malone invokes Shakespeare and Spenser as forerunners of soap-style evil twins and orphaned heirs. He takes great exception to the idea that daytime drama represents "the basement " of TV.

"To do this well, you must never look down at the audience, " he said. "A few of my friends thought I would come in and do some sort of Monty Python version of a soap, but my work is very mainstream, and I believe deeply that there is a place where all audiences can meet. An example is Dickens himself, or from our culture, 'Gone With the Wind.'

There are two original American art forms: musicals and soap operas. My gosh, people in cultural studies departments are teaching soap operas now! "

Even Malone's own wife, Maureen Quilligan, has become hooked. Separations from Quilligan and the couple's teen-age daughter have been the job's major drawback (they live in Philadelphia; he lives in New York during the week), plus a brutal workload that includes overseeing a staff of nine outline and dialogue writers and editing every script personally, a task few other head writers take on.

"About 500 pages of material come out of this office every week, " he said, likening soap production to "a machine that works in this day when so many American machines don't. "

For a novelist accustomed to dreaming up characters in solitude, the three-ring circus atmosphere of a soap set was a happy surprise. "It's like having fictional characters wander into your office, " said Malone, "because the actors talk about themselves inside their characters. 'I don't wanna say that,' or 'I don't see why I have to do this' -- these are real human beings, but they are obsessed by the parts they play. " Malone confessed that he, too, finds himself intensely involved in "One Life " life: "I dream in Llanview; these people are very close to me."

With a Daytime Emmy nomination for outstanding writing already to his credit, Malone has found ABC receptive to his ideas. "If things were a disaster, the network probably wouldn't have been as good, " he said, adding that a story involving homosexuality has been planned for summer. Is the handsome Episcopal minister with the stern military father secretly gay? "No, but that doesn't mean people might not accuse him of it, " Malone said mysteriously.

Though he works hard to connect plotlines and maintain the proper storytelling tempo, Malone said he never worries that his fountain of ideas will run dry. "The network people used to say, 'Watch out, you're burning up stories,' which flabbergasted me.

In one of my novels, 'Dingley Falls,' I had planned to tell a year's worth of story in this little town, but by the time I got to page 1,200, I'd written six days. My wife said, 'Just make Sunday a church service -- you've got to stop now.' With me, there are endless things that seem to bubble out. "

(LA Times-July 5, 1992)


  Emmy Acceptance Speech:  

"There are alot of us up here, but there are hundreds more that should be--other writers, the cast and crew, the producers and directors of One Life To Live--without you what we do would just be typing.  And the wonderful ladies across the street at ABC-Mickey and Pat and Maxine and Barbara.. and two very extraordinary women-Linda Gottlieb, who had the amazing courage to hire all of us and to turn us loose in Llanview-thank you.....also, Agnes Nixon, who created the world that we live in... If Charles Dickens is the father of daytime, she's his daughter and we're very proud to be among her children.  Thank you."

(Michael Malone)


  Scared Scriptless
by Jason Bonderoff

Creating a soap opera is a lot like playing God.  Birth, death, happiness and misfortune-it's all in a writer's hands.  He can make a character fall in love or fall off a cliff.  He can even bring people back from the dead.

Soap writers win Emmy's, get good tables at the right restaurants, and earn big-buck salaries.  So why are so many of them scared scriptless?

Maybe it's fear of the blank page.  Coming up with a never-ending supply of entertaining (yet believable) plot twists for 40 or so characters-then putting lots of snappy dialogue into everyone's mouth-isn't easy.  ONE LIFE TO LIVE'S talented head writer, Michael Malone, admits he's had sleepless nights worrying about the Buchanan's and their cohorts.  "I do dream about the people in Llanview," he confides.  "Once I had a really horrible dream where all the characters had blank faces because I didn't know what their stories were going to be.  In my dream, I saw white, cut-out faces of people, all void.  That was terrifying."

For inspiration, Malone keeps photos of the OLTL cast hanging in his office wall.  "Sometimes, I move the photos around," he says.  "I put people next to different people and think, 'How would these two people look together?'  Right now, I've got Wanda Wolek's picture next to Joey Buchanan's.  But don't make anything out of that," he laughs.  "They're not getting invovled."

....Accident-prone stars pose another hazard..... Some emergencies are...difficult to handle.  "A real nightmare," says OLTL's Malone, "is when the phone rings and you find out that Clint Ritchie [Clint] has been in a tractor accident,"  When that happened last year, OLTL executive producer Linda Gottlieb immediately summoned the writing staff together, "We sat down and talked," says Malone.  "Actually, first we all sat down and prayed because nobody knew if Clint was going to make it or not.  Then we had to make a decision about recasting, because no matter what, he was going to be out for a long time and we were building our big Viki/Clint/Sloan story."

Malone and company decided that hiring a pinch hitter didn't make sense because the whole story was based on the deep history Clint and Viki shared.  How could a new actor convey that?  "Besides, with a new actor, we wouldn't be able to use any Clint/Viki flashbacks [to remind the viewers of the couple's happier times]," Malone notes.  So, OLTL opted to hold the Clint/Viki/Sloan story in abeyance until Ritchie's return several months later.

...Even without such worries, head writing is never a nine-to-five job.  "Characters become like family.  It sometimes distresses people in your personal life," admits Malone, who jokes that his wife and daughter don't always want to hear about Max and Luna during dinner.

...Today, most writers are up on world affairs, although Malone jokes, "I remember thinking, 'I really am inside the world of One Life To Live' when somebody told me that the Soviet government had fallen, and I just said, 'Oh, God, no.  Are we going to be preempted?' ".  But he's grateful for small favors:  Malone has yet to lose a long-term story outline in his computer (just the breakdown for one script) and his dentist hasn't tried to sell him ideas while plying him with Novacain.  What would Malone's worst nightmare be?  "If Erika Slezak [Viki] walked into my office and said, 'I'm leaving the show tomorrow, I've decided to raise roses.' "  Oh well, Malone would just have to go back to the bulletin board and play musical photos.

(Soap Opera Digest Jan 18, 1994)


by Marlena DeLacroix

Until recently, soaps had become so dreary and so lackluster that Marlena was ready to begin negotiations to return to her old job in Paris as a cancan dancer.  Then May sweeps started, and what I saw got moi excited about daytime all over again!  So what made me rethink my career change?  It was superlative material created by some of the medium's best veteran writers and producers who have recently joined new shows.  Here are some comments on the work turned out in May by such old masters:

Michael Malone, the new head writer of Another World (formerly of One Life to Live): What a dazzling debut the always interesting Malone made on AW last month!  His scripts in his first two weeks were so bracing and sharp, I could hardly believe I was watching dusty old AW!

Malone took twin evildoers Grant and Cindy (sparkling performers Mark Pinter and Kim Rhodes), a soap super couple waiting to happen, and wrote two wedding ceremonies (one in Las Vegas and another in Bay City) that were so hilarious I darned near laughed myself silly watching them.  Best of all was Cindy's line when she insisted that she be written into Grant's will before she went through with the Las Vegas ceremony: "No will, no way!"

AW was so entertaining during those two weeks that you could almost forgive Malone for doing a bare-faced ripoff of The Fugitive in establishing a badly needed backstory for Bobby Reno.  (We found out Bobby is really Dr. Shane Roberts, on the run from jail for allegedly murdering a woman.)  Marlena was most impressed that AW managed to stage actual chase sequences-rarely done on soaps taped on indoor sets-in and around Vicky's house as Shane ran from Detective Morris (Robert Gentry, perhaps best known as All My Children's Ross Chandler).  The sequence in which incognito "Dr." Shane tended to an injured Jake in the hospital is the closest these two disparate characters have ever come to being civil to each other.

And the always dry Gentry did such a fantastic imitation of Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive that I almost excused AW for recasting Gentry on the show a mere 16 years after he stopped playing the major character Phillip Lyons on the very same soap.

Let's hope Malone's AW continues to be as good in the months to come as it was in May.

(Soap Opera Weekly, June 10, 1997)



Susan Batten cried "Uncle" last month to As the World Turns Executive Producer Felicia Minei Behr.

"When I was asked to take over the role of Connor Walsh, I was told that they wanted to take the character in a new direction," explained Batten in a statement.  "It became increasingly apparent that this was not possible."  Batten replace Allyson Rice-Taylor in the role of Connor Walsh in March.

Batten elaborated to Digest before she left: "Most times when they recast, they give it some breathing time.  I don't think I had any breathing time.  [ATWT fans] are so mean about me.  They say such rude things [on the Internet] and talk in such bad language about me replacing Allyson."

Indeed, the attacks on Batten did take on an unusually vicious, personal tone.  It's one thing to complain---vigorously-to a show about a recast, and there's no doubt this was the wrong actress for this role.  But why were viewers so angry at the actress herself?  (Fans were even sending cans to the studio to urge execs to "can" Susan Batten.)  "All Susan did was accept a job," points out an ATWT insider.  "They were against her from the moment she stepped into that studio.  Not because of her talent as an actress, but because of circumstances of timing and fan loyalty to another actress."  What has ATWT learned from this?  "Don't recast in the middle of a love scene!" responds the source.

Batten-by all accounts a warm, gracious lady-had enormous fan following in her previous role as Luna to One Life to Live.  "There's a group who call themselves the Luna-tics," smiles Batten.  "It's very sweet, and I appreciate it."

"I feel very strongly about Susan," asserts Michael Malone, who created Luna when he was head writer of OLTL and is now Another World's chief scribe.  "I think she is one of the most gifted actresses I have ever worked with.  She brought everything she had to Luna, and became one of-if not the most-popular characters in her age group on that show in a very short time."

Malone has some theories about Batten's immediate rejection by ATWT fans.  "My little knowledge of it is that she was moved into a part almost overnight that had been played for many years by a popular actress.  That is almost impossible to do.  Secondly, my understanding is this character [Connor] was a rather acerbic, tightly coiled business executive.  Susan is all heart and love and laughter.  To box her into a character who is tight and small seems a waste of her talents."

Malone had just landed at AW when Batten joined ATWT.  "Michael said to me, `You were supposed to wait for me,' so we had a laugh about that," reports Batten.  "If he wrote a puppet show I would do it, because I like his work so much."

"I hope her next job will use more of what she has to offer," muses Malone.  AW's Cass could use a love interest…


by Marlena DeLacroix

As I was finishing the first draft of this column about Michael Malone's rocky head writing tenure at Another World, word came that Malone is out.  Now, I'm not clairvoyant.  Any AW viewer could see that Malone (a Daytime Emmy winner at ABC's nicely budgeted One Life to Live) brought some magnificently insightful and dynamic ideas to AW when he arrived last spring.  But I speculate that one reason Malone's work came off as so tragically half-baked is because the NBC show is so cheaply and unimaginatively produced.

Take last summer's trial of Nick for raping Toni.  Here was a bold stroke meant to diversify the show's bland canvas of characters and designed to deepen AW's flat dramatic tone both intellectually and spiritually.  And what kind of courtroom set does the notoriously low-budget AW build for this showpiece of a trial?  One that's about as deep and as wide as a tuna fish can!  Compare this to the vast Palladian trompe l'oiel of a courtroom set Guiding Light executive producer Paul Rauch had constructed for the Reva/Annie murder-of-the-fetus trial early last summer.  I rest my case.

It's unfortunate, but maybe AW just couldn't supply the resources needed to meet Malone's dramatic vision.  His current front-burner story, what he has called in interviews :The Fall of the House of Cory," is grand and sweeping in its' dramatic intent.  By allying Carl's ancient enemy Alexander with Rachel's bitter children Amanda (a.k.a. Hadley) and Matt in a plot to break up Carl and Rachel's marriage, Malone has primed his characters for a classic Greek family tragedy.  But who does AW cast to play opposite the classically-trained Vicky Wyndham and Charles Keating (Rachel and Carl), two of the most powerful thespians on daytime television?  A girl fresh out of drama school (Laura Moss, who plays Amanda) and a callow young actor who starred in the film Return to the Blue Lagoon (Brian Krause, Matt).  Duh!

What's most telling is that what worked best for Malone were stories in which the only resources needed were sets and good, proven actors.  Malone gave Lisa Peluso the role of a lifetime in Lila.  She has been so good, in fact, that we've barely noticed that she has been given neither a plot to play nor a love interest.  In the tragic diet pill story, Malone wrote beautifully for Judi Evans Luciano and Joseph Barbara, the actors who play those rare, middle-class soap characters Paulina and Joe.  And, of course, Malone produced the biggest daytime miracle of all-getting me to not only love but fully appreciate the diversified talents of an actor I had long thought of as a soap world cartoon: Tom Eplin.  Remember the scenes last summer at the playground in Lassiter, in which Vicky reduced Jake to tears by proposing to him?  I never knew that the oft-buffoonish Jake could be so tender, or that the oft-overblown Eplin could absolutely tear my heart out of my chest.  Emmy!  Emmy!

Malone later said in an interview that he knew if he could finally make Vicky see why she loves Jake, the audience would fall in love with him, too.  The ability to analyze, the intellectual curiosity to ask why: That, darlings, is the mark-and the miracle-of a really good head writer.

Conversely, there are many things about the rest of Malone's Aw that I flat-out didn't understand.  I turned on my TV last week, and there was the otherwise delicious Kim Rhodes (Cindy) dressed in a Spiderwoman costume grinning at the fertility statue, whose electric eyes were blinking.  Huh?  And what the hell is that statue anyway?  A prop left over from the never-aired, New Orleans-based 13 Bourbon Street?  The disembodied spirit of notorious NBC stuntster James E. Reilly (Days of Our Lives former head writer)?

Mark Pinter is so wonderful he can play anything, but why in the world has his Grant morphed into comic relief as Mayor Grant Harrison?  In his previous incarnation, when Grant was a haunted Shakespearan villain, Pinter's performance was the most brilliant thing on daytime television!  No one was happy to lose longtime cast members David Forsyth (ex-John Hudson) or Kale Browne (Michael).  Ironically, Browne put in the best work of his soap career on the way from contract to recurring, as Michael counseled son Nick during his rape trial.  I can't make heads or tails of the new comic characters of Cass and Donna (Stephen Schnetzer and Anna Stuart), both of whom seem lost at sea.  And what's the deal with RKK (Robert Kelker-Kelly, who plays Shane)?  Talk about lost!  The actor (who may or may not still be in the cast when you read this) is drowning!  I just don't get it.

It's easy for amateur soap analysts to speculate that Days-happy NBC was forcing Malone to do this, and P&G was forcing him to do that.  But who realy knows what happened behind the scenes out at AW's studio in Brooklyn?  Maybe Malone was in over his head from the start.

All I can see is that Malone's vision never fully made it to the screen.  That's a waste, because he is a gem of a head writer.  Literate and humanistic, he's a natural heir to the intelligent writing tradition of Agnes Nixon and Claire Labine.  In an era of shallow, dum-dum (think Sunset Beach, The Bold and the Beautiful!) soap writing, he is sorely needed.  Let's hope that by the time you read this, another show will have hired Malone-one with an imaginative producer.  I never thought I'd live to see the day I'd miss (Malone's OLTL executive producer-and Marlena's old punching bag) the ever-grandstanding Linda Gottlieb.   

(Soap Opera Weekly, November 18, 1997)