OK, you MPWs, my time is up. We've got Mr. Michael Malone waiting in the wings. Welcome, Michael! I'm thrilled that you've given us some time for this chat. Are you, by any wild chance, an Internet chat virgin?

MM: I am. You are deflowering me. In fact, my daughter wonders if I'll even be able to manage this.

Logan: There's one thing I hope you can explain that I've always been very curious about: New head writers always have an airdate where their work officially begins. What exactly does that mean?

MM: When you first come on to a show, by then you have spent months getting ready. You have studied the show on air, studying tapes, looking at backstory and getting familiar. Unlike starting a play, movie or novel, you're inheriting, in the case of AW, decades of history. You're trying to jump on this train that's been going very fast for a very long time. When you show up, you jump into the preparation for weekly shows because you're fixing what's going on. When I first came to AW, they were in the midst of the "who killed Gabe?" story. So I had to do something about that. What I wanted to do was get through it as quickly as I could... find a solution. Then you've been studying characters, so you know what you want to do in the short term. Then there's the long term: relationships between characters already on the show and to a smaller degree bringing new characters on.

Logan: Who decides the date? Do you find a date that is cleanly yours?

MM: Yes, from this date forward, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, this is mine.... This isn't really true. Rachel Cory Hutchins isn't really mine. She belongs to many other writers. But it is the day that you walk into the building and take over the daily/weekly preparation. For me, as an Irishman, it was a fortuitous day: St. Patrick's Day. I wanted to do something in one story to move along another story, which was the Shane/Bobby/Vicky/Jake story, which was paddling in place for such a long time. The longer it stayed in place, the more urgent it became to move it.

Chris: Mr. Malone, you hit the nail on the head -- new writers coming in MUST get familiar with the HISTORY and the characters. Some never seem to get that grasp. What's your advice to them?

MM: Well, to ask, first of all. And the people who are going to know these characters still on the show are the actors playing them. I find it very important to talk to them. I was struck by how welcoming the actors at AW were to have me come out to Brooklyn where they tape the show.... Of course, I didn't know how far it was! I think they're very happy to have a writer there who's interested in having them come in and say who they are fictionally. I've asked them what have you loved, what have you hated and they're happy to tell you.

Logan: Why are some writers afraid of embracing the actors?

MM: Some writers just want to be in their imaginations, but they shouldn't be writing soap opera. It is very much a repertory, and the character is very much a mixture of the actor playing the part and the story. There are times when the actor drives you crazy because they only want to do what they want to do. That happens sometimes in a novel, but these people are rea.l

Logan: Is it true -- you're the first AW writer to actually work in-house?

MM: That's what they tell me. Unless they have some hidden under the floorboards.

Erica: I was very disappointed that Anna Kathryn was let go, but please redeem yourself and say that David Forsyth is staying!

MM: I too am very sad that she's left. I think what she and David did in the scenes they had the end of last week and the beginning of this were extraordinary. They really show was a tremendous actress she is. It was remarkable. The decision was solely budgetary. I am hoping that when the ratings go up and we have more money, I would like to have everybody back and staying on the show.

Logan: Why make the choice of bringing them back together in a love scene?

MM: This was very much a part of what you asked earlier about a head writer coming into the show. It seemed to me coming into the show that John and Sharlene shared a great intimacy, a compatibility and that he'd flung himself into this Felicia affair, somewhat like a midlife crisis that circumstances fostered and there were unspoken difficulties in that relationship of tempos and tastes and life patterns. There were potential problems in the J/F relationship that would become apparent when Nikos appeared in her life. There had been no closure for John and Sharlene. It wasn't fair to the dignity of their marriage to close it out without them feeling that. We've left it, not that they're "Oh my God, we're in love," but for them both to realize there's a lot of hurt left to heal and there are feelings to explore.... John, Felicia and Sharlene need to do that.

Clowee: Many of us are wondering if Kathleen McKinnon is coming back (Julie Osburn). It would be great to see her back in town.

MM: There are a lot of McKinnons out there. When you start looking at this family tree you look at these old trunks and lines of the Frames and McKinnons. Kathleen McKinnon was one place that I looked. Doesn't seem right that Jake shouldn't have more of a family.

Logan: Have you thought about casting?

MM: No.

Logan: Is there a projected date on a McKinnon?

MM: No, again I would love to have a great many more contract players... but you have to take what you can get. The next person we need to bring on is the recast Matt.

Logan: Why has that been so hard to recast?

MM: I don't know!

Logan: Isn't the young-man field wrapped around the block?

MM: Well, there are many handsome young men, but it's a crucial piece of casting. He's a Cory and he's coming into a place where he'll be playing a sensual role. You're looking for a magic person. We had that with Lisa Peluso as Lila. You're looking for this character that you dreamed of. I personally think that AW is blessed in its cast. It has very talented and attractive people.

kat: Can you please give us the scoop on Jensen Buchanan?

MM: The scoop on Jensen Buchanan from my point of view is she's one in a million. When you talk about that combination of beauty, talent and charisma. She is remarkable. What I hold onto is I have not been told she is leaving, and I am not going to believe it until she is not there. I am hoping and confident that she is going to stay. There is no definite decision otherwise. I think she should have won that Emmy. She is amazing, but I am sure she can win it next year. I think there's a way we can work it out. This is a grueling job and if you have a family, particularly young like she does, it makes such demands on you -- especially when you're such a central role like she is. We're all hoping this can be resolved.

Diana: What are your plans for Jake? I would love to see him paired with Amanda.

MM: If you've watched in the past three or four weeks, Amanda seems to have the same hope. She certainly wishes he could take his eyes of this fixed star Vicky. They seem quite compatible.. la his Girl Friday... but I think you need to accept about Jake that he loves Vicky and that's not a feeling that's easily going to go away in him.

Erica: Now that Bobby Reno is Dr. Shane Roberts, are we gonna see him shed the boots, beard and jeans and start seeing a hip man?

MM: Well, of course Donna, who despised him, now that she's heard he's a doctor is changing her mind. Now that he's free to be who he is, he certainly won't be repairing houses and you can expect to see him in that George Clooney scrubs look.

Logan: Speaking of that, why does everyone have the Clooney look?

MM: Who are you talking about?

Logan: Kale Brown, David Forsyth...

MM: That's true....

Logan: What about Aprea's beard? Are you going to keep that?

MM: The reason for the beard was to make him different from Lucas. Whether that will stay, that's yet to be discussed. I think maybe Shane will lose his beard and gain a tuxedo :) Possibly a shirtless tuxedo... One thing in general I'd like to see is more glamour. It does beautifully the realism of Bay City, but I'd like to see more opportunities for elegant parties and glamorous gowns and fancy dos.

Logan: What's the deal on Joan Rivers?

MM: The minute her name came up it seemed perfect. Grant, as you know, is running for mayor, and although he thinks it is difficult, being a murderer, American politics has taught him differently. So he hires a spin doctor to get around his "image problems" such as killing his brother, paralyzing his wife and blowing up the truck. Joan has no problem with these and thinks that if Grant, like others before him, confesses his sins, the public will accept it. His motto is "I have no secrets. We're hoping we can lure her back for more appearances. Now Grant wants a dynasty and he's chasing Cindy around with a thermometer to find those most fertile moments.

riley: So you are one of TPTB! How much weight does the head writer have vs. the exec. producer and the network (and P&G, in some cases!)?

MM: [With] this show, because it is P&G leased to NBC, you have two masters, unlike ABC shows, which are owned by ABC. The power ultimately is with the owners, and I'm very aware of that. I always remember the poem about Diego Rivera and painting the wall in Rockefeller Center.... Mr. Rockefeller didn't like it and made him take it down. AW is NBC's and P&G's. On the other hand, they wouldn't have hired me unless they wanted to see what I was going to paint on that wall. The wisest executives at least let you get it painted. As for the EP, it's different from the prime-time shows where the writer is executive producer. That's impossible in this medium because one person simply cannot do all of this. The best shows happen when there is a single force -- like the Bell shows -- or in a wonderful marriage between the producer and head writer. I feel fortunate to have that with Charlotte Savitz. So you feel free to say to her, "I really want to do this this way..." and she says, "OK, I'm going to go with you." And she feels free to say, "I can't see how this story is working" and you say, "I trust that you would see if it weren't right." There's all this give and take. In the final analysis, if NBC doesn't want a story, it's not going to be on the air.

lou: Mr. Malone, I have watched AW for 15 years and my all-time favorite character is Lorna Devon! Are there any plans at all, in the near or even distant future, to bring Lorna back? Please make my year and say that there are!!

MM: Lorna is one of those central characters who's absence you feel. She was gone when I arrived, yet instinctively when you look at Felicia you know she should have a daughter. She needs to have that younger woman relationship. It's interesting that the writers put Sofia in that place by going to work with Felicia. Clearly it would be more intimate if that character were her own daughter. So on my list of characters I'd like to bring back is Lorna.

TVGEN: Next week's soap chat with TV Guide columnist Michael Logan will be in our new auditorium. You may need to upgrade to a Java-enabled browser or download a chat client. Please read the new "help" directions at http://www.tvguide.com/chat for more information.

Bernard: Michael Malone, congrats on your Edgar Allen Poe Award. Any new mysteries on the way to Bay City? I am not talking about the mystery of Shane Roberts.

MM: Thank you for the congratulations. Yes, I love mysteries. I love courtroom mysteries and you can expect to see both, and I'm not talking about the mystery of Shane Roberts either. That was interesting to do. I had to look at what was on air for almost a year and make sense of it. Write something that did not violate that past of what I'd been given. What kind of back mystery can I create that will take care of all the little details that will lead to some sort of crisis that Vicky and Jake can be active in solving and bring Bobby/Shane back into their lives.

Logan: If you didn't have to fix that, if it didn't involve a superstar that the network, P&G wanted to see, would you have just junked it?

MM: That's hard because it was given to me as a given. It had to be fixed. It was staying. The problem was the continuation of his secrecy. He'd been there so long without telling her, so that his secret had to be something enormous. And he couldn't be the one who had murdered someone. When I thought about the character everything made sense. Came from a working-class Catholic family, maybe had an alcoholic abusive father, had a sister who became a nun, marries this woman, becomes a doctor, wants to help people, his flaw is his decency and his heroism. I told Robert that the character was like the line from this poem: "I could not love thee dear so much, loved I not honor more." It's what Rhett quotes to Scarlett before he goes to war. To protect Vicky he doesn't tell her things. I could make a hero out of this tangled life.

Logan: Does it bother you as someone who writes very realistically that you have to do this speeded-up thing with Bobby and the death row thing?

MM: Yes, it bothers me very much that what were able to say with this is better than what you usually end up with. He was on his way to imminent execution when he was saved. Because movies can jump whereas soaps move in some semblance of continuous time -- although you often have one day, then it's a week later -- you don't have the flexibility to get people into a trial or through pregnancy. People are always going into the hospital with a brain tumor on Friday and coming out with a bandage on Monday.

Logan: Unless you're a diva, then you have no bandage!

MM: LOL

Erica: Who has the hottest story in Bay City this summer?

MM: Well, I hesitate to take the temperature of one and claim it's more fevered than another. I said when I came to the show that there was a great delicious stew at AW and I wanted to turn the heat up and stir it up. I think that's happening on the show. We have our young people centered in a very heated story in every sense of the word -- a very contemporary, dramatic story involving a rape trial, racial issues, faith and love. Nick and Sofia, Toni Burrell--

Logan: She's very good.

MM: She's wonderful and has this very intense role as a rookie, female cop trying to be equal to the job, who is raped and feels not only the horror of that as a police officer who can't stop it. We are building on the canvas a strong African-American presence. Toni, her mom Etta Mae, her friend Chris who really rises to the occasion to be with her, her "family" Tyrone who comes to town as Cass's law partner and finds himself in the dilemma that Cass's client Nick Hudson and his best friend Toni are in direct conflict. It's the kind of story I love to tell, which is a big umbrella story, clustering a large part of the canvas. The story of Vicky/Jake/Shane and Lila will be very central over the summer as Lila begins to attempt to do whatever it takes to stop Shane from divorcing her and marrying Vicky. Vicky struggles with the choice of a stormy relationship with Shane and the steady love she feels with Jake. The whole House of Cory will be stirred by the discovery that an ancient feud has existed between Alexander and Carl. And of course God knows what Grant and Cindy will do.

Logan: This has nothing to do with you, but Alice Barrett was fired to give Cass story. Is there anything on the romantic front for him?

MM: I wanted to find some substance for Cass. He's a very funny, warm, guy who's a lawyer, but he needs to be doing more than running about doing errands for Felicia. He will have things to do at the center of this summer story, and part of that is to find out who that will be... I either don't know or I'm not going to tell you :) I like him immensely; he's an interesting character to me. I feel that about a lot of the AW people: They're unusual. Carl is an unusual character. Paulina is very three-dimensional and specific. All of these people are played by very talented performers.

Erica: Malone, before we go I want to say what a great job you are doing with the show, keep it up! But a few suggestions, have Shane shave and Gary get a buzz cut! Otherwise, love the show!!!

Logan: Gary? Could I add a buzz cut for Carl?

MM: As long as Josie doesn't have to have buzz cut, I'm fine.

annette: What are your plans for Josie and Joe? Will they get together, or will Josie and Gary marry?

MM: Well, Josie and Gary continue to set the date for their wedding. I love them, they're a wonderful young couple. And again, they're different. You know their strengths, they're romantic, sexy, funny, yet earnest. I think that it would take so much to put any little crack in the strength of the relationships of Joe & Paulina and Gary & Josie... but you never say never. You see that something is putting distance between Joe and Paulina. Her problem with her weight and Joe with all the love in the world can't seem to find the right way to deal with it. And Paulina has made the unfortunate choice of accepting help from Cindy, so that distance could grow. I have great faith in Judi Evans Luciano that she can go as far as we want to go... the struggle of this story and where it could lead to.

janet: Mr. Malone, prior to writing for daytime, were you a soap fan? Whose work do you/have you admire[d]?

MM: I was not a habitual watcher of afternoon soap operas, but there was one, The Doctors, that I loved. I always loved soap opera in other forms. To me, any extended drama, any serial drama could be considered a soap, which is what I'm endlessly saying about Dickens novels and Upstairs, Downstairs. Even much of prime time has now become serialized. When I started watching the shows, I became an admirer of this form. It is so hard and the people that do it are so gifted. I remember saying to Agnes Nixon, I asked her if she knew that many scholars were writing of soap opera and considered her one of the voices in changing the culture of women in the 20th century. She said in her wonderful way, "I never thought I'd live to hear that said." Then she smiled and said, "I knew it would be said, I just never thought I'd live to hear it." I think more people are realizing what an extraordinary thing this is. And I wish they would get Nielsen boxes and watch Another World!

Logan: LOL Thank you so much. Congratulations with your show, and we're glad to have had you here.

MM: Thank you for being so gentle.

Slightly edited for clarity.