Jensen Buchanan, Tom Eplin, Charlotte Savitz and Michael Malone
aka Vicky, Jake and Another World's Powers That Be

Eager not to mar the popular love story of Jake and Vicky, Another World executive producer Charlotte Savitz and her head writer, Michael Malone, have made the creative decision not to acknowledge that the couple were lovers as kids before coming to Bay City in 1985. Instead, they've chosen to play their long-delayed, eagerly awaited lovemaking (which takes place this week after the duo's engagement party) as if it is their very first time. Nor do they mention that Jake raped Marley, his ex-wife and Vicky's twin, back in 1990. As gloriously successful as the current Vicky-Jake romance is with many fans, the revisionist history is disturbing to others. In individual interviews, we talked about this situation with Savitz, Malone and the two stars involved, Jensen Buchanan and Tom Eplin.

There seems to be a fairly substantial contingent of AW fans -- at least according to the message boards on the Internet and a lot of the mail I've been getting -- who have a problem with the show not acknowledging the past where Vicky and Jake are concerned. I'm not one of the disgruntled, but I think this is a very valid topic to chew on. What's your take?

Jensen Buchanan: The writers don't feel an obligation to hash over the fact that Vicky and Jake have made love before, and I'm not necessarily saying this is bad. Hopefully, there's some element, some suggestion of that prior relationship that Tom and I can find and bring to what we do. I'm hoping somehow we can bring a sense of rediscovery and irony and all that sorta stuff. That'll be one of my biggest challenges.

Especially since it's not scripted.

JB: It might call for a few ad-libs, let me put it that way.

And the rape?

JB: I'm choosing not to acknowledge the prior lovemaking or the fact that he raped her sister. Of course, it's easier for me to do that because I was not playing the twins when the rape occurred. [Note: They were then played by Anne Heche.] I'm choosing to see us as the new Vicky and Jake. I'm focusing on the positives, embracing the romance and the fun. It's too hard to go down that old road. Besides, there's nothing I can do about it. The show has made a choice. We have a regime right now that was not really a part of the early Vicky-Jake days -- when they were the kids from the wrong side of the tracks. That's not the show that they're writing right now. And you can fight it or you can go with it. I choose to go with it.

Overlooking a past romance is one thing; overlooking a rape is another.

JB: I don't think it's great to romanticize a rapist, but I don't think that's what the show did. I was playing Marley when Jake and Marley came to a resolution of sorts, a way to live in the world together. I remember a scene Tom and I had where [our characters] unexpectedly ran into each other. It was within weeks of my starting on the show. We had a conversation where we dealt with our feelings and said, "Let's get on with our lives."

What if characters can move on but the audience can't?

JB: Look, if you condemned Jake for the rest of his life, you'd have another group saying, "Hey, haven't you ever heard of rehabilitation?" You can't please everyone.

* * *

Charlotte, talk to me about your choice to play Vicky-Jake as a new relationship.

Charlotte Savitz: The show has absolutely not denied [their prior relationship]. I remember a time right before I started on the show when Donna felt she had walked in on something between Vicky and Jake, and Vicky said, "Oh, my God, no! That was such a long time ago, we haven't been between the sheets with each other." This is before they acknowledged that they were falling in love.

Was the decision to postpone their lovemaking affected by their history together?

CS: The decision to not have them just fall into bed was motivated by a number of things, not the least of which is that once that happens to any couple on the soaps, a lot of the sexual tension goes away, or you have to work harder to keep it. We were looking for ways to hold that off, to make this as special as we could for the pure, romantic value of it. And I think we achieved that.

So by Jake wanting to hold off on sex, you're acknowledging what happened in the past without doing so specifically and verbally?

CS: That's what we had in mind.

And what about the rape not being mentioned?

CS: I want to believe that we've had new viewers join us since that happened -- and there's every indication that we do -- and there is a dilemma that comes with that. How do you get into that backstory when so much explanation is required to really deal with it? Besides, my understanding is that it was dealt with. The two characters reconciled and eventually came to [consider the rape] pretty much ancient history.

So what we've done is touch on the past a couple of times, though you wouldn't know that's what we were touching on unless you were very familiar with the show, unless you were watching back then. That's what we elected to do. People who were watching before would understand what we were [alluding] to, and people who weren't would still be able to follow what the scene was about. That worked for me. I hope it worked for the fans.

It gets one to wondering about how responsible a show should be to writer decisions made years, maybe even decades ago -- especially if honoring those decisions screws up a fabulous story that you're trying to tell today. It seems that, in some cases, being forced to honor the past could be really unfair punishment. I mean, what if the past deed was a really bad, dumb decision? I, for one, love the Vicky-Jake romance and wouldn't want it dragged down by regurgitating all this stuff. But I do understand the opposing viewpoint.

CS: Any soap with a long history is going to be full of minefields. There are ones on AW I'm sure even I don't know about. I would certainly not be in favor of redeeming a rapist like Chip Rayburn, but my understanding of the Jake-Marley story is that Jake was not that kind of person, nor was the rape of Marley the same kind of situation as with Rayburn and Toni. I made the judgment call that we didn't need to resurrect it.

I do think we need to deal with the issue that Marley was in love with Jake and that she was married to him. That, to me, is certainly important. I think the fans who want [the rape acknowledged again] are really asking for something larger. They want bad feelings to exist between Jake and Vicky, but that's not the story we're telling. We are bringing Marley back for the wedding, and there will be scenes between Jake and Marley -- and obviously between Vicky and Marley. We don't plan to talk about the rape in any detail, but certainly the past will arise. We will absolutely acknowledge that the marriage of Vicky and Jake is weird for Marley. She's going to have a difficult time understanding how they got to this point. And then we have a lot of fun things for her to do.

* * *

Michael, were you fully aware of the Vicky-Jake past when you came on board and started writing this romance?

Michael Malone: Not in any detail. When you join a show as writer, you inherit 20 to 30 years of history. The Jake I met when I came on was a guy hopelessly in love with Vicky, a woman who only thought of him as a friend. They were two people who had known each other since childhood, who had been rebels together and had had a brief sexual relationship in adolescence. They had come into town, grown apart and he moved towards her sister. But the characters I met were two friends who were emotionally very close even though it was a very one-sided relationship.

The story I wanted to tell was one in which a woman finally came to see value in a man who had loved her and understood her and accepted and empowered her time after time after time. And I wanted to stop Jake from going after Vicky with all the "Love me, love me, love me" neediness. I wanted to just let him stand still -- which is what I needed the character to do so that we could see Jake's real character, and Tom Eplin's real character.

That's when I saw the Clark Gable quality in Tom, that classic, wisecracking newspaper reporter. When Jake finally calmed down and stood still, Victoria could finally actually look at him and see him. She could finally see his value. That was the reality to me. The long-distant past of his relationship with her sister -- whom I had never met -- and the relationship of the twins was not part of my fictional world of characters when I came here.

The virtue and the problem of soaps is that in order for them to keep running, history sometimes has to erase itself. There's something strangely American about that. We don't go back; we go forward. And these are two of the most American of characters -- all that wonderful feeling and drive and triumph and comedy and pathos. They have such a range of supple emotions, yet at the same time it's kind of innocent. It's curiously not sophisticated, though they are not unsophisticated. There's something just so right there about them.

You know, soap operas are not like a three-act play where the consequences lead to a conclusion, and the curtain comes down. In soaps, the consequences are committed, but life goes on. You have to reconcile those consequences. Once, Carl and Rachel were horrible enemies. He tried to murder her. Paulina shot Jake. All these people have done horrible things to one another, and they've got relationships that shift with time and eventually a lot of that history just settles down. It's like one great dysfunctional family that doesn't talk anymore about how Aunt Betty and Uncle Joe used to shoot at each other.

Yeah, but in real-life dysfunctional families, that stuff still comes to the surface even if it goes unspoken. It's still there, still seething, still bubbling. But the problem with AW here is that we're dealing with rape, which is a major hot-button issue, as you well know from your experience with Todd Manning on One Life to Live. Politically, socially, emotionally, you can understand why some people don't want to shut up about this.

MM: Probably in some deep way the decision to bring Marley back for the wedding is a way to say, "This is a part of Vicky's past and Jake's past." It's like the unspoken thing in the room. We can sort of acknowledge it without dwelling on it. We'll bring her back and have her see the kind of man Jake has become. We'll be able to give Marley and Jake a moment together where they can say, "We have been through a great deal." Through that, we acknowledge that there is a past.

Now you could have made a few references to the past along the way without significantly changing the Vicky-Jake love story, yet you deliberately chose not to. Did you feel any acknowledgment at all would somehow taint things?

MM: We never said the past romance or the rape hadn't happened. But we've chosen to go for the feeling of new love. We've chosen to explore how beautiful and magical it is. And the actors both play that so perfectly. I wanted this to be two people in love entering a brave new world they've never been to, yet somehow it also feels like home. They found out who they are and what they really want through each other. The boy and girl next door are now a man and a woman who love and admire and respect each other. So, in a way, this Vicky and Jake have never made love before.

Yet, in a way, we appreciate the purity and childlike quality and simplicity of the whole thing because they have been through so much complexity, together and individually.

MM: I've been fighting hard to hang onto the fact that Vicky is not a woman who is madly in love with a madly romantic man -- meaning Shane -- but marrying the safe friend she has no desire for or chemistry with. It has never been my intention to tell that story, though it's possible to look at the story as that sort of classic paradigm -- that Jake is the safe choice and Shane is the dangerous, Heathcliff-ian choice. It was never that. This story is about a woman caught in her emotions between a kind of -- to her -- scary chaos of romantic upheaval as represented by one man and passion, friendship and understanding with a man with whom she feels safe and at home.

* * *

OK, Mr. Eplin, let's discuss this very interesting character evolution of yours.

Tom Eplin: They've really tried to make Jake more stable and less needy. For example, a needy Jake would have pressed the subject of sex, and it's really been his idea to abstain. I keep [comparing] this to what AW did with the character of Mac Cory. Jake is very Mac-like. They're heading him towards a more virtuous path. He's becoming the polar character of the show, instead of the loose cannon.

And you like this?

TE: As long as they don't eliminate the other elements. He reminds me of a character whose fuse is now a lot longer. But I don't want to see them forget that he's still connected to a bomb. He has got to be able to come apart on some level, where he has to deal with his old emotions, his old temper. I'd like to see it come to the surface and have him deal with it in a different way than he has in the past.

In your mind, would the Vicky-Jake romance not have played as well if AW had acknowledged the past?

TE: I'm not sure about that. I know there are people online who are upset about it. I think that they're making a little too much out of it, because today's Vicky and Jake are different people. If I were to suddenly run across somebody I knew in high school, someone I'd been with romantically, we'd have a different relationship now. You bring your life experience to the table, and when 10 or 15 years have passed, I think you become a different person, and it's just not the same relationship.

Yes, but if two people got together romantically after many years apart, they would still mention that prior relationship here or there. There would be some references, like, an occasional, "Gosh, it's so different this time around." Something would be said. So it's interesting that AW has chosen not to refer to it. Nobody's denying the past, but nobody's mentioning it, either.

TE: Like you, I'm not sure it would have hurt to mention it. I do think I could have played that. And it wouldn't have to be a big written deal. I could play that by walking into a room. I wouldn't need lines to play that. I'm not so sure that we haven't derailed ourselves a bit by my not playing that. Two or three scenes and people would go, "OK, that's what Jake is thinking, that's what's going on." And I just didn't do it. I just didn't do it. Although I don't know how or if it would have altered the fruition of the story.

Is it easier to put the romantic past behind you because Jensen wasn't playing the part back then?

TE: Subconsciously, it's got to. I don't think it's as easy for Jensen to tune into that as it would be if Annie Heche were playing it still. But that's not what Jensen and I focus on now. When she and I talk about Vicky and Jake, we constantly use the word different. We keep saying, "We have to keep them different."

Should the show be acknowledging the rape?

TE: You're talking about something that happened five or six regimes ago. It's a fine line to walk. We're aware of the online banter and by no means intend to trivialize rape. But I think this show has been responsible. Back when Jensen took over the part, we had scenes where they basically said, "It's time to heal and move on." Also, after the rape itself, Jake went into counseling. Jake was in denial, and Marley put the matter right in front of him, and he decided to get help. But the problem may be that [the counseling] happened off-camera.

But to bring that back in a big way? I don't see how it would weave into the love story they're trying to tell. I'm not so sure how valid that would be. In fact, I think it would be almost damaging. We're doing a soap opera. I just don't see the dramatic value of bringing it up once a character has admitted it.

Now, originally, they could have chosen to go another way. Jake could have remained in denial and that could have been the story. But that's not what they did back then. The response is a little confusing to me. We have very outspoken fans and whenever the show seems to get on any kind of roll, it gets derailed by things like this. The Powers That Be get nervous and back off a story. I think we need to take the Bill Bell approach -- not bow to the pressure from the audience and just go through with it.