The Academy Award-winning motion picture Crash was the inspiration for AMC’s just-launched story of Spike’s deafness, says Co-Head Writer James Harmon Brown. He gave Digest the inside scoop on what’s to come in the unfolding tale.Digest: Was this storyline on the horizon before you and Barbara Esensten came aboard as head writers?
James Harmon Brown: When we came on the show, Greenlee was coming back to Pine Valley and dealing with the loss of Ryan and with Kendall’s pregnancy and with Spike, the child that was supposed to have been hers, not being hers. We knew that the plan was in motion to have, at some point, Greenlee make a run for it with Spike. And when that happened, we wanted to have that act become something that literally crashed all these relationships. We wanted what happened not to be one of these, “Is he going to die?” and then miraculously, on Friday, he lives. We wanted it to be a real issue, a real repercussion of what Greenlee did and a permanent one — something you can’t wave a magic wand and fix. That was the genesis behind it, and it allows us to explore not only the dynamic between Kendall and Greenlee, but the relationships between Zach and Kendall, Ryan and Annie, Ryan and Greenlee, and all these people who are intimately involved with this little boy. We just felt that this particular act can expand to include just about — and it will, once we’re done — everybody on the canvas. Obviously, Erica and Jack’s relationship is affected because it’s their two daughters. It’s something we knew we could get a lot of emotional mileage out of and also, it’s a real thing, a real issue: This boy is permanently deaf.
Digest: On the subject of Erica and Jack, I was shocked when I learned that their divorce was going to go through!
Brown: It’s almost like, when something like this happens that’s so devastating and huge, it almost didn’t matter to them at that point. There are so many other emotions that they’re dealing with that the piece of paper really didn’t have the impact it might have otherwise. Jack and Erica are going to be exploring their relationship. Will it survive the fact that Jack’s daughter caused Kendall’s son to become deaf? That’s certainly as an important relationship in this whole arena as any of the others.
Digest: As Kendall and Ryan wrestle with the proper course to take with Spike, the possibility of cochlear implants is going to be brought into the story. You and Barbara were head writers of GUIDING LIGHT when Amy Ecklund (ex-Abby) got her implants, and her character followed suit.
Brown: Yes, we wrote that story. We knew Amy very well and talked to her before and after, so we have a little bit of experience dealing with it, but it’s a different situation when you’re dealing with a child — and in some cases it’s better, because the speech, if you do the operation early enough, the earlier you do it, the better chance there is of a child not having any kind of speech issue, [which plays into] the whole idea of mainstreaming the child into regular schools and activities, which is a goal.
Digest: Whose idea was it to involve Kassie DePaiva [Blair, ONE LIFE TO LIVE, whose 10-year-old son with James DePaiva, OLTL’s ex-Max, JQ, was born profoundly deaf and received cochlear implants] as a consultant in this storyline?
Brown: It was actually Sue Johnson [vice president of talent development and East Coast programming for ABC Daytime] who suggested it. We’d known about it; we knew about their situation, but Sue suggested it and we had a couple of long conversations with Kassie and Jim and met JQ, their son, and learned more than we could possibly use about the options that were available when they were going through it, but more importantly, about the emotional ride that they took, which is really mirroring a lot of what Kendall is going to go through. Their input was invaluable, not only in terms of the reality of what they had to go through, but also in terms of their relationship. As much as we can, we’re trying to mirror Kendall’s experience with theirs.
Digest: Just a few weeks into it, Kendall’s experience has already brought me to tears more than once!
Brown: We’ve been really pleased by the response so far. We’re hoping to bring in some new customers and get some of the old ALL MY CHILDREN viewers back. I think we all see it as a chance to get into some real issues dramatically; we’re not doing hug her/mug her stuff, we’re doing real emotional stories and I think that is what the audience is craving.
Digest: Through your conversations with the DePaivas and other research you’ve done, has your original sense of where the story might be headed been altered in any significant ways?
Brown: Well, I think the whole idea of talking to Jim and Kassie and their journey from denial to acceptance and also as you’re trying to mainstream your child, what we heard over and over again not just from Jim and Kassie, but from other people, is the sense that, “We don’t want our child to be different.” I think that’s the thing they dealt with before they reached the decision to do the cochlear implant — and it is a decision, because when you do the operation, apparently it either destroys or inhibits the chance for some future research to come up with a better [method of restoring hearing]. So, you’re really closing off other options when you do it. It’s a decision and within the larger deaf community, it’s a controversial thing. But this story is about parents of a child who are trying to do what they think is best for their child.
Digest: You’ve been calling this story “Crash,” not because it began with an automobile accident but because of the movie of the same name?
Brown: If you saw the movie, you’ll recall that all these incidents somehow at the end connect. For example, if this hadn’t have happened, Annie wouldn’t have contacted her father, and the events in Annie’s life that are going to torture her for the next six months to a year wouldn’t have happened. So at the end of this whole story, just about every character on this show is going to be connected to it in some way, all stemming from Greenlee having made the decision one day to take Spike. Relationships are formed, relationships are shattered, business alliances you never would have dreamed of come to pass…. The story will involve Adam, JR, Tad, Krystal and everybody else.