The teen bullying plot on One Life to Live turns personal February 22 when the anonymous jerk who's been harassing high schooler Shane Morasco (Austin Williams) over the internet turns out to be someone we know well — Blair and Todd's kid Jack (Andrew Trischitta). TV Guide Magazine spoke with the soap's Emmy-winning head writer Ron Carlivati about this ripped-from-the-headlines story and where it's headed.
TV Guide Magazine: Did the recent rash of suicides among bullied teens make you move quickly with this story?
Carlivati: Yeah, we did jump in pretty fast on this one — faster than with most stories. I took the idea to [executive producer] Frank Valentini, then we quickly took it to [ABC Daytime chief] Brian Frons. The time was right and Shane seemed to be the perfect kid to do it with. We've partnered with STOMP Out Bullying [stompoutbullying.org] and will be running PSAs for the organization starting the day Jack is revealed as the bully. It's not that bullying hasn't been going on since forever, but it's become a renewed issue in our society and people — especially parents — don't know exactly what to do and how to deal with it.
TV Guide Magazine: It's interesting that you had Shane's grandma, Echo, find out about the cyber-bullying early on, then bow to pressure from Shane not to tell his parents. Seems like a big mistake on her part.
Carlivati: We have a responsibility when we tell a story like this to help the audience learn what they should do in such a situation, but that doesn't mean we don't show our characters making the wrong choices. The situation will get worse for Shane as we move into the spring. At first, we're centering the story on the kids but as we move forward — I'm already plotting this into May sweeps and beyond — it'll also become a story about the parents. How much do you monitor your child? How do you keep up with your kid in this difficult era of the internet? Should Shane's parents, Rex and Gigi, have seen the warning signs? What about Jack's parents? Sometimes these things are happening right under your nose and you're not aware of it.
TV Guide Magazine: How do Blair and Todd react when they find out their son's a little shit?
Carlivati: It's going to be a surprise for them. Though we've cast a new Jack for this story [14-year-old Carmen LoPorto has been replaced by 16-year-old Trischitta] we've seen the seeds of this problem because Jack has already been a bit of a Dennis the Menace-type character — a prankster and troublemaker but in a humorous way. I think his becoming a bully is a very realistic evolution as he goes into high school. Here he is a popular, good-looking and wealthy kid, and there's little Shane, whose parents are working hard to put food on the table. Shane doesn't have the hippest, coolest sneakers, or the best clothes, and that becomes yet another reason to terrorize him. Don't forget that Jack's male role model is Todd, who has his own long history of bullying. And there's also denial there. Blair will not want to believe her sweet little boy can do such horrible things.
TV Guide Magazine: It sounds like this will go way beyond cyber-bullying.
Carlivati: The threats soon turn physical. Things are going on in Jack's life that will amp up his cruelty level and make him even worse.
TV Guide Magazine: A lot of the bullying that's made the news lately has been gay-related. Did you purposely avoid going there?
Carlivati: It seemed more important that we not tell a gay story, though that's not to say that certain kinds of gay slurs won't come up as the story progresses. It's important to say that kids can be targeted by bullies for any number of reasons. Shane is artistic, he's into comic books, he has asthma, which keeps him on the sidelines during gym, and he's a sensitive kid. He's been targeted just for being different. And it becomes a group thing. Once the other kids start piling on it doesn't really matter what the reason is because he's become a target. He's somebody they can get to. It becomes a herd mentality. This has been a real challenge to write because Austin is such a great actor and makes it all so heartbreaking to watch. I feel mean putting poor little Shane through so much pain. I can't imagine there's anyone in our audience who doesn't feel for him. It's tough stuff, but it's important to get the word out.
TV Guide Magazine: An increasing number of these cases do end in suicide or suicide attempts. How far will you take this story?
Carlivati: Right now, all I'll say is this: The problem with Shane will reach critical mass.