Daytime drama goes prime-time with MTV's kinky and crazy soap, ''Spyder Games''

By Tricia Johnson
June 22, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Can we say ‘Nurse nutbuster’?” asks Christian McLaughlin. It’s two weeks before Christmas and the cocreator of MTV’s ”Spyder Games: A Summer Soap Opera” is sitting in the control booth during one of the final days of production. Worried that the character in the scene is too young to make a reference to Nurse Ratched (from ”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), McLaughlin and company have to make a decision about the raunchier replacement phrase. A quick phone call to the standards honcho and McLaughlin gets the nod. ”We can use it!”

Cut to six months later and just four days before the cabler is set to roll out what’s supposed to be its first ever daytime soap opera, when MTV pulls a switcheroo: Rather than go with its intended 3 p.m. daily time slot, the brass moves the series to the less after-school-special 7 p.m. slot. (”Games” debuts June 18.) ”MTV decided they wanted it as a nighttime show because it’s kind of racy,” says McLaughlin. ”In light of the whole ‘Jackass’ thing, I think the network is taking a harsher look at the programming.”

MTV president of programming Brian Graden credits the change to scheduling strategy — in other words, there aren’t any other soaps on at 7 p.m. Still, because of the intense scrutiny for ”Jackass” — which recently made headlines when three young viewers set themselves on fire imitating one of the show’s stunts — it’s no surprise that the channel might have gotten squeamish about ”Games”’ randy content. ”Those kinds of incidents always serve to raise the consciousness throughout the organization,” says Graden. ”And I think that’s good.”

Whatever the time slot, this titillating half hour is an intriguing hybrid: Think ”Melrose Place” multiplied by ”Dynasty.” Centered on the Carlisle family — owners of the Spyder videogame empire — it has the requisite bubbly attractions: a murder mystery, a hot love triangle, bare abs, and what McLaughlin calls ”major closeted-gay action.” What it doesn’t have is the open-ended plots of traditional soaps — ”Games” is finite and will wrap after 65 episodes — or their snail’s pace. Says cocreator Valerie Ahern, ”We never have those lingering shots at the end of scenes where you look at her and she looks at you.”

With recurring guests like Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos (as a local club owner) and Mink Stole of the John Waters trash oeuvre (as a meddling secretary), and a queasy sense of humor (sample dialogue: ”She won’t just bust your balls; she’ll grind them up into a fine powder and sprinkle them on her latte”), ”Spyder Games” feels like a natural on the network that made threesomes standard fare with its late-night series ”Undressed.” ”This definitely has a different flavor,” says Shawn Batten (”Sunset Beach”), who plays villainess Natalia Carlisle. ”It’s so extreme and colorful and loud.” (Hmmm, maybe by colorful Batten is referring to the scene where Natalia gives an old man a stroke by flashing her crotch at him.)

A soap junkie since the age of 8, McLaughlin credits ”Games”’ outrageousness to ”a lifetime of gobbling up trashy novels, steamy miniseries, and the assorted squalor and passion in everyday life.” Even with the ”daytime” aspect removed from his daytime drama, McLaughlin hopes ”Games” will spark summering teens to develop their own serial addiction: ”We want the show to be like crack for young kids.” That might not be MTV’s favorite analogy, but we get the idea.