MY LIFE IN SOAP OPERAS
I spent 18 years doing a lot of shows–I myself wrote over 4,000 broadcast hours of television, got five Emmy nominations (Susan Lucci told me I was the Susan Lucci of writers), it was lots of work, lots of pain, lots of fun, and some memorable moments.
Here's a brief rundown of my career in daytime television, but if you have any specific questions, just email me and ask away. I always loved talking to the fans, I'm the only writer I know who regularly read the fan mail, and as I said on Donahue and Maury and other shows I appeared on as a head writer, "It's the fans who really give us our jobs."
In 1980, I think, Gloria Monty, the legendary producer of GENERAL HOSPITAL, was scared. A writer's strike was imminent and her head writer had started something called the "Ice Princess" story with a formula in it, but not much more than that. If the writers stuck, the story would go to the picket lines with them. Up to that time, I'd done a few episodes of FAMILY, the prime time Sada Thompson show that I thought was a class act, and some scripts for SEARCH FOR TOMORROW. But I was a novelist, and Jackie Smith at ABC put me together with Gloria to see if I could help generate story for the coming year or so. At dinner, I showed Gloria my novel, THE GREAT LOS ANGELES BLIZZARD, which Erwin Allen had optioned but dropped, and for the hell of it said why don't we do this? She lit up, and it became the Ice Princess story that aired, where Mikos Cassadine tried to freeze Port Charles in the summer, the first sci-fi for daytime with the highest ratings to match. I wrote a long story, sold it to them just before the strike, they miraculously did it as we marched around the studio, but when it was over I was suddenly writing the show. I did it for three years, and it was a heady time–we were on the covers of Newsweek, People, college classes were scheduled around us, and we changed the face of daytime forever.
Luke & Laura's wedding was the culmination, and we would have put it off for another year (first rule in daytime: make them wait!) but for Elizabeth Taylor, who forced us into hitching them because she wanted them to get married (she knows a thing or two about that). So we made a deal with Liz: we'll marry them if you come. I created the villainous Helena Cassadine for her, and we had a ball doing it. Tidbits: Tony and Genie loathed each other for a long while there, we had to give Tristan lines like, "If Luke were here, he'd say he loves you, Laura," because she refused to tape with him. But they patched it up. Demi Moore, whom the writers fought for because we loved her voice, drank a lot of beer very early in the morning. Rick Springfield was a cool dude, even though he'd show up after a concert in Europe smelling like European trains. It was my last-minute idea to have Scotty catch the bouquet at the wedding.
DAYS OF OUR LIVES was a wonderful experience after being fired from GH (Gloria liked to do that), I brought my former partner Leah Laiman there and we worked with Sheri Anderson and had a great time. We married Bo & Hope (I give good wedding) and created Patch, who was supposed to be on only a day, but the actor's talent knocked us out, introduced John Black when Roman left, and loved working with Gloria Loring (and being diabetic myself, applaud her great work for the JDF), and it was a trip to have "Friends & Lovers" become the number one song in the nation from our little show. Ken Corday, the producer, is a great guy, and I enjoyed every minute I worked for him, on DAYS and other projects as well.
ANOTHER WORLD was less happy. Brooklyn, for one, a dumpy, cold studio, for seconds, and the threat of cancellation hovering overhead the whole time, and less than desirable people on the writing staff. I guess I did it for money. There were too many cooks in the kitchen, and the intrusion of the P&G people and network people made it impossible to create anything of value. However, the producer's secretary, Michelle DeVito became a friend, and helped get me through it. We married Donna and Michael, gave the talented Anne Heche her start, and very few people know this, but my buddy Brad Pitt got rejected after doing one day's shooting, which destroyed him at the time, but changed his life forever. [SEE MY BRAD PITT
PAGES FOR DETAILS]
GENERATIONS introduced me to Sally Sussman, who has been my friend ever since, and someone I admire, respect and love. I thanked her mother, Judy, in SNOW ANGEL, for being one of my biggest supporters, and I miss her very much since she passed away. I loved the show, it was different, fresh, ground breaking–but NBC stuck it on the air in some markets at 3AM, so we never had a chance. But what fun we had, Elizabeth Harrower and Michele Val Jean and Sally and me, we'd be doing story and see this van go by the window and Sally would yell, "Spoon Truck!" (cause it was covered with soup spoons) and we would all just lose it. Well, you had to be there. I'm sure glad I was. It was my favorite gig ever.
I was there for the demise of SANTA BARBARA as well, but it wasn't my fault, honest. The show had never really done well, despite all the hype and awards, and it was on its last legs when I came to it a year before it was canceled. I enjoyed my time there, because I wasn't head writing and thus didn't have to take the heat. I had wanted a break, and just helped with story and did outlines. I thought the Dobsons were a looney, but Pam Long was great, and getting to know Gordon Thompson was nice too. And the three of us would work together in Toronto...
On FAMILY PASSIONS, which should be boxed and sold as 'HOW NOT TO DO A SOAP OPERA." It was Jorn Winthur's passion, and our prison. The Canadians were not ready to tackle a full hour each day, the half-German cast could barely pronounce the words, the other "head writer" was a complete incompetent moron, and the show was laughable. Pam was fired in the early days, before we even got to the studio in Canada, so Kin Shriner and Terri Smith (the great gal who did the music) came from the States to join Gordon and me to do it. We all nearly lost our minds. The show stunk, the winter was the coldest in Canada's history, and the producer, as they tend to do, took out all his aggressions on the writers. Ugh. Never again, life's too short to be treated like that. It's why I left daytime and started writing books again. But it wasn't all bad up there. I loved Toronto's vitality, and it gave me great, cherished friends, like Lucinda Sill and Diane Stead and Thomas Rickerts, which counts for more than any damned TV show in the world. Fern Field
was the only sane and talented producer on the show, and she's remained one of my best buds (she's a marvelous writer as well, check out her website.)
I loved being head writer, for you get to play God and get paid for it to boot! It was a great time, and sometimes, I'll admit, when I'm feeling lonely in my newly-chosen solitary profession as a novelist, I do miss it. But I can't do both, and having a book or two on library shelves when I'm gone means a great deal. Writing books is nourishing for the soul.