How B &B keeps a sharp `Edge' for Procter & GambleErwin
W. (Nick) Nicholson is a vice president of Benton & Bowles and producer of the CBS -TV series, Edge of Night, a show produced by B &B for Procter & Gamble. Before joining CBS -TV as a studio- audience usher in 1954, Mr. Nicholson was a schoolteacher in Buffalo, N.Y. At CBS -TV, he eventually be- came a director. He joined B &B in 1966 as a producer of Edge of Night.
Judging from recent events, keeping personal tapes around would be potentially dangerous. With this in mind, I recently listened to some of my own taped notes, dictated into my home recorder at odd hours of the day and night, and concluded that if they should inadvertently fall into the wrong hands, I could be in big trouble. A random sample disclosed that as re- cently as two months ago, I sensed the need to insure the silence of Babs Micelli, who clearly knew too much about the present situation. Speaking into the mike in quiet and measured tones, I explored various alternative methods of keeping her quiet, and with evident reluctance concluded she had to die. I didn't want her to die. I knew I would miss her terribly and that other people would also. We had all grown fond of her, but it was simply a question of survival. Either she died or the whole damnable story would come out. There was a short gap in the tape at that point (I believe I may have inadvertently erased a short portion of the tape, or possibly it was a malfunction of the machine). Whatever the reason, the next audio indicated that I had overcome my qualms and was ready to recommend to my associates that Babs be shot. Other random samplings disclosed that in June of last year, I clearly stated that Jake Berman would have to die, that there was no other alternative. Were these the rantings of a homicidal maniac? No, merely part of the job of producing a daytime drama. They are verbal memoranda either for me to remember or something to discuss with our writer. But what would have happened had these tapes fallen into the wrong hands? I might have had to do some fast explaining.
The daytime serial. How did it all start? Why did it start? There was a need, a long time ago, back in the early days of radio, in those days of the audio experi- ence. The woman stayed at home. Her life was full, but often drab. Radio was that magic carpet ride out of the kitchen or laundry room into a world of make - believe. It was that moment of pathos or a heartwarming grin at life that almost certainly saved the day for many during the grim, early thirties. But it didn't stop there. It went on into the forties, through the transition from radio to television, and daytime serials are very much a part of the scene today. What about this form of drama that has survived wars, social change, political upheavals and the rating game for nearly half a century? People continue to faithfully follow them because the basic needs have not changed -other things perhaps, but not the basic needs. Call it escapism, call it therapy, call it anything you like, but daytime serials fulfill a very vital function in the American lifestyle. In radio days, they were called soap operas. Today, we in the field choose to call them daytime dramas or daytime serials. I think we have earned that right by virtue of the increasingly mature level of writing and production employed.
As producer of The Edge Of Night, which premiered with its sister show, As The World Turns, on April 2, 1956, I have been able to observe first -hand how daytime dramas have grown up with everything else. 1 .might note here that Edge and World were television's first half -hour daytime serials, a bold concept in its day and one that many programing prophets looked upon as folly. The daring move paid off. To this day both shows are still televised live, still owned by Procter & Gamble (which owns four others), still produced for Procter & Gamble by Benton & Bowles. Why live, when all the other programs have gone to video tape? If you'll permit me to digress for a moment and quote myself from a TV Guide article of several years back: "To me, television was never meant to be a method of rebroadcasting old films. It was supposed to be a medium all its own, and it was intended to be live, as it was in the beginning." I have not changed my thinking.
The Edge of Night is as current as today. It is contemporary, pertinent drama, compelling enough to win the show an Emmy in 1973 for outstanding program achievement in daytime drama. P. G. Wodehouse, the 93- year -old Broadcasting Sep 23 1974 12 creator of Jeeves, the butler, says of the writing on Edge: "It's awfully good. The writer has got a rather good system, with four stories going at the same time and linked together so you don't tire of it." Where does it all really begin? In the typewriter of the man of whom Mr. Wodehouse was speaking -Henry Sleasar, head writer, winner of a 1974 Emmy for best writer in daytime television. What does it take to write a successful daytime drama? Well, one thing for sure. it takes a hell of an imagination. Think of it in terms of keeping an open -ended novel going. Let's see, we are up to about page 250,000. Just think, a novel a quarter of a million pages long. Edge is primarily a suspense story based on today's problems. Organized crime, with its tentacles reaching into every walk of life, has moved a major portion of its operation to Monticello. We see how the omnipresent shadow of the mob affects the lives of the people of this mythical community, actually places the lives of some in mortal danger. A "gray market" baby is used as a pawn to pressure the chief of police into doing favors. He is faced with complying or resigning. This becomes a dilemma for the actor playing the role of the chief of police, since he's been doing just that for 16 years. Actors (about 20 in the resident com- pany), directors (two) and design personnel (12) are introduced to the scripts (and there are 260 of them per year) about two weeks before air dates. It is at this moment that the pieces begin tofall into place. Sets are designed and built. Wardrobe is selected. Technical problems are analyzed and solved. Momentum is gained as the individual show reaches its air date. Soon 2:30 p.m. comes and we are on the air. It's over at 3. And by 3:15, we are ready to begin work on the next day's episode. I had occasion recently to say to an actor (and I have tremendous admiration for the daytime actor), "If you can do this you can do anything- legit, stock, films." This is perhaps the most consistently demanding area of the entire industry -for writers, for actors. for directors and for producers. What I'm trying to say is it's not a place for people of weak heart or mind. I showed this "Monday Memo" to a distinguished chef who chooses to re- main anonymous. He came up with what I consider a fitting recipe that I thought I'd share with you: Take 40 pages of lean, meaty dialogue; blend in seven versatile actors; combine these with one seasoned director; place in appropriate scenery; add lighting; simmer for six hours; sprinkle with wardrobe, make -up and hair styling. Serves about six million.