Hollywood: Daytime Goes to the Beach Aaron Spelling will bring sunshine and sand to set-bound soap operas with his new ‘Sunset Beach’
Nov 4, 1996
By Betsy Sharke
Except for a nasty cold, Aaron Spelling couldn’t be in much better spirits. He’s spent most of the day with his office crammed full of wardrobe racks and cast members from Sunset Beach, the first daytime drama that Spelling Entertainment has ever done and the first daytime drama to be introduced on network TV in eight years (1989’s Generations was the last — and it didn’t).
‘We brought in 12 racks of clothes,’ says Spelling. ‘I think fashion is as important to a serial as anything else.’ Fashion sets the tone. It defines the palette. The length of a skirt, the style of jeans, can tell the viewer volumes about a character before the first word of dialogue is spoken.
Spelling already loves the Sunset Beach cast — their names have been added to his annual Christmas party list — and on this day he is doling out advice to them on everything from buying a new car to renting apartments to how to handle fame, should it be lucky enough to come.
He has issued his no-hair-changes dictum — Sunset cast members had better be happy with the style and color they start the show with, because Spelling isn’t about to let them confuse a new audience with a makeover any time soon. It is a long-standing rule for a Spelling show, and his staff knows that he’s deadly serious about it even if some of the awestruck actors don’t — yet.
On Jan. 6, Sunset Beach will hit the air. ‘The series is a critical component of NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer’s plan to make the network’s daytime schedule as potent as its prime time. NBC is in third place in daytime, though the net is up 20 percent this season and is closing in on second-place ABC. Ohlmeyer has his sights set on first, which CBS now owns.
‘With Sunset, we have something new and hot and exciting,’ Ohlmeyer says. ‘(In) the ‘80s, NBC daytime basically disintegrated. We are in the process of rebuilding, but we have to deliver the goods. That’s how we’ve built prime time, with distinctive programming.
‘There hasn’t been a successful soap launched in 10 years. It’s very difficult to do, but with Aaron’s touch and looking at the cast we have, we think it’s worth the effort. Some of our affiliates are very receptive (to the show) some, we’re in the process of kidnapping their children.’
On Stage 11 at NBC Studios in Burbank, carpenters and set designers are working late into the night to complete the sets that will form the primary backdrop for the show. The small community of Seal Beach, roughly a 90-minute drive south of Los Angeles, has been scouted nearly grain by grain of sand. It will be the exterior home for Sunset, and unlike most daytime soaps, the location will be a frequent player. Last week, readings and the first of three weeks of shooting exteriors began. The Santa Anas — California’s devil winds — stirred up the sand, making it sting on the skin. The water, which is never warm at Seal Beach, was even colder than usual. But no one was complaining.
The 22 actors who will give shape and form to Sunset Beach are a beautiful bunch indeed, a canvas of racial diversity plucked from the talent pool in New York, Los Angeles and other cities including Philadelphia, the hometown of Spelling Entertainment president Jonathan Levin, who went back for that casting session. They are also young faces, part of the strategy to make Sunset a daytime soap for younger viewers, to do for daytime drama what Ricki Lake did for talk, at least in terms of attracting a new audience.
Spelling is considered a master at casting, instinctively knowing which faces will work together as a couple, which actors will have that all-important element of chemistry. Now the virtually unknown Sunsetters are all in front of him, many meeting for the first time, and the air is electric.
‘One of my favorite sports is finding new people and combining them with other people, and I had used so many people from daytime on our soaps,’ says Spelling, whose legacy includes such prime-time legends as Loveboat and Dynasty. The company is currently on prime time with an unprecedented four dramas: Melrose Place; Beverly Hills, 90210; Savannah; and Seventh Heaven.
Sunset has been 18 months in the making, and Spelling is like a proud papa, surrounded by actors whose future he has just secured. The series, which is co-owned by Spelling and NBC, has a one-year commitment from the network. That’s 51 weeks of shows, 255 hour-long episodes guaranteed.
‘I wouldn’t tell Candy, my wife, for a week after the show was sold, but my daughter Tori is a daytime addict, and she kept saying, ‘Do it,” says Spelling. With four shows already on the air, he has little time. Launching a daytime soap would siphon off even more of it. ‘I don’t think it hit me for a while. On Melrose, we wrap on the 22nd of November and don’t come back until January 5th. The actors and writers get a chance to rest. This is never-ending. But it’s been a strange, great experience.’
Worldvision, which sells Spelling’s shows internationally, already has 10 countries signed on for Sunset without one scene shot, based on a four-minute video that outlined the premise of the show and included Spelling talking about it. The foreign sales are important, as is NBC’s share in the financing. Mounting a daytime drama from scratch is a massive undertaking.
‘It requires the logistics of mounting a military campaign,’ says Levin. ‘There’s huge construction, there’s an enormous amount of lighting, tremendous casting, wardrobe problems. It’s not like prime time, when you see life in a kind of episodic way. Daytime is an endless stream of programming that, once it’s begun, can’t be stopped.’
Ohlmeyer puts the production investment alone at about $50 million. ‘Then there’s the cost of launch, advertising and promotion — it’s a major commitment on our part,’ he says. ‘With daytime, you’re not really going to know anything concretely for 18 months. I feel we’re very much on track. We’ve done this in a really organized way in terms of laying out target dates, scripts in by here, cast in place by here, task force working on clearances to this point we’re right on schedule. That still doesn’t change the pucker factor.’
NBC was initially looking at four ideas, Spelling’s idea among them, for a daytime soap. Spelling’s concept originally was loosely defined as ‘Melrose Place at the beach.’ When they began to look seriously for a title for the new show, Spelling ran a title contest in-house. The winner would get $200. There were dozens of suggestions, but the most serious contender, Never Say Goodbye, came from an unlikely source: Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, who suggested it during a dinner with Spelling.
‘I loved the name — it says romance, which this show is all about,’ says Spelling, whose company is part of Viacom. But in testing, viewers were drawn to the ‘beach’ motif more than anything else, Spelling says.
Executive producer Gary Tomlin (Santa Barbara) and Robert Guza Jr. are the people on the front line of the creative side of Sunset Beach. The initial groundwork on the series was done by Chuck Pratt, who was an executive producer on Melrose Place, and Guza, whose work everyone knew from Spelling’s Models Inc. Together they wrote a nearly 400-page bible outlining Sunset’s premise, characters and storyline. Spelling remembers the bible for Melrose Place being closer to 40 pages.
Unlike most daytime dramas, which tend to build their storylines around families and family rivalries, Sunset Beach is about young singles and couples who have been drawn to the town, and the relationships that emerge as the action unfolds. The producers also created an underlying mythology about the town as a place where one can find true love. ‘We loved the idea of creating a town and making the town a character,’ says Guza, who is cocreator and head writer. ‘(With) Sunset Beach, you get to create this world and these characters, and then you get to screw up their lives.’
Sunset Beach is being written at a faster pace than traditional daytime dramas. It’s a delicate balancing act to move action through each episode without losing the audience. ‘We would love it if people watched five days a week, but they don’t,’ says Tomlin. Three days is more typical. ‘We have to make certain they’re able to pick up where the story left off and that it hasn’t moved so rapidly that they can’t figure it out.’
The show is also being designed to allow room for cameos by big-name prime-time stars. Spelling wants to give viewers as compelling a reason as possible to tune in to Sunset. ‘On top of needing to have a terrific show, you are fighting against viewer habits that are long, long ingrained,’ says Levin. ‘It is very difficult to change the loyalty of the daytime viewer, and we’re talking about shows that have been on for 30 years. That’s one of the reasons we’re targeting young viewers — they’re the most available and the most flexible in their viewing habits.’
Then there is the station lineup. Affiliates exert their independence far more in daytime than prime time. NBC says that Sunset is cleared on 85 percent of its affiliates; the network expects to reach 90 percent by the premiere. With the cast now in place and the first rolls of tapes being produced, the network knows that stations that are wavering at least will have something concrete to see.
‘Will we get sufficient coverage — that’s a constant battle,’ says Levin. ‘Will the local affiliates elect to air the show in desirable time slots that will afford us the best opportunity to be sampled? These are things we are lobbying for but ultimately we don’t control.’
Spelling and NBC executives hope that Sunset Beach will be scheduled to follow Days of Our Lives, which has made a dramatic turnaround. ‘Over the last 18 months with that show, it’s been unbelievable, going from being in the middle to the top,’ Ohlmeyer says. ‘If we can get that kind of performance from Another World — and we think we’re finally on the right track there — with Sunset Beach we could have a solid three-hour block.’
Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1996) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Edited by Sylph, 15 June 2008 - 05:10 AM.