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Interview with Richard Backus


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Here is a rather long interview with the great Richard Backus. It is full of little details and everything. It was such a delight to make it. Hope you enjoy.

CZ: Let's begin with your acting career. I think your first soap stint was in NBC short-lived soap: "Lovers And Friends" / "For Richer For Poorer" in 1977-1978. You are one of the few actors who played in the original and the revamped version. What can you tell us about this? Why do you think this soap failed despite an apprition of very popular Mac & Rachel from AW?

RB: I had worked almost exclusively as a stage actor in New York and environs, but with two children I decided a job on a soap wouldn't be a bad idea and many soap actors continued to do stage work while they were doing soaps. My agent got me an audition for Lovers and Friends which happened to coincide with a good review in the New York Times for a Eugene O'Neill play I had acted in which had been filmed for the Public Broadcasting Stations. The producer of the soap, Paul Rauch, when he met me, said merely, "Nice review in the Times." I figured that was a good omen and indeed it was. Rauch cast a lot of top-rate NY stage actors (John Heffernan, Nancy Marchand, etc.) for the first version, but he also cast an extremely handsome surfer for the lead, Rhett. Unfortunately, with no acting experience, he was a disaster. In film, you can nurse a non-actor into a performance (sometimes), but soaps are too quick and require a lot of skill. Because I could handle the genre, my part expanded and I had a great time playing the role of Jason Saxton and feeling very important. Harding "Pete" Lemay was head-writing and was also head-writing Another World. He liked to develop storylines slowly and fully, but Rauch decided the show was too slow which he thought was why it wasn't picking up in the ratings. It was decided to take it off the air, do some revamping and bring it back. Some of the actors were told their services would not be needed in the new version (including the surfer) and some were told they would be used if they were still available. A few of us were lucky enough to not only be told we'd be used but would be put on retainer (i.e. paid) in the interim to guarantee our being available. I felt great, but when the show returned as For Richer, For Poorer it had new head-writers and they focussed on characters that they created and I was relegated to the back-burner, but it was still fun. Rauch this time around hired Hollywood TV actors for the most part, but the result was the same, the show didn't last. If Mac & Rachel had been regular visitors, it might have made a difference, but an appearance or two doesn't translate into dedicated viewers. Luckily for me, Rauch remained a fan and told me he'd like to more me to Another World. But this time there was no retainer. As a "stage" actor, I had looked down on soap acting to some degree, but once I saw how difficult it was and how superb many of the actors on soaps were, my feelings about the genre changed to admiration and respect. I also found I loved the ability of soaps to tell long format stories. In short, I fell in love with the genre.

CZ : - You moved to AW in the role in 1979. Your character, Tes Bancroft, was the first AW character to be "back from the dead". He was quite insane, wasn't he?

RB: I didn't remember that Ted came back from the dead, but I'm not surprised. I wish AW would come back from the dead. Ted was a lot of fun to play, and I liked the cast of AW very much. Paul Stevens, who played my father, was an absolute treat to work with. Having been moved from Lovers and Friends to For Richer, For Poorer to Another World, I thought my life in daytime was utterly secure so it came as a great shock when Paul Rauch told me that they were writing me out.

CZ: Do you have any fond memories or anectodes from your time on "Ryan's Hope" as Barry Ryan in 1980-1981?

RB: Ryan's Hope was a very special place to work and Barry Ryan is the longest stint I ever had in daytime, running for a total of about 18 months. I had the chance to play opposite the wonderful and very beautiful Randall Edwards as Delia and with Christine Ebersole as "Lily" who has gone on to have a sensational career on the Broadway musical stage. While I was on Ryan's Hope, both Christine Ebersole and Richard Muenz left to join Richard Burton in a revival of Camelot. That happened to be the first show I ever saw on Broadway with the original cast, so it was pretty exciting to go and see a revival and realize I was friends with two of the leads. Later, Richard Harris took over the role of King Arthur and much to my delight, I wound up in the production myself, playing Mordred, so I worked with Richard Muenz again (Christine Ebersole had left the production by that point).

One of my hopes as a soap actor is that I would get to go on location to some far-off exotic locale such as Cancun or Paris or whatever. Barry Ryan did finally do a location shot... right outside the studio on 52nd Street, the least exotic locale one could ever imagine. It was for a sequence where Delia, having found out I had cheated on her, runs me down. I had to lie on the street for what seemed like hours while they shot various shots.

Eventually, of course, Barry Ryan left the show. I asked Claire Labine if I could write a sample script for her, and she was happy to let me do one and was very generous with her time, but I went on to other acting assignments (Camelot) and forgot about the writing for the time-being.

CZ: Why did you leave acting for writing in the early-mid 80s'?

RB: By 1987 or '88 I felt my acting career had gotten into a kind of rut. I was working steadily which was great, but it seemed I was playing versions of the same character in different plays and wasn't getting to do new and different things. In addition my two children were getting to an age where I had to think about sending them to college. The money, as I knew, was terrific in daytime, but as an actor I had never succeeded in turning a role into a long-time assignment. I always played the bad guy, the psychopath, etc. etc. (on stage it was just the opposite for the most part), so I considered whether I might be able to sell myself to daytime as a director or a writer. I figured I could continue to act on stage as well, as some people did. I ultimately decided writing would give me the most flexibility and I approached Bob Calhoun, the executive producer of ATWT whom I had known as a director when I was acting there. (I considered approached Claire Labine but I knew a hour show would pay better.) "Cal" introduced me to Douglas Marland. I wrote sample scripts for him. He liked them, seemed to like me, and hired me to write for him. Once I started writing for the soaps, I absolutely loved doing it, and lost interest in pursuing an acting career any further.

CZ: You wrote for a long time for ATWT under the helm of daytime legend Douglas Marland? How was it working with him?

RB: Douglas Marland was absolutely a phenomenon. Marland was actually his real first name (His mom called him "Marly".) He grew up in upstate New York, close to the Canadian border, something he had in common with Harding "Pete" Lemay. I think Emma Snyder was, at least in part, based on his mother. He worked out of a grand colonial home in Connecticut, and when he came to the city, he had a driver. Like me, he had started as an actor, and often laughed about playing a doctor in a storyline with Eilene Fulton (I think) when she had a "phantom" baby. Apparently, she believed she was pregnant, but when he went to deliver the baby (by Caesarean, I think), he turned to the others and announced, "There is no baby!" He thought it was absurd that the doctor would get that far into it without already KNOWING there was no baby.

One of the things that attracted me to ATWT and Doug's writing style was that it was very realistic, a heightened reality to be sure, but there were no aliens, time-travel, people returning from the dead, etc. etc. It was about a real group of people going through various dramas, and I liked that.

After I had written scripts for Doug for a while, he asked me to write breakdowns or outlines. I was very nervous about it. Afterall, a script writer gets a breakdown which tells him or her exactly what the scene was and who was in it and what they did (and, even, sometimes some of the dialogue). Douglas was famous for the detail of his breakdowns. As a scriptwriter, you had to cut material in order to bring the script in at the correct length. I didn't know this was uncharacteristic of soap writing in general. Most breakdowns are much sketchier. Well, the breakdown writers would take a train to Connecticut from Grand Central Terminal and be met by his driver to be driven to his house. There we sat while Doug dictated the first breakdown which John Kuntz always got. We'd break for lunch which Doug's cook would serve and then, after lunch, we would continue. Doug would dictate through the second breakdown (usually) and occasionally part of the third breakdown before time ran out. The first time I went home in a panic because I was not assigned the first or second, or even third, breakdown and had nothing. (Actually, now that I think of it, I attended several sessions before Doug suggested it was time for me to starting writing myself.)

I needn't have panicked. Doug called me and dictated the breakdown over the phone while I desperately tried to get it all down on paper. Like the scriptwriters, my job was more to cut material than anything else. As I became more confident, Doug would occasional leave me to finish out scenes, but he always (or almost always) dictated the opening prologue, act one, and act two, and the final act. We did contribute suggestions but it was his show from start to finish. He had certain rules: there were always three stories started in the prologue. Those three were picked up in Act One. Act Two always intiated two secondary storylines. We had to track the time of each scene (a somewhat arbitrary 5 minutes per scene, so that if Prologue A started at 10 am, Prologue B started at 10:05. If the scene ending one section was picked up immediately after the commercial break, the scene was continuous. If some other scene intervened, then we had to account for the missing time by having the interrupted scene show that time had passed. Sometimes this was accomplished by coming back to find one of the characters on a one-way phone call in order to justify why five minutes had passed but the scene hadn't advanced. All of this was very different, I subsequently learned, from other soaps. As a breakdown writers there was less you had to make up than on other shows, but it still allowed a lot of creativity. When you had finished writing a breakdown, Doug would have you read it to him over the phone, and he would make changes as you went along. I was always in a high state of anxiety about this.

There were also never any two character scenes that carried over into a subsequent scene without someone arriving. That way you couldn't start a highly emotional confrontation between, say, Holden and Lily, and have that confrontation continue throughout the show which made for some difficult challenges, but it kept the show relentlessly moving forward. Most people found the show difficult to get started on because there was so much happening and so many characters. Doug kept a bigger cast than other shows. He also kept the history of the characters alive. If one of Emma's children had been written off the show, there would still be phone calls from that child (sometimes to justify that time passage!) and if he could, Doug loved to have the missing characters make guest appearances at Christmas time or other significant times. This gave the show a depth and complexity that was quite special. On most shows, when a character leaves the show, he or she is never mentioned again. On ATWT under Doug, Emma would mention his missing children and what she'd heard from them.

Once, when I was still a scriptwriter, Doug came to the city and met with a bunch of us in a conference room at the studio. There was a monitor in the background which had a feed from the studio floor where scenes were being rehearsed. Two of the best actors, Larry Brygman and Elizabeth Hubbard, were doing a scene and it was a show that I had written. Suddenly, Larry broke off and said something very derogatory about the writing. I winced, but Doug laughed and said, "Oh, shut that thing off." Douglas, as a former actor, knew what I knew: that actors come in in the morning worried about putting it all together in the short space of day's rehearsal and they protect themselves by almost always announcing in some way that the writing was terrible but they would "somehow" make it work. This meant if it didn't go well, they had already set things up to blame the writing, rather than themselves.

Speaking of Elizabeth Hubbard, as wonderful an actress as she was and important to the show, she was notoriously difficult to work with. Doug loved her, but found her trying at times, and as a joke, he always had reference to a Hubbard squash at Thanksgiving time and it was always about how hard it was to crack a Hubbard squash (a real squash with a notoriously tough outer shell).

Doug loved Christmas and had three or four Christmas trees in his house and many decorations. He also loved his actors and threw parties for them, though, strangely, not for his writers. He once worked with Agnes Nixon on one of the shows as co-head-writer and they entered the studio as an actor was leaving. Agnes hid. She didn't want to think of the person as an actor but as the character she was writing. Doug was just the opposite (but Agnes, wonderful as she was, was never an actor). Although I never got to one of those parties, Doug did send wonderful gifts to his writers at Christmas time, often a big basket of food, organized around some theme. The last Christmas before his death, he sent me a Baccarat crystal decanter which I still treasure. I sometimes think it was almost as though he knew it was his last time to send out gifts.

I keep scotch in the decanter because that was what Doug drank. Indeed, if you were on the phone with him in the afternoon, when five o'clock arrived, you were hear the clink of ice cubes as the clock struck. One of his servants had brought him his scotch. After that, he usually didn't go on dictating for very much longer. Like most of the successful headwriters, Doug had no life outside of daytme. He ate, drank and slept the show. He was once hired by General Hospital he told me but for some reason was immediately fired. He had a year's contact and they had to pay him for the full year. I asked him what he did during the year. Did he travel? What? He said he immediately got another job on another show. He spent every cent he earned and more and lived lavishly. And when he died, there was nothing. There may even have been debts that had to be satisfied. So, in that sense, he successfully "took it with him." I think that was a legacy of his having grown up poor.

CZ: Do you have a favorite storyline, scene or character from this great era?

RB: I particularly liked the complicated, needy, craziness of Barbara Ryan, and I always loved watching what Coleen Zenk did with the material. She was a great asset to the show because her character could do anything, good, bad and ugly, depending on the circumstances. It is always more fun to write those flawed characters. For the same reason I loved writing Caleb Snyder back when Michael David Morrison was playing him. Caleb lived in the shadow of his handsome brother, Holden, and had a hard time with that. He was a complicated character. Sadly, Michael was equally tormented and died of a drug overdose in 1993. Graham Winton, who replaced him, is a wonderful actor, too, but didn't have quite the same quality of living on the edge. Larry Bryggman was always fun to write for, as well, because he was such a superb actor. The hardest ones to write for were always the "good" people because you had to keep them true to their inherent goodness without letting them seem simpering and boring. I liked Emily Stewart more when she was played by Melanie Smith. When the producer recast Emily with the current, and very good actress, Kelley Menigham, he was excited because,as he put it, she's so much more classy than Melanie. Classy? Who needs classy? I loved the sluttish quality that Melanie brought to the role, and the possibilities of doing the wrong thing that she always embodied. However, it wasn't my choice, obviously. One of the dilemmas of daytime is that the writers don't have the control of casting or storylines or anything else. Ultimately, it's the network and the producer who gets the final say.

CZ: When Marland passed away in 1993, you became co-HW with Juliet Law Packer. What do you think today of your time as HW?

RB: 's death was sudden and unexpected. He died a kind of soap opera death in that he had an aortic aneurysm that burst, and aneurysms are often a way of quickly killing off a character in the soap world. However, with Doug it was very real and very tragic. The fact that he was a heavy smoker didn't help. He lingered for a few days and the executive producer asked Juliet, Nancy Ford and me to continue the lay-out of the week's shows Doug had been working on. When Doug died, we became de facto head-writers, but Nancy didn't want the added demands on her time (she's a very talented song-writer as well). The job for me was simply overwhelming. I had never worked for anyone but Doug so I assumed the way he wrote was the way soaps were written... with the headwriter basically dictating everything. Juliet and I laid out each week in detail which was incredibly time-consuming. We came up with some very interesting stories, I think, but also had a "bible" which Doug had recently submitted giving general guidelines for the show's next 6 months or so (very general), and we tried to implement that as best we could. It was hard coming up with endless material, and stories seemed to just flow from Doug's brain in a way neither of us could easily duplicate. I lasted about 18 months and then, exhausted in pretty much every way, I was fired. It was devastating to get fired (my first experience) but also a relief to be free of the burden. I'm sorry I've never had a second chance at head-writing once I learned the craft better and knew how much more responsibility you could delegate to the breakdown writers, but I moved on happily to other things.

CZ: Then you moved on OLTL? Was the show very different from ATWT?

RB: Watching OLTL, I couldn't believe how different it was from Marland's ATWT. Michael Malone was very free with time. One storyline would pick up directly in a subsequent act while another would show a time-passage. The characters were much more broadly written and in many ways unrealistic, compared with ATWT. There was a certain playfulness in the writing that subtly tweaked soap opera conventions. Michael called it the "hoot factor", meaning it was sufficiently outrageous that the viewer would laugh at the audacity of it, but still be intrigued at how it could be pulled off. I didn't think I'd like writing such melodramatic material but I came to love writing for the show and for Michael. It was a great gift and a huge treat and such a pleasure after the high pressure existence I'd been living as head-writer of ATWT. I started out writing scripts but Michael soon brought me in to write breakdowns and the meetings with Michael and Josh Griffith were highly entertaining and lots of fun. Jean Passanante and Chris Whitesell were both writing for Michael at the time and they were excellent and highly amusing fellow writers. Eddie Brez was either on the team when I joined it, or came on to the team shortly after, and I loved writing with her. It was a very happy time.

CZ: You left OLTL for a short time between 1997 and 1998 to write for AW? Would you explain what happened? Was it to save AW for cancellation, which arrived in 1999?

RB: Inevitably, no matter how well liked you are at first and how much you are welcomed as the savior of a show, there comes a time when the network and the producer thinks they have to make a change. And, indeed, after I'd been writing for Michael for some time, he was fired and Peggy Sloane and Leah Laiman took over. Michael and Josh were developing a late-night soap opera for the Fox Network to be broadcast at 11 pm. It would compete with the late-night talk shows and news programs and would offer a great alternative to those two genres. It was to be set in New Orleans and entitled 13 Bourbon Street. They very much wanted me to write for them, and I convinced the new executive producer at OLTL to let me out of my contact to join them. A cast was hired, a pilot was shot, a studio in Queens was rented, sets were built, and then the executive at the Fox Network who had hired Michael and Josh was,himself, fired and his replacement had to prove that everything his predecessor had okayed was worthless, so he canned the idea of the late-night soap. For a while, he decided it would be a primetime (once a week) show and we switched gears to write a weekly show. Then, after we'd written several episodes, he dumped the whole idea. It was a costly decision as something along the lines of $13 million dollars had been spent on cast, sets, etc. The pilot, which I don't think ever aired, was terrific, but the show was over. Michael was immediately hired at AW in hopes of rescuing that show, and, once again, he brought me with him. The executive producer balked at many of the wild ideas Michael had for the show which is too bad because some of them would certainly have attracted an audience. Finally, it came to a head and Michael was fired, and as his protege, I too was fired when my contract came up for renewal. Not too long afterwards, I was happy to hear that the executive producer was also fired, but the damage she had inflicted was already done.

CZ: What is your fondest moment from your time on OLTL?

RB: Oh, there are many happy moments connected with the show, times when we just roared with laughter in the lay-out room.

Once, while I was still writing breakdowns, I was asked to write "a double" or two breakdowns in the same week and they were 4th of July shows with all the barbecues, big cast, and fireworks that go with our Independence Day celebrations. I also had to incorporate Max trying to make Carlo Hesser sick with a doctored hotdog, so that he could convince him he was dying of an imaginary disease. I had great fun writing them and wound up giving each one a title, derived from our national anthem. The first was called "By the Dawn's Early Light." After that I started naming all my breakdowns which entertained me and, I guess, entertained the people reading them. Sometimes the names were ironic, sometimes funny, sometimes serious. Eventually, of course, I moved over to script editor. When Michael Malone and Josh Griffith brought me back as a breakdown writer, I went back to naming my scripts, but they nixed that. Why, I don't know.

During my tenure as script editor, it was fun to have the executive producer come to me and tell me that the show they were in the process of shooting had "tightened" and they needed me to write a filler scene and the only set and actors they had left were X and Y. It was an exciting challenge to come up with a scene that had some power to it on the spur of the moment with those kinds of restrictions.

CZ: Why did you leave OLTL in 2004?

RB: That's easy. I was fired. It was ironic because Jill Farren Phelps and I hadn't gotten along all that well, but she had never fired me because she apparently thought I was indispensable, or at least had not found anyone who could and was willing to replace me, but when Frank Valentini became EP, although he was a fan of mine, he was forced to fire me by the network because I was, by that time, pulling down a fairly big salary and they figured they could cut costs. Indeed, I was replaced by a brand new writer who would work for union minimum. Also, in all candor, I could be prickly at times when material I knew was good was thrown out by the network execs, so I rubbed some people the wrong way. Oh well.

CZ: You only came back on soaps as a script editor on DAYS in 2007? Why such a long absence? Was writing for DAYS a good ride?

RB: Leaving OLTL, I didn't expect to work in daytime again. There were fewer shows. I didn't see any place where I was likely to land, so my wife and I moved to New Hampshire in the northeast of the U.S. and I essentially retired, albeit reluctantly. Much to my surprise, my agent got me the editing job on Days. And it was one of the most enjoyable times of writing for soaps. Although I missed being at the studio, I had some wonderful writers and seemed to be well-appreciated. The work was very time-consuming though. Then the strike occurred, and when it was over, I wasn't hired back. There was pretty much an entire change of writing staff which had been in the wind before the strike.

CZ: Would you like writing for a soap again someday? "Guiding Light" is getting cancelled. Can you see a future for daytime soaps?

RB: I'd write for another soap in a minute, but jobs in daytime are disappearing as shows get canceled and other shows cut back on staff. I'm very sorry to see Guiding Light get the axe as it was the oldest show still being broadcast. It started on the radio; then, for a time, it was on both radio and TV before switching exclusively to TV. I watched it for a time when Melina Kanakaredes was prominent on the show and really enjoyed the writing that was being done at the time. It doesn't appear that daytime soaps as currently configured have much of a future, but there may be some sort of online presence that will replace the broadcast versions. People seem to have a longing for the sort of "family" that soaps have provided. My wife and I became avid fans of the primetime show ER which, in all truth, was, if not a soap opera itself, very much indebted to soap operas in the way it followed characters. So, soap operas live on in such shows as ER, West Wing, etc. but even those shows, drama series, are falling to the likes of reality shows which are much cheaper to produce. I guess only time will tell if some version of soaps as we know them will continue to be produced.

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CZ: You wrote for a long time for ATWT under the helm of daytime legend Douglas Marland? How was it working with him?

RB: Douglas Marland was absolutely a phenomenon. Marland was actually his real first name (His mom called him "Marly".) He grew up in upstate New York, close to the Canadian border, something he had in common with Harding "Pete" Lemay. I think Emma Snyder was, at least in part, based on his mother. He worked out of a grand colonial home in Connecticut, and when he came to the city, he had a driver. Like me, he had started as an actor, and often laughed about playing a doctor in a storyline with Eilene Fulton (I think) when she had a "phantom" baby. Apparently, she believed she was pregnant, but when he went to deliver the baby (by Caesarean, I think), he turned to the others and announced, "There is no baby!" He thought it was absurd that the doctor would get that far into it without already KNOWING there was no baby.

One of the things that attracted me to ATWT and Doug's writing style was that it was very realistic, a heightened reality to be sure, but there were no aliens, time-travel, people returning from the dead, etc. etc. It was about a real group of people going through various dramas, and I liked that.

After I had written scripts for Doug for a while, he asked me to write breakdowns or outlines. I was very nervous about it. Afterall, a script writer gets a breakdown which tells him or her exactly what the scene was and who was in it and what they did (and, even, sometimes some of the dialogue). Douglas was famous for the detail of his breakdowns. As a scriptwriter, you had to cut material in order to bring the script in at the correct length. I didn't know this was uncharacteristic of soap writing in general. Most breakdowns are much sketchier. Well, the breakdown writers would take a train to Connecticut from Grand Central Terminal and be met by his driver to be driven to his house. There we sat while Doug dictated the first breakdown which John Kuntz always got. We'd break for lunch which Doug's cook would serve and then, after lunch, we would continue. Doug would dictate through the second breakdown (usually) and occasionally part of the third breakdown before time ran out. The first time I went home in a panic because I was not assigned the first or second, or even third, breakdown and had nothing. (Actually, now that I think of it, I attended several sessions before Doug suggested it was time for me to starting writing myself.)

I needn't have panicked. Doug called me and dictated the breakdown over the phone while I desperately tried to get it all down on paper. Like the scriptwriters, my job was more to cut material than anything else. As I became more confident, Doug would occasional leave me to finish out scenes, but he always (or almost always) dictated the opening prologue, act one, and act two, and the final act. We did contribute suggestions but it was his show from start to finish. He had certain rules: there were always three stories started in the prologue. Those three were picked up in Act One. Act Two always intiated two secondary storylines. We had to track the time of each scene (a somewhat arbitrary 5 minutes per scene, so that if Prologue A started at 10 am, Prologue B started at 10:05. If the scene ending one section was picked up immediately after the commercial break, the scene was continuous. If some other scene intervened, then we had to account for the missing time by having the interrupted scene show that time had passed. Sometimes this was accomplished by coming back to find one of the characters on a one-way phone call in order to justify why five minutes had passed but the scene hadn't advanced. All of this was very different, I subsequently learned, from other soaps. As a breakdown writers there was less you had to make up than on other shows, but it still allowed a lot of creativity. When you had finished writing a breakdown, Doug would have you read it to him over the phone, and he would make changes as you went along. I was always in a high state of anxiety about this.

There were also never any two character scenes that carried over into a subsequent scene without someone arriving. That way you couldn't start a highly emotional confrontation between, say, Holden and Lily, and have that confrontation continue throughout the show which made for some difficult challenges, but it kept the show relentlessly moving forward. Most people found the show difficult to get started on because there was so much happening and so many characters. Doug kept a bigger cast than other shows. He also kept the history of the characters alive. If one of Emma's children had been written off the show, there would still be phone calls from that child (sometimes to justify that time passage!) and if he could, Doug loved to have the missing characters make guest appearances at Christmas time or other significant times. This gave the show a depth and complexity that was quite special. On most shows, when a character leaves the show, he or she is never mentioned again. On ATWT under Doug, Emma would mention his missing children and what she'd heard from them.

Once, when I was still a scriptwriter, Doug came to the city and met with a bunch of us in a conference room at the studio. There was a monitor in the background which had a feed from the studio floor where scenes were being rehearsed. Two of the best actors, Larry Brygman and Elizabeth Hubbard, were doing a scene and it was a show that I had written. Suddenly, Larry broke off and said something very derogatory about the writing. I winced, but Doug laughed and said, "Oh, shut that thing off." Douglas, as a former actor, knew what I knew: that actors come in in the morning worried about putting it all together in the short space of day's rehearsal and they protect themselves by almost always announcing in some way that the writing was terrible but they would "somehow" make it work. This meant if it didn't go well, they had already set things up to blame the writing, rather than themselves.

Speaking of Elizabeth Hubbard, as wonderful an actress as she was and important to the show, she was notoriously difficult to work with. Doug loved her, but found her trying at times, and as a joke, he always had reference to a Hubbard squash at Thanksgiving time and it was always about how hard it was to crack a Hubbard squash (a real squash with a notoriously tough outer shell).

Doug loved Christmas and had three or four Christmas trees in his house and many decorations. He also loved his actors and threw parties for them, though, strangely, not for his writers. He once worked with Agnes Nixon on one of the shows as co-head-writer and they entered the studio as an actor was leaving. Agnes hid. She didn't want to think of the person as an actor but as the character she was writing. Doug was just the opposite (but Agnes, wonderful as she was, was never an actor). Although I never got to one of those parties, Doug did send wonderful gifts to his writers at Christmas time, often a big basket of food, organized around some theme. The last Christmas before his death, he sent me a Baccarat crystal decanter which I still treasure. I sometimes think it was almost as though he knew it was his last time to send out gifts.

I keep scotch in the decanter because that was what Doug drank. Indeed, if you were on the phone with him in the afternoon, when five o'clock arrived, you were hear the clink of ice cubes as the clock struck. One of his servants had brought him his scotch. After that, he usually didn't go on dictating for very much longer. Like most of the successful headwriters, Doug had no life outside of daytme. He ate, drank and slept the show. He was once hired by General Hospital he told me but for some reason was immediately fired. He had a year's contact and they had to pay him for the full year. I asked him what he did during the year. Did he travel? What? He said he immediately got another job on another show. He spent every cent he earned and more and lived lavishly. And when he died, there was nothing. There may even have been debts that had to be satisfied. So, in that sense, he successfully "took it with him." I think that was a legacy of his having grown up poor.

Absolutely F-A-S-C-I-N-A-T-I-N-G! Breathtaking! This interview will make history.

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FrenchFan, this interview was a masterpiece. Richard's honesty was beautiful. I actually found the interview very moving due to his insight into Doug Marland's storytelling. I consider Marland to be THE master soap storyteller. IMO, his ATWT was superior to Bell's Y&R in every way. ATWT was poetry under Marland and now I know why. His vision and devotion to consistency and intertwining stories showed on the screen. The talent of the actors helped, but the detail that Marland gave to the stories was the foundation. His death was a loss to the soap industry that will never recover from and ATWT is paying the price to this day.

I agree with him about preferring Melanie Smith's Emily. I have never gotten accustomed to the Hensley in the role.

Richard would be the perfect co-headwrite/consultant for GH. Someone call Brian Frons.

FrenchFan, thank you for this wonderful interview. Please give my sincere appreciation and thanks to Richard when you speak to him again.

Oh, who was the EP at AW who rejected Michael's ideas? Phelps?

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I consider Marland to be THE master soap storyteller. IMO, his ATWT was superior to Bell's Y&R in every way. ATWT was poetry under Marland and now I know why. His vision and devotion to consistency and intertwining stories showed on the screen.

Oh, it so was. Bill was equally immersed in his characters' lives, but the end product of the immersion couldn't have been more different from Marland's.

Lemay & Marland are definitely on a level of their own. No one has ever achieved anything similar.

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I checked Wiki, the EP at AW was Charlotte Savitz.

The more of these interviews I read, the more I realize how amazing it is that the soap industry has survived this long. Between interfering network executives and incompetent writers/executive producers like Jill Farren Phelps, the already struggling soaps have been under siege from within.

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This is my total favorite of the ones you have done so far! Thre is much in this, but the things that really struck me...

In film, you can nurse a non-actor into a performance (sometimes), but soaps are too quick and require a lot of skill.

Wow. Just wow. Today, daytime casting choices are often the opposite of this. Heck, most of B&B's early cast was people who had mostly worked as models. Wowl

Ryan's Hope was a very special place to work and Barry Ryan is the longest stint I ever had in daytime

I watched that show. I watched it DURING Randall Edwards' stint. I have ZERO recollection of Barry Ryan. 18 months? Can anyone remember this character and what his function was?

Well, the breakdown writers would take a train to Connecticut from Grand Central Terminal and be met by his driver to be driven to his house. There we sat while Doug dictated the first breakdown which John Kuntz always got. We'd break for lunch which Doug's cook would serve and then, after lunch, we would continue. Doug would dictate through the second breakdown (usually) and occasionally part of the third breakdown before time ran out....

There were also never any two character scenes that carried over into a subsequent scene without someone arriving. That way you couldn't start a highly emotional confrontation between, say, Holden and Lily, and have that confrontation continue throughout the show which made for some difficult challenges, but it kept the show relentlessly moving forward.

I am shocked at the extent to which Marland controlled even the breakdowns. So, his BDWs were really more "clean up" artists. Do any shows still work like this?

With regard to not letting confrontations continue over the break....LML did something similar on Y&R. People HATED it. Are any soaps still doing it like this? Would the audience accept this? Doesn't it sort of violate a soap convention to have a confrontation that DOESN'T contine after the commercial? In the end, wouldn't this actually SLOW DOWN a soap...because you'd have to wait to the next episode or some time in the future for the two-person conversation to continue?

Speaking of Elizabeth Hubbard, as wonderful an actress as she was and important to the show, she was notoriously difficult to work with. Doug loved her, but found her trying at times, and as a joke, he always had reference to a Hubbard squash at Thanksgiving time and it was always about how hard it was to crack a Hubbard squash (a real squash with a notoriously tough outer shell).

I liked Emily Stewart more when she was played by Melanie Smith. When the producer recast Emily with the current, and very good actress, Kelley Menigham, he was excited because,as he put it, she's so much more classy than Melanie. Classy? Who needs classy? I loved the sluttish quality that Melanie brought to the role, and the possibilities of doing the wrong thing that she always embodied.

This is funny, especially in light of the recent Hubbard thread.

Ah, the power of the daytime slut. I don't think the audience (certainly, judging by SON) still likes the "slut". Not even in a "love to hate" way.

There was a certain playfulness in the writing that subtly tweaked soap opera conventions. Michael called it the "hoot factor", meaning it was sufficiently outrageous that the viewer would laugh at the audacity of it, but still be intrigued at how it could be pulled off.

Wow. Intentional outrageousness. I perceive, when this is done now, the audience doesn't "hoot"...they "boo".

Michael and Josh were developing a late-night soap opera for the Fox Network to be broadcast at 11 pm. It would compete with the late-night talk shows and news programs and would offer a great alternative to those two genres. It was to be set in New Orleans and entitled 13 Bourbon Street.

This has been mentioned here on SON before. It is a shame the pilot can't at least resurface on Youtube.

I had great fun writing them and wound up giving each one a title, derived from our national anthem. The first was called "By the Dawn's Early Light." After that I started naming all my breakdowns which entertained me and, I guess, entertained the people reading them. Sometimes the names were ironic, sometimes funny, sometimes serious. Eventually, of course, I moved over to script editor. When Michael Malone and Josh Griffith brought me back as a breakdown writer, I went back to naming my scripts, but they nixed that. Why, I don't know.

It is interesting that the titles are back...and are now even shown. Was Carlivati part of the team during this era? How did the titles come back?

That's easy. I was fired [from OLTL]. It was ironic because Jill Farren Phelps and I hadn't gotten along all that well, but she had never fired me because she apparently thought I was indispensable, or at least had not found anyone who could and was willing to replace me, but when Frank Valentini became EP, although he was a fan of mine, he was forced to fire me by the network because I was, by that time, pulling down a fairly big salary and they figured they could cut costs.

I am shocked that the network interferes to the point OF MAKING DECISIONS ABOUT SCRIPT EDITORS. That REALLY sounds like micro-management.

Does this mean Backus was there during the Tomlin era?

My wife and I became avid fans of the primetime show ER which, in all truth, was, if not a soap opera itself, very much indebted to soap operas in the way it followed characters. So, soap operas live on in such shows as ER, West Wing, etc. but even those shows, drama series, are falling to the likes of reality shows which are much cheaper to produce. I guess only time will tell if some version of soaps as we know them will continue to be produced.

Yup. I really think ER, West Wing, etc. are the future of soap opera. I'm glad to hear someone experienced like this say something similar.

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Your best interview yet, and that's saying a lot.

Someone simply should write a biography on Doug Marland. He sounds like such a wonderfully classic eccentric genius of a man. I'd love for someone to just delve into his psyche.

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With regard to not letting confrontations continue over the break....LML did something similar on Y&R. People HATED it. Are any soaps still doing it like this? Would the audience accept this? Doesn't it sort of violate a soap convention to have a confrontation that DOESN'T contine after the commercial? In the end, wouldn't this actually SLOW DOWN a soap...because you'd have to wait to the next episode or some time in the future for the two-person conversation to continue?

No. The confrontation didn't play in just one scene. In the subsequent one 2 people were joined by a third person. Who came in and the dynamics of the scene changed. Thus by constantly pumping other people into confrontations you can alter the dynamics the way you want, speed up the narrative by going from one situation to another (and not staying in the same scene with same two people sparring about the same stuff like in scene 1) etc.

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Thank you so much, FrenchFan!!!!! Fantastic interview!

I watched that show. I watched it DURING Randall Edwards' stint. I have ZERO recollection of Barry Ryan. 18 months? Can anyone remember this character and what his function was?

LOL, I asked that question (and the leaving acting one) because RH was the only thing I ever saw him in. :P Barry Ryan was cousin to the Ryan family, and he was the manager for the dying singer, Ken George Jones. He also worked with Delia at the Crystal Palace. He was a ladies' man, had a bunch of ex-wives (which Delia gathered at the Crystal Palace to humiliate him) and he cheated on Delia with Lily. Delia ran him over but made it look like a drunken Faith did it. The thing with Barry was that he was likeable. He was like a kid in a candy store. He played around, to be sure, and was somewhat upfront about it (Lily knew about Delia but not vice-versa). When Delia sought revenge by humiliating him in front of all his exes, she came off looking worse than he did, mostly because Barry's ways were no surprise to any of them, like, yeah, he's a cheat, but he's not mean-spirited.

I did always enjoy Barry & Jillian's friendship, though. I liked how they just confided in each other and didn't judge each other. It was unique for them because he was Ken's best friend and she was Ken's secret lover so they had loving Ken in common and, even though Barry was such a player, he never put the moves on Jillian. And she was probably the only real friend he had after Ken died. Some of my favorite Barry moments were the scenes where he was more than just a playboy or promoter, where his feelings came up, like Delia humiliating him, or Ken implying to him that he (Ken) was going to commit suicide before his tumor could kill him, or Jillian telling him he still had her as a friend after Ken died.

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With regard to not letting confrontations continue over the break....LML did something similar on Y&R. People HATED it. Are any soaps still doing it like this? Would the audience accept this? Doesn't it sort of violate a soap convention to have a confrontation that DOESN'T contine after the commercial? In the end, wouldn't this actually SLOW DOWN a soap...because you'd have to wait to the next episode or some time in the future for the two-person conversation to continue?

I was addicted to ATWT under Marland and I can tell you that the show never felt slow, certainly not as slow as Y&R. ATWT moved along at a solid pace. Major confrontations never felt rushed or cut off or inadequate. There was always the emotional pay off. On YouTube a few weeks ago, I was watching Betsy confront Josh about his affair with Meg. To the end of the first scene, Meg arrives and pleads Josh's case for the next two scenes. After she leaves, Betsy and Josh finish their conversation leaving their fate of their relationship up in the air. It was very nicely done. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of clips on YT from the Marland years.

Sylph, I see you explained the same thing that I just did. Good job.

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