Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sorry. I don't know soap opera stars

Whenever my writing partner, David, and I had a pilot we always tried to weasel a trip to New York to do some casting. There are many reasons for this. A free trip. Nice hotel. Per diem. Oh, and some of the best actors in the world live there.  Hopefully, a lot of them will be in Broadway productions we get tickets for. 

The joke about Los Angeles is that we have two seasons: summer and pilot. Even a lot of New York actors migrate to LA for the five/six weeks of casting frenzy.

But not all. Some are doing LAW & ORDER and can’t get away. Or they’re in a Broadway show. Or a soap opera.

Confession: I don’t watch soap operas. Never have. But it’s always awkward when one of these soap stars comes in to read. The casting director announces their name and ushers them into the room. I politely say hello. And they strike a pose as if to say, “Yep. It’s me.” Then they’re hurt or angry that I have no fucking idea who they are. A few have even actually said, “Don’t you recognize me?” I have to shake my head no. They then say, “I play Chad on THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.” I apologize. Sorry, dude. He can’t believe it. I’m sure soap stars in New York are recognized everywhere they go. The readings usually don’t go well because they’re still thrown that we didn’t immediately ask for a selfie.

It’s getting harder to talk the network/studio into these New York sojourns. Budgets are tighter and actors can easily be put on tape and emailed to LA. But it’s not the same. You don’t have the luxury of directing them, giving them some notes that might make the difference between being on a network series and singing and busing tables at Ellen's Stardust Diner. New York actors are really shooting at a moving target when they just go on tape.

That said, we’ve hired several actors based on New York tapes. And I wonder how many more we would have hired had we had the chance to see some adjustments. We’d see a performance; it wasn’t great but there was something there. But was it worth flying him out to see? Or even asking him to go back to the casting office and re-do the tape? Generally, you find other candidates so that actor is out of luck. It’s unfortunate for him, and unfortunate for us if it turns out we missed something. Casting is an inexact science, and they’re the most important decisions a showrunner will ever have to make. Everything else can be fixed, but if you have a bad actor, no amount of rewriting, make up or back-lighting is going to save you.

That’s why it’s still valuable to go to New York and see for yourself who’s out there. And get to see HAMILTON on someone else’s dime.

23 comments :

Rashad Khan said...

It's ironic you've never watched the soaps, Ken, b/c you worked on one of the most soap-operatic series ever. (At least it was when Shelley was still on the show.)

Bob said...

Actually, there aren't any soaps that are filmed in NYC anymore. They're all done in LA (though this wasn't the case years ago).

I love soaps. I watched Guiding LIght for 30 years and currently watch Young and the Restless. A TV show is either good or bad, it has nothing to do with it being a soap. And they have to learn a ton of dialogue every day.

Rory W. said...

Hey Ken,

On a related note, have Skype, FaceTime, etc. changed the process any? Can you now "cast" over video chat so that you can give direction or notes?

Thx,
- Rory

AlaskaRay said...

Ken Levine said: Confession: I don’t watch soap operas. Never have.

I've never respected you more!

Ray

YEKIMI said...

Or as I call them Dope Operas. I remember back in the 70s during summer break from high school my mom would be glued to the damn set watching these shows. Only one TV in the house and God forbid anyone dare and try to turn the channel. One soap opera ended up having like 6 or 8 people killed or die at some point. And the name of the soap was "Love Of Life". Guess they didn't love life that much.

YEKIMI said...

You should be plugging your appearance on Stu Shostak's show tonight @ 7 PM Eastern [4 PM Pacific coast time]. Oh wait, I just did it for you!

benson said...

I remember on Frasier, reference was made by Martin Crane to watching "his program" (a soap).

BTW, Ken, I saw a pic on Twitter today. Two and a half hours before game time, and the line around Safeco Field stretches around the ballpark. It's Ichiro Bobblehead Day. Marty Crane would love that, though he's a Griffey fan.

Peter said...

You never even watched Dallas? Although a soap, it actually had tons of humour, most of it in the JR Ewing character.

If you really have never watched Dallas, I recommend looking up some compilations of JR clips on youtube. As a comedy writer, you'll enjoy the witty lines the character often had. And of course Larry Hagman had genius comedic timing.

Wally said...

From Twitter:
Index card breakdown of "Better Call Saul" ep 302 #sausagegettingmade

https://twitter.com/TomSchnauz/status/854474760805167104

Jahn Ghalt said...

Very amusing that a soap actor, even a "star", would suppose she is "famous" like a prime-time or film star.

For a few years I lived at "the end of the road" in a "small drinking town with a fishing problem" - Homer, Alaska. At the time the population, within fifteen road miles, was about 15,000 - a small town by most standards.

Anyway, I once saw, at the airport, a "famous" Homerite. My usual policy is to allow space for "famous" persons - especially, if I can remember his name. He was a little too handsome, well-coifed, and a lot too well-dressed to be a "local". In "fact", he was downright shiny!

He was clearly amused that I feinged non-recognition - maybe he got that a lot from actual Homerite - I never qualified as that.



Jahn Ghalt said...

For one school year I was a fan of two soaps.

One was Dark Shadows - with Barnabas Collins and "Angelique", a comely blond (I'm not sure if she ever got 'the bite').

The other was General Hospital with "Jessie" as a nurse. Our "sitter" was a neighborhood mom - a comely redhead, herself. I'll bet she was the reason we had those soaps on every afternoon.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

John Gahlt: On my one trip to Alaska in mid-December 2015, courtesy of friends of friends I got to spend a day in Homer. Beautiful.

wg

Buttermilk Sky said...

Didn't Kelsey Grammer do a soap early in his career? Also Alec Baldwin, I think.

I'm old enough to remember when they had organ music. My Great-uncle Frank was a farmer, and every afternoon work stopped while he and Great-Aunt Margaret watched "our stories." But I never got the bug.

Rashad Khan said...

Kelsey Grammer had a recurring role as Dr. Canard on ANOTHER WORLD back in the mid-'80's. He also had day-player roles on AS THE WORLD TURNS and, I think, ONE LIFE TO LIVE.

Alec Baldwin portrayed ne'er-do-well Billy Allison Aldrich on THE DOCTORS. His character was murdered shortly before the show went off the air at the end of '82.

CRL said...

I never watched soaps. Then I had jury duty.....

Mike said...

I enjoyed the Shostak broadcast this morning. Yes, this morning - midnight to 2am BST - or as we older folk say: the late, late naptime. Bemused at the editing out of the Traci Lords story by repeating an earlier segment. The dialogue jumped from discussion of Toni Tennille to shouts of "blowjob". (Fortunately, I'd already read the Lords story on this blog.) That backstage TV variety pilot - was that the origin of the now-industry-standard "blackfaced chicken" joke?

Cress said...

I once created a part on a sit com with a specific soap actress in mind. Very well known--a definite type. She had made a splash on B'way, too (a musical). She came in to read for what I thought was just a formality, and was terrible. All the rhythms were off. While these actors are very good doing a specific thing, they often, for lack of a better word, relax into their performances, relying on their personal quirks and charm. They are almost all, without fail, charming. But the muscles atrophy because of the format of the work. Some great actors have come out of soap because they didn't fit in. They were too special: Meg Ryan, Christopher Walken, Ellen Burstyn to mention just a few.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I guess the thing that really surprises me about this story is that it says that you don't read the actors' resumes before they show up to audition. I know what matters is the performance on the day and the ability to take direction, chemistry with other prospective cast members, etc., but don't you ever look at what experience the actor has before they're brought in? Call it a Friday question.

wg

Betty said...

I watched soaps for a few years in high school/college. I remember Mark Hamill was on General Hospital (he played the above-mentioned Jessie's nephew), and Tommy Lee Jones was on One Life to Live - the next year he was in Coal Miner's Daughter.

John Hammes said...

Angelique of "Dark Shadows" - to this day, still confused as to whether she was a vampire or witch ( both? ), but she definitely GAVE the bite in some unforgettable scenes.
Maybe Barnabas and Angelique had "his-and-her" fangs.

Jahn Ghalt said...

@ Wendy R. Grossman,

Because the micro-climate is temperate (warmer in winter, cooler in summer than the surrounding areas) some called Homer the "banana belt".

Dec. 2015 was LAST winter, which had very little snow. So in Homer you saw leafless trees to go with the spruces and some spectacular views of Kachemak Bay and nearby mountains. How's the bald eagle population on the Spit these days? Something like 500 baldy's used to get fed day-old bread by the "Eagle Lady" - but I hear she no longer does that.

Try another trip in "Summer" - nominally 15JUN to 31AUG, though it rains more in August.

Edward said...

Well, there are only four Soap Opera's left, so the pool of talent is minor these days.

Mike said...

One of the big problems with the soaps these days is that they often cast eye candy rather than talent. In past years, some big names came out of the soaps, such as those mentioned above and others like Demi Moore ("General Hospital"), Kathleen Turner ("The Doctors"), Kevin Bacon ("Guiding Light"), and Robin Wright ("As the World Turns"). Some actors have completely shunned their soap past and act ashamed of it; Meg Ryan won't mention "As the World Turns" by name. Other embrace it: Julianne Moore started on "World Turns" back in the 1980s, playing a core family member, and returned to the show for its final week in 2010. But I can't remember the last time the soaps produced a really big name; they are just too busy casting underwear models now.

I think the remaining soaps are dinosaurs: cheaply produced, and for the most part, poorly acted and written. There are just too many really good TV shows on now to waste time on them.