The ripple effect

rippleA while back, I posted about the parallels between the changes the auto industry is going through, and the challenges that traditional media (especially soap operas) face. The industries are vastly different, but some of the challenges – adapting the scope of your enterprise to the new marketplace – are the same.

In many of the stories we’ve heard about GM and Chrysler, we’re reminded that when a plant ceases production or a dealership goes out of business, that isn’t the end of the process, but the beginning of a ripple effect that affects the whole community. Local businesses see less money coming in, which leads to further layoffs, closings and a loss of capital.

One parallel that I’m seeing in the daytime industry struck me as I was reading an excerpt from the book Inside Inside. The author, James Lipton, has hosted the 24669324Inside the Actors Studio show on Bravo for years. He’s talked to hundreds of actors and performers about their career, in a format that frames the discussion as if the performer is teaching a class on their craft.

Lipton’s own career started in soaps. He was Dick Grant on Guiding Light, and worked with Irna Phillips first as an actor, then as a writer (he was the head writer of Another World for a time).

One statement in particular struck me: his mention that for theater actors, there’s a symbiotic relationship: “soap opera in the daytime, theater and classes at night.”

This is not a new or novel idea; perhaps the most high-profile soap actor who was also prolific on Broadway was Oakdale’s own Johnny D, Larry Bryggman of As The LarryBryggmanPWorld Turns. (Yes, it’s my shameless way to mention an actor I wish we’d see again!) Bryggman’s been nominated for two Tonys and a Drama Desk award, but he was in dozens of plays over the 35 years he appeared on ATWT.

I’ve been a part of live theater, as a crew member and an actor, and although I’d love to have a career as a TV writer, there is nothing like live theater. As much as I love soaps, I can understand an actor’s frustration that they’re boxed in and, unless you’re on the front burner, unchallenged. So it’s understandable that actors are looking for new challenges and new roles.

And if they can do it at night while appearing on a soap during the day, it’s a big bonus. A soap salary, even in this era, is a steady paycheck; a theater company can’t always pay the big bucks, if they pay you at all. So actors often juggle both. Tom Pelphrey, for instance, has a play coming up in New York City that coincides with his upcoming GL appearance.

So, what happens when one part of that symbiotic relationship becomes unstable?

The loss of Guiding Light is affecting dozens, if not hundreds of people: the producers, the writers, 15 to 20 contract actors and scores of recurring actors, a cast, crew and production team. Every one of those people have a family, a home, a mortgage (or rent) and/or a car payment.

But even this one show ending will have an economic affect on New York City. Local restaurants will have fewer customers. The car service and bus service the show uses will see their trip roster shrink. And perhaps most importantly, fewer opportunities for working actors to have a “day job” might affect Broadway’s pool of performers. HelpWanted

If this is the effect of the loss of one show, it’s sobering to think what will happen if any other NYC shows go. And let’s be clear: they are the most vulnerable. If you look at the four strongest shows right now, we have two shows that are clear overall ratings winners (Y&R and B&B) and two shows that garner high ratings in certain demographics (DAYS and GH). And what do all four of those shows have in common? They’re all produced in California.

The remaining three NYC shows are either on shaky ground (ATWT) or have hit some challenges (OLTL was recently cancelled in Canada, and AMC is, well, just a big ole hot mess right now).

We may be near the “endgame” of a long entertainment tradition, and that doesn’t just affect what fills up your TV screen every day at 2 pm (or your Hulu account).

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4 thoughts on “The ripple effect

  1. Patrick,
    Great article! There are a lot of people out there who do not realize that many of the people we see in daytime do other things. From stage work to selling real estate! Nor do they realize that those in daytime television are among the hardest working in the business, yet take home a lot less than the Hollywood set.

    For some, working in daytime was a way “steady” way to support a family while perusing stage careers in the Big Apple.” You are talking about a very talented group of people working in the soaps.

    Robert Newman is currently in a NY stage production, while still showing up to tape GL. Ron Raines spent several months in 2002 showing up for work on the GL set by day while playing Chicago’s “Billy Flynn” on Broadway at night.

    I also agree with you about the affect this is all going to have on the NYC economy. GL alone has somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 employees, who will no longer be patronizing local eateries (including the CBS commissary), riding buses/taxis, or buy a paper from the guy on the corner…

  2. This is wonderful, Patrick. You know I was hoping the Save GL rally in NYC would garner some support from the various trade unions that will be adversely effected by the cancellation of GL. It’s a shame they didn’t get on board.

    Again and again I find myself reminded of the late Joel Crothers – I was lucky enough to meet him before he passed away – beautiful man, inside and out. Sweet Joel would work on Edge of Night by day, and then act in the original, groundbreaking, off-Broadway production of Torch Song Trilogy at night. This production started out small, but eventually moved to Broadway, turned into something huge, and virtually launched the career of Harvey Fierstein. Guiding Light’s Ellen Parker (Maureen Reardon) was the original Heidi in the The Heidi Chronicles – an important play that ended up winning the Pulitzer and the Tony for best drama. It’s my understanding that Parker was hand-picked by playwright Wendy Wasserstein. There are dozens of stories like this one.

  3. I do agree with you on the ripple effect. That’s why certain areas are pleading for factories to not be closed as not to damage local economies as it has happened many times. I’ve come across this in non-fiction books about television, which talked about a ripple effect as television moved from being taped on the east coast to the west.

    While I agree with James Lipton that there is a symbiotic relationship of soap opera in the daytime, theater and classes at night–it is not as prevalent as it once was. Now there are so many people who are in soaps who are untrained and don’t seem to spend the time to hone their craft. They are hiring more for a look instead of employing theatre actors who already have chops. I absolutely appreciate when younger performers want to improve while in daytime taking classes or doing theatre projects.

  4. It’s very interesting you wrote this column because I was just thinking about this very subject. There is a facinating documentary now playing on Showtime called “ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway” chronically the behind the scenes stuff of three Broadway shows during teh 2004 season. And they talk with Tonya Perkins (Livia, AMC) and she talks about how the last time she was on Broadway she had the great job at AMC, doing Jelly’s Last Jam and winning the Tony at night….and it was just a great life for her. And it also sparked memories of a great old Bravo show (before it became all Real Houswives all the time) “The IT Factor” that followed struggling actors in New York….and I remember so clearly several of them going out to audition for soaps all the time and being so excited to be cast as an extra.

    As a Broadway junkie….I have long noticed how many Broadway actors have daytime credits listed in their Playbill bios…..in fact if you scan through an average Playbill, you’ll see the following credits pretty frequently…”All My Children”, “One Life to Live”, “Guiding Light”, “As The World Turns”, “Law & Order” (pick your franchise!) and if they’ve been around awhile “New York Undercover”.

    A recent-ish example of a daytime actor doing Broadway at night…Taye Diggs was playing Sugar Hill (I know I wish I could forget that crappy storyline too) and was in the workshops of Rent at night. The storyline at GL wrapped up just about the time Rent moved from off-Broadway to Broadway…..which led to Stella and the rest is history. Tammy Blanchard (aslo stuck in that crappy storyline) made the jump from GL to Tony-nominated actress as well, although her nomination did come years after she left the show.

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