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Just Dropping By

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Just Dropping By

Are Short-Term Visits The Future Of Soaps?

This past summer was memorable in that several beloved soap vets returned to the canvas, including Martha Byrne (ex-Lily, AS THE WORLD TURNS), Judi Evans (ex- Adrienne, DAYS OF OUR LIVES; ex-Beth, GUIDING LIGHT et al), Lynn Herring (ex-Lucy, GEN- ERAL HOSPITAL/PORT CHARLES) and Stuart Damon (ex-Alan, GH). However, while all of the names were familiar, their roles and shows weren't. All were hired for short-term arcs as GH's villainous Andrea and ATWT's country gal, Maeve, scheming Au- drey and mobster Ralph, respectively.

But after years of portraying popular contract characters, what can stars get out of playing a new role for only a couple of weeks or months? As it turns out, plenty, since these arrangements benefit both the actors and the shows.

"It's more bang for your buck," states Talent Manager Michael Bruno, who represents many daytime stars, including Lesli Kay (Felicia, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL/Molly, ATWT) and Ricky Paull Goldin (Gus, ALL MY CHILDREN). "You get a beloved performer from the past, everyone gets excited, the person gets just as much press as if they're signing for three years ... and the networks and shows have to pay less for it because the actor's only on for a Everyone gets something out of the deal."

"For me, the best thing is that it's easier to get really solid people for shorter terms because there isn't that commit- ment-phobia thing that happens a lot of times to signing a three-year deal," explains DAYS OF OUR LIVES Casting Director Marnie Saitta. "But ideally, what you hope to do in those shorter roles is that someone gets in there and knocks it out and everyone is like, 'Will you stay?' That is what I am always going for when I'm casting something like that. With Shawn Christian [Daniel], it was a shorter deal, and we loved him and he loved it here, so he stayed. Those are the ideal circumstances. It gives the actor a chance to get their feet wet and give the audience a chance to respond to them, and who knows what can happen from there?"

Hiring seasoned per formers has its advantages, story-wise. "The shows know that they'll move the story along, which is necessary, even if it's a short role," notes Evans. "Look at someone like Tamara Braun [ex- Reese, AMC; ex-Ava, DAYS et al], who won an Emmy for DAYS and she was only there for a short time [in 2008]."

And for the vets, getting to play a character out of type is a real perk. After finding fame as ATWT's sweet Lily, Byrne got to play a murderer on GH. Meanwhile, Damon relished portraying a mobster on ATWT. "Bad guys are always the best to play," he opined before exiting the role in October. "I had great freedom, given the fact that it was so different from [GH's] Alan Quarter- maine. I just let my imagination run wild in terms of how Ralph would be because the last thing I wanted anybody to say was, 'Oh, God. He's playing Alan Quartermaine!' I just let it all hang out"

However, while Damon, Byrne and Evans created new roles, several actors returned to their old shows for a short period this past year, including David La- go (ex-Raul, YOUNG AND RESTLESS), Mark Collier (ex-Mike, ATWT), Ian Buchanan (ex-James, B&B), Eden and Constance Towers (ex- Helena, GH). This, too, works well, explains Towers, who's played Helena on and off since 1997. "It's great because the story is played out by contract players and then you bring in a character like mine, who can stir the pot," she notes. "Because I'm only there for a little while, things have to move quickly.

"What I love is that when she's there, it's always at the most exciting point of the story because it's reaching a crisis, rather than being there every day and not having as exciting a story to do," she adds. "This way, it's always where the action is. The storyline can't be dragged out. And then, I get to do outside projects, too."

Then there's the fact that a job is a job, and they're not easy to find nowadays. "I always think it's better for actors to be working," stresses Bruno. "and work often For example, Wally Kurth [Justin, DAYS] was originally supposed to return for just a few weeks, but it went so well, he's still there. And when we put Lynn Herring on WORLD TURNS, it was seamless because she fit in so well. Maybe GH is watching and is like, 'She looks great; why didn't we take her back?' The shows all want the ones that the other ones want. Therefore, if you're on a show even for two months, you're in the public eye and in the press. We're hoping that ATWT has her back because she had a blast."

As the economy continues to suffer and soaps' ratings drop, will we be seeing more of these short- term comebacks? "[In the past], you didn't want to write a storyline and risk losing the actor. So, if they were not under contract and were coming on for a short, recurring role, you didn't want to risk that" shares Saitta. "But now, it's worth the risk to have someone come on because the actors and the agents really make an effort to make the show the priority when they're recurring. It works out for everybody."

"I think that soaps are trying things out to see what works and what doesn't," muses Evans. "But it makes sense for shows to hire someone who already has a following. Then people might pop in to see that actor and end up watching the new show regularly."

"I think it will continue to be a trend," says Towers. "Our audience has a shorter span of attention at this point because they can easily leave and go off to another venue, whether it's another show or reality TV or the Inter- net. They have a huge feast of choices. All of TV has changed and soaps are just trying to keep up like everyone else."

By Naomi Rabinowitz
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