From Sizzle To Fizzle
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
On Soaps, Sometimes Talent Just Isn't Enough
By Naomi Rabinowitz
Most popular actors succeed due to a combination of talent, charisma and stage presence. However, on soaps, many other factors come into play, including writing, storyline and chemistry with co-stars. But being part of a beloved on-screen pairing on one soap is no guarantee that an actor will do as well on another.
"I think it's tough for lightning to strike twice," opines talent manager Michael Bruno, whose clients include Mary Beth Evans (Kayla, DAYS OF OUR LIVES), Stephen Nichols (Steve, a.k.a. Patch, DAYS) and Julie Pinson (Janet, AS THE WORLD TURNS). -A lot has to do with luck and story and with the audience accepting them as the new roles. I think a lot of times, there's resistance. If someone like Tony Geary [Luke, GENERAL HOSPITAL] comes to GUIDING LIGHT, fans are going to want to see him as Luke rather than John Doe."
Robert Newman (Josh, GL) experienced this when he left GL in 1984 during the height ofJosh's popularity and went on to play GH's Prescott in 1985. "The character wasn't well developed and wasn't very interesting to me," he admits. "I don't think that it was very interesting to the audience and I'd just come off working so heavily on the Josh and Reva relationship. I left the show and a year later I'm on GENERAL HOSPITAL playing a secondary role and it just didn't move anywhere. If the writers don't commit, then you wonder why they brought you on in the first place! With daytime, I think there is sort of a requirement of chemistry with somebody else. And if you don't have the story to get your character going in the first place, then there's a good possibility it's just not going to take off."
In Julie Pinson's case, she's currently thriving on ATWT, and also did well as PORT CHARLES's Eve, but didn't have such a positive experience playing DAYS's Billie or YOUNG AND RESTLESS's Shiloh. "On Y&R, I don't think that that character was ever really fleshed out," she reflects. "There was no family involved on that show; she was kind of like an island unto herself, and so there was nobody that she was really related to. Plus, she was new in town, so she didn't even know anybody. There weren't any bonds that could have been established. However, when I came on this show, Janet had her daughter, Liberty, and knew Brad from her past. I think basically, what it comes down to on Y&R is they just didn't write for Shiloh."
As for DAYS, in addition to being a recast for Billie, previously played by Lisa Rinna, "I came on with a huge uphill battle," Pinson recalls. "Bo and Hope are the super couple, so to have somebody come on to try and break that up is basically an impossibility. There was never any way that the audience was ever going to accept Bo and Billie together."
Getting established on another show becomes twice as challenging when a well- liked couple migrates. Mary Beth Evans and Stephen Nichols experienced this when they went to GH as Katherine (in 1993) and Stefan (in 1996). Though their characters became one of the most popular supercouples on DAYS in the '80s, they were unable to attain that level of popularity on GH. "There were a couple of obstacles explains Evans. "The characters were so different from Patch and Kayla. Neither character was as likable."
"On DAYS, it was a confluence of actors, writers, producers and directors that turned out to be the perfect combination of like-minded people who wanted to make the best possible creation in the moment," agrees Nichols. "Those same elements were not aligned on GH] and the story for Stefan and Katherine was not as intriguing as the one they developed with Stefan and Laura."
So what does make a new soap role work? think time between shows helps, as well as good writing and talent," says Bruno. "But it's really about a shoe fitting. And when the shoe fits, the powers-that-be get excited about writing the role and write toward Welcome Back: After trying his luck on GH — and not doing as well as he'd hoped — Robert Newman (Josh, GL) returned to Springfield to resume his wildly successful storyline with Kim Zimmer (Reva). the actor's strength."
"Definitely chemistry with a co-star is a factor," states Pinson, "as well as the storyline and whether the character is connected to a core family. The show has to want to commit to the character and write for it. You can't be on the canvas one day a week and expect the fans to grab onto you or understand who you are or what you're about. Or they can't work you five days a week and then be off canvas for three weeks. It has to be consistent."
"It's a combination of having a good character, good chemistry, good storyline and good behind-the-scenes vibes," agrees Evans. "Usually then, a character will work. But even then, sometimes they don't! It's about all the stars lining up."
While some actors fail in new roles, for many the second time around can be an even better experience. 'Austin Peck [Brad, ATWT1 and Julie Pinson were fine as Austin and Billie on DAYS, but on WORLD TURNS, something happened where all the planets aligned,* notes Bruno of his clients. "I think these are the best roles they've had. Austin was able to bring in more of his personality as Brad. His hands were tied when he was playing Austin because Austin's such a good guy, which is so hard to play. With Brad, he can bring in more energy and humor and different colors because the character is a flawed hero. Plus, he has great chemistry with Terri Colombino [Kate], which definitely helps.
As for Julie, when I heard about Janet, I said, This is is Julie,' Bruno recalls. "Julie is a 'real chick' and very likable and unpretentious. The part works for her because of that and people can relate to her. For her to come in and have her character be a solid threat to Michael Park [Jack] and
Maura West's [Carly] pairing in such a huge deal. a testament to Julie's talent"
'the meantime, some actors eventually grow into new roles. Though Crystal Chappell was well-
liked as DAYS's Carly, it took her a while to click as GL's Olivia points out Newman. I remember she came on and was just sort of Richard's buddy," he recalls. "But Olivia has just evolved tremendously and I think it's an extraordinary character. As for Josh, he was a pretty nasty
character when I first came on in 1981" he says. i think it was for me to go to the more noble version of him. That combined with the Josh/Reva phenomenon me on the show for a lot of years [ laughs]."
"I think that is where a great story makes a big difference," notes Evans. "Sometimes a character might be dormant or a character never really took off, Then, given a story to sink their teeth into, they come alive and the audience gets hooked."