The Big Guns
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
The year 2008 has seen some of the most dearly wished-for returns. ALL MY CHILDREN's Debbi Morgan and Daniell Williams came back to Pine Valley in January as the legendary '80s supercouple Angie and Jesse. After years of hopeful chatter, ONE LIFE TO LIVE fans finally got their wish that Andrea Evans would reprise her role as Tina when the show brought on a cavalcade of stars for its 40th anniversary. Evans told Digest, "The rumors have been going on for 18 years, but I'm glad it's finally not just a rumor."
In a subscriber-only poll, Digest asked readers to weigh in. When asked: Have you ever resumed watching a formerly favorite show just because a big name was returning? Of the 440 respondents, 66 percent answered yes. (For more poll results, see the sidebar.)
Indeed, big names are bankable when it comes to hiring, says talent manager Michael Bruno. "I have a tendency to handle 90 percent ex-daytime stars and 10 percent new faces for exactly that reason. Knowing that if I need to book and pay the mortgage, it's much better for me to sign a Sean Kanan [ex-Deacon, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL et al] or a Lynn Herring [ex-Lucy, GENERAL HOSPITAL], as
opposed to Jane Doe." Sure enough, three of his clients just made splashy re-entries. Bruno reps Beth Ehlers and Ricky Paull Goldin (ex-Gus and Harley, GUIDING LIGHT), who recently joined AMC as Taylor and Jake, and Brandon Beemer (ex-Shawn, DAYS OF OUR LIVES), who leaped into a front- burner role as B&B's Owen.
Though seeing old favorites thrills longtime soap fans, does it impact ratings? "I think absolutely no and not even a qualified no," says TV Guide columnist Michael Logan, pointing out, "That doesn't mean it doesn't make the shows better and bring back elements that we miss and make it exciting. They can make a better show, but I think it's too late for it to matter Nielsen-wise."
The Evans return coincided with that of Susan Haskell to OLTL as the original Marty Saybrooke and was followed by a slew of other returns. The Nielsen ratings didn't show much of a boost. Between the weeks of June 9, when Evans and Haskell first aired, and July 21, when the anniversary shows kicked off, the soap hovered between a 1.9 and 2.0.
But even if a big name doesn't mean an immediate ratings hike, there are other benefits. OLTL generated plenty of buzz — Evans was profiled in the June 13 issue of People magazine. Says Logan, "It's 'Let's get a bump; let's get a bump in the energy and the mainstream media.' Genie Francis's [impending return as GH's Laura] got picked up in the mainstream and it was a big AP story." He adds, "I think Tamara Braun is fantastic. When I see an actor like that, I perk up. I think, 'Gee, what's happening over at DAYS?' It brings intrigue and cachet." (Braun, who was a hit as GH's Carly, recently wrapped a six-month stint as Ava on DAYS.)
Plenty of excited chatter about a looming return is just what ABC President of Daytime Brian Frons wants. "The reason people advertise on television to sell products is that it accelerates awareness and action. The more time you have to tell them that Rebecca [Budig; Greenlee, AMC] or Debbi, Darnell or Genie Francis are coming back, the faster you get them back in front of their TVs."
Of course, we've seen plenty of noteworthy returns fizzle when the story isn't right. Frans reveals, "Originally, the conversation was Angie and Jacob [Jesse's look-alike who was on THE CITY] because ob- viously, Jesse had been dead for so long. Eventually, we thought the real power for the audience is Angie and Jesse; that's what would take them back. Agnes Nixon [the show's creator] was in the room and she said, 'You know, they'll be so happy to get Jesse back that as long as we have a reasonable explanation of where he's been, they'll be okay with it.' "
Much of Digest's mail includes pleas to bring back certain stars. Does fan feedback influence who gets invited to return? Frons explains that elaborate analysis goes into those decisions. "I have a research guy that I send to a vault on Long Island [where we] actually have all the historical data about who was really popular in any given year," shares the exec. "Our decisions are really based on not so much people's memories of what they might ask for now, but the data of who people were really in love with back in the day. We try to understand why they were popular and give them a chance to be successful today."
Of course, all that research doesn't keep fans — even those in the business — from having strong opinions about who should return to a show. Bruno says, "I un- derstand the politics of daytime television behind-the scenes; there are things we don't know. However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know the first two things that have to be done on GUIDING LIGHT: Fire four people [to pay for] and rehire Grant Aleksander [ex-Phillip] and Vincent Irizarry [ex-Lujack]. The end!"