I Get It!!
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Interview By Trixie
There are heavies in daytime and then there are "real" heavies in daytime like Michael Bruno, arguably the crème de la crème of talent management. Bruno "gets it", he knows exactly what it takes to make daytime great.
There are heavies in daytime and then there are “real” heavies in daytime and I’m not just talking about actors, producers or directors. I’m talking about the people who make the shows, people like Michael Bruno, arguably the crème de la crème of talent management. Bruno “gets it”, pure and simple, he knows exactly what it takes to make daytime great. His knack at recognizing and nurturing the stars of today and tomorrow contributes as much or more to the success of our favorite daytime dramas as good writing, acting or directing.
Raised in New Brunswick, New Jersey where he attended Rutgers Conservatory Bruno had every intention of becoming an actor. Remembering his beginnings in New York, the talented manager shares, “All I wanted to do is a soap opera. I was obsessed with it. But I knew I wasn’t a soap type. I realized there was no power as an actor, it was all behind the scenes so I moved to Los Angeles.” Continuing, “I ended up working in an agency and worked my way very quickly into developing their soap opera department. I brought people in like Peter Reckell, Katherine Kelly Lange, and Kristina Wagner. Ultimately, I didn’t like the way the agency was handling the politics of it, and the way the money was being handled for these actors. So I left.”
Lucky for many as it turns out. Bruno was contacted by Wendy Riche, General Hospital’s producer at the time and became involved in penning one of GH’s most memorable stories - The B.J Heart storyline. Working with Claire Labine scripting several of GH’s historical stories, it quickly became clear that his talents probably lay elsewhere. Bruno admits, “I wasn’t very good at writing dialogue, I was much better at writing storylines but that’s where you start at the bottom and then move up to become these Megan McTavish’s. There’s no way to get there in between, so I decided to become a manger. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do, because back then it was looked down upon. Bottom of Hollywood, very seedy. But believe it or not Mark Teschner said I had to go and make a choice, acting, writing or managing because I was ruining my reputation. So I decided to manage, specifically in daytime and it’s been a wonderful experience every since.”
Michael’s vision of what daytime could become was far beyond what people knew 15 years ago. “It’s basically taking dirt and making gold”, he declares. It was so difficult for these actors to get agents, or even auditions because the industry was so looked down upon. He says, “These are great actors, in the sense that daytime is the hardest medium to do. It’s very difficult.”
Bruno’s vast experience and knowledge of the industry allows him to take on established actors without going through all the red tape of auditions or resumes. He has watched and been involved with soaps far too long to subject them to the intense scrutiny he might with a newbie. He has a very big comfort level with these people. He says,” I just signed Jackie Zeman which I am very happy about. She is a really big sign for me. I am also talking to Ilene Kristen because I believe she is one of the greats. I am even hinting that they should have Ilene as the Joan Van Ark replacement.”
Bruno was responsible for signing Robin Mattson (Heather) recently to General Hospital. “Great actors need to work” as he puts it. People could not understand why he was pushing so hard for someone who hasn’t been around for 3 yrs. But Bruno’s intuitive push brought Heather Weber back to daytime. “Granted, it only lasted 6 months, but they took her back. I know who’s important to these shows; I know what these shows need. I think like a producer and a network person. I get It! That’s why I have 15 people on television right now”.
And get it he does, thanks to Michael’s foresight and instincts not only regarding veteran daytime actors but in knowing the “IT” quality in actors new to the medium. In describing what the “IT” quality is, he explains, “The “IT” quality is basically about unknowns. A 1940’s quality. By that I mean, if you are straight, gay, man or woman when someone walks in the room you turn around and go who is that? That’s the person you want.”
If most people feel beauty and looks is what makes an actor on daytime, listen to what this industry expert has to say. “Bear in mind, I see beauty everyday” Bruno acknowledges. “Beauty is the 1, 2 punch. You want beauty but then you ask can they act? Beauty is what we want but it’s the number 2 that is also so important. Can they pull it off and is there something about them? That’s what it’s all about. That’s the real “It” factor. Kathy Brier who plays Marcie Walsh on OLTL has spark and pop. Michelle Stafford is not a classic beauty but she IS a movie star. ABC casts much in that way. Tyler (Christopher), Natalia (Livingston), Vanessa (Marcil) - they all have it. And that’s what we look for.” Bruno chuckles and goes on to say “On I Wanna Be A Soap Star, when Kelly walked out I said to myself “God please be able to speak”. As of today Kelly has been killed off.
In today’s entertainment environment many actors from the big screen or primetime have been flocking back to daytime, many of whom we’d never imagine doing a daytime soap opera. Actors like Corbin Bernsen, Linda Gray, Joan Van Ark and many more. There are many reasons why, but when I asked Bruno for his take on this sudden phenomenon, he quickly answered without much difficulty. “It’s not about the money, it’s about being in the game. Being on television every other week hearing people say hey you’re on TV. It’s a drug.” Continuing, “People say they need the money, they don’t need the money. These actors love to dress up for award shows or hearing I loved you on Knots Landing or you were great on L.A. Law. This is the reason many are coming back, it’s about being in there.”
It may have taken daytime awhile to jump on the reality programming bandwagon but none the less they finally made it with the hit “I Wanna Be A Soaptstar”. “LMNO Cable productions has been doing reality shows,” Bruno explains, and “Soapnet had been thinking about getting more original programs. Someone at the network pitched “Soap Star”.” In developing the show, it was clear the Judges would be a vital part of the success of the show. Of course it was Michael Bruno who got the first call. “I know I was picked first because they wanted someone mean”, he laughs. “The network execs didn’t lock in the final judges for 3 weeks, unable to make a decision. Should we get a guy, a girl, a director or a writer? Many names like Jill Farren Phelps and Brian Frons were thrown around.” But after all was said and done the final three were picked. Michael Bruno, talent manager. Debbi Morgan, actress and Mark Teschner, Casting director.
From its very first airing it was clear “I Wanna Be A Soapstar” would be a huge hit. It had all the “It” factors Bruno has talked about, including making a Hollywood hopeful’s dream come true! Michael has been labeled the Simon Cowell of Daytime but as he puts it, “I think I am better then Simon, it’s funny, when people saw me who know me and they saw Simon on American Idol they said there’s this guy that’s doing you. Of course he had a bigger Q and people knew who he was, but people who knew would call and say Hey Bruno this British guy is doing you!” Michael takes this responsibility very seriously and one can tell he enjoys it immensely, including being called the mean judge! Not offended in any way by this sudden label, Bruno shares, “I am really proud of myself and I am not being mean for the sake of being mean, that’s not me.”
A better word to call it might be blunt, or just downrig