Dirty Deeds of 'Soap' World Aren't So Funny

Roscoe Born appeared on "Ryan's Hope," "One Life to Live" and "Santa Barbara."

Having spent 4 1/2 years as an actor and a not-disinterested observer on three different soap operas on two different networks from 1981-91, I have my own perspective on the movie "Soapdish" and the "real" soap world's response to it as detailed in Calendar (June 11).

Although I only chose to do a handful of print interviews and talk shows and just one charity "function," and like to think I never really bought into the whole scene, I stuck my nose in it far enough to recognize the smell of foul fish in a small pond.

Bitter? Me?

Of course, as pointed out by the insiders interviewed for your article, there was a great deal of exaggeration in the movie for comic effect. It's difficult to take anything connected with daytime television seriously.

Maybe if Paddy Chayefsky had ever worked in the medium he would have written a soap opera companion piece to "Network," but I doubt it.

Even so, people involved really do get hurt, spirits do get trampled and viewers do get lied to and cheated. Fan letters I've read attest to just how much some in the audience take the stories and characters to heart.

The duplicity, the back-stabbing and the bootlicking as depicted in "Soapdish" are all there (surprise, right?), practiced most perfectly at the highest levels and imitated by practically everyone else down the food chain of command. Fueling the whole thing is the fear and desperation endemic to the business at large. (Again, no big surprise.)

One actor quoted in your article found the scene in "Soapdish" where Sally Field goes to the mall to be recognized by her fans, and thus reassured of her existence, "very moving." I found it to be as pathetic as the plight of a ground hog that sticks his head out of his hole to see if it casts a shadow. Ever wonder why people in Los Angeles get so edgy when the sun don't shine?

One independent-minded soap writer in your article stated that it was "unrealistic" for the movie to show a network executive sitting in a writers' meeting--head writers have enough "credibility" not to kowtow to execs.

Anyone who worked on "Santa Barbara" in the last two years can testify that the head of daytime at NBC sat in on writers' conferences virtually every week.

Here's a short list of not-so-comic incidents I've either experienced, witnessed or had confirmed to me by at least two sources:

* A talented but in the eyes of the producer "difficult" actress with waist-length hair agrees to cut her hair to chin length at the producer's insistence. The day after cutting it, she's fired.

* Two newly installed head writers with an unusual amount of clout lobby for weeks to have a co-head writer fired. As she's loading her car on her last day with personal effects from her office, they approach her in the parking lot shocked at what they're seeing: "We had no idea."

* An actor (me), who's decided not to re-sign, is taken to dinner by the head writers (not the ones above) and a network executive. They don't want to talk him into staying on the show, they just want to talk as friends. They all "share" things about their families, their dreams and anxieties, etc.

The next day, the actor's agent gets a call from the network and in turn calls the actor. Anything even remotely approaching an insecurity the actor had revealed the night before is now recounted to him and cited as evidence (so says the network) that the actor is in no emotional condition to make such a momentous decision as leaving a soap opera.

* An actor (not me), who would later go on to star for six years on a prime-time series, is taping two shows in one day. He has approximately 50 pages of dialogue. After he finishes the first show, on a five-minute break, he's called into the producer's office and told he'll be let go in two weeks. He then has to go back on the studio floor where word is already spreading quickly about his firing and do another 25 pages.

I could go on, but it doesn't get any funnier. You won't read these stories in the soap opera press, which is about as independent as the "Fathers of the Year" advertising supplement that appeared in the Los Angeles Times five days before Father's Day. At least you label it for what it is.

A final thought. Could this make me the Delta Burke of Daytime, defunct? We can only hope.

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