“Hi. How’s the weather in L.A.? Is it nice out there today?”
Michael E. Knight, on the phone from New York during a break in taping the ABC soap “All My Children,” isn’t making small talk. Having lived much of his life in Southern California, he genuinely misses Los Angeles.
But Knight is settling back into life as a New York soap actor after nearly two years in L.A. After leaving his role as Tad Martin at the end of 1990, he made prime-time appearances on “Murder, She Wrote,” “Dear John” and “‘Grapevine,” performed at the Odyssey Theatre in the farce “Run for Your Wife!” and co-starred in the just-released comedy feature “Hexed.”
When last seen on the soap, his character had hitched a ride from Pine Valley, N.Y., to California, suffering from amnesia as the result of a fall from a bridge. In California he met vineyard owner Nola Orsini, played by Barbara Rush, who persuaded both Tad and herself that he was her long-lost son, Ted. With Nola conveniently having business dealings in Pine Valley, Tad/Ted is now back where he belongs, beginning to piece together the fragments of his past. He will learn his true identity in February from an unlikely source.
“It just seemed right,” Knight says of his November return to the bubbler, which he had joined in 1983 and had left once before, from 1987 to 1989. “I’d stayed in close contact with (producer) Felicia Minei Behr. She knew the reason I’d had a problem doing soaps for an extended time was that I was locked in. So she came to me with a contract that allowed me to do other things.”
Knight’s marriage last June to actress Catherine Hickland was another incentive. “Being newly married with a wife and, God willing, children on the way, you think about providing for them. I was very happy with all the stuff happening in L.A., but I didn’t feel too comfortable waiting around without a steady gig. I thought: ‘Why not have my cake and eat it, too?’ ”
His return, he says, was both a homecoming and a fresh start. “It allows me to expand more. I said I didn’t want to do the same old thing, even though there was a mercurial quality to Tad. I’m lucky--(creator) Agnes (Nixon) is amazing in her job. She’s kept renovating Tad, three times now.”
The winner of two Daytime Emmy Awards, Knight says he is still finding his way on the show this time around. “I think it’s going to take awhile before I’m up to speed,” he predicts, “before the producers and I decide how the changes in Tad will affect him.”
“All My Children” is not the only ABC soap to recently welcome back a prodigal cast member: In Los Angeles this past October, Lynn Herring returned to her role as devious Port Charles resident Lucy Coe on “General Hospital.” Having created the character in 1986, she decided to leave the show last March and segued the next week to NBC’s “Days of Our Lives,” where she played attorney Lisanne Gardner.
“I left ‘GH’ because I’d been doing Lucy for about six years and the storylines at the time were not going anywhere,” Herring explains. “In daytime, the best job to have is when everything is going and clicking. When it’s not, it’s very hard to get your juices flowing.”
Hence, Lucy’s acceptance of a job offer in New York, and Herring’s own immediate move to “Days.” “Lisanne was an attorney, very intelligent and not the sleazebag Lucy was,” Herring recalls. “So I thought, ‘OK Lynn, let’s try.’ It was kind of a culture shock in a way. But I was ready to make a change, so it was a cleansing thing to jump right in.
“But the story never panned out. It became watered down. Because of that, I began to miss Lucy. Sometimes, you never realize what you had until you don’t have it anymore.”
Ironically, the fact that Herring’s husband of nearly 13 years, Wayne Northrop, is one of the stars of “Days” (playing Roman Brady) contributed to her negative experience on the show. “It was sad. Here we were, husband and wife on the same soap, and we saw less of each other than when I was on ‘GH,’ ” she said. “For us, it’s better to be a two-soap family.”
On the other hand, Herring says, being married to Northrop helped ease her departure. “The producers respect him as an actor. He’s one of those straight shooters. So they knew my request to leave was not out of some ulterior motive, and that I wasn’t doing it for my ego. They took my word.”
With Lisanne killed off accidentally during a fight on “Days,” Herring has an 18-month contract on “GH.” Her character will soon discover an inner goodness surprising even to herself.
“It’s fun to play conniving, but no one’s black and white all the time,” Herring says. “I think going through the experience at ‘Days’ and being disappointed a bit has brought a zest and energy back to what I try to do with Lucy. I’m trying to make her a little deeper for the audience. Seven months have passed in her life, too.”