Transcript of the interview with writer
AS THE WORLD TURNS:
THE COMPLETE FAMILY SCRAPBOOK
which celebrates the 40th anniversary of
AS THE WORLD TURNS on CBS.
The interview was aired at 8:45pm eastern
on Tuesday, June 11, 1996
Conducted by Peter Anthony Holder
the evening talk show host on
CJAD 800 AM, Montreal
CJAD: Well, anyone who listens to this show on a regular basis knows that I am addicted to the daytime soap AS THE WORLD TURNS. For anybody else out there with the same addiction, there is a great book that you must get. It's called AS THE WORLD TURNS: THE COMPLETE FAMILY SCRAPBOOK. It's a special 40th edition. The show turned 40 back in April. On the line is Julie Poll who is the author of the book. Hi Julie, how are you.
JULIE: Hi, I'm good.
CJAD: Nice of you to join us.
JULIE: My pleasure.
CJAD: I get a chance to talk to a lot of people on the air who have written books, but I must tell you and our audience, this is one of course that is high on my list of prizes in my collection because I'm such a big fan, and this book is really well done. Congratulations on putting out such a fine book.
JULIE: I thank you very much. Thank you.
CJAD: For anybody who is a fan of soap operas in general and AS THE WORLD TURNS in particular, it certainly is interesting reading. How was it in putting this book together?
JULIE: It was a process, (laughter)! Going back when the show first started, I think because it was such a new medium, they didn't know whether it was going to last or not and they didn't save a lot of tapes and scripts so we had to go into private collections and kind of piece those early years together. One of the fascinating things about putting it all together was when you get the 40 years down it's like you have a social history of what was happening in the country at that time, and you see all the changes. But it was quite a job. A wonderful job.
CJAD: It was a bit of homecoming for you too, because you also wrote on the show for awhile, didn't you.
JULIE: Exactly, I wrote on the show in the 80's and then I wrote when Doug Marland was the head writer. Doug really believed in the history of the show and he brought core characters back like Nancy Hughes and Chris and it was just a wonderful experience writing with him and for him.
CJAD: How did this get off the ground in the first place, because I know you're writing another one on THE GUIDING LIGHT and there are a couple of other books from GENERAL PUBLISHING out on the soap operas. How did this all get started?
JULIE: Well I think it started really with the anniversaries of the shows. Soap opera is really an original American art form. It was started in this country and I think really along with the American musical it belongs to the USA. I think when the anniversaries started to come up....I know ALL MY CHILDREN was done for the 25th, GENERAL HOSPITAL, I'm not sure whether that was an anniversary, but I think the publishers began to realize that to have, first of all, a show that has lasted on television for that period of time is quite phenomenal. And 40 years....AS THE WORLD TURNS was the first daytime show that was created especially for television. Most of the others started as fifteen minute radio shows. So it was kind of a landmark to have a show that passed its 10,000th episode and was still going strong. So I think that was really an impetus to put it all down on paper.
CJAD: How did you set out to plot out the book. I know you go chronologically from the beginning right through to the current days.
CJAD: What was the idea of setting up the book. How did you go about doing that?
JULIE: Well you know what I really wanted to do Peter, I wanted to tell the story and it's tricky with soap because of course there is so much story, and so many details and you need to be careful about your details because one clue can lead to another and spark another story line, so what I really wanted to do was not to make it facts and figures, but really to tell the story of the people of Oakdale from the time Nancy Hughes said the first lines which was, "Good morning, dear," to Chris. Just to tell the story of the people who live there.
CJAD: 40 years is long time for anything to be on television.
CJAD: Why do you think this show is so popular. And another question on top of that is for a very, very long time AS THE WORLD TURNS was the number one show.
JULIE: 20 years. Almost 20 years it was number one.
CJAD: Why do you think that show has been so popular for so long?
JULIE: Well because it builds slowly, because the forum was a little different. And I think Peter, really it's because it's a show about real people with real problems. It's an inter-generational show where you have Nancy Hughes with the first lines on the first show and still going strong and is the center of the Hughes family. And you really have stories that you can identify with and family structure too. I know when I first started to write for the show I felt like "I want a family just like that!" You know, this is an extended family where people really, they have their problems, but they really come together to try to work them out. And although they have their share of fantasies, there are still more fantasies that are based in reality. No underground cities or devils or whatever. It's really based on real people with real problems.
CJAD: I had a chance back in March to actually visit the set of AS THE WORLD TURNS which for me was actually a life- long dream in a way. So I got a chance to take a look at life behind the scenes. That's also a part of the book you also feature, is it not?
JULIE: Oh it is and that's really one of my favorite chapters. I love doing that because we went through the entire day from morning when the actors gather in the green room to have their coffee, wake up and study their lines, through dry rehearsal, makeup, hair, wardrobe and then on to the set for blocking. We took it right through to tape. We had a wonderful day. We had a wedding. We had Sam and Kirk's wedding and we had the Hughes family Christmas Eve which is a big traditional story on the show. But really what I wanted to show was the guts of the show. What it takes to put this on the air every single day. It's really like managing a small city.
CJAD: These people do work very, very hard and long hours.
JULIE: Very. And we also went up to the production offices and talked to the Casting Director about how they choose character. What that process is. And the Executive Producer about how he runs this whole mega production. The music.....we tried to get all the elements together that went into what you turn on your television and see every day. So that was a real favorite part of the book.
CJAD: What was it like for you as a writer of the program back when you were on the show yourself?
JULIE: I loved it! There are several different kinds of writers on a soap. It's real team work. You start with the head writers and they do your long term projection. They know what's going to happen for the next six months at least. Doug Marland knew what was going to happen to his characters for the next two years. They plot that all out in what they call long term projection and that reads kind of like a Danielle Steele novel. Then it breaks down into they chart each week. As a writer, we each write one day of the week. I know people often ask me, "do you write for special characters, or certain characters?", but you don't. You really are writing a day in the life of Oakdale, Illinois. We are each assigned a day of the week. That's really how it's done. We're about two months ahead when we write our scripts.
CJAD: How many writers would be on a show the size of AS THE WORLD TURNS? I see when the credits go by that they are too quick to name them all.
JULIE: (laughter) I know. Well it depends. Like when Doug Marland was head writing, he was head writer who did the long term. He also wrote a breakdown every week, which is the narrative script, and he also edited the scripts. He really did the work of four people. Normally, you will have either one or two head writers. AS THE WORLD TURNS has two now. You'll have four what they call breakdown writers, which doesn't mean you're having a nervous breakdown although sometimes you feel like you are (laughter). They write the narrative scripts which are really the guts of the scene. What happens in scene. They are usually four breakdown writers and then they get sent to the dialogue writers. You'll have four or five dialogue writers and they dialogue the breakdowns. So we're up to eleven people now. Then we have a script editor, who gets all the final scripts and he has to make sure that the week tracks. That nothing is repeated. That everything tracks. That the characters track which is a very big thing in soap opera, because so many people are related to so many other people on the show and the stories and the characters intertwine so that's his job and he can sometimes rewrite passages also. So basically that's twelve writers.
CJAD: How much of an input do the characters have, the actors have in their characters? Particularly those who have been on the show for a long period of time?
JULIE: Well again that depends on who is head writing. I know that the writers now and Doug always had an open door policy where the actors come in and talk about their story lines and give ideas and input. I found it was so fascinating for me to interview the actors for the book, because they have lived their characters. They are the history of their characters. Especially on AS THE WORLD TURNS where you have actors like Don Hastings and Eileen Fulton who have been on for 30-something years and Larry Bryggman and Kathryn Hays who have been on for over 20 years and Helen who as been there for 40. They know these people and they are really the best resource for new writers coming on to a show, for their back story and their history.
CJAD: Even though you have a personal history with the show itself, in putting this book together were there things you discovered about AS THE WORLD TURNS?
JULIE: Well yes, which was really.....and I knew the show very well because my first job on the show was as a writing co-ordinator for the head writers at that time and as a writing co-ordinator I needed to keep big tracking books of all the characters and I had to know the back stories, but the thing that fascinated me so was the social history in putting it together and also what I learned from the actors who had been on the show for a long time. Because we really as writers on the show, just because of the schedules that we had to keep in order to meet our deadlines, we really didn't have much of a chance to interact with the actors. Because we would be sitting out our computers getting out that script on a very tight schedule. So I found that fascinating. I just learned a lot about not only the history of the show from talking to people like Helen Wagner and Don Hastings and Eileen, but just also about the stories and how a lot of them came to be from the very beginning, which was Irna Phillips, who was a real legend in soap opera and what her view of a soap opera was and what she was trying to achieve.
CJAD: Well I know I've been watching this show for a very, very long time. More years then I care to admit. Over 30! I learned a lot by going through your book. I'm just curious to know. You mentioned some of the other shows. You're currently working on a book now for THE GUIDING LIGHT.
JULIE: Yes, which is about to celebrate its 60th broadcast year. 60 years counting the radio years. They went on the air in January of 37. Then they went on television in 52. So it will be 60 all together and 45 on television.
CJAD: When is that one coming out?
JULIE: That will be coming out in the spring again. It will be a spring book.
CJAD: And the previous books that are out. Of course there is the AS THE WORLD TURNS book which is out now. You mentioned there is one for ALL MY CHILDREN....
CJAD: And there's one for GENERAL HOSPITAL?
JULIE: Right, exactly.
CJAD: Are there any others out there?
JULIE: DAYS OF OUR LIVES.
CJAD: DAYS OF OUR LIVES. So the fans of those shows can also get an equally compelling coffee table type book about their favorite daytime soap and it is a lot of fun. I thank you for talking with us Julie.
JULIE: My pleasure.