An Interview with Karen Harris
(SoapOperaNetwork.com) – Karen Harris is a television writer whose career spans over three decades – beginning with The Incredible Hulk in 1978 to currently writing for General Hospital, where she first began her soap opera career in 1993. Harris is an award winning writer, having won three Writers Guild Awards in 1994, 1995, 1997 and a Daytime Emmy in 1995 – all wins as a writer for GH. Her other daytime credits include: All My Children, Port Charles, and both seasons of General Hospital: Night Shift.
Harris was born in Oxford, England and came to the United States when she two years old. After spending several years in Hartford, Connecticut, she moved to Los Angeles at the age of nine.
Soap Opera Network had the privilege to chat with this extremely talented writer about her career in daytime and her new internet project called Life In General for strike.tv. SON will have more information about strike.tv and the access code (limited to the first 300 people who use it) at the end of the interview.
Xavier Toups: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Karen Harris: Quite late. I worked in P.R. (mostly music business). I worked as a production assistant and associate producer at public television, in news and in variety, and for a while, I typed scripts to pay the rent. I thought people were born knowing they wanted to be writers…and I didn’t know that. I had a lot of experience in production, but was sort of dragged into writing by my friend from Junior High School, Jill Sherman (Donner). She had ideas but didn’t know structure. I knew structure from working with so many writers. We figured between us we could be one decent writer.
Toups: How did you get your first break in the entertainment industry?
Harris: I managed rock bands in high school, and was a go-go dancer for a while! But my very first job in entertainment was as a personal assistant to a singer/songwriter named Bobbie Gentry (who had two HUGE hits: Ode to Billy Joe, and Fancy). I left college to go on the road with Bobbie. Through her I met a Variety producer/writer named Bernie Rothman who brought me into television as his assistant. My first writing job was on the TV series The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby. Jill and I had started writing spec scripts by then, and Ken Johnson (who created The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, V, and others) liked our work, gave us our first script assignments and by season 2 hired us to be story editors. We stayed with the show for 5 seasons, becoming producers. We were under contract to Universal Studios and both as a team and separately, started getting work on other shows, pilots, mow’s [movie of the week], etc.
Toups: When/Why did you decide to become a soap opera writer?
Harris: Television went through one of its cycles in the early 90’s. The type of television I did (mostly action/adventure) was out of favor and Comedy was King. I got a call from Wendy Riche, who I’d worked with occasionally at Universal (she was a producer). She had become EP [Executive Producer] of General Hospital and invited me to join the show as a Script Writer. Then I found out what the pay scale was. I felt I couldn’t afford to work in daytime just then – I’d been a showrunner, and an Executive Producer. I’d written pilots for Spelling and Universal, worked at Sony and Columbia. I would have had to write ten episodes of GH to equal just ONE prime time episode, let alone giving up my producing fee. Wendy asked me to think about it – she felt that once I got used to the genre, I had Head Writer potential. I was grateful for the offer, and promised her I’d keep it in mind.
Toups: How did you get your first job in the soap opera industry?
Harris: I eventually took Wendy up on her offer. I’d had a great career in prime time for over a decade. I began to sense that, with the kinds of shows I was known for writing were now less popular, I might need to recreate myself and my career. So I wrote a couple of MOW’s for Fox, and wrote a couple of prime time episodes (there were very few for freelance writers at the time), and I socked the money away, called Wendy, and said “let’s give it a try.” I’ll always give Wendy credit for believing I could be successful in the genre, and give myself credit for not being too proud to try something new. It turned out to be a great fit.
Toups: Did you watch soaps before getting the GH job?
Harris: While growing up, we watched the NBC soaps in my house. My mother and older sister were Days Of Our Lives and Another World fans, so that was my association. I also remember The Doctors and Somerset. I watched a little bit of Dark Shadows. I wasn’t big on the prime time soaps. I didn’t watch Dallas, or Dynasty, or Knots [Landing] , or even [Beverly Hills] 90210. The closest to prime time soaps for me, I suppose, were Family and Rich Man, Poor Man, and Centennial when I was still in school. I also loved thirtysomething. I remember my sister also used to rave about Santa Barbara. She loved it.
Toups: What was it like to write scripts under Claire Labine and what did you learn from her about soap opera writing?
Harris: I learned just how much I didn’t know about soap writing. It was a great education. And Claire is an amazing woman and a generous headwriter. It was because of Claire that I got to write the first long story for Sonny Corinthos. This was a character who was brought in on a short contract, to mess with Karen Wexler, and I fell in love with him the minute I saw him. We’d start getting outlines, and I’d call Claire and say “I don’t think Sonny would say that,” or “I think he wouldn’t react that way.” Claire laughed about it, and asked if I wanted to write his backstory. So I got to come up with Sonny’s childhood, and his relationship with Deke, and the whole Joe Scully story. Mike Corbin (Sonny’s dad) was based on my father-in-law – a funny, hip guy with a gambling addiction who had walked out on his family, and was always looking for a quick buck. I had been fortunate enough to write two very early Sonny/Brenda sequences when we were testing their chemistry. The first was on the docks, when Brenda was moving…carrying boxes and literally ran into Sonny. The other was a Valentine’s Day show, where Sonny and Brenda were both looking to buy a car and had this huge flirtation at the dealership, filled with innuendo, and double entendres. It was very hot! They were very successful together (there’s an understatement), and their love story was the centerpiece of that long story. I didn’t know what it meant to be part of creating a supercouple at the time…and of course, we couldn’t know they’d be a supercouple until we got well into it. But Sonny & Brenda are a huge source of pride for me. I love them still.
As for what I learned: I learned that daytime was special because you could take as much time as your story/characters need to delve into their emotions. I learned that balance matters, though it isn’t always perfect. For example, I believe it was when we were telling the Stone/Robin AIDS story, the network wanted humor to offset the intensity. We ended up with a character named Madame Maya, who was in a story with Lucy Coe. I think we all agreed, it was a case of ‘jumping the shark.’ Stone and Robin were so beautiful. I’m not sure what light-hearted story would have done it justice, but Madame Maya made me cringe. I also learned about ‘umbrella’ stories – taking something and having it affect everyone on the canvas. For example, BJ’s heart transplant was a much bigger story. It was called “The Bet” and started with Damian Smith betting Lucy Coe he could get the next woman who walked into (I believe it was) the Outback. That woman was happily married nurse Bobbie Jones. The pursuit of Bobbie ended with Bobbie and Damian being caught in a clinch by Tony Jones at the moment that Maxie was dying from heart disease, and their daughter was brought in a coma from a school bus accident. It was fabulous. I think the greatest lesson I learned from Claire is that one should push characters further than you think they would go. Take them to the edge, then take them further. I have trouble with this because my logical/sensible side is screaming “he/she’d never do that!” I remember in the first Sonny/Brenda longstory, I had written one ending, where Brenda is framed and stands trial because of Sonny. Claire changed it to Brenda wearing a wire against Sonny (ostensibly to prove to Ned that Sonny wasn’t in the mob). I remember Elizabeth Korte (GH’s long time Associate Head Writer who was our continuity person at the time) was as enamored of Sonny and Brenda as we all were. Elizabeth and I double-teamed Claire. We called her and begged her not to do it. I was convinced that if Brenda wore a wire, Sonny would NEVER forgive her, and that would be the end of our supercouple. Claire laughed and said, “but won’t it be delicious watching them try to get back together?” She did it her way, and it was a good year or more of terrific soap story, with the audience cheering for them to find their way back together. We kept putting obstacles in their way…bigger and badder. And it just made their love stronger.
Toups: There were three big social issue storylines that Claire Labine wrote: Monica’s breast cancer, BJ/Maxie’s heart transplant, and Stone’s HIV. Can you tell us about writing scripts for those storylines?
Harris: It was pure joy. We, the Script Writers and Breakdown Writers, used to call each other and read our scenes to each other out loud, and weep. I actually wept reading the outlines. It was a very special time.
Toups: What were some of your favorite scripts that you wrote from the Labine era?
Harris: Everything Sonny & Brenda. The Return of Luke and Laura with young Lucky. Kevin and Lucy. Ned and Lois… they were so much fun. I got to write Tony’s goodbye to BJ, just before he gives them the okay to take her off life-support. And the day that ended with Felicia falling to her knees as she realizes that Maxie is getting BJ’s heart… “No, not B.J. Not Barbara Jean…” (I well up now, just remembering it.) The whole Stone AIDS storyline was so special. I think that’s why I still love writing for Robin today, because to me she’s still the girl who loved Stone, and who grew up that summer. I love the Q’s – Edward is still one of my faves. Some of my favorite scripts were the simple ones. There was an episode where Luke and Laura tell Lucky they’re going to have another baby (that would be Lesley Lu). Claire set aside the entire Act 2 for that one single scene of the Spencer Family and how they handle this news. (I used to tell Tony Geary that my key to writing the Spencers is to think of them as the Cleavers on LSD. The perfect family, only twisted). Another episode that sticks with me was when Stone was dying, and Sonny and Robin know he won’t make it to Christmas, so they decide to give him Christmas at Thanksgiving. Sonny and Mike, still at odds with each other, end up in the kitchen, arguing over how to roast a whole pig. I actually got to reference that in a script the other day – Mike mentions it to Kate. These two macho, emotionally crippled men fighting over a pig because they couldn’t deal with the pain of this beautiful boy’s impending death was so wonderful to write.
Toups: After Claire Labine left, Robert Guza Jr. became the Head Writer and you became Co-Head Writer. Who decided you make you Co-Head Writer?
Harris: That would be Wendy Riche, plus the network I imagine. Bob, of course, could have nixed me, but we met, and got along well. So I was in. It was a great time. Bob was brimming with wonderful ideas and energy, and we were all so devoted to the show and its characters. It was a wonderfully creative time.
Toups: What were some ideas that you came up with?
Harris: We had a great team, and we all came up with ideas. Bob was Head Writer, I was Co-Head, Meg Bennett was Associate Head Writer, as was Michele Val Jean who was also responsible for script editing. We called ourselves “the Brain Trust.” It’s hard to remember who came up with what…someone would have an idea, someone else would run with it and write it up. Then we’d all throw in more ideas. The stories we came up with included Clink-Boom. This was another twist in the never-ending saga of Sonny & Brenda – Lily dies at the moment that Brenda and Jax clink their champagne glasses to seal their marriage. It was the climax to the first Sonny/Brenda long story under Guza’s regime. The end was written to get us to Lily dying at the very moment Brenda became unavailable to be with Sonny. Foiled again! There was also the arrival of Carly in PC: This started out as “Bobbie has a daughter”, pitched to us by one of the producers, and turned into a great sort of “All About Eve” story. The return of the Cassadines and introduction of Nikolas as Laura’s first-born son.
Toups: Who made the decision to bring the Cassadines back?
Harris: It was pure Guza. The return was the first thing Bob wanted to do. He had written them in the 80’s and was chomping at the bit to bring them back to the canvas.
Toups: Why did you leave the show in 1997?
Harris: Bob had gotten Sunset Beach on the air, so he’d left. A new Head Writer [Richard Culliton] came in with his own vision. It seemed like a good time for me to move on to other opportunities. I’d had a great 4 year run. But Daytime can be a grind – 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, with no relief. It’s a killer. I told Wendy at the time that I needed to work on something where I could write ‘fade out’. Hour episodic, 13 episodes and a hiatus. Get off that 52 week treadmill. They asked me to stay, but I was ready to go.
Toups: After being gone from daytime for about 3-4 years, you returned to soaps when you became Co-Head Writer of the General Hospital spinoff Port Charles in 2000. Why did you decide to come back to daytime?
Harris: Wendy Riche again. I’d been working in syndicated action shows a lot (Highlander, Jack London’s Tales of the South Seas) as well as a number of international co-productions. I was producing as well as writing. But Port Charles was another Head Writing opportunity, and it was a chance to write for characters I knew/loved (especially Kevin and Lucy). I was thrilled.
Toups: Was your tenure as Co-Head Writer on PC different than your Co-Head Writing stint on GH in terms of how much input you had?
Harris: I think on PC, I was more of a Head Writer…where I was definitely Bob’s Second on GH. Or maybe, by Port Charles, I was just more ready to lead.
Toups: One of the biggest storylines you help create was the Nurses Strike. Can you tell us about why you and (Co-Head Writer) Jonathan Estrin wanted to tell this story?
Harris: The way it was told to me, the show had gone off track a bit, away from the hospital setting. We were asked to “turn the ship around” which meant doing something big, but trying to do it fairly quickly. We felt the Nurse’s strike was a way to get the attention all back to the characters and goings-on at the hospital.
Toups: What did you enjoy the most during your Co-Head Writing tenure at PC?
Harris: Giving Kevin a daughter (Livvie) that played back to a wonderful story Michele Val Jean had created for the character when he was still on GH. I got a chance to create some wonderful characters. Alison and Jamal were brought in the very first week. I loved them – we got to do an interracial love story where race was never mentioned, or even an issue. Class was more of an issue than race. I always admired how David Kelley writes color-blind shows. Daytime had done interracial couples many times, but not (to my knowledge) in a way where race was not an issue. I always felt Port Charles’ strength was that it was character driven. Plot is very difficult to do on a half hour show. Character is the heart and soul of a show like that. At least that’s my opinion. At our wrap party, I was talking to Erin Hershey and Brian Presley. I think they were just recently married. I realized that the first character I created on PC was Alison (Erin’s character), and the last one I created as I was heading out the door was Jack, played by Brian. Because of that they had met and fallen in love, and married. I remember looking at this gorgeous couple and telling Erin that it was probably the most important thing I ever did…unintentionally being their cupid. To me, that was what mattered. Everything else – success and failure – pales compared to having that kind of effect on two people’s lives.
Toups: What did you think of the new direction into the supernatural? Should the show have stayed focused on the hospital?
Harris: The lower ratings required something dramatic. I like the idea of a supernatural soap, but I had a hard time with taking THAT particular show and turning it into something out of this world. Barbara [Esensten] and Jim [Harmon Brown] were more comfortable coming in cold with those marching orders. I came back every once in a while to write scripts. It was easier to execute the vision than to try to turn the ship to that extent.
Toups: How did you learn about Port Charles’ cancellation?
Harris: We knew it was possible. When I stepped down as Head Writer of PC the ratings were hovering around 2.1, and everyone was worried it was on the bubble (in today’s world, we’d have been 3rd in the rankings). The ratings kept drifting down in the new format until they reached around 1.5. That was the core audience, the loyal few. Cancellation was inevitable. I don’t remember exactly how I learned – I imagine one of my colleagues called with the news.
Toups: Next was All My Children where you were a Script Writer. What were some of your favorite episodes you wrote?
Harris: I got to write the ‘baby switch’ story. Not bad considering I was only there for a year. And I got to write the script with Bianca’s farewell as she flew off to Paris (for the first time). That was a real privilege. I’m happy to see that Vincent Irizarry is back. I loved writing his character [Dr. David Hayward].
Toups: What was it like to reunite with Bob Guza? It was about 9 years since the first time you worked with him.
Harris: It was like going home! Bob, Elizabeth, Michele, Dave Goldschmid (who’d been our Writers Assistant back in the day, but was now a Breakdown Writer when I came back.) I was thrilled. The show had evolved, but GH has such a distinct personality, and so many characters I love, as well as new ones. How could I not love writing Spinelli, and Diane, and Ric. Or the Metro Court Hostage crisis. That was a perfect example of Bob’s ingenuity. He really knows his genre. And we have, I think, the best actors in Daytime. I was just reading an interview with Vincent Pastore from the Sopranos, who plays Max and Milo’s dad. He compared Maurice Bernard to Robert Redford, and Paul Newman – as far as level of acting. I agree.
Toups: Life In General is an online soap opera that you created, produced and wrote. How was it conceived and what is it about?
Harris: I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun. In the interest of expediency, here’s a blog I wrote about how Life In General came about. http://www.LifeinGeneral.tv It kind of fills in the blanks on my writing process, and my motivation. Rather than repeat myself here, perhaps your readers would like to read it on my website. By the way, I plan to expand the site as soon as Life in General goes public on October 28tt, with more blogging and background about the show.
Two things you should know. First, Life in General, which is about behind-the-scenes at a soap opera, and Greenville General, which is the soap opera they work on, were created as ‘pilots.’ This means that they are the first episodes of what I hope will be a full on series, on the web. But we need sponsors to do that, to pay the costs for making the series. The response we get on-line will determine whether we get sponsors – the more ‘hits’ the more likely someone will want to put their money behind it. So I’m hoping your readers will check it out, and if they like it and want to see more, that they’ll recommend the two shows to everyone they know.
Second, Life in General & Greenville General can be seen on strike.tv, starting on October 28th – as well as a lot of other wonderful original programs by some very talented people, created during our recent strike between the Writers Guild of America, and the AMPTP (Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers). You can read more about this on my blog.
Okay, that’s enough of the pitch. On with the questions.
Toups: Why did you want to write about a “behind-the-scenes” show?
Harris: It seemed like a natural. When I first started in Daytime, it seemed that everything was a little more fraught, more dramatic, than in prime time. That the shows seemed to reflect what went on in the halls and offices. Everyone always says ‘the real stories are going on behind-the-scenes.’ And it’s true.
Toups: Are any of the characters or storylines based on anyone?
Harris: Of course. And that’s all I’m going to say about that for now.
Toups: There are a lot of recognizable cast members. How were you able to get them to be part of the show?
Harris: Amazingly, I simply had to ask. The first person I got was Brynn Thayer. She’s one of my dearest friends. We met in 1988, when I wrote and produced a pilot for Universal and ABC called Deadline: Madrid – an ensemble piece about US correspondents stationed overseas. Our pilot was passed over and instead, thirtysomething was picked up…one of my all-time favorite shows. Brynn had just moved to LA from NY, where she’d been Jenny Wolek on One Life To Live. (I didn’t know her – I’d never watched One Life). But we clicked, and have remained friends ever since. Anyway, I went to see her one woman play “The Eulogy” (which she wrote and performed, brilliant woman that she is), and I said… “I have this project for the internet…” and that’s all I got out. She said, tell me where I should be, and when. That opening night, Judith Light (who played her sister, Karen on OLTL) was there with her husband, Robert Desiderio. I took one look, and couldn’t get him off my mind, so I called Brynn the next day and said “Robert has to play your husband.” She put me in touch with him, and I worked around my shooting schedule so he could do it. They both told me they had a blast, and are ready to do the series if it’s picked up.
JoBeth Williams had signed on to strike.tv as a sign of support to striking writers. strike.tv had it’s own sort of Craig’s List – cast and crew people who were interested in working on our projects. JoBeth was listed as someone who’d do projects, if she liked the script. So I e-mailed it to her, and she said ‘yes.’ She brings such credibility to the role, and allows us to be a show that appeals to a wider audience.
Rife Sibley is a lovely actor, and a good friend. He had worked with my husband in a play, and I never considered anyone else for Rod Steele. It was like the part was written for him, but I didn’t know Rife until long after the character was created.
Scott Clifton [ex-Dillon Quartermaine, GH] showed up at CBS Radford studios one day during the strike, when we were picketing, and walked with me and Michele Val Jean and Tracey Thomson (now a writer at All My Children). He was such a doll, and when he left, he’d gotten almost all the way to his car when it hit me. I chased him down and said, do you want to do an internet show with me? He said yes. That’s when I created the part of Fritz, the stage manager. I wanted to give Scott something different – not playing a soap actor. And although it’s quite a small part in the pilot, I have plans to make it more meaty if the series goes.
The last scenes I wrote on GH before we went on strike were the scenes where Georgie’s body is found – and Spinelli’s and Mac’s reactions. I love Lindze [Letherman, ex-Georgie Jones, GH], I was sorry to see her go and I thought “GH’s loss could be my gain.” When Scott committed, I asked him to put me in touch with Lindze, and he did. She was a delight, top to bottom. We almost had a scheduling conflict, but she was able to work it out, and in the end, she said it was one of the more fun experiences she’d had. Everyone thought she was a dream to work with. And I love what she brings to the part of Maddie.
John Ingle is my secret love. Well, not so secret. He is a terrific man, and a terrific actor. He thoroughly respects writers and the written word. I actually dream about scenes for him on GH, and he never disappoints me. As soon as I asked, he said “absolutely.”
I was still stuck for a Winnie – the lead girl. But my very talented director, Roy Steinberg, said he’d worked with Arianne Zuker [Nicole Walker, Days Of Our Lives] and she could handle the part. I saw her reel, she came to meet me, and I was sold. At the time, she hadn’t gone back to DAYS yet. I’m hopeful that she’ll be available if we go to series. She took a complex role that was very dear to my heart and made it her own.
The last of the lead characters to be cast was Jordan Bridges. Jordan’s mother is a friend of mine, and I’d been following his career for quite a while, although we’d never met. But we both knew who the other was. Jordan is a young up-and-coming actor who had starred in a series [Conviction] for Dick Wolf, been one of the leading young men in Mona Lisa Smile, had done several tv movies for Hallmark, and had just finished a 3-episode arc as the love interest on the new Bionic Woman when the strike began. [Jordan also played Oliver on Dawson’s Creek] I approached him about playing Julian – I really wanted an actor who wasn’t identified with daytime. Someone sort of edgy and intellectual as well as attractive. Because of the strike, Jordan was available. He also expressed an interest in the production side, and I told him I’d be happy to let him observe and participate. So about a week before we began shooting, I had all the lead characters committed.
The other two roles, the two network executives, were cast early in the process. I asked my husband – a very talented writer/producer who had recently returned to acting – to be the voice of the network executive. This is a character I intend to always only be heard…and never seen (not that Bruce Cervi isn’t an extremely handsome man, it’s just the conceit of the role). And the younger network executive is played by a talented actor named Brian Rodda, who moved to LA shortly before the strike. I met him because he was assigned to this project by strike.tv as our liaison. He was terrific in the role, and a great help all around.
If you haven’t yet figured it out – I managed to cast this show without a casting director! I did what I’ve always wanted to do. I made calls to friends and respected colleagues, spoke of the project with passion, showed them the written material, and put together a cast that I would match against any. They were all terrific, they worked for no salary, they were professional, and gracious and helpful. I consider myself extremely blessed. One of the reasons I’m so determined to see Life in General move forward is to have the chance to work with these people again.
Toups: Can you tell us about the production of the pilot?
Harris: Life in General/Greenville General were shot in two days at a donated studio in Santa Monica. (National Banana is the name of the studio. http://www.nationalbanana.com is the web site where you’ll see what they normally use the studio for. They’re a very avant garde, creative group, and I’m grateful that they loaned us the space). We shot on a Saturday and Sunday the weekend after the strike ended. We shot all the ‘behind-the-scenes’ scenes (the stage, and the prop room where Rod and Maddie are ‘rehearsing’), as well as the two Greenville General scenes. We built those two sets (the hospital room, and Lionel’s dining room), but the others were just a matter of dressing the stage. It was a full day’s work, and it started to rain halfway through the day. Unfortunately the stage has a tin roof, so you could really hear it. That’s why we used rain effects in the two soap scenes…as if it’s raining in the town of Greenville.
On Sunday, we took over the offices of National Banana. There we shot the 2 hallways, Mary Kate’s Office, and the writers conference room. We had a full crew of solid professionals, all working for free (proceeds from strike.tv go to the Actors Fund – so it was our way of donating to people who suffered financial hardship because of the strike). If we become a series, all those professional, generous experts in their crafts will be given first opportunity to do the show. I spent days on the phone trying to get things like lunch for the crew donated (or getting friends to make the calls). I had a wonderful production designer in Constance Jolcuvar…another good friend…who was an amazing help in every aspect. And about ten days before we shot, I made several hysterical calls. I was having a hard time doing a lot of the scheduling, organizing, coordinating work, and I was desperate for a line producer. I was put in touch with Nicole Sedmak, and because of her, when we hit the stage, we had budgets and schedules and functioned like a real grown-up production. Roy Steinberg kept things moving on stage, and in the performances, and we were on our way.
Toups: If LIG is able to get sponsors and funding, how would the structure of the show be?
Harris: With the pilot as the model, we’ll probably do 12-15 episodes of each. Life in General episodes would run about 9 minutes each. Greenville General episodes would be 6. So that’s 15 minutes total. They’d premiere together each week. The nice thing about this show is you don’t have to watch both. They support each other nicely, but if you don’t care for behind-the-scenes, I hope Greenville General will be a strong enough soap to stand on its own. Same with Life in General. But of course, I’d prefer they be watched as two parts of a whole.
Toups: What do you think of all the support LIG has gotten already?
Harris: I’m blown away by the support we’ve gotten. It seems that out of fifty responses to the testing on LIG/GG, maybe two were lukewarm. Everyone else seems to love it almost as much as I do. It’s very popular among the strike.tv people, and I have several companies who’ve taken it and are trying to sell it to sponsors now. I think people were surprised at what we could accomplish on a shoestring, and for the small screen. I’ve also had great response from the soap press. Not just SON, but I did a podcast with Daytime Confidential, and there have been reviews on Fancast, and WeLoveSoaps. I suspect once we premiere, we’ll get even more attention. And I want to really build up the websites (http://www.LifeinGeneral.tv and http://www.GreenvilleGeneral.com) with original material. I’m already working on a decade-by-decade description of Greenville General’s history, so viewers can see the evolution of the show a little bit. Even though it’s a ‘fake’ soap, I’ve created a history for it that goes back to the 50’s. Also on the strike.tv website, there’s lots of biographical material, and background info on the shows, the characters, and the production.
Toups: With ratings shrinking every year in daytime, are online soaps the future of soap operas?
Harris: I absolutely believe that serialized drama is migrating to the internet, as well as to cable channels like Soapnet and Here! and Logo. I hate to say it, but it’s clear that the networks no longer replace cancelled soaps with new ones, so we have to find another place to tell our stories. Serialized dramas are the longest running storytelling in modern media. Guiding Light started on radio, for heaven’s sake. No one can kill the genre – people love their stories. So we storytellers will tell them where we can.
Toups: You also wrote scripts for General Hospital: Night Shift.
Harris: I’ve been so fortunate. I got to write 2 episodes in season 1, and then I was signed to write one episode in Season 2 – but when they added an extra episode, Sri Rao [GH:NS’ Head Writer] called and asked if I’d do that one.
Toups: How is Sri Rao as Head Writer of GH: Night Shift?
Harris: I think Sri’s terrific. I’m somewhat prejudiced – I’ve known him for over a decade. Sri wrote a wonderful play that I saw in the mid-90’s – a friend of mine was trying to help him find ‘angels’ for it. Anyway, at that time he was blown away when he heard I worked for General Hospital (that was back when I was Co-Head Writer). It was his favorite soap. I arranged for him to bring his mother to visit the set, and apparently it made quite an impression on her. I’ve kept track of him since then, and when I heard his name had come up for GH:NS, I couldn’t have been more pleased for him. I think he’s developed a better understanding of the challenges of writing this type of show. And he did a great job. I know the fans are so happy with him. And it was fun to write. The second one I did was with the veterans coming back – Anna, Robert, Luke, Sean and Tiffany. I had written all those characters on ‘the mother ship’ (that’s how we refer to GH), but I’d never written them with each other. So I had to go to YouTube to figure out Luke’s relationship with Sean, Anna’s with Tiffany, etc. It was a real treat, and I hear everyone was very happy with it. I hope that there will be a Season 3. This is another way to keep soaps alive.
Toups: Congrats on being elected to the Writers Guild of America West’s Board of Directors! What will you be doing as a board member?
Harris: Thanks! I’m excited. I was elected to the WGAWest as a voice for Daytime Writers on the west coast. I hope to strengthen our presence on the internet. I want to see more shows like Night Shift and Dante’s Cove on cable. I want to make sure that these shows all have WGA benefits such as health plans, and pensions, so that our daytime writers can continue to write them. I want to give non-daytime writers a better understanding of the genre (it’s so misunderstood, and often maligned) and I want to strengthen the daytime community so we all go into the next negotiation knowing that we are well represented. I also want to build a strong relationship with the daytime writers on the east coast.
Toups: What are your highest and lowest moments in your soap writing career?
Harris: I don’t believe in ‘low moments.’ I have a healthy perspective about what I do. Complaining is selfish and negative. When I look back on my career, the “low points” never seem as bad as they might have at the time. My least favorite times serve to teach me. I’m a very fortunate woman in that I get to make a nice living doing what I love. Doesn’t get much higher than that.
But if I had to pick a low moment, it was the way a small faction of Daytime Writers chose to abandon the Writers Guild during the strike. It’s hard to respect union busters, when I know we would have none of this privileges we have if it weren’t for the guild. That’s why I’m committed to rebuilding the sense of our community. What we do is so special, and unique. We need to treat ourselves and each other with respect and dignity.
Toups: What are some of the positives and negatives in daytime right now?
Harris: It’s really not that different than the challenges in all of television, not just daytime. It seems to me there’s not a lot of consistency. The financial pressures at the networks require that changes happen fast. This generally isn’t the fault of the executives – they’re doing the best they can. But we work for multi-national corporations now. Stockholders must be made happy. It’s a shame, because it undermines creativity. Daytime was never designed to be fast – but the marketplace demands it. The attention spans are shorter, which means you have to employ more tricks. Audiences expect more. People don’t have the time to sit for hours. Again, that’s the appeal of the internet – you can watch at your own leisure, almost anywhere. The positives are we have good actors, and are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves. We’ve been around forever, and as I said earlier, I don’t see us disappearing any time soon.
Toups: As a fan of the genre, what are your hopes and wishes for the future of soap operas?
Harris: That writers/creators will continue to come up with new ways to tell old stories. That we will get the respect and attention we deserve. That romance will make a comeback (!) That actors will stop rewriting us on set (oops, sorry, had to get that in).
My personal hope for my own future: that I get to keep creating, and people continue to enjoy what I do, until I just can’t do it anymore.
strike.tv will be premiering on Tuesday October 28th at http://www.strike.tv but for those who would like a sneak preview, you can go to http://beta.strike.tv and use STV7777GG as the access code.
About Strike.TV Strike.TV was formed in January 2008 in response to the need for Hollywood creators to exercise their independence. Borne from the collective desire of many of Hollywood’s top writers, directors and actors to create, control and distribute their own stories, Strike.TV is the culmination of that effort and provides an outlet for total creative freedom and high quality, professionally produced content. As the first programmed network with a huge cross-section of genres, Strike.TV breaks new ground by distributing the largest made-for-web original series by Hollywood professionals.
Christopher Barrett, Strike.TV’s Senior Vice President of Business Development, said, “We have partnered with some of the best storytellers in Hollywood to offer original content free for everyone with high-speed internet access. Strike.TV’s web series will stream in HD with the help of online video publishing technology created by their new partner, Episodic. Beyond Strike.TV’s on-site audience, we will be super-syndicating to huge built-in audiences on Joost and YouTube. These deals with strong, well-populated sites represent a critical step forward in the Strike.TV business model.”
The relationships will leverage the experience of YouTube and Joost in several ways to benefit all parties. Through the YouTube agreement, Strike.TV will have a premium channel dedicated to its original programming with an ad-supported model similar to the Seth McFarlane deal made earlier this year. Strike.TV is also rolling out content with Joost’s relaunch/redesign, utilizing the Joost community and the company’s unique search methodologies to provide users with a variety of ways to find Strike.TV content. The popularity of each site as a go-to destination for unique video content instantly strengthens the position of Strike.TV in the marketplace.