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|Rudolpho Meradi||Apr 5 2013, 02:11 PM|
Ken Corday and Tom Langan
Executive producer and executive producer/head writer
TV Guide Online Q&A April 2000
Have you visited Salem, USA, lately? If you haven't, you're missing out on a slew of new characters, situations and secrets on Days of Our Lives. Tom Langan, a longtime Days producer, took over the additional title of head writer last fall, and he's been spinning his own brand of soap storytelling (teen angst, extensive use of history) ever since. The road has been somewhat rocky (erratic Nielsen ratings!), but Langan and Salem scion Ken Corday are determined to bring the show into the new millennium. Here, in part one of a two-part conversation, the duo voice their concerns about the Nielsen ratings and discuss what viewers can expect in the coming months.
It must be gratifying that people are responding so well to your stories.
Tom Langan: It's very encouraging. As a writer, if people are responding in a positive way, [then] you feel motivated to continue the hard work, but I was very disappointed [that the ratings went down the week of the plane crash]. I don't understand it. I don't see how the Internet site [Soap City] can get a million hits a week and the ratings are flat or going down.
You know the answer: Everyone knows the Nielsen ratings aren't accurate.
Ken Corday: Will you print that?
Tom, is it frustrating for you, as the prime content provider, that the number of people watching isn't accurately measured?
Tom Langan: Terribly frustrating, because you labor over this, creatively speaking, and you challenge yourself and you start to second-guess yourself if the ratings don't reflect what you think is positive, good material. Ken Corday agrees to spend half a million dollars in one week for an airplane crash that I'm writing, he shows great confidence, the audience gets excited, the network starts promoting it and the ratings are flat.
But the Nielsen problem is nothing new! In the late '80s, during the supercouple era, Days was not a strong ratings performer.
Ken Corday: Correct. What you have to look at is that the Nielsen sample seems to be the antithesis of where we are strongest. We are strongest with women 18 to 34. Many of those women are in a single-parent home or a single-person home without children, and some of them are in institutions such as dormitories, colleges and other places that are never sampled by Nielsen. You will never have any institutional sampling; you'll never have any nontraditional sampling. So perhaps that is part of the reason [we're undercounted].
Tom Langan: It's all very frightening to me that with television being one of the greatest inventions in the last 100 years, they haven't come up with a way in Silicon Valley to monitor audiences.
Ken Corday: Or if they have, the civil liberties union isn't letting them implement it!
Tom Langan: That's an excuse, because people voluntarily get on [America Online] and they get into these chat rooms and enter contests in which they're more than willing to give up personal information. Just put a chip in the television! Why hasn't anyone done it? Somebody is stopping this from happening.
Now you're beginning to sound like a Days storyline!
Tom Langan: Absolutely. I know it sounds a bit diabolical.
How much of your mind is occupied by this &emdash; because head writing is a full-time job, as is executive producing! Do these thoughts interrupt your creative process?
Tom Langan: No, because I'm going to write what I'm going to write. I've always said that if my writing is not going to be pleasing to the show owner or the network then they should get somebody else, because that's what I would do. Fortunately, at this point, people are very pleased with how the show is doing. But, as I said, it angers me to know that these are the ratings, because with all the technology we have I know that there could be a much [more accurate] sample than it is.
What are your strengths as a writer?
Tom Langan: The fact that I have no children. I devote my full time to this. I don't know what my strengths are. I have no idea. I really don't.
Ken Corday: Tom's first strength is that he's lived and breathed Days of Our Lives for close to 10 years. In dog years it would be many, many more! So he knows the show. It's not like someone who's walked in and is learning it while writing it. He also knows that if it's not broken it doesn't need to be fixed, so he's not constantly dumping characters that are familiar and important to the show. And he also knows for anything to grow and change and get better, you have to water and get new life in the family trees for the Hortons, Bradys and DiMeras. That is a responsibility that the previous head writers over the last five years had not been addressing.
But over and above all that, I think Tom realizes that this is a medium about emotional connections more than physical connections, more than intellectual connections. There are deep emotional reasons attached to the things we do, and they connect sometimes over an arc of a year or two. The show is in transition since Tom really started writing the show. To look at the show now, it is not the same show it was last summer. I find it a better show, a more intriguing show and a fresher show to look at. We're not trying to or being asked to follow five or six storylines a day.
Tom Langan: Do you watch the show?
Of course I do!
Tom Langan: I'm just curious, when Ken says to you it's a different show than it was last summer, do you see that?
I do. And if I can answer my own question, I feel one of your strengths is the humor. It's not humor that is directly related to the storyline. It's almost throwaway humor. And I don't mean to say throwaway as in throwaway, but in that you have to be quick to catch it.
Tom Langan: Do you have any favorite storyline right now or anything you're curious to see more of?
Abe and Brandon's history. I want to find out exactly what happened, because Abe and Lexie have been underserved. I mean, they've had stuff to do...
Tom Langan: ...But they haven't had a story in a long time.
Ken Corday: Well, there's a lot more coming there, but I think that the plan that Tom has laid out goes at least a year down the road before any of the big, big secrets are revealed.
Were there specific characters that you wanted to write for when you took over?
Tom Langan: The story takes on a life of its own and you sort of just go with those people. I did want to bring Chloe in, however, because I felt that the group of kids needed a loose cannon that was mysterious.
That's a good way to describe her.
Tom Langan: You don't know which way she's going to go yet. And we won't know that for a while because she has a lot of baggage, emotional and psychological baggage.
Ken Corday: And what that's done is enable him to bring Nancy and Craig into center story as opposed to the peripheral kind of mustache-twisting.
Tom Langan: What do you think of Belle and Shawn?
I don't understand Belle. We don't know a thing about her. We don't know what she wants, whether she's a good girl or a bad girl. Is she a heroine? Because she's written to be something of a heroine, yet the actress plays against that. She plays mischievous. We know she has a heart because she defends Chloe and stands up to Phillip, and we know that she wants Shawn and that she's a good daughter &emdash; but none of that translates. I don't feel any of that. I think it's because the actress (Kirsten Storms) plays against what's being written.
Tom Langan: I think it's in the writing, because you want to keep her as something of an unknown &emdash; you don't want to predict what's going to happen if, let's say, Shawn should become interested in Chloe.
But do you know in your head what Belle is all about?
Tom Langan: Not yet, no. I know more about Chloe than I do about Belle, and like you I've been watching her. It's very interesting to me, as a writer, to watch the show because I'm seeing, word for word, how the actors interpret what I write for them and how they relate to the material; that really can motivate you to write more for a character. It works the other way, too, obviously.
A lot of people have asked about Brady.
Tom Langan: Yeah, I know. I would love to bring Brady in... the only thing is I have [too] many people. Let's just say that he won't make an entrance as Eric did, years after Sami. Of course, the time might be right soon because Jensen [Ackles, who plays Eric] is leaving the show... so we'll see.
As a head writer you're creating story but you're also juggling the number of good guys and bad guys on the canvas, as well as contracts and who's coming and going. How do you manage it all? Do you use a chart or a bulletin board, or is it all in your head?
Tom Langan: It has to be in your head. If it's not in your head then you shouldn't be doing it. A lot of times people said, "Oh, my goodness, Mike and Carrie are leaving the show. What are we going to do? It's going to leave a big hole in the show." I said, "Yippee. Let's play Belle, Shawn and Chloe. Let's get more Nancy and Craig." I would love it if Mike and Carrie came back to the show, but it's great from a writing standpoint to get some fresh people on canvas that we don't know about. We know everything there is to know about Mike and Carrie; they loved each other!
In terms of the juggling act, one thing I do try to say to myself as I'm writing each show is, "Gee, do I have any comedy here? Do I have any fun? Are people going to smile when they see these scenes? Are they going to be depressed [for] the whole show?" You have to come up with a balance of adventure, romance, fun and excitement.
As a writer, who were your influences?
Tom Langan: That's very easy. [Legendary soap writer] Bill Bell. Bill Bell really nurtured me for the 10 years I was on The Young and the Restless. We became very close through the show and had a friendship, mainly, about the show. I loved his writing and I was amazed by his talent. We communicated very well in discussing daytime in general, and he was the first person to say to me many years ago, "Tom, I'd like to train you to be a writer."
I remember exactly where it was. It was in Malibu and we were having lunch and he was buying sandwiches to bring back to the house in the Colony. And I was so flustered by it, I just put it in the back of my head, and here I am 10 years later, doing it. But he really believed in me. He believed I could do it, and he was the greatest influence on me.
Have you spoken with Bill since you've taken over as writer of the show?
Tom Langan: Yes. And I told him that it was very daunting and that I sort of fell into it. I said to Bill, "I really feel that as each week goes by I'm really getting into the rhythm of it." And he said, "Tom, that's the keyword. Look at me: I did it for four years and I never broke stride. You can do it. From the sound of your voice you really sound like you're doing the right thing, you've got the right attitude and the right work ethic." He was very encouraging.
That anecdote brings me to something that is a problem in daytime, which is that writers don't train other writers. Are there specific young writers that you want to work with?
Tom Langan: Well, it's interesting. This is a very special animal, daytime, and some people take to it like a fish to water, and other people try it and it just doesn't work out. It just doesn't fit them. It's something you have to be working within; you have to be available 24 hours a day. I hate these people who say, "Oh, my God, I work so hard. I'm a head writer on daytime and I have no time to myself." I would love to find people who could take over for me someday but they just don't present themselves. The desire is not there, the talent is not there and it's not something that you can look at someone and say, "Oh, there's a head writer." It takes months of getting to know them. Actually, there is someone whom I met recently, a young lady who I think has great potential. But again, she looks at this as being impossible, which is the same way I looked at it 20 years ago.
Ken Corday: Unlike many of the head writers I have worked with, Tom is the kind of head writer that is not an island unto himself. He is a nurturing head writer. He will sit and although I'm not privy to some of these meetings, with his breakdown writers and associate head writers and allow them to bring some of themselves to the script. He will sit with people, whether it's the script continuity person or a new breakdown writer, and take the time to explain that this is the way that these characters interrelate. And there is a good synergy between him and the current writing staff. Better than I have ever seen on this show. Similar to the synergy that existed when Bill Bell was head writer here, and also creating The Young and the Restless and training Pat [Falken] Smith and giving her outlines, yet reading every one of her shows! And that was in the day when you would not just write the show but you would write the scripts as well!
The transition between head writers really has to be hands-on. Thank god Tom was hands-on here when we went from Jim [Reilly] to Sally Sussman to Lorraine Broderick. Had he not been here, I think there would have been a lot of glitches. There would have been big gaps and big jumps and big holes in the story that he seemed to plug. After a while, with all his fingers in the dyke, he said, "OK, I'm going to stop being the Dutch boy and I'm going to be the guy who fixes the dyke and builds a new one," very metaphorically speaking. But if something is not working, he is able to work it out. And if something is working he can be told, "This is great," and then he moves on. He doesn't hammer that nail. He's a rare find.
What hasn't worked?
Tom Langan: I think it's been too short a period of time to know. I think sometimes things do present themselves and you say, "Oh, God, let's get out of this. It isn't working." That hasn't happened yet, so ask me that in a year!
|Old DAYS Headwriter Interview from 2000 · Soap Opera History & Discussion|