The World Has Turned More than 3,200 Times...
... and 8 million people keep watching
by Joan Barthel, New York Times
September 8, 1968
Irna Phillips and her protegee, Mrs. Nixon, created the show [AS THE WORLD TURNS] and sold it to P&G on a royalty basis 12 years ago. Miss Phillips, who has written more words and made more money than any other writer of soaps - she started in radio nearly 40 years ago - still writes the show, along with "The Guiding Light." (Writers Guild minimum for a serial writer is $1,750 a week; for established writers such as Miss Phillips adn Mrs. Nixon, however, the scale is not too meaningful. Mrs. Nixon earns an undisclosed six-figure amount, annually; Miss Phillips is likely to top even that.) Mrs. Nixon, who wrote "Light" for a while, as well as "Search for Tomorrow," now writes - in addition to "One Life to Live" - "Another World," which was begun by Miss Phllips. It is characteristic of the tight little world of the serial that colleagues frequently become competitors, networks and loyalties are switches, versions of what created what do not necessarily agree, and not only is friend often pitted against friend, but even, in a sense, self competes with self.
For the soap actor, it isn't as easy as it looks. "They work so hard," says Mrs. Nixon, and Dan Curtis, executive producer of "Dark Shadows," has put it more bluntly. "We work the hell out of them." At the CBS Broadcast Center on New York's West Side, work on the day's episode of "As The World Turns" begins at 7:30 A.M., when the show is blocked; it is established where the actors will stand, sit, walk. The director can cameraman are closely involved, and the directorial rebuke, "You walked out of frame," is frequent.
At 9 A.M., actors are made up for dress rehearsal. During the note session, which follows next, lines are discussed and changes are made. "There are scripts you feel you cannot get through," says Helen Wagner. "You just cannot say those words. We have a certain amount of latitude if we have been on a long time, and we don't always lose; sometimes we compromise."
At these note sessions, the director's voice is sometimes important, sometimes not. "Directing a serial can be as imaginative, or as dull, as the imagination of the director," says Agnes Nixon. "If he is a talented and conscientious man, his contribution will be great and he will get things out of the script that the writer hadn't thought of. On the other hand, I know directors who pick up a script and say, 'Well, let's see what this crap's about today.'"
At 1:30 P.M. Eastern time, "As The World Turns" goes on the air live (it is also taped for relay to the West Coast, and it is becoming more and more usual for serials to be taped for all showings). In this tiny, windowless office at CBS, Lyle Hill lunched on a liverwurst sandwich and a can of Coke and watched his color TV set intently. Less than half-way through the program he suddenly picked up his direct phone to the studio; his ear had picked up a condensed line of dialogue. "Are we long?" he asked sharply. At 2 P.M. precisely, when the show went off the air, Hill's phone rang. It was Irna Phillips from Chicago, who had also been watching. Primarily because of the high stakes, people involved in a serial tend to be answerable to other people, the communications chain is extremely tight-linked and everybody is jumpy as hell.
After air time, the actors get a half-hour break before the afternoon session at which that day's show is rehashed, fights fought, and the next day's script read through and discussed in a "dry rehearsal." By the time an actor leaves the CBS building, he has put in at least a 10-hour day, with hubbub to spare. "Every day is openign night," says Mrs. Nixon. "Every day a Polish wedding."
It is unquestionably a grind, and Helen Wagner says she'd like to return to Broadway, but admits "there's a great temptation to stay put." For if a regular actor in a central role is accepted by teh sponsor, the producer, the writer and the audience, he gets tenure (Miss Wagner has played Nancy Hughes for 12 years), a good salara (from about $20,000 to $50,000 a year), and artistic leeway (a character may "go off to New York" for three months so the actress can do summer stock).