Journalist Michael Fairman on Soaps and Pro Wrestling

Soap fans know Michael Fairman for his On-Air On-Soaps Website (michaelfairmansoaps.com) which features audio and video interviews, opinion pieces, news and much more. He covers all aspects of the world of soaps and it doesn't stop there. He writes for Australia's TV SOAP, ADVOCATE.com, and appears regularly on "The Frank DeCaro Show" on Sirius and is host and creator of "Soap Break" on XM. I spoke with him recently about his lifelong love of soaps and how he first came to cover the industry. We also talked about another longtime interest which also lead him down a different career path for a while, professional wrestling.

We Love Soaps: Tell me a little about your background and how you first got involved with the soap industry?
Michael Fairman: I had always followed soaps since I was young and I really loved the genre. But I wasn't working in the genre, I was doing publicity at Catch a Rising Star in New York, and we were busy with seven comedy clubs at that time. I remember the Daytime Emmys, which I loved every year, because back then they were being held in New York at the Marriott Marquis, and the awards were always a great celebration. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, and I wondered if there was a way to do something for the Daytime Emmys the night before for AMFAR. I had the venue, Catch a Rising Star, so I decided to put together a soap benefit and get all the soap stars there. At the time, we had A Martinez from SANTA BARBARA, Sally Jesse Raphael as host, Linda Dano, and all these people from the New York soaps and those who would come in from L.A. So I created the show and that got me to know a lot of the daytime people.

From there I thought it would be really interesting to work on the Daytime Emmys. I felt soaps weren't given the recognition they deserved. I started going out to L.A. and thought maybe it was time to leave New York. I got hired by Dick Clark to be the segment producer on the Daytime Emmys. They needed someone who was an expert and who knew the stars and the storylines. I was doing that and then started working on television where I was a segment producer on series and specials related to soaps. From working with Dick Clark, I also did the Soap Opera Digest Awards, and then the Soap Update Awards for Lifetime and the Emmys for ABC. I left there and went to E! Entertainment Television. They had a show, PURE SOAP- the first live daily soap talk show, and they needed a segment producer on that. Shelly Taylor Morgan was the host, and I would do all the 2-3 minute clip packages, writing and producing them, doing the interviews, etc. For many years I was doing a lot of field producing. I was also field producing for SOAP CENTER and writing/producing on-air promos for ABC and later for SOAPnet.

What really got me into the journalism side of things was when I created SoapCity.com for SONY back in 1997. They had DAYS OF OUR LIVES and THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS that SONY owned in their online gaming environment. They said they didn't know what to do with those properties. They needed someone who knew the soaps to take that platform and tweak it and turn it on its ear. So I came in and revamped and expanded THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and DAYS OF OUR LIVES websites. I created the navigational look and feel and what the extension of the brand would be. When you finished watching the shows you would come to the website. From there came Soap City and that's when I really started being a journalist and really doing the editorial part of it. Before I was writing and producing soap opera pieces, features, shows and benefits, so it all sort of prepared me for this next step.

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We Love Soaps: I remember posting at Soap City back then. It was one of the first soap sites I remember.
Michael Fairman: SoapCity.com was really, at that point, the first online brand for soaps. We had the electronic rights to AS THE WORLD TURNS and GUIDING LIGHT, in addition to Y&R and DAYS. We didn't have the ABC shows but reported on everything. It became very successful because it was editorially fun, and offered complete coverage of all the soaps and celebrated the genre. We did chats, live webcasts, and if I recall, I hosted THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS live 25th anniversary webcast. It was the best time, and everything was new and innovative. We did Yahoo chats all the time. We were booking chats three times a week. When we did the webcasts we would go on the set, but it was very costly. The real model to make that work was unknown at the time. Thank God I had SONY behind me or that probably would have been very difficult to pull off. The goal was - how do I bring fans who can't be on the set of Y&R in to see all their actors hanging out, celebrate with them and see the party. Soap City was about bringing the stars closer to them.

We Love Soaps: Wasn't Soap City supposed to be the second soap cable network in addition to SOAPnet?
Michael Fairman: I remember the day they came in and were very excited about the success of SoapCity.com and said we were going to do a cable channel. I thought it was a great idea, and something I always had in the back of my mind- a 24 hour cable soap channel. They were working on a business model for a channel and lo and behold SOAPnet was working on something at the same time. They had ABC and we had Columbia Tri-Star properties. I think when SOAPnet happened; they decided not to do it. I thought a Soap City channel would have been really cool, and I was so thrilled that the vision I started would even be considered to become a channel. I don't know what happened behind closed doors, but there were serious talks about it becoming a cable channel.

We Love Soaps: Early this decade there was additional content featuring Adam and Abigail from AS THE WORLD TURNS that aired on Soap City. That seemed to be the direction shows were headed but it hasn't expanded as much as I expected.
Michael Fairman: It was way ahead of its time. I thought what I was trying to create was good and really great platform for fans. Later, SONY wanted to do these $1.99 downloads of past episodes, but it didn't work, and they couldn't find a business model to make it a profitable venture. I left after four years, and I think it got away from its initial vision.

We Love Soaps: When I read your bio, there is a lot information about your work in soaps, and then there is a reference to the WWE that jumps out at me. How did you get involved with professional wresting?
Michael Fairman: At the time Soap City was really hot, wrestling was also very hot. I loved the WCW and the WWE. I had my favorites based on storylines and had followed wrestling all my life as well as soaps. It was like a soap opera in the ring to me. If you look at the elements of it, they are very similar. There are people you love to love, love to hate, villains, good guys, it's so transcending to each other. The stories were written and told in those monologues when the wrestlers would come out and talk between matches, and backstage vignettes.

Around the time Soap City was ending, there was a function at Universal City in L.A., and I believe Vince McMahon was being honored. I walked up to Shane McMahon and introduced myself and told him I was very interested in working for WWE online because I had just come off four years with SONY. He gave me his card and we started communicating and all of sudden I got asked to try to be a writer. I was thrilled, but wasn't sure where it was going. They asked me to write some samples, where you had to give the story a beginning, middle and end. Their beginning, middle and end for wrestling starts with a feud, then you go through a series of matches and the payoff is the pay-per-view. It's similar to sweeps on soaps where you're building a story to a crescendo and then there's the fall out.

I knew the characters on WWE and understood the mindset of pro wrestling having followed it so long, I remember sitting and typing the storylines. I had to submit three or four samples using characters that exist and I think I did one about Stone Cold Steve Austin, one about Kurt Angle, and I submitted them. I remember lying in bed and it was six in the morning and getting a message on my machine from Stephanie McMahon asking me to call her. I thought I was dreaming. It was so exciting to me and I really wanted it to happen. I'm usually not the kind of person who is struck by fame, but I was kind of 'Oh my God' about it, because they don't generally let people inside professional wrestling from the outside. I think because of my soap opera background, and because my writing illustrated that I could do it, they asked me to get on a plane the next week to Connecticut to do a short stint.

My first day at work was on Vince McMahon's private jet with the family. I was like a fish out of water. I didn't get introduced and nobody knew who I was and I was just sitting there. They were probably thinking, 'Who the hell is this guy?' And that's kind of what the whole thing was like. You flew by the seat of your pants and held on for dear life. We flew around the country. We were working on the plane on the matches and vignettes, went to meetings, went to the arena, went to bed, and got up at 7 in the morning where we'd meet in Vince's hotel room to start working again on the next live show.

We Love Soaps: Did you ever think of cross promoting soaps with wrestling?
Michael Fairman: While I was still at Soap City, wrestling was really hot, and I really loved WCW and I was a huge fan of Sting, nWo, and Hulk Hogan turning “heel”, and I thought the stories were so clever. They would end their shows with great cliffhangers every Monday, and fans were left wanting more. They were actually beating the WWE in the ratings at that point with more soapy stories. The Emmys were going to be in New York and the humane society was interested in doing something and I suggested to SONY that we do an online auction with doggie bowls designed by soap stars and the wrestlers. Everyone designed their own bowls so people like Kevin Nash, Sting and DDP designed bowls along with several soap stars. The big payoff was an event in New York called The Soap City Games. This was my crazy brainchild to bring the world of soap opera and professional wrestling together for charity.

We had teams from Y&R, DAYS and ATWT, GL and I think B&B, four of five soaps represented, and five or six actors per team. They were judged on different competitions and the team who won the most points, which turned out to be Y&R, we presented a $5,000 check in their honor to the Humane Society of New York. The judges were Sting, Kimberly Page and Mike Awesome from the WCW. It was the best time I've had in my life, and it was so much fun to have the wrestlers there with the soap stars. The teams had to do monologues of the wrestlers and they could get help from the judges. I remember Jeanne Cooper doing one, and Alison Sweeney doing Hulk Hogan. They had a few minutes to look it over then they had to perform it and take on the persona of the characters. We also had the WCW Play Station round and arm wrestling with Sting as the referee. It was hilarious!

We Love Soaps: Wrestling has always had a good audience but around that time, the late 90s/early 2000s, wrestling was at its hottest point ever. What do you think contributed to that?
Michael Fairman: It's similar to soaps in that there is an ebb and flow with wrestling. The star power back then - The Rock, Stone Cold, Mick Foley, Chyna - were like comic book characters that were bigger than life. People just went nuts over them. In that time period it all came together, and the family feud soap opera in the McMahon family really worked and made you want to tune in. There was the infighting in the family, Vince having an affair, Stephanie shafting her brother, and it was almost like watching DALLAS. You wanted to see what the McMahon's would do next. They haven't gone back to that heavy family drama in recent years. I know last year there was an illegitimate child story and they played that beat for a while, and then it kind of tailed off. But those kinds of things made the early 2000s riveting.

We Love Soaps: At that high point, people who didn't even follow wrestling knew about it because it became very mainstream.
Michael Fairman: It was, and the consciousness of it was big at the time. And I think a lot of care was taken, particularly with the creative team, to keep the personas of their top wrestlers a certain way. When I was young I used to love it. The matches were held in an old TV studio set with a ring, and like with three rows of fans. There have always been stories built on two wrestlers against each other. I love watching a great match because there is so much drama and there's always a twist on a twist in the story. They have something now with Vickie Guerrero, who is the manager of SMACKDOWN, and she's in a wheelchair faking her paralysis and having an affair or married to Edge, but sleeping with another guy. It's very much like a daytime soap storyline.

We Love Soaps: The audience for pro wrestling is young male viewers, but the stories do seem to be similar to soap stories a lot of the time, where the shows target young women.
Michael Fairman: It's all packaged differently. In the WWE, the music is so great; it's rock and grunge and is male oriented. I don't think many of the male viewers realize they are watching a soap opera because its' wrapped in a way that is kind of covert. They're giving us athletic guys wrestling, with rock music, coming out like rock stars with hot babes and I don't think they know it's a soap opera, but it is.

We Love Soaps: In soaps it seems a lot of bad guys have become the heroes of the shows. Has a similar thing happened with pro wrestling?
Michael Fairman: Yes, look at Stone Cold Steve Austin. He was the antihero. He was the guy who would swear in your face, beat up people, flip the bird, and people made him the number one star. He would do rotten things but he was a hero to fans and they wanted to see him. Like Triple H, a sensational wrestler who is smart and educated, who would come into the ring and take a sledgehammer and beat up people, but fans love him. I think we're in a society where people are curious about what it's like to be bad and get away with it. But in wrestling, the good guy eventually wins out.

We Love Soaps: I see the popularity of pro wrestling as just more evidence that most people like continuing stories and there is an appetite for them, whether it be daytime soaps, wrestling, prime time, sci fi, etc.
Michael Fairman: I think with all of those things, if you care about who you are watching and can invest in that, you will keep watching. People want to see characters who excite them and who they are comfortable with and people they know.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for this interview, Roger. I had always wondered what had happened to that Soap City cable channel that everyone was talking about in the late 90's. I'm still waiting for a cable channel that is devoted to soaps!

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  2. Love it. One of my best friends in NYC took me to a couple Madison Square Garden events in 2000 or so and I remember thinking, knowing nothing about WWF (WWE now) that it was so similar to my favorite daytime shows.

    Great piece - I always love hearing what Michael has to say about things. He should really get his own weekly show somehow.

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  3. This is fantastic, Roger. Thanks for sharing it with all of us. Michael, if you're reading the comments, I'd love to connect with you on the wrestling front. As Roger knows, I taught a class at MIT in Spring 2008 on the cultural history of U.S. soap operas, focusing on ATWT in particular. The year before than, in Spring 2007, I taught an MIT class on the cultural history of pro wrestling, and WWE partnered with me. Jim Ross and Mick Foley both came up and spent some time. (And both are great guys, as you may know...)

    Speaking of soap operas, how over-the-top is Vince McMahon's feud this week with the Denver Nuggets? :)

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  4. This is awesome. Roger seems like such an interesting person.

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