Daytime Emmy Interview: ATI's Jim Romanovich

Associated Television International's (ATI) president of Worldwide Media and Entertainment Jim Romanovich, producer of this year's Daytime Emmy telecast, was a guest on Episode #5 of the "We Love Soaps Radio" podcast. Romanovich, who previously visited the set of every soap, spoke with We Love Soaps about his love for daytime drama, how he became involved with the Emmys, and what we can expect on the show.

We Love Soaps: Can you tell us a little about your background? You are from Chicago and I read that you originally wanted to be an actor?
Jim Romanovich: When I was younger I was fascinated by George Reeves as Superman. I think that was really my first impression. Charlton Heston in Ben Hur was another one, and I think all young boys and girls who saw that on television thought, 'That could be me.' As far as wanting to become an actor, that started around my teenage years. But it wasn't until I went to college that I decided it was what I wanted to do. Around 1981 when I started getting interested in GENERAL HOSPITAL, it was mainly because of Robert Scorpio. I felt he was somebody who was speaking to me. As somebody who wasn't a soap opera watcher, I felt soap operas were all about who's pregnant, who's cheating on who, and all geared to woman. I was stuck watching with my high school girlfriend in the summer of '81 and we were getting ready to go to college in the fall and here was this freezing of Port Charles, the crazy Cassadine family with their crazy ice princess machine, the diamond, and Robert Scorpio the special agent - sort of this Sherlock Homes meets James Bond meets Superman. I had never seen anything like that before. And, of course, the anti-hero Luke Spencer who you never really saw on soaps. And I stuck with it until this day. It's still my favorite show. I do watch a lot of the other shows, but that's what got me into wanting to be an actor.

We Love Soaps: Why and at what point did you transition from acting into producing?
Jim Romanovich: I was tired. I was auditioning, on my own, until around '93 or '94. I was getting a few things here and there. I got a guest shot on HEARTS AFIRE with John Ritter and Markie Post, and I was up for the Mike Horton role on DAYS that went to Roark Critchlow. I really would have loved that, but it wasn't meant to be. So I realized early on that if I wanted to be a performer, I should control what I do, so that's how I got into producing.

We Love Soaps: Turning to the Daytime Emmy telecast. Late last year we heard that CBS had declined to pick up their option to air the show. CBS and ABC had been rotating televising the awards the past few years and shared them with NBC before that. At what point were you aware there was issue with the telecast and when did you become involved?
Jim Romanovich: Being a fan of daytime, I was always on top of it all. I watched the Daytime Emmys every year. Just being in the business, you know what's going on. For me, I always had a personal interest in the Daytime Emmys so I followed the stories. Then Peter Price, President of NATAS, was giving quotes about it. I think the first one was in November where he was quoted as saying something like, 'We're negotiating with a few things and something should be announced shortly,' but nothing was announced shortly. Then the next bit of news I saw was in January of this year and there was a story about the Daytime Emmys not coming back to television. I saw another quote from an insider at NATAS that said, 'We're negotiating with several people and it will be televised at some point this year.' But I think that was wishful thinking because they really didn't have anyone at that point. We had won a Daytime Emmy last year for AMERICA'S INVISIBLE CHILDREN, hosted by Joan Lunden, which aired on The CW in the afternoon, so we knew the people there.

David McKenzie, and I can't stress this enough, is the man who saved the Emmy telecast. He is the man who is making all this happen. A lot of peoplel have been very kind, giving me a lot of accolades for keeping this thing going and being caring toward the soaps and being out there, and it's true I have been, but I could not have done that without David McKenzie. He is the man making all this happen without a doubt. I can't tell people how important this man is.

So he comes into my office and says, 'Hey, Jim, what do you think of us producing the Daytime Emmys this year?' I thought, 'Are you crazy? It's been bottled up with the networks for years, and has production companies attached to it.' I said, 'I don't think we a chance at doing something like that.' But he said to take a look. We produced the World Magic Awards and last year we did it with Neil Patrick Harris as host. We did the Magic Awards on a big, big scale and can do the big shows. He wanted to do this show because it was a prestigious event and likes the Daytime Emmys so I said, 'I'm in.'

Jim Romanovich: The first call I made was to NATAS and I spoke to Frank Radice, who had just become the President there. He was looking for new things to do and looking for some answers about what this was going to be this year. So I made them an offer they couldn't refuse. I told him I would guarantee the production and find them a network in three weeks. He said, 'As long as it doesn't cost us any money.' Three weeks later, I came back and had the deal with The CW.

We Love Soaps: The CW was the network you were targeting?
Jim Romanovich: The CW was not an accident. CBS was not going to do it. The economics did not make sense for CBS to do it this year. The crash hurt everybody, and CBS, like everyone else, feels like daytime, soaps in particular, are a declining genre. Unfortunately that is the consensus out there with The Powers That Be. It's not the cash cow it used to be in the glory days of the 80s. I think they do make money for the networks, but it's the profit margin. Is our profit big enough to keep these shows going? Does it make sense to have THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS with a 20% margin or can I put in a talk show or game show that gets the same rating and gets a 50% margin? They look at things like that and go, 'Hey, 50% is pretty good and we don't have to deal with actors and contracts and egos and sets' and decide they're going to do game shows. That's how they think.

I've read a lot of quotes from some of the soap stars that were a little discouraging and a little disappointing, which I understood, where they would go, 'Oh, CW? Oh man, terrible. August?' Everybody was doing that sort of thing. But I thought, 'Guys, you're on television. It's a night of celebration. Use it, promote yourself. You got a reprieve.'

Since we had worked with The CW on a number of projects, they were familiar with us. I also partnered with MGM with a couple of shows so I called Jim Packer and said, 'You own The CW on Sunday nights. Would you want something you could put in there that is dynamic and fresh and promotable? And wouldn't the CW love it as well if we put it at the end of August, as they kick off the season, which they do the following week. They can promote all their shows. It's great for you, it's great for them and it's great for the Emmys.' It infuses the youth that it needs. We still have the veterans there, but you can't keep a genre going without replenishing the well. You have to bring in new viewers, younger viewers, and not lose the older viewers. You have to bring in as many viewers as you can to this thing. That's why the CW was chosen. It was the perfect way to get it out of the dusty, monotonous rut that it's been in, ping-ponged back and forth between ABC and CBS. Technically those shows were very well done. Creatively I don't think it's where the show should have gone. The show always served itself well when it was done in a grand style, like Radio City Music Hall in 2005. It's big, splashy and classy. That's what the Emmys are all about. It's not about having the fans on stage and making it cluttered and small and intimate. It's a big thing. It's something that should be revered and given as a celebration of the genre in a really classy style. That's why we brought the Orpheum in. It's a little smaller, but it's a throwback to the old days of class. When you see the stage, you'll know what I mean.

We could have chosen June but it would have been another crappy awards show. We wouldn't have had any preparation for it. It would have been throwing one award after award together and nobody would be watching it. It would be defeating the reason we got involved. If the Emmys telecast dies, I don't think the soaps are too far behind. It sends a clear signal to The Powers That Be at the networks that program the Emmys - if the Daytime Emmys aren't important, maybe the soaps aren't that important.

We Love Soaps: So the Daytime Emmys are going to air as a two hour show on Sunday, August 30th on The CW and there will be a one hour red carpet show before that?
Jim Romanovich: Yes. It's going to be seamless though. It's going to come off as a three hour show. Lara Spencer (INSIDER) and Kevin Frazier (ET) are doing our red carpet show and I couldn't be more thrilled to have them involved. It really classes this whole thing up. It's going to be a total seamless transition to the event itself. It's going to be a great evening for The CW. And we need the fans to watch. If they don't watch, they're sending a clear message not only to the Emmys but the soaps themselves. By not watching the Emmys you're making a statement about your soaps. I really hope the fans out there will support their shows.

We Love Soaps: But will they be counted even if they watch? With the technology we have today, we should know what people are watching. The Nielsen Ratings are supposedly a statistically sound sampling of the audience, but I don't buy it.
Jim Romanovich: I think Nielsen is a very flawed system. It's the only one we've got, but it's extremely flawed. I don't think they accurately count the people that still watch these shows. I think there's a lot of unmeasured fans out there that need to be counted in some way. The trick of it is counting somebody without making them feel like they're being investigate by Big Brother.

We Love Soaps: In terms of the future, I would love to see it do well on the CW. Would you guys would be interested in producing the show again next year?
Jim Romanovich: We have an option for 2010, and we'd like to. It all is going to rest on the 30th. On a household rating, we aren't going to do better than ABC because The CW doesn't do better on its best night than ABC. It's the viewers, station location on the channel, and habits, but in the demo I think we should do equal or better than what ABC did last year. However, creatively we'll have a much better show than ABC had last year.

We Love Soaps: One issue for me in the show rotating networks in the past is it sometimes felt like a completely different show from year to year. And sometimes it felt like an infomercial for CBS or ABC, whichever network happened to be airing the show. I would love for the show to establish some traditions we could see from year to year.
Jim Romanovich: It's sometimes tough to do because it's always a question of money. I would love to do this show in New York, but the unions kill it every time. We were thinking about going to New York this year, but we're all here in Los Angeles, and it keeps costs down to stay here. We looked at going to New York and the union costs alone were just phenomenal. It's one reason all these shows are escaping New York and going to Connecticut. We could not do what they did five years ago at Radio City Music Hall, not in a lifetime. It was beyond budgetary reason to do it in New York.

We Love Soaps: How did you decide on Vanessa Williams as host. She's the star of a primetime soap, UGLY BETTY, but more than that she's an incredible entertainer. I think that was an inspired choice.
Jim Romanovich: Vanessa Williams was on our minds even before the Oscars with Hugh Jackman. We didn't just want to have a host who comes out and says here's so and so. And we didn't want to have a comedian. We wanted to really make it a show. We wanted to bring somebody in who had show appeal, somebody who fit The CW's audience, somebody daytime audiences would revere and was equally known by primetime audiences. Let's be real, the show is airing in primetime and you're dealing with a primetime audience. That's what the whole thing is about, getting new people to watch that might not care about daytime, but maybe like Vanessa or see something that looks interesting and decide to invest in a show in daytime. Maybe they'll get some new people, maybe they won't, but what have they got to lose?

Vanessa is the trifecta, the triple threat - the actor, the singer, the dancer. She will be phenomenal. I could not think of anybody better. Hugh Jackman just solidified it by doing exactly what we were looking to do on our show. Vanessa is going to bring a lot of the Broadway that he brought, but also some of Billy Crystal element as well.

We Love Soaps: Those are big shoes to fill.
Jim Romanovich: You'll know what I mean when you see the show. And she's doing to two numbers actually - an opening and a second number. Her second number is from her new album coming out and there's going to be surprise guest in the middle that should be quite fun. She's the nicest lady you'd ever want to meet.

We Love Soaps: So there will be those two numbers, a GUIDING LIGHT tribute and a fashion segment. And the lifetime achievement award is going to sesame street this year.
Jim Romanovich: That's going to be a big production number as well. We're building a set on stage that will resemble Sesame Street, but more in a Broadway fashion. All the muppets and the cast will be on stage and it should be nice, with great clips from previous years.

We Love Soaps: Tell us about "Daytime Gives Back".
Jim Romanovich: I can't thank Feed the Children enough, the charity involved with this show. Daytime is about causes, trying to make things better, and awareness, and what better way to do it than to move people by taking Susan Lucci, Tony Geary, Kelly Monaco, Montel Williams, to Kenya to live among these people, to work with them to play with them. Tony Geary on his very last day said, 'This has changed my life forever.' This is a man who does not do a lot of public events, and doesn't like the spotlight out of working on GENERAL HOSPITAL. Kelly Monaco suprised me too. She was in the dirt and dust, and Susan too! How can you not be moved by that? What you are going to see on the telecast is something really emotional and spectacular.

We're doing this again in New York on August 6th which will be "Daytime Gives Back: Part Two". We're taking a bunch of daytime stars to a school in Harlem and, thanks to Kmart and Feed the Children, we're coming in and delivering educational supplies to those who don't have the means to get them themselves. It's daytime coming together once again. People in daytime really care and want to give back.

We Love Soaps: Are you involved with the Creative Emmys at all?
Jim Romanovich: We are. NATAS is doing the show themselves, but we're working with them and making sure they have the wherewithal to do it successfully. We're helping them coordinate the show and making sure it happens.

We Love Soaps: Are there any other plans for the Emmy telecast you can share at this time?
Jim Romanovich: We're trying to do some other stuff too. We're trying to work on something cool for the Emmy show and Red Carpet show that is current, that I think people soap people will get into, especially the internet community. We've had some interest from the cast of IMAGINARY BITCHES to do their show as if they were actually at the Emmys. We're trying to see if this is a physically possible thing to do. We would love to do it. What they're doing is really imaginative and they're the next wave of soaps.

We Love Soaps: Andrew and Eden are incredibly sharp when it comes to social networking and marketing. I wish the soaps would take notice and use some of the same strategies.
Jim Romanovich: Soaps take notice when it becomes a phenomenon.

We Love Soaps: I know a lot of GUIDING LIGHT cast will be out at the Emmys this year. I'm looking forward to that tribute.
Jim Romanovich: That's going to be a fantastic moment in the show. It's not a tribute, it's the GUIDING LIGHT farewell segment. It will be one of the last times you can see them all in one place. I would be surprised if they don't receive a long standing ovation.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Romanovich couldn't reveal additional presenters at this time, but that announcement should be coming soon. Here is the latest list of Daytime Emmy presenters.

3 comments:

  1. Wow it really seems like Jim Romanovich is a long time fan of soaps and is putting on the type of emmy telecast that soap watchers in general would be proud of i haven't been this excited about the daytime emmys in years.

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  2. I agree. Excited about this year's show.

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  3. I can't to see Vanessa Williams host. It's goiong to be awesome!

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