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The Susan Flannery Interview, Part Four

In Part One and Part Two of my interview with Susan Flannery, the Emmy and Golden Globe winner shared her history of work on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, and reflections on technical changes behind the scenes.  In Part Three she revealed what led her to return to daytime on THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, as well as her inspiration for participating in union activities.

In the final part below, Ms. Flannery reflects more on her proactive role in advocating for actors' rights, and shares thought about Stephanie Forrester's psychological problems, as well as insights into the business of television. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Would you say that most of your efforts in AFTRA have been successful, or at least had a satisfactory resolution?
Susan Flannery:  No, I think we should all be one union.  SAG [Screen Actors Guild] and AFTRA [The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] should join together, I’m a great believer in this.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: For those of us not familiar with the unions, what are the differences?
Susan Flannery:  SAG was always film and AFTRA was always radio and television, live television.  And then when television moved to tape, then AFTRA represented electronic.  Now they’re shooting movies and movie of the week and prime-time series on high definition cameras.  So they’ve gotten into this fight and they shouldn’t be.  The middle class actor is the actor who is suffering.  They need to join together so they all represent the same thing.  It’s as simple as that. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Getting back to BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, I think one of the most interesting stories for Stephanie was in 2006 when we learned more about her child abuse.
Susan Flannery:  Didn’t you think that was brilliant?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I thought it made so much sense.
Susan Flannery:  It was such brilliant storytelling. It explained so much.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It was.  What was really interesting for me as a therapist is that traditional psychotherapy models would suggest that insight into one’s past results in a change in behavior.  With Stephanie, we saw her come to terms with her abuse, yet a few months later she was back to her angry outbursts and scheming.  It didn’t seem to make an impact on her.
Susan Flannery:  I agree.  Any behavioral pattern, whether it’s drug related, or alcohol related, or a destructive self-pattern, you have to be prepared in your life to make that change.  She discovered this, but at the time she wasn’t prepared. You’re absolutely right.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Recently we have seen Stephanie forgive her mother before she died.  Do you think this is the kind of event that will lead Stephanie to want to change her behavior and the way she relates to others?
Susan Flannery:  It’s going to be interesting to see how he [Brad Bell] presents this opportunity.  Because he’s broken the main family.  He’s got Eric married to Donna.  And Stephanie and her sister are over with Jackie.  And he’s brought Don Diamont in who is now running Forrester.  So the family structure isn’t what it was for all of those years.  It’s going to be interesting.  It’s almost like she said to herself, “Alright, this is the way it’s going to be.”  The kids are grown, she’s letting them move off on their own.  She’ll always love Eric but it’s like, enough already [laughs].  He’s happy, he’s going to be with this girl, as long as she’s nice to him, it will be okay.  She’s carved out this new life.  And I thought that was also very interesting that he brought her sister in [Alley Mills as Pam].  Ashley Jones [Bridget] came up to me and said, “I love the scenes with you and Pam, because it shows Stephanie’s humanity.”  That’s very true, it does.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What would you like to see happen for Stephanie?
Susan Flannery:  Oh I don’t know.  I never think about story.  I never talk about story, in the sense I’ve never gone upstairs to Bill or Brad and said, “I’d love to do a story about such and such.”  I always felt that was not my area.  I would be intruding into their territory. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you always believed that in your work as an actress?
Susan Flannery:  Yes.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In this past year, there’s been a lot of soap headlines about actors walking out on roles because they didn’t personally or politically believe in what their character was doing.  Have you ever been given a story and not liked the character direction?
Susan Flannery:  Yes, once in all the years with BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL, was the rape story with Katherine Kelly Lang [Brooke].  I just said to them, “You can’t do that.  The audience will never forgive her for that.  And Eric and Ridge as characters will never forgive her.  We have to find another way to make this work.”

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What is going to take to keep daytime dramas on the air?
Susan Flannery:  I don’t know.  As soon as you say something is dead and gone, then it has a resurrection.  It’s not just soaps, it’s network television, they’ve been dinosaurs for 15 years.  The business as it’s been is all going to change.  All of this is changing and going to change further and further.   

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do you think there have been creative changes that have led to the diminishing ratings?
Susan Flannery:  In the ratings? No.  I don’t think it has anything to do with the creativity of the shows or the style of the show.  It has everything to do with the economic situation in the United States, and technology.  Technology has scattered and fractured the audience.  You’ll never have another Walter Cronkite.  Not because you don’t have someone who is good, but because he would never have that one single audience factor ever again.  That’s the root of it.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL and YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS are consistently the top two rated shows on the air.  They are consistently featuring their veterans in different stories and offer family based stories year and after year.  Do you think that’s a coincidence?
Susan Flannery:  Oh no, I think that’s very much Bill’s legacy in the set up off the show.  And of course Maria Arena is married to Bill’s son, Bill Jr.  Maria started us with us twenty two years ago, she came on at the end of the first year as a young writer.  She and Brad used to write together.  She’s quite smart and very very bright.  She’s doing well over there [at Y&R]. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: If you could go back to 1966, starting on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, and give yourself a piece of advice, what would that be. 
Susan Flannery:  Oh honey, that’s too many to say.  Let’s leave it at that. [Laughs]

Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He is blogging about surviving the holidays at www.shouldless.com.

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