In Part One of our recap from the recent ALL MY CHILDREN event during the New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend, Agnes Nixon retraced the beginnings of ALL MY CHILDREN, Erica Kane, and the struggle to portray relevant social issues prior to 1970. In this part, executive producer Julie Hanan Carruthers shares the technical details of how a show is made behind the scenes, and Rebecca Budig and Debbi Morgan discuss returning. Plus, how does Agnes Nixon justify bringing back Jesse Hubbard after his character died on screen? The hilarious answer is below.
Jacques Steinberg: Were there somedays you needed a little space before you could go home after playing these scenes?
Susan Lucci: There were some days I wish I had a little space. There’s rarely any actual space. Some stories were a little harder to put away at the end of the day.
Agnes Nixon: Do you realize that in soap opera everyday is opening night. It’s a different script every day. And there’s never enough time. I’ve never written a script that I didn’t wish I had more time to edit. I’m sure Julie feels that way about every show she produces. I think that keeps one on one’s toes too. Knowing it could be better, but next time it’s the best.
Jacques Steinberg: Julie this is probably a good point to pause and give the audience the basics of how long it takes to go from development of a script to being shot and then seen.
Julie Hanan Carruthers: Normally, the writing team puts together a long-term story projection, hopefully from six to twelve months. We get an overview of what the stories are going to be coming up for the next to six to twelve months. Then the team gets together every week and lays out what we call breakdowns, which are outlines of each episode. So they put together probably a twenty page document that will then break down the day in scene order with the actors and the sets. And then we will read that at the end of the week and see what those five episodes are going to be about following along the lines of the story. But it always has the ability to twist and turn and say, “Oh my God, we found something delicious, let’s go this way instead of the way we were planning.”
Julie Hanan Carruthers: After notes from the network, the producers, and the writers, that document goes to the script writer, and the script writers have a week to put each one of those outlines into script form. We get the scripts back, they go to an editor. The whole team reads the scripts again before the actors or the directors even see it. They get it hopefully a week before they perform it. I know that Cameron and Rebecca have six episodes that they are learning today on the plane back that they’ll be shooting in four days. Everybody is doing really heavy lifting. With the financial demands on the industry in general we’ve compacted what we do. And at the same time have been able to enhance it largely because of the cast that we have. We don’t take advantage of them, but we stretch them to their very nth degree. I know that we’re going to great performances because no one is going to come out and do it if they can’t give 110 percent.
Julie Hanan Carruthers: I feel extremely fortunate to be working with such a high caliber cast that can deliver not only amazing story telling at it’s peak of character deferentials, but they also do it willingly, happily, and with total commitment. I want to say thank you all the time. After we tape these episodes this week, which have been in process now for about three months, they will then go to an editing system. We edit them, turn them around, they then get scored after we approve the picture edit. They’ll be scored to music that we have in our library or that we create. From there they get mixed and edited to the network. It’s a long process and we do it 265 times a year.
Jacques Steinberg: The episodes you’ll tape this week will be seen how soon?
Julie Hanan Carruthers: I think we’re shooting Valentine’s Day this week.
Jacques Steinberg: For those of you who watch the show, probably the return of Greenlee is a big deal. [To Rebecca Budig] They started seeing you right before Christmas? Fill us in Greenlee. What happened on her wedding day, and what has happened since.
Rebecca Budig: Almost a year ago, Valentine’s Day, she was supposed to marry Ryan. She was in her wedding dress. She has a motorcycle too. She’s a motorcycle rider, which I kind of like. She has a pink helmet, it’s very cute. She didn’t wear a helmet that day. She was riding to go talk to a friend, and she swerved off a cliff and was presumed dead.
Cameron Mathison: I have to teach her how to ride better.
Rebecca Budig: He’s a horrible teacher. So she has been in a coma this whole time.
Jacques Steinberg: The audience knows what at this point?
Rebecca Budig: Dr. David Hayward, the evil doctor, had been keeping her alive. Though Greenlee never thought he was evil. They’ve always had a great relationship, she was married to his brother. They’ve had a friendship.
Jacques Steinberg: It was Ryan you were supposed to marry?
Rebecca Budig: It was Ryan. And now he’s cheating on her.
Cameron Mathison: I’m not sure it’s called “cheating” when you think somebody is dead.
Rebecca Budig: You’re not supposed to move on, honey.
Jacques Steinberg: While Greenlee was in this coma, what was happening between Ryan and Erica?
Cameron Mathison: Well first of all, Ryan was just traumatized! He found comfort in [Greenlee’s] best friend’s arms, and then since then he sort of gave up on women in general. Then he found a new relationship in an old friendship with Erica.
Susan Lucci: We were friends because Ryan had been married to my daughter, and I had been engaged to his stepfather.
Cameron Mathison: And there was a lot in common between Ryan and Erica. They found each other in the right plan at the right place.
Jacques Steinberg: Debbi you took a rather long hiatus from the show to say the least.
Debbi Morgan: I left in January, 1990, and came back November, 2007. But my heart was always with the show.
Jacques Steinberg: Can you tell me about your perspective on the show while you were away?
Debbi Morgan: I always say there are no fans like soap opera fans, anywhere. You guys have to give yourselves applause. I left the show not because I wasn’t happy doing it. But I wanted to spread my wings and try other things. I was very fortunate in that I got to do a lot film work, a lot of prime-time work. All the dreams I had came to me. I would run into people in the street, I thought they would ask me about my movies. They were all like, “Are you ever going to go back to ALL MY CHILDREN? When are you and Jesse coming back?” That always stayed me. Because this is the only medium where you could leave, you could die, and then be welcomed by fans with open arms. I guess because I was always approached throughout all of the years that I was away from the show, asking, “Do you ever think of coming back” and how much they missed me. Somewhere in the back of my head I had not completely ruled out walking down this path again and being Angie.
Jacques Steinberg: What happened in her absence?
Debbi Morgan: She moved to another town. She was a doctor of infectious diseases. Her husband had died. She had several marriages, how many? I know not as many as Erica. [To Agnes Nixon] Maybe one or two?
Agnes Nixon: The second one might have been bogus, right?
Debbi Morgan: She was off, she was doing her doctor thing, living in another town, and brought back to Pine Valley because they had had this outbreak. My son had gone off to Iraq, he had disappeared. It sort of really messed with his head when he got out. He had had no communication with his mother whatsoever. So the first day she’s back at Pine Valley Hospital she’s brought in to see this patient and it turns out to be her son, Frankie.
Agnes Nixon: The real reason is that the audience wanted Angie and Jesse back, desperately. We had focus sessions, reports, and the young man said, “Everybody wants Angie and Jessie back.” I said, “Let’s bring them back.” Someone said, “Jessie died.” I said, “Well...”
Debbi Morgan: [laughing] She was there when he took his last breath. Her head was on his chest when he flat lined.
Agnes Nixon: Some of that equipment is lousy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come back for Part Three in which the actors discuss the challenges of learning multiples scripts at the same time. Plus, highlights from the Q&A!
To watch highlights form this panel, check out WE LOVE SOAPS TV #10.