Talkin' with Thom Racina: The WLS Interview, Part One

Our good friend international entertainment reporter Nelson Aspen, author of "Hollywood Insider Exposed", is kicking off a "Where Are They Now" nostalgia tour with an interview with the brilliant and funny soap writer Thom Racina.  Please enjoy this wonderfully entertaining and enlightening interview, a must read for any GENERAL HOSPITAL fan and soap opera historian!

Nelson Aspen: If you don’t know Thom Racina personally, then you know his work.  He was the guy who gave us Luke & Laura’s wedding on GENERAL HOSPITAL [1981-1984]. I seem to recall there was a deep freeze around that same time, and an appearance by one Helena Cassadine.  He’s written for just about every soap opera.  And if you like Brad Pitt, he has stories about Brad Pitt as well.  So Thom, hello darling. 
Thom Racina: Hello.  I’ll tell you about The Deep Freeze [on GENERAL HOSPITAL].  Let me tell you what happened, people love this story.  I didn’t know soap operas from anything.  Jackie Smith at ABC found me because I came in with mouse ears on my head once to her office at Warner Brothers.  Years later, she remembered me.  She called me in and said, “Do you want to write a soap opera?”  I said, “Huh, what?” I saw DARK SHADOWS once or twice to see the doorknobs come off.  It was the last live soap.  She said, “I want you to meet Gloria Monty, she’s the gal who runs a show called GENERAL HOSPITAL.”

Nelson Aspen: She knew you as a writer?
Thom Racina: She had read the dirty books I had done.  I had written The Happy Hooker back in the 70’s, it was this enormous best selling book.  There were nine of them after that.  I was the sleazy  little Midwestern horny teenager who wrote porn for years. 

Nelson Aspen: Perfect for daytime.
Thom Racina: But it was better than going to McDonalds to work.  I could write, even though it was crap.  So I meet with Gloria and she’s spitting food at me across the table.  Leah Laiman used to say, “Listen, I know you make more money than I do, but you deserve it because you have to be her friend.  You have to sit across from her at the table.”  She would get so wound up in telling these stories, she would literally spit out all her food.  You’d leave the table in a restaurant and you’d be covered in bread and pasta sauce.

Gloria said to me, “We’ve got this headwriter...,” and she muttered, “That bitch.”  I should have taken that as a lesson that that’s how they think about headwriters.  She said, “We’ve got something called The Ice Princess.  It’s starting to air, and we don’t know what that is, and the bitch won’t tell us. There’s going to be a writer’s strike, and I’ll be damned if we’re going to have this show die.” And she said, “I need a long term story written now, because you can’t write it once the strike starts.”  I just happened to have a hardcover novel of mine that I brought her from years before as a gift called “The Great Los Angeles Blizzard” about a snow storm that hits L.A.  We stole that to be Port Charles.  That’s how the whole Luke and Laura thing happened and we got up to the wedding.  I wrote this long term story that was like seven hundred pages.  I mean, detailed scenes which they did all through the strike.  I sat home watching going, “No, no, that’s not how I meant it, it’s all wrong!”

Nelson Aspen: That eventually became your book, “Deep Freeze”
Thom Racina: I rewrote it years ago.  I’ve got about seven thrillers out there since I left daytime. 

Nelson Aspen: But The Ice Princess storyline was the first really outrageous storyline.  We’re so used to that now.  On every show you either have Reva getting cloned on GUIDING LIGHT or talking dolls on PASSIONS.  Every show now has the whack factor.  That was the first one I can remember.
Thom Racina: I’ve got to give it to Gloria for saying yes to me!  When I said, “How about this...” it was just because my book was sitting there and I thought, “Okay, we’ll put snow on Port Charles, she’s going to say no.”  She looked at this thing and said, “I like you,” and the rest is history.  I heard just this past week from Susie Horgan who was doing ONE LIFE TO LIVE.  She said, “You don’t know how we kept trying to find something that we could do that would be pop history the way The Ice Princess story and the Luke and Laura story played out.” I never really heard that from inside the trenches how [the other shows] were enamored with what we had done. 

Nelson Aspen: Did that then effectively launch your career in daytime?
Thom Racina: I had no career before that.  I had done FAMILY, a show that was on at night. 

Nelson Aspen: But does Thom Racina come with an Ice Princess story line? Was that your calling card?
Thom Racina: It was funny.  When I got fired...for three years Gloria had been like, “I love you darling,we’re family...” and the next day you’re on the street.  And I cried, I had never been fired from before in my life.  I didn’t know what it was like.  I thought, “What am I going to do, I’ll never work again, what am I going to do?”  Then I get a call from DAYS OF OUR LIVES. And they said, “We’’ll give you more money because you got fired.”  And I thought this didn’t make any sense.  I always thought people got fired and then they had to go find another job for less money.  It was a rude awakening how this business works.  Was this expectation there? I’m not sure.  I think they knew they could get some good stories out of me.  And I tried to give them.

Nelson Aspen: So you go over to Salem [where Thom wrote from 1984-1986], I assume you weren’t a DAYS fan.
Thom Racina: I had never seen it.

Nelson Aspen: Some writers come in and don’t care about history...
Thom Racina: You’ve got to care, you’ve got to learn.

Nelson Aspen: How did you research it?
Thom Racina: You talk to all the fans.  You listen to the fans.  You hear those stories about your mother and your grandmother and who they loved and how all these years have played out.  And then you read the history of what happened.  And then you read the long-term story they did for the last year.  And then you read the outlines for the past six months.  And then you read the scripts from the past few weeks.  You’re so inundated with it, that I think you get it.  But it seems like a lot of headwriters don’t do it.  They just come in and do what they want.  There isn’t any reverence for the history of the show.

Nelson Aspen: But is it the inattention to history that has destroyed our shows?  Your most recent work was with YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS [in 2008] and that actually has had a resurgence of history.
Thom Racina: I love what they’re doing.  They’re holding onto the older characters, they’re understanding they’re not going to get the youth.  They’re not going to get people in their 20’s or their teens or their 30’s.  The best you can do now is hold on to the people you’ve got.  You’re not going to gain new viewers.

Nelson Aspen: Really?
Thom Racina: Yes, I really believe it.  They tend to be in their 50’s and 60’s.  But if you can hold on to them, you might have another ten years of these shows being on the air.  Otherwise, people say it could be five to seven years and all these shows will be gone. 

Nelson Aspen: But I was indoctrinated by my grandma.  Why can’t the grandma who is watching today indoctrinate someone else?
Thom Racina: Because the world has changed.  It is so different.  We had four or five channels back then.  People didn’t work the way they do today.  We didn’t have Blackberry’s and iPhones.  The world is so different!  People don’t want to take the time, they don’t have the capacity to sit for an hour.  I used to find it hard sometimes to watch my own shows! An hour of my life? I would get on the treadmill, I would do anything to do something while I was watching this.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Press here for Part Two of this fascinating interview.  Why was the FBI called into the GENERAL HOSPITAL set? And how did Elizabeth Taylor change soap history? Come back to find out!

4 comments:

  1. To the best of my knowledge, Dark Shadows was never done 'Live.' The last two shows done live were ATWT until it went to an hour length in late 1975 and Edge of Night went it switched from CBS to ABC.

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  2. I think Mr. Racina was just trying to be charming and clever -- certainly the number of bloopers that DS allowed on air might give you the impression that it was live. And, as he says, he wasn't a big soap fan.

    I didn't know his novel THE GREAT LOS ANGELES BLIZZARD had been rewritten and reissued. Racina also wrote a gay novel in 1981, TOMCAT, when there weren't a lot of them out there.

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  3. DS was indeed taped, but for the most part, it was essentially "live on tape." Meaning that unless something went terribly, terribly wrong (or there was a need for a flashback clip), each episode was taped essentially as it aired. If a character was at the cemetery in one scene and at Collinwood in the next, that actor would have to run across the stage quickly, to be in his or her place.

    For me, that's always been part of the show's charm. Anything could have gone wrong (and very often it did)!

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  4. This is an especially good interview to read three years later now that Racina is the headwriter for the revival of OLTL -- proving himself wrong about the shows dying! And I just saw him talking to We Love Soaps on the AMC/OLTL red carpet premiere marveling that GH was once again revisiting the Ice Princess storyline. He really has had such an impact on GH and on the genre.

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