In Part One of our interview with Michael O' Leary, the longtime GUIDING LIGHT actor shared his motivation to bring about STEAMBOAT The Series, and revealed how he been able to channel his insecurities and creative energies into this project. In this part he shares more about the harsh realities in the entertainment industries, and the changing landscape of media. Plus who is Kim Zimmer's character based on? Read below to find out!
We Love Soaps: Of course viewers are watching thinking, “How much of this is based on his real experience?” I mean you have budget cuts, green screens, awkward product placements. So how much of this was based on your real life experience of working at GUIDING LIGHT?
Michael O' Leary: The budget cut thing was definitely part of my GUIDING LIGHT experience. But budget cuts are applicable to everyone. I don’t know if there is anyone who hasn’t gone through budget cuts. I don’t care who you are, where you are. Unless you are an undertaker or an accountant, you have to deal with budget cuts. And the real part of it was that fear of asking, “What’s next?” My experience with GUIDING LIGHT and the entertainment industry is that everything is changing. We don’t know what’s going to happen with network television.
I sat down with Morley Safer of 60 MINUTES. Even they don’t know what’s next. What’s happening to the evening news? Nobody is watching it anymore. Nobody is sitting down and watching network television unless it’s SURVIVOR. Who is sitting down at 7pm to watch a scheduled show? Not many people are doing that. The internet changed that because you can watch that whenever you want to watch it. You can TiVo it. The old model of a 30 minute show, that you watch 3-4 commercials, that is all changing. Everything is moving to the internet. We’re in an in-between stage like radio was with television came around in the 1950’s. This is where the excitement and innovation is. Here you can take some chances. And you may fail. We may end up saying, “Okay nothing happened, but we gave it shot.”
We Love Soaps: It is a new terrain. I see you and Martha Byrne on GOTHAM and Crystal Chappell on VENICE as pioneers in this new landscape and I admire that. We have seen you on GUIDING LIGHT for many years participate as a member of an ensemble. Now I see you taking an active leadership role in presenting your creativity.
Michael O' Leary: Each one of us is taking what are sensibilities are and trying to make it into a different format, with no money. But the only place you can do that is the internet. If you’re looking for a network to say yes to you, hell will freeze over. This is the great thing about the internet. At least it gives you the forum and opportunity to get your ideas out there. For Martha and Crystal and I, at least you want to get the shot at bat.
We Love Soaps: Let’s talk about Kim Zimmer’s role as the Executive Producer on STEAMBOAT. Fans can’t help but speculate who this is based on. Is there anything you want to say about that?
Michael O' Leary: Of course I think of all the Executive Producers I’ve worked for. Originally I wanted the Exec to be a man. But Kim lives three blocks from me, and I thought, “Okay, I’ll make him a her.” Kim does not at all resemble Ellen Wheeler in any shape or form. There was Gail Kobe, who was my first Exec. There was Jill Farren-Phelps, Paul Rauch, and Michael Laibson. I can’t say of all these Execs that she resembles anyone in particular. All I wanted was a real top female who, as she says, has bigger balls than anyone else on the show. The men are a bit afraid of her.
And this is another underpinning of the show, where are men in this new model? You’ve got women who are the breadwinners, and I think many men are lost. So I wanted a female in a position of power, who is smart, who is trying to protect her own interest but at the same time keep the show on the air. You have these men underneath her thinking, “What do I have to do? Where do I go?” If you really look at soaps today, who are the stars? You can arguably say that Eric Braeden is the largest star on soaps, but really it’s the women who are the divas, it’s the women who women want to watch. The men are facilitators for the women’s story. The biggest stars in daytime I’d say are Kim Zimmer, Susan Lucci, Erika Slezak. So on STEAMBOAT you have men trying to keep their jobs, working under women who are smarter than they are, and their employment and their life depends on it.
We Love Soaps: Why the name “STEAMBOAT”?
Michael O' Leary: Originally I thought of “STUDIO 27” but that name never stuck. Then I thought of this slow moving methodical boat. When I thought of “STEAMBOAT” I thought of KNOT’S LANDING for some reason. I thought of something with an old time 1970s feel to it. It’s a bit dated and corny, kind of like LOVE BOAT.
We Love Soaps: You shot these five episodes. What happens next?
Michael O' Leary: For lack of a better way to say it, we are out of money. So we’re hoping that we get some banner advertising. We need marketing dollars to keep it going. We have some strong cable leads, but nobody can look through the looking glass and see what’s next. We just want to be able to shoot some more shows come April 1st. I’ve got some great stories to tell, but we need to be able to pay the actors and the crew and keep it going. That’s what Crystal and Martha and what we all want. I’d love to get six months under my belt so we can sell something.
We Love Soaps: Crystal has seemed to have found that merchandising is a great way to get financial support.
Michael O' Leary: We don’t want to charge people for the show. That’s something Scott [Bryce] agree on. We want people to see it without having to pay. Today I have heard from some source that you need 1.5 million hits, per day, for advertisers to get their brand behind it. I’m thinking. 1.5 million? That’s more than the numbers of who watched GUIDING LIGHT on the network. There’s no internet show that delivers 1.5 million hits a day. If anyone else out there knows anything about this, I would love to hear from them. If anybody has any insights, I appreciate anyone’s feedback. We’re looking for people that might have insights in this area. You always feel like the clock is ticking. Scott doesn’t necessarily feel the same way I do about that. But I feel you have a certain amount of time called momentum, and that while the show is airing you have momentum. When it’s over it’s over. I just want to keep episodes on the air and keep doing it. I feel that Scott’s not worried about that and God bless him because he’s a smarter guy than I am.
We Love Soaps: If you could go back to the beginning of this project and give yourself one piece of advice, what would that be?
Michael O' Leary: I’d say, “Do your homework before you do it.” Meaning that if you want to go on the internet, do a lot of homework about what that entails and who the players are. Research the brands, know what the brand marriages are. Know how to get in contact with them. Have your boots on the ground. Build a good team around you. You need 10-15 people, and you need to classify each job. You need someone who is an expert in internet marketing, you need someone who is an expert in brand management. You reach out to people and say, “We’re about to launch a new show. If anyone has expertise in X,Y,Z, can you reach out to me?” That’s what I would do differently.
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 re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at www.shouldless.com.