We Love Soaps: Let’s start with your movie, Secrets Of The Mountain, airing on NBC on Friday, April 16th, from 8pm-10pm.
Shawn Christian: It is a wonderful family adventure. WalMart decided, “Let’s put family movie night back into the landscape of television. Let’s try to get families together so they can sit down and watch without the mother being nervous, or having her finger on the pause button, worried about some promiscuous dialogue of scene coming up. Everyone can sit back and relax.
In Secrets Of The Mountain there is something for everybody. There’s a wide-eyed and wonderful ten year old little girl who’s very optimistic and intelligent. There are two bickering teenagers. And then you have the adult storyline of Paige Turco (ex-Dinah, GL), who is a single mom, who comes to this small mountain town. You have my character, Tom Kent, who is single and alone in this small mountain town. They both get swooped up into this adventure when they discover that her uncle, played by the wonderful Barry Bostwick, is alive. Now the whole family is swooped into the adventure involving caves, underground temples, water tunnels, it’s awesome. I think overall what they created is a wonderful family movie that everyone can enjoy.
We Love Soaps: How did this project come your way?
Shawn Christian: Somebody asked me to read the script. I went in and met the director and producer. You don’t know from meetings what is going to happen, but I got a call, they said they want to use me in the film. And fortunately because it’s NBC, and I’m on an NBC soap, they were able to make it work out.
We Love Soaps: Your background in college is in marketing?
Shawn Christian: That’s absolutely correct. I had done acting as a hobby most of my life. I had written plays when I was younger and acted in them. No one really tells you, “You can do this for a living,” so I pursued many different things. Sciences, business, and it would always end with the heart, I would always paint or draw. I was doing commercials to pay for books, and discovered that this is what I love to do. I met with people in Chicago before I graduated, and they said, “Get your ass down here.” I got my degree and left the next day to pursue acting.
We Love Soaps: Have you ever used your degree in marketing for anything?
Shawn Christian: [Laughs] Other than marketing myself, no. The one thing I do have an appreciation for is the business side of this business. How things are marketed, how things sell, what doesn’t sell, the demographics that people are targeting. You can see with a variety of scripts that I’ve read, you get what they’re selling. Like “Secrets Of the Mountain” is very specific, it is a family adventure. It’s like Indiana Jones, only with a mother and her kids. So I can say, “I get it, that’s what they are going for.” So with WalMart and Procter & Gamble, you understand what their target audience is, and what kind of revenues they are looking for. If it’s hit, who knows what will happen.
We Love Soaps: Has your understanding of the business helped you deal with changes that you have seen during your soap career?
Shawn Christian: Yes. You detach yourself personally sometimes because you know it’s a business decision. Like I think SUMMERLAND was an extraordinary show. And AS THE WORLD TURNS is an extraordinary show. SUMMERLAND was canceled, AS THE WORLD TURNS is being canceled. But in this landscape, it is bigger than just the show. There are talented people with great stories on that show. But times are changing. CBS, for whatever reason, wants a different kind of programming in that timeframe.
We Love Soaps: Based on your understanding of marketing, is there a way for the daytime soap opera genre to thrive on a long term basis?
Shawn Christian: I think it’s two-fold. It can if you can continue to grasp that idea of fantasy and escape, take these people on a wonderful adventure, and still ground it in family. With DAYS OF OUR LIVES specifically, with Frances Reid passing away, this week on the show they are bringing in that family history. Those stories that are going to ground the show. They haven’t left those beautiful fantasy stories where you can escape and lose yourself, and think, “My God, what if that was happening to me,” and be swept away by it. So they harmonize the two of those, which is not easy. Reality TV is very much truth in your face, and there is a certain audience for that. But I do believe there will always be an audience for daytime. They want those strong family connections, and they like to escape to that nice little fantasy world.
We Love Soaps: Earlier today, Marc Pritchard, P&G global marketing officer, when speaking about P&G’s involvement with daytime soaps, stated, "I think they've run their course”. A lot of our readers today have taken umbrage with this remark. We have been having back and forth discussions about whether or not this is an accurate statement. Do you think daytime dramas in their current form have "run their course?"
Shawn Christian: No, I don’t believe that. But I don’t think you need to go changing it all with crazy camera techniques. I think you still need to be true to it’s format. What you get with daytime is a very personal genre. You are in these people’s living room daily. Daily. And these people essentially live with some of these characters who have been on this show (DAYS) specifically for a very long time. They grew up with them. When you go out of town you have people coming up to you saying, “My Mom watched this thing, now I watch this thing.” It has been passed down. But the landscape of television has completely expanded. Back in the day you only had three options to watch TV. Now it’s a broader range, so people drift, people go.
There is no reason, in my opinion, to dismiss the soaps as a has-been format of story telling. Because it is story telling, almost at it’s rawest form. You can watch how these people respond to extraordinary circumstances. You may not find yourself in every aspect of that situation but there are bits and pieces. So Daniel finds out he has a daughter he never knew about. It allows the audience to go, “what if?” Maybe you don’t have a connection with your own daughter or son. So people watch those scenes with Daniel and Melanie struggle with Daniel trying to figure out to be a father. That’s what people can connect to, those experiences.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Please press here for Part Two in which Shawn reflects on his time on AS THE WORLD TURNS, ONE LIFE TO LIVE, and SUMMERLAND. Plus, what piece of advice did he get from Ellen Degeneres? Does the man ever wear a shirt? Answers to these burning questions and more tomorrow.
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 celebrating his return to private practice in Manhattan at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York.