We Love Soaps: Ken, it is great to talk with you. While reading your book I was fascinated by how our paths have crossed. I grew up in L.A. and moved to New York, while you grew up in New York and moved to L.A. We both went to UC Santa Cruz for college.
Ken Corday: That’s right, College Five.
We Love Soaps: College Five, Porter College, that’s where I lived as well. Also, my mother watched DAYS OF OUR LIVES while pregnant with me, as your mother was Executive Producer. I have always believed that there is psychological and spiritually uplifting quality to DAYS, and after reading your book I understand why.
Ken Corday: That’s very kind of you. My theory is that you are only as good as the cornerstone, the first stone you lay. The premise of the show, which was rural, off the urban track U.S.A., was much more about family values, generations, and the redemptive power of love. Back in 1965, not to be critical of the other soaps, but they were not focused on that subject the way DAYS was. I really think that still speaks to the show. It’s very kind that you find it uplifting. There have been times it’s been a bit strange, when you have people possessed or buried alive. And then with a quick “Our father...” it’s all over, or a quick unearthing, it’s all over. But we learn from our mistakes as well.
We Love Soaps: That is one of my questions. I appreciate how much love and commitment you have for the show. Yet there are times things have appeared on screen that appear disparate from that. Some of the “strange” elements you discussed seem disparate.
Ken Corday: I’ll be direct and honest with you. There was a time when I took criticism from the soap press as the “overlord” of the show for letting that happen. Specifically, when Jim Reilly returned, his mass murder of 10 beloved characters. And before that, his pushing the envelope on what we can and cannot get away with as far as the phantasmagoric. That was in a period when MTV was the thing to watch and people’s attention spans were getting shorter and shorter. I locked horns with Jim on that.
Unfortunately, the second time around, I was given no alternative. They said, “Do it this way or we will take the show off.” They were overpowering at NBC. They had it wrong. That was the real rubicon for me to cross. How do I get through this period of time with a person who is writing another show, incapable of writing two, and is recycling stories from 4-5 years ago? That is where I feel I have made my greatest mistake, but in a way was forced into making it. The audience picked up on it real quickly.
We Love Soaps: I appreciate how authentic and upfront you are in your book about your “mistakes.” You share how torn you were between following your passion in music, and stepping up to take over the family business.
Ken Corday: I remember days when you go home, you put your head on the pillow at night, and think, “God, did I really say that? What an idiotic thing to say!” There’s no way to take it back. We learn from our mistakes. If we boil it down, I am still a charter member of the effiing lucky club. My biggest fear about writing this book is that it didn’t become too self-serving. Like oh, look at me, isn’t this wonderful, I am the luckiest guy in the world, I have this great legacy. It’s more important to get across to the reader that with triumph comes tragedy.
We Love Soaps: You discuss a vivid near death experience you had nearly drowning before starting to work on DAYS. How did that impact you?
Ken Corday: I don’t know how much that had to do with pushing me in the door here. In hindsight, it came at the pinnacle of a learning curve where I realized that someone bigger than me is driving the car, so to speak. I was very fortunate to have my life saved. Either drowned or dismembered, it would have been quite an ugly thing to have been pulled into the surf. I don’t think it had any effect on me entering the business. I think it had more of a profound effect on my respect for the divine order of things.
We Love Soaps: You are the only Executive Producer on daytime who has fully embraced new media from the beginning. I remember in the mid-to-late '90s when the internet was still very new, you did a series of online chats. What led you to do that?
Ken Corday: As with any toy, you want to play with it. Then you find out that either the toy breaks, or you get bored with it, or in some instances, it backfires on you.
We Love Soaps: Did the chats backfire?
Ken Corday: They didn’t backfire so much, but it’s difficult now to go into the chat rooms or go online and be open to questions because you only really hear from the disgruntled fans. Seldom do you get the logon that says, “I love the show, keep things the way they are.” The classic letter is, “Can you marry Bo and Hope, or Melanie and Nathan, so we don’t have to watch the show anymore.” That’s the one that cracks me up. It’s very disturbing for me to go into some of these chat rooms, or satellite fan groups. They get immersed in what they don’t like on the show, with, “I want this changed, that idiot Corday is wasting my time.” If they are throwing their sandwiches at the TV at lunch that’s okay. If they’re turning off the set, then we are making a mistake.
We Love Soaps: Did that negativity ever stop you from doing the chats?
Ken Corday: It did stop me from doing the chats. I still do them, but on a more controlled basis as opposed to my own foray into a chat room and just announcing I am here. Most of the time they think I’m putting them on. Again, take it with a grain of salt, at least they are passionate.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Please press here for Part Two in which Corday discusses the secret behind DAYS fan's loyalty, and struggles with the network "sharks." To learn more about Corday and his personal struggles, press here to buy the book.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve".