In Parts One and Two of our interview with Lane Davies, the critically acclaimed and beloved actor shared memories of his early career, his stint as Evan on DAYS, and his indelible role as Mason on SANTA BARBARA. In Part Three below, Davies discusses his decision to leave the show, his never having been nominated for an Emmy, and the dumbing down of network televsion.
We Love Soaps: When you hear the words, “Milk, butter, ground beef” what comes to mind?
Lane Davies: Cholesterol?
We Love Soaps: Those were Mason’s wedding vows to Julia in 1989. He thought he had his vows in his pocket, and pulled out a shopping list instead.
Lane Davies: [Laughs] Oh my God, I had forgotten that.
We Love Soaps: This was an example of just one of these hysterically unexpected things that took place during an otherwise traditional soap event.
Lane Davies: Well, you know when you’ve been shot by Abe Vigoda playing the world’s oldest hit man that the writers have a sense of humor, even if they are somewhat disturbed [laughs].
We Love Soaps: What led to your leaving in 1989?
Lane Davies: It was time for a number of reasons. Career wise, I felt it was time to make a move before something homicidal happened between me and Nancy [Lee Grahn]. Then there was the boredom factor. I have never regretted leaving the show. There are times I miss the character and times I miss the work. But I never thought it was the wrong career move. I just left and traveled.
We Love Soaps: How did you hear that Mason was being recast with Terry Lester?
Lane Davies: When I left I made it clear I probably wasn’t coming back, but everyone knows that’s not necessarily set in stone in daytime. I was in the south of France when Louise Sorel told me. We were taking French. I think we were in a pool when she told me. I didn’t know Terry at that time. We later became fast friends. He did several things for me at my theaters. I didn’t know him, but I knew he was a great actor and thought he would be great in the part.
We Love Soaps: How did you find out about SANTA BARBARA having been canceled?
Lane Davies: By that time I was so involved in sitcoms. I only have the vaguest memory of hearing it was going off. I hadn’t really watched it since I left. It was like hearing about an old friend that you hadn’t seen for awhile had passed away. That was the feeling.
We Love Soaps: It seemed tragic that a show that had so much intelligence and passion never did well in the American ratings. It garnered many awards and attention world wide, but not in Nielsen ratings.
Lane Davies: That was back when show loyalty was almost patriotic. We were up against GUIDING LIGHT and GENERAL HOSPITAL in most markets. Daytime audiences used to be very forgiving, and a show could be awful for months and the audience would stay with it because they knew it would eventually get better. It was very hard to win viewers away from an existing show, and we were up against those two powerhouses. And then there was the launch. Brian Frons’s theory when we launched SANTA BARBARA was to launch in during the 1984 Olympics, with the theory that women would rather watch a hot new soap than sports. That turned out not to be the case. For some reason in 1984 everyone wanted to watch the Olympics during the day and at night. We never really got the boost a new show could have gotten.
We Love Soaps: Speaking of things that seem unjust: There were many years SANTA BARBARA was nominated and won Emmy awards. To my shock, you have never been nominated.
Lane Davies: But that was back in the days when you had to put yourself up for nomination. I just never did. I didn’t really agree with the Emmy process. And I was so busy with the other stuff. It’s a lot of work to win an Emmy. You have to put the tape together, you have to put it out, I just never did it. I knew that producers were pushing for A [Martinez] to get one and I made the decision early on that I wasn’t going to pursue it. There was a period of time where there was work I was proud of. Maybe if I pushed it, who knows. But I have never been that big on awards. I wouldn’t have refused one if someone handed it to me, but it just seemed like a lot of work that I wasn’t willing to do.
We Love Soaps: In 1993, you filled in for Ronn Moss on BOLD & THE BEAUTIFUL. That seems strange to me given you appear to have very different styles. What was it like to fill in a roll on a temporary basis?
Lane Davies: I was never really comfortable filling in for Ronn. I’m crazy about the Bells, and I don’t know Ronn well. We are very different actors, but they continued to write for him. I was never quite comfortable in that skin. It was only a six week gig. Bill Bell called me in and offered me quite a nice amount of money to come in and make out with Ron Moss’s women on the show. I thought, “Well, I can do that.” I had shot a pilot that spring and was waiting to hear if it had been picked up, so it was really a nice interim gig. The Bells have a great understanding of the genre and their audience, and they are great people.
We Love Soaps: But nowhere on daytime now do you see the intellectual complexities and subtle nuances in dialogue that were written on SANTA BARBARA in the '80s. What do you think happened? Some people theorize there has been dumbing down of our culture in general.
Lane Davies: Yes, I would sort of have to agree with that. You had the reality show juggernaut there for awhile, it’s not as bad now. At one point you had eighteen hours of primetime programming devoted to reality television. You don’t need writers for that, nor actors, nor casting directors. A lot of good and talented writers just got out of the business. That’s part of the problem. And then, at least on network television, subtlety and nuance is not their strong suit.
We Love Soaps: It’s a question of chicken and the egg. Is that dumbing down a reflection of the audience or are audiences being conditioned not to expect and desire intellectually stimulating entertainment?
Lane Davies: I think it’s both. It’s a problem I have across the board with all the media. People tend to be mentally lazy and they don’t necessarily want to be challenged. It’s really up to the creative people to challenge them, to lead them, to push them a little bit. If they don’t, then the common denominator gets lower and lower until you are basically producing for six year olds.
We Love Soaps: I remember being able to see ALL IN THE FAMILY, MAUDE, and MARY TYLER MOORE on primetime. These were shows that made you laugh, but they also made you think. That doesn’t seem to happen now.
Lane Davies: Well, you would have a tough time getting Archie Bunker on the air now. Political correctness is so out of control. At the same time, you’ve got “the suits” running the business. It’s all about the numbers, the bottom line. They’ll pick shows based on numbers, not based on what that show could do for the public if it had time to find an audience. They don’t give good shows enough time to find an audience.
We Love Soaps: Fortunately, cable, pay TV, and the internet seem to be thriving on doing new and different continuing stories.
Lane Davies: And I’m optimistic for that very reason. I think in three or four years we’ll have more good television than we used to have. In the “good old days” we had only had three networks, and a lot of that stuff was pretty awful. We tend to remember the golden years with the golden shows but there was a lot of dreck on at the same time. Now we have all these different outlets, including the internet, and there’s no telling what quality of work will be out there.
We Love Soaps: You have been performing classical theater and Shakespeare on stages for decades. Have you noticed changes in your audience in that area?
Lane Davies: No, I think they remain more consistent. But I think that’s because there is more effort involved in getting up and out to a play. It’s not nearly as passive as television, so they tend to be more discriminating and less forgiving of stuff that doesn’t make it worth while to hire the babysitter.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come back for Part Four in which Davies discusses his role as Cameron on GENERAL HOSPITAL, and shares reflections and insights into his great career.
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."