In Parts One, Two, Three, and Four of our interview with Wendy Riche, the legendary Emmy winning former executive producer of GENERAL HOSPITAL discussed her early years on GH, her ability to cast talented unknowns (such as Antonio Sabato, Jr., Vanessa Marcil and many others), her successful collaboration with Claire Labine, her firing from GH, and the "rumors" about joining ALL MY CHILDREN. In the final part below, Riche discusses mistakes, regrets, and the future of web soaps.
Wendy Riche: I remember the first week after we announced the Robin and Stone love story, before it aired, thinking we'd made a big mistake by announcing it. We did a big press conference/announcement, and approximately 100,000 viewers tuned out almost immediately. I remember calling Pat telling her I thought it was a mistake and that we should have peeled the layers off the story and let the audience just discover it. But we thought the subject matter deserved a big press conference. We thought it was a good thing to make a big announcement about such an important subject. I think we got too caught up in the good we were doing.
We Love Soaps: Yet if you ask anyone what they remember about 1994-95, it is Monica’s cancer, B.J.’s heart transplant, and Stone’s death. Those can’t ever be forgotten.
Wendy Riche: I agree, and I appreciate it. But those 100,000 might still be watching today. If we had weaned them into it they might have stayed around to see what happens, and gotten involved in the story and stayed with it. But we said, “AIDS,” and they ran, probably thinking, “We don’t want to see some gay story or some drug story,” or whatever the prejudice was. And I imagine some tuned out because they thought it would be depressing when ultimately, thanks to Claire and her team, it was uplifting. So had we just let the storytelling play, I think we would have retained the audience.
We Love Soaps: So that brings me to one of my last questions: do you have any regrets about your tenure at GENERAL HOSPITAL?
Wendy Riche: I’ll have to think about that. I generally don’t have any regrets in life. Whatever I do and experience I know is for my growth and contributes to the purpose of my journey. I truly and sincerely know that. I know there are some moments that slipped away because I didn’t see it. Not with casting, but there might have been one or two storylines that slipped away because I didn’t see it in the moment. I guess my one regret is that I would have said “should” less during those ten years. I actually learned that from my children, it’s not in my vocabulary anymore.
I look at everything as an experience without regrets because it had it’s purpose. What I value is what I learned about myself and about the audience during that time. Regretting something that you did doesn’t help you learn from it. It seats you in a place of sorrow and wallow. And that is not productive to me. Once something is done you cannot change it. So I would much rather learn from it then regret that I did something that is done.
We Love Soaps: I feel exactly the same. My entire book, “Absolutely Should-less,” is about living without destructive “shoulds". I also feel I have learned from every mistake that got me this far in life.
Wendy Riche: I think that’s what we are here for. Otherwise life would be a lot easier. If there were not bumps along the road then it would be a lot easier. But what would we learn? We are here for a purpose, and that is learning knowledge, and understanding the human connection. That is why I loved working on GENERAL HOSPITAL so much.
We Love Soaps: Why do our fans and readers still hold your period at GENERAL HOSPITAL with such regard?
Wendy Riche: I think we touched their hearts. That is the gift of storytelling. If we can touch one person’s heart then we have succeeded. And we touched a lot of people’s hearts with our storytelling.
We Love Soaps: Jacklyn Zeman recently told me, "I would like to go on record as saying that when Wendy Riche was producing GENERAL HOSPITAL it had heart, and soul, and storylines that will resonate for the rest of my life. I just think she has so much to offer. That woman is amazing." This is not the only actor who has conveyed this to me about you. Why is that?
Wendy Riche: I am very grateful for that. Jackie did some of her finest work in the BJ story. During the time I was there, well, for some of the time, we were able to write stories that had resonance and meaning and purpose, and we had really good scriptwriters, it gave the actors fulfillment. It’s what they do. It’s what actors are born to do. They take material and they take it further. But without the material they couldn’t do it. I think those that remember the time fondly are those that were given material for their characters that made sense to them, that was innovative, that challenged them, and kept them on their toes. Actors love to be challenged by good material. Claire loved to write challenging good material for actors, as does Bob [Guza].
We Love Soaps: You mentioned future projects. Have you considered using the internet to tell new stories?
Wendy Riche: Yes. Someone came to me during my last month at GENERAL HOSPITAL and talked to me about doing an internet soap. He had an idea and we co-created and co-wrote it. We wrote eight weeks for two and a half minutes a day episodes. We created a company, we created a trademark, and then we went into a whole concept on interfacing it with prime time television. Right after we developed it, the internet tanked. And when in started to come back, and when people thought about doing soaps on the net, I was too involved with other projects. But I did it back in 2001. We created an internet comedy soap but we never produced it. We developed it with ABC at one point as "micro-minis" but they never produced our or anybody's. The timing was too ahead of the game. But have I thought about now? Of course. Some people have approached me. I know Karen Harris is doing one. And then THE BAY is coming up. I think this is going to be a good way to do future soap operas.
We Love Soaps: I agree. Web soaps like DIARY OF A SINGLE MOM and ANYONE BUT ME are telling stories that reveal the human condition in ways that I don’t think television wants to.
Wendy Riche: And they are doing it in reality, like THE REAL HOUSEWIVES on Bravo and TEEN MOM on MTV. Like it or not, that’s what they are doing. That has affected daytime, as have the talk shows. People can watch an episode of OPRAH, DR. OZ, DR. PHIL, or TYRA about autism, obesity, anorexia, breast cancer, infidelity, self-image, teen sexuality, crime , etc, and get a "quick fix" of information and personal real stories. The immediate availability in short versions caused people to question the time commitment of five hours a week, every week. Time commitment is a big factor in everyone's lives. We are all so busy today with work and life that we have had to make hard choices in an attempt to simplify and organize our lives. I think that has been problematic for Daytime. But Primetime television is also telling human stories in scripted shows like ARMY WIVES (Lifetime), THE GOOD WIFE (CBS), and THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER (ABC Family), to name just a few.
We Love Soaps: But as a daytime soap viewer, you become part of the process. We watched Bobbie and Tony lose a child and literally spend years working though the grief.
Wendy Riche: There is nothing like the involvement in a daily drama. It becomes a part of your life and you become part of it's life.
We Love Soaps: Your work made such an impact on my life in the 90s. No one can change that. Fortunately, much of it is now available on YouTube so people who weren’t able to see it the first time around can now watch.
Wendy Riche: Thank you for that. I was just watched one of the Nurse’s Ball [a yearly event to promote AIDS awareness]. That was something I wanted to do from the minute I got there. After I met with every actor I got to know who they were not only as an actor, but what their other talents were. I remember thinking, “Geez, these people can do so much more.” So I always wanted to show off their talents beyond acting. And we did that with Claire. She loved the idea and embraced it totally! It worked for her storytelling in so many ways. Plus we got to really "put on a show." The work was hard, but everyone loved doing it. The actors, the entire cast, staff, and crew, all loved it.
We Love Soaps: If you could go back to early 1992 and give yourself one piece of advice, knowing what you know now. what would it be?
Wendy Riche: It would probably be not to take it as seriously as I took it. I would say to anybody to be diligent, hardworking, have purpose, but don’t take it so seriously that you lose sight of the bigger picture. The bigger picture of your own life. Spend more time with your family no matter how much work you have...it'll get done. But even if someone had said that to me, I still had to got through what I went through, to gain the knowledge of how to handle the largeness of the task. And I have a wonderful family who understood my commitment to GH. I had a great time there, Damon. I enjoyed it. My advice would be, “Enjoy it more than you are enjoying it now. Try not to take it to seriously, but make sure you understand its seriousness.”
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."