Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Under Fire with James DePaiva, Part Three

In Part One of our interview with former ONE LIFE TO LIVE star James DePaiva, the actor shared his thoughts on the new musical he's starring in, "Under Fire." As we continued in Part Two, DePaiva shared insights about his ego, reflections on Max Holden, and suggestions for surviving the loss of GUIDING LIGHT. In the final part of our interview, DePaiva discussed more behind the scenes history at ABC, finding peace in his life, and where exactly he stashed the life-size cardboard cutouts of Max and Luna.

We Love Soaps: Here at, we are hoping that the internet will serve as that medium that will allow writers to tell good stories again. Would you ever consider appearing on an internet soap?
James DePaiva: Yeah, why not? No reason not to. I think the worst thing that ever happened to soaps was they became so big. They became so popular and hit mainstream, and were on the cover of every magazine. Up until that point, if you watched most soaps, the production values were horrible! They were cheap, they had three sets, they were dimly set so you couldn't see how bad they were, and the people talked and had relationships. Then the ABC soaps, with Luke and Laura spearheading the charge, became about bigger production values, more action.

Production costs went up exponentially. They became big and expensive, and they were making a ton of money, so the networks were throwing money at them, and they stopped worrying about telling that story of a family. They stopped telling the stories of a teenager’s unrequited love. I’ve heard Beth Maitland is back on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, and didn’t she have that story where she was the chubby girl? That’s the real personal stuff. There were no aliens or anything. It was a real life story. And that’s why THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS held on to it's fans for such a long long time, they didn’t say to their audience, “You’re idiots.” They stay close to the formula of: these are the families, these are the relationships, and this is how life passes. They don’t do anything so whacked out that you can’t bring back characters to where they used to be.

So keep you eyes and ears open, and something else will come back. There’s no way you can replace a show with which you’ve had a thirty year relationship. You can’t. I saw on CBS today a woman who said, “I don’t have another 72 years to invest in another soap.” They were talking about GUIDING LIGHT going away, and that’s true. You lost an old friend. You lost characters you love. And I think you’re going to see a lot more characters you loved lost in the next couple of years. I don’t think this is the end of the bleeding.

Continue reading...

We Love Soaps: For me the bleeding started with losing ANOTHER WORLD has been slowly going on ever since.
James DePaiva: When I started, there were seven shows being shot in New York. I don’t know where AS THE WORLD TURNS sits, but it’s the same company as GUIDING LIGHT, and I don’t know what their numbers are, but I imagine they’re not that different. And I can’t imagine AS THE WORLD TURNS lasting for a much longer period, and then we’ll have just one soap left in New York. Just one. And Disney will turn around and ship that one out just as soon as they can. Or, just kill it. [Pause] What a wonderful high note to end on!

We Love Soaps: On our website we are trying to help our readers and listeners cope with some of the grief issues they’re experiencing from the loss of their beloved shows and characters. We want to help.
James DePaiva: Ellen Wheeler, who I met, cares about soaps. Chris Goutman cares about soaps. Paul Rauch, and I can speak personally about Paul and Gary [Tomlin], love soaps. They love the format, love the genre. But when I came on board at ABC, all the people above them loved soaps. Now they’re just part of the corporate food chain. Now it’s, “How am I going to leverage this job to go on to a different part of the corporation?” It’s an executive gig. We had Jackie Smith and a group of women running ABC Daytime. A group of women. And every one of them watched every ABC soap. They knew what was going on on all of them. And they were intimately involved with the characters. That’s why I was fortunate to come in when I did, that's what made Max a big star. I had these people promoting me and pushing me and they said, “This is what we like as women, this is what we want to see.”

ABC had a promotion department that went all out. I have life-sized cut outs of myself and Susan Batten in my barn! They were in Barnes & Nobles all around the country. ABC had a brand, and it was protecting that brand. Cap City deluded it a bit [EDITOR'S NOTE: Capital Cities acquired ABC in 1986]. And when Disney came around [in 1996] it was numbers on a page. The president of ABC Daytime was the end job, there was no other place to go unless you became president of the network...which wasn’t likely. If you were president of ABC Sports then you were king, or queen.

We Love Soaps: Now, I see you have a guitar with you.
James DePaiva: Yeah, and I’m not doing a song now.

We Love Soaps: Okay. But are you playing in your musical, “Under Fire?”
James DePaiva: Yes, I’m going to play a little bit. It’s a very bittersweet, tender moment. I’m not going to tell you why, but, I think I might cry during it [laughs]. The whole feel of the show is very Latin. If you like The Gypsy Kings or Buena Vista Social Club or anything like that, there’s a lot of that. I think we have three guitars in the [orchestra] pit, a bass drum and piano, and that’s it. It’s a lot of guitars, including them strolling around and strumming them. It makes you want to get up and dance.

We Love Soaps: You look peaceful and happy as you talk about this show. Do you want to do more theater after this?
James DePaiva: God, yes!

We Love Soaps: Is this your first step back in that door?
James DePaiva: Well, that was the intent. The reason for doing a soap opera and coming to New York was to do theater. And then it just fell by the wayside because that damn Max did too well. My life got in the way of my plans. But I’m also at a point now where J.Q., my son, is old enough to handle himself. I’ve been Mr. Mom for the last five years and I would not solicit work or accept work because I was watching my son. Kassie’s working her butt off and I don’t want to make her life tougher. So I took care of J.Q. Now he’s at the age where he wants less and less supervision. He goes to school on his own, comes home on his own, cooks his own dinner and everything. He’s twelve, he wants a little freedom. That allows me to go and do this.

We Love Soaps: So for people that are coming to New York over the next few weeks, how are they going to get tickets?
James DePaiva: Well, it opens September 30th, it closes October 12. There are only six performances unless they add them on.

For tickets or more information on "Under Fire," visit

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 blogs regularly at

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