Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Wisner Washam Interview, Part 3 of 3

Wisner Washam is a Daytime Emmy Award-winning soap opera writer best known for his many years writing for ALL MY CHILDREN from the 1970s to the 1990s. He also had a stint writing for GUIDING LIGHT, developed multiple soaps of his own and has been married to former soap star Judith Barcroft for the past 40 years. In this exclusive interview with We Love Soaps, Washam shares his experiences of moving to New York to be an actor, landing a writing gig with Agnes Nixon, and details of the many projects he's worked on over the past 20 years.

In Part One, Washam recalled his journey from North Carolina to New York City. In Part Two, he shared memories of working on ALL MY CHILDREN and why he ultimately left for good. In Part 3, we conclude the soap discussion and Washam revisits some of the post-daytime writing projects.

We Love Soaps: How long were you away from ALL MY CHILDREN before you returned?
Wisner Washam: I had one hiatus of about a year or so and then they asked me back. That's when I encountered Megan [McTavish]. I was there about a year or two and I couldn't bear her, and she couldn't bear me, so they let me go. But I have no regrets. I've loved the whole process and it has been a wonderful Godsend to me.

We Love Soaps: During your time on ALL MY CHILDREN, what were your favorite storylines to write?
Wisner Washam: I loved Ray Gardner (Gil Rogers). I loved outrageous characters. I loved all those low lives at Foxy's Bar in Center city. I loved Billy Clyde Tuggle and Lettie Jean. I love Phoebe, too, she was pretty outrageous [laughs]! I'll never forget the time when she was pretending to be crippled in a wheel chair and her husband, Charles, found her exercising down in the pool house. I just laughed.

We Love Soaps: Do you check in on ALL MY CHILDREN from time to time?
Wisner Washam: I'll watch it sometimes, mostly at the gym while I'm on the treadmill.

We Love Soaps: A lot of soap history has been lost forver with tapes being destroyed to save money on storage. What do you know about the ALL MY CHILDREN archives?
Wisner Washam: ALL MY CHILDREN was broadcast overseas for a number of years. We had a year or two run in Australia. And we ran in Italy for three or four years. We used to get nice little residual checks. So I think those tapes exists in some warehouse somewhere. I think there's a lot of money to be made in recycling that stuff. Nostalgia is very lucrative. Now that making DVDs is relatively inexpensive and you can put a lot of stuff on one DVD, I don't know why they can't put a month's worth of shows on a DVD and sell it.

We Love Soaps: I want to talk about some of the other soap projects you have worked on. You helped develop a European soap called RIVIERA?
Wisner Washam: One of my co-writers, Mary K. Wells, had a good friend in advertising. After she left the show, he called her one day and said that an advertising agency in Paris was interested in starting a new show over there and wanted a soap opera writer, and asked if she would be interested. She said she wasn't but recommended me. I was more than ready to go because I adore France.

I worked in Paris several months on this show which was originally called THE WHEELS OF MONTE CARLO. It was a very strange situation because they had already come up with the core group of around 12 characters. It was an international soap opera in that it was financed by a consortium of seven European nations. They wanted actors and characters representing each of those nations. It was very peculiar to write because you have to have a bad guy somewhere and I had the audacity to make him a Spaniard. They didn't even know if they wanted a daily show or a weekly show or an hour show or half-hour. I helped them sort of narrow it down.

I thought it was well on the way to being produced. I came home from one of my sessions and never heard from them again. I was most peculiar. Later it turned out some lady novelist had taken over my position and she clearly didn't know what she was doing. It was on the air as RIVIERA and ran for less than a year. They had lost everything. I felt vindicated.

We Love Soaps: You also wrote German soap, TAKE YOUR CHANCE?
Wisner Washam: That never got off the ground either. And that did not involved going to Germany. It involved going to Fifth, Sixth, Seventh Avenue. Felicia Behr had rented a little office and there were three writers and herself. We met there and worked for six weeks or so and had occasional phone calls with Germany. They were planning to do this in the old studios in Munich where Das Boot was filmed. I was so excited about going back to Munich and working from there and being a head writer. But it turns out networks are very sneaky. They simultaneously had someone else developing a show and the other show was chosen.

We Love Soaps: You also developed a primetime soap.
Wisner Washam: The same thing happened to me with Fox. They asked me to develop a half-hour nighttime soap so I went out to Hollywood and it was really La La Land. I came back here and turned in a lot of material and thought it had some hope. But it turns out they had another writer developing the same idea so they'd had some options. That one went on, I don't remember the name it, but it only lasted six months.

We Love Soaps: Do you remember the name of your soap?
Wisner Washam: Hmm, what did I call it? It was very much like FRIENDS. It was a pre-cursor of FRIENDS actually. It was set in an apartment building on the Upper West Side and there were about five stories going on inside the building with characters intermingling. I can't remember the name of it. It doesn't matter because it never went on the air [laughs].

We Love Soaps: You also wrote for GUIDING LIGHT at one point.
Wisner Washam: When I was canned from ALL MY CHILDREN, I lacked six months having enough time with the Writers Guild to be covered by the health insurance plan. Back in those days you had to work 20 years, count 'em, 20 years, in order to vest. I lacked six months. At that point, Lorraine Broderick was working at GUIDING LIGHT and, bless her heart, got me a job. They hired me but I did not fit in at all. Jill Farren-Phelps was the producer and she didn't like me. At the end of six months I was let go.

On the day of the Christmas party at the Plaza Hotel, they called me up about 4 o'clock and said, "You're fired." Anyway, my wife and I got all dressed up in our black tie and evening gown and went to the Plaza and danced the night away as if nothing had happened. The good part of this story is that I've been covered by medical insurance for the Writers Guild ever since then. And I won an Emmy because of those six months [laughs]! I had nothing to do with it but my tenure within the required period of time so I have a GUIDING LIGHT Emmy.

We Love Soaps: GUIDING LIGHT went off the air last year and AS THE WORLD TURNS this year. ALL MY CHILDREN has moved to Los Angeles. How do you feel about there only being one soap left in New York City, ONE LIFE TO LIVE?
Wisner Washam: I'm very sad about it. We got the benefit [in New York] of the some very good actors. The writers of GUIDING LIGHT had a closing party down at the Writers Guild and it was a very sad event for me. But again, I think that was incompetent leadership from Procter & Gamble.

We Love Soaps: Aside from your soap work you've also written a novel.
Wisner Washam: I actually have two novels sitting here in my desk drawer. I can't sell them but I keep trying. I have a two-act full-length play that I'm working on that I hope to get produced sometime. I have a one act play about two gay characters that I think is very funny that I've submitted to some one-act competitions. And I have a screenplay (The Cloning) about the cloning of Jesus Christ, but we'll see. Jesus movies don't make much money they say. I'm still writing and I enjoy it all the more because I'm not under the pressure of pleasing the network.

We Love Soaps: Mentioning the gay characters made me think of ALL MY CHILDREN's Lynn Carson, played by Donna Pescow. It wasn't the first time a gay storyline was hinted at on a soap, but it was really the first time there was an out gay character on a soap.
Wisner Washam: That was the product of producer Jackie Babbin. She was gay and wanted to do a lesbian story so we did it. But I don't think we did it terribly well. The world wasn't at open back then and there really wasn't as much opportunity for the character to go places I felt. We maybe got six months of story out of it.

We Love Soaps: But still those stories kind of pave of the way for the next one and the next one...
Wisner Washam: That's true. We sort of opened the gate and I think we should be proud of that.

We Love Soaps: If you could go back to Chapel Hill when you graduated from the University of North Carolina and give yourself one piece of advice, knowing what you know now, what would it be?
Wisner Washam: Get into television. I loved Broadway and worked four years with the American Shakespeare Festival. I did four Broadway shows and some Off-Broadway. But unless you are a major star or producer there is not much money to be made. Television is more lucrative if you can sustain yourself there. I was so lucky to have a 20 year run in the soaps. A 20 year job is unheard of in show business so the good Lord looked after me for some reason.


  1. Thank you for providing a story behind the name I saw on the screen for so many years.
    My earliest memory of AMC was Phoebe faking paralysis in her wheelchair......so I got a kick that Mr. Washam mentioned it. I remember how sandalous I thought it was as a kid. I fell in love with AMC then and it is the only soap I watch.
    Thanks again for an interesting interview.

  2. I didn't watch AMC then so can't comment about his writing but he is a big part of success of AMC. PP would be smart to put Lorraine & him back together to find AMC's heart again.