Friday, June 11, 2010

Ken Corday - The We Love Soaps Interview, Part One

Ken Corday is known as many things to many people. But as revealed in his new book, "The Days of our Lives: The True Story of One Family's Dream and the Untold History of Days of our Lives," there is an undeniable emotional gravitas and spiritual thread that his parents infused in DAYS from the very start 45 years ago,  and which continues to this day.  In Part One of our interview, he candidly discusses his "mistakes" as Executive Producer of DAYS, and perspective on new media.  In future parts, he will discuss the secret of DAYS passionate following, the future for DAYS, and how he has coped with his harshest critics. 

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".


  1. I wish you followed up on the 'mistake' that he said really was not his but the network and Reily. The killing of the veteran cast and the subsequent Melaswen/NewSalem twist. He claimed at the time that the twist that they were alive was planned all along from the start. Just curious what he would say 6 years later, if the network planned to cut them for real or if the plan was changed mid-steam. Was this to re-set everyone's salary because of budget problems? What was it like telling all those long term employees who everyone says is 'like family' that they are fired from the show and going through last day cake and goodbyes if you know they would be asked back. I can't imagine being the boss/owner of a soap. That was just messing with actors lives in a weird way.

    Also, even though they were 'alive' in NewSalem, the storyline really continued because they only rescued half of the cast and brought them back to Salem.

    Frustrating for me, my Jack was not allowed back. Reily really must not have liked Mathew Ashford. He wrote him off the show in 93 and Jack was the first murder victim when Reily returned to the show. Would like to know the real story behind that. They replaced him with 'hunkier' actors Mark Valley in 90's and tried to pair Jennifer with Patrick Lockhart (Brody Hutzler) in 2003-4. I'd like to know the thinking behind that. Did the network think MA was not leading man enough for leading lady Melissa? Oh, I did go off on a pet peeve of mine there. LOL!

    Also ironic that Maggie and Alice were 'killed' back then and are so revered now. I guess it depends on who is overseeing at the network or who the co-ex.producer or head writer is at that moment in time.

    I know there is no one person to put all the blame or credit on when it comes to the twists and turns of all the storylines/characters on the show.

  2. Hi TVcat1 !

    Corday did go into greater detail about SSK in the book, there is a whole chapter devoted to it. I think if you read it you'll be somewhat satisfied, and then perhaps frustrated with more questions.

    According to this chapter, the plan was to bring the actors all along. But the actors were not informed of this (this has been confirmed with me by many of the actors themselves). Corday believes the actors kinda "knew" about the plan, but they have told me they did not.

    I'm still not sure exactly what Reilly had against Ashford, except for the fact he was a complex intellectual actor, and Reilly didn't seem to write for intellect (to say the least!). Ashford does not dumb it down.

    What is clear that Corday has surprisingly little creative control over the day-to-day show we see on screen. He has proven himself quite capable of wrestling with NBC suits behind the scenes who want to get rid of the show year after year.

    As an Ashford fan I can't help but correct one thing: James Reynolds was the first killed off in SSK (and Bo & Hope were knocked in the head with a lead pipe before that). I know they experimented with Jennifer and Patrick for a few months but he was flirting with Hope and Lexie during that time as well.

    My POV is that the SSK mess fell on Reilly, but it was enabled by NBC who were ready to see the show gone.

  3. hunny, I turned off my set the day Bryan Dattilo was no longer on my screen. I will tune back in for the amount of eps he is on, but after that, it is turn off the set time again. No Dattilo, No Days, its that simple.