Thursday, May 19, 2011

INTERVIEW: Emmy-winning Writer Sheri Anderson, Part 2

In Part 1 of our interview with writer Sheri Anderson, the Emmy Award winner revealed how the new trilogy of DAYS OF OUR LIVES novels came about, and shared her thoughts on web series and how soap operas can be informative and still entertaining.

In Part 2 below, Anderson discusses her last stint at DAYS, not cheating the audience, and making a living as a writer.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How much fun was it to write these novels without having to think about sets or actors?
Sheri Anderson: I developed an animated show at one point and it was the same thing where you'd say, "Wow, I can go anywhere!" I had some of The Powers That Be say after the first novel, "This would make a great movie. We should make this a movie." It has 600 foot yachts in the south of France, superstars, Maseratis and Aston Martins crashing.  I said, "I don't know if there's enough money..." It's fun.  And it's interesting because as I'm writing I have a tendency to suddenly think of the canvas not being that open because I'm accustomed to writing to sets and actors. So I'll think, "I don't have that character." But I do. You have so much freedom.

The thing that I miss, even as head writer or co-head writer, is that it was a team effort. There's so many people who contribute. To have somebody to kick things around with is great. I have some people I spitball with when I'm writing the books. You have to tip your hat to anyone who can write for a soap 52 weeks a year.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You last wrote for DAYS in 1992?
Sheri Anderson: I think it was just before Jim Reilly came in. Gene Palumbo and I were brought it to write a spinoff for Deidre [Hall] called MANHATTAN LIVES. Because the ratings were not as high as they wanted them to be on the show, they brought me in to DAYS to bridge before Jim.

I was there when John and Isabella had first gotten married and they killed her off from pancreatic cancer. My father died of that about 10 years ago. It was done to not cheat the audience. Two months into it the actress said she was leaving and not coming back, so what do you do to not cheat the audience? You have this passionate love story so you don't want to suddenly say there's another woman. It was a very emotional story. I ended up leaving just as Kate and Lucas came in. I had brought in Billie and Austin and then Jim took over. And soon we had Marlena with demon possession.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: On daytime today, unless an actor dies in real life, a soap death almost has no impact because the characters seem to return a few weeks or months later. It's hard to invest.
Sheri Anderson: You have a similar view to me. The producer I worked with in South Africa, Franz Marx, who did EGOLI, was sort of the Aaron Spelling down there. He said to me when we were writing, "If an actor leaves, I write the character off." He doesn't kill them, he writes them off. He said, "I don't want to cheat the audience." My feeling is that it's important to keep the faith of the viewers.

Even in the books, with the second novel, Patch was calling Kayla "Sweetness" and the editors at Sourcebooks kept making it lower case.  I said, "No, that's what he calls her. That's what the audience remembers." Really making people feel they know these characters is important because I do as a writer.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What were some of the biggest differences you saw as a writer from 1976 when you started to 1992 when you left? I think focus groups came along during that time.
Sheri Anderson: It did make a difference. In 1976 there was such a passion for the soaps because they hadn't been on that long. I started the first week DAYS went to an hour so I only worked in the hour format. It was right around the time Bill and Susan Hayes were on the cover of TIME magazine. Because people had less choices, with three networks and fourteen soaps on, the audience was so passionate. By 1991 or 1992, the productions were a bit different. In the early days, it was filmed from top to bottom. You started with the teaser, and you filmed the next scene and the next scene. It wasn't shooting everything in one set and then another set. You taped it as it was seen on air.  There was a lot longer rehearsal time. We had a lot more restrictions from broadcast standards back then but it kind of made it interesting.

As years went on soaps got more and more writers on a team. I feel fewer writers are better, not trying to get anyone out of a job ever. But the more writers you have the less continuity there is becasue it's so hard to keep track of everything. For me a tighter writing staff is better.

I don't even know if it's possible these days, but when I was doing it, I was the always the editor as well. I did the final edit on the script. I felt the editor had the last voice before it got to the actors or producers. I wanted the final handprint on it.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did you come to write the books? Were you still affiliated with the show in some way?
Sheri Anderson: Affiliated in the sense that I was in contact with them because I had a couple of clients on the show. I was also trying to develop some projects for one of the clients who was on DAYS so I was meeting with Greg Meng and Ken [Corday]. Greg came up with the concept of the novels and asked me if I would write it.

People had always said to me, "Oh, you should write novels." But I said, "No one will publish it, or I won't get paid for it." It's so much work to write a novel, and I'm used to getting paid. That happened when I was 12 years old as a student reporter for the local paper. Then I was in advertising a bit before I got into TV. I was always lucky because until maybe 10 years ago writing was actually my profession in full. People would ask me, "How do you make a living?" And I said, "As a writer."

Now I'm a talent manager as well and have shifted away from writing a bit. But when they came to me and said they had a publishing deal and some money and I would write whatever I wanted, I said, "Oh, that's sounds good." It's been an interesting journey, one that I enjoy tremendously, and I hope it keeps going. But it's going to depend on if people buy the books. It's like the soaps, if people don't watch, they're going to go off the air.

Purchase "A Stirring From Salem":

EDITOR'S NOTE: In Part 3, Anderson shares her favorite stories, getting feedback from fans and more.

Roger Newcomb is a producer and writer in New York City. Aside from co-hosting WE LOVE SOAPS TV, he has written and produced a full-length indie film, Manhattanites, and two radio soap operas, SCRIPTS & SCRUPLES and ROCKLAND COUNTY. He has also made acting appearances in indie web series IMAGINARY BITCHES and EMPIRE. He has consulted on numerous indie soaps and is currently an associate producer on THE BAY and executive producer on the upcoming indie short May Mercy Lie.

1 comment:

  1. When's part 3?

    I appreciate seeing John and Marlena and Steve and Kayla again in these books.

    These characters are my "friends" in a way, and I welcome seeing them in any way I can. On Days, or in a book.

    Thanks for this interview.