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September 3, 2014

NYTVF: Breaking into Daytime Drama

by Liz Finn-Arnold, posted Sep 11th 2007 1:00PM
NYTVF Daytime Drama PanelI know what you're thinking. Who would want to work on daytime soaps? They're cheesy and lame. And they're not "real" TV shows. So why would anyone waste their time checking out the NYTVF's panel on "Breaking into Daytime Drama?"

Well, I would. And I'm glad I did. As a writer trying to break into television, I like to know all about potential employers. Besides, it's not like TV shows grow on trees out here in NYC. Us actors, writers, and other creative types have to take what we can get where we can get it.

And as I found out Saturday at the Daytime Drama panel, I'd be darn lucky to land a job on a soap.

Just about everyone on the panel LOVED their jobs. In fact, they couldn't stop raving about how lucky they are to be working in the best job in the world. Midway through I was thinking, "Yay, sign me up!"

Then came the downside. Daytime TV moves at an incredible pace. You have to be willing to work extremely hard and for very long hours. They crank out an unbelievable 250 shows per year in daytime. Which makes those guys over on Lost, with their measly 1316-episode season, look sort of lame by comparison.

The "Breaking into Daytime Drama" panel was held at CBS Guiding Lights Studios on West 57th Street and was sponsored by Proctor & Gamble Productions. The panel was made up of a bunch of people who work for P&G's TeleVest Daytime Division, Guiding Light, and As The World Turns.

Amy Handelsman (Director, Writer & Creative Development for TeleVest/Proctor & Gamble) explained that when hiring new writers she doesn't look specifically for daytime drama writers. She looks for "good writing" in general. By "good writing" she means that it feels real, authentic, and surprises her. They don't, however, accept unsolicited scripts, but will take recommendations from agents or entertainment lawyers. Once Amy does request writing samples, she asks to look at something original (not a spec script). If impressed by the voice and vision in that material, she'll give the writer a chance to prove they can write for one of Proctor & Gamble's shows.

But writing for a specific popular daytime drama is a lot harder than it may look. As Amy pointed out, these shows have been on the air for a very long time (50 years for ATWT and 70 years for GL), and have complicated characters and storylines (and dedicated fanbases that recognize continuity problems). Not everyone can jump in and write seamlessly in this environment. A daytime writer also needs to be able to create exciting drama, as well as smaller moments that resonate with viewers.

Rob Decina (Casting Director, Guiding Light) explained that he casts actors much in the way Amy hires writers. He doesn't look for specific "daytime actors." He looks for actors who are charming, personable, likable, real, and can act (of course). But he also looks for someone who can handle the grueling daytime schedule. Remember, they shoot 250 episodes a year (on a smaller annual budget than most primetime shows have to make 26 episodes). The actors sometimes have to memorize 40 pages of dialogue a day and they usually only get ONE TAKE. You have to have a certain personality to succeed and thrive in this fast-paced environment. And I guess you have to possess a lot of stamina and have absolutely no personal life.

As you can see, working on a soap is way more stimulating and creative than I ever thought it would be. I personally would consider working in daytime TV if I had the opportunity. The downside for me is that I haven't really been a true follower of any one soap since Frisco and Felicia were still the hot item on General Hospital. I would find it difficult to suddenly jump aboard a train that has been moving at full speed for longer than I've been alive.

But don't let my shortcomings stop you. If you're looking for entry-level opening in daytime drama, you can check out Proctor & Gamble's internship opportunities.

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