Deep Soap: ‘Days’ Headwriter Dena Higley: ‘I Was Given A Blank Check’

Kristian Alfonso on Days of Our Lives (NBC)

Kristian Alfonso on Days of Our Lives (NBC)

Monday, the ‘Days of Our Lives‘ cast and Powers-That-Be gathered for a cocktail party as part of NBC’s summer press day, an event featuring panels about NBC-Universal’s spring and summer programming. That’s right. The network that was ready to get out of the soap biz now considers DOOL important enough to merit a cocktail party with fancy hors d’oeuvres and an open bar.   The official occasion was the show’s 45th anniversary.  I spoke with headwriter Dena Higley about her inspiration for Hope’s (Kristian Alfonso’s) surprising new storyline, writing Alice Horton’s (Frances Reid)  memorial service and DOOL’s writing process.

Why is Salem going to be sizzling this summer?
Because of couples breaking apart, yearning, coming back together, finding each other, big secrets being revealed, supercouples rediscovering passion, and some surprise bombs dropping.

You are the only daytime soap whose total audience is growing. What do you think the secret to your success is?
I think we have to make people want to watch tomorrow. Why do you want to watch tomorrow? Because you love these people and something’s going to happen and I have to make sure that everything’s going to be okay.  We try to make sure everybody’s just a little bit annoyed with us at the end of an episode because if they’re a little bit annoyed, a little bit unsatisfied, then they’ll watch tomorrow.  But eventually we want to fill them with satisfaction.  And then they start it up again.

As a viewer, I had one of those,”Wait, what the heck?” moments when Hope’s new storyline about her double life started last week.   What is going on with her?
All my favorite storylines come out of just waking up in the middle of the night and going, “I know what I want to do.”  It’s not doing research or trying to read books or watch movies. It’s just I woke up and I knew I wanted to tell that Hope storyline and it just fell into place.  I picked up the phone, called [Co-Executive Producer] Gary Tomlin, and said, “This is what I want to do.”  He’s like,”That’s the craziest idea you’ve ever had, and I love it.”  So it came out of the blue. It just hit me that we would have so much fun with Hope because it’s coming out of the kidnapping and the drama with Bo.  I think that’s all very relatable to women.  You have trouble with your husband and you get angry and what do you do with that anger?  What if all of your anger in your life took on a life of its own? What would that look like?  I wanted it to be kind of a fun “woo woo” story and at the same time I wanted it to be a relatable woman’s story.  I think we’re all going to be cheering because we all can relate, I think.  I’ve been angry at a few men in my time.

Do the pills that Hope is taking have anything to do with her double life?
Yes, absolutely.  That’s where we’re going.  Right before I went to bed I watched something on TV that was talking about that kind of medicinal thing.

Are Hope and Dr. Baker going to become more than alternate life friends?
Not the Hope that loves Bo, but the Hope that’s angry at Bo finds a friend in Dr. Baker (John Callahan) .

What was it like writing Alice Horton’s memorial service?
Tears.  Tears.  It was so cathartic.  I’ve been on the show since 1985. I remember MacDonald Carey (Tom).  I remember with sweet fondness Frances.  I was given a blank check and [asked],”Dena, who do you want to bring back?” I started making lists and they started making phone calls.  People were so generous and gracious to want to come back and pay tribute to her.  We wrote the scenes.  We cried. It’s like  doing a funeral for your most beloved family member. If you could do it perfectly, what would it look like?  We’re not one hundred percent,but I think we came pretty close.

What is Days of Our Lives overall writing process?
I write a long story.  I send that to my producer and then we talk about it and then I send it to my co-head writer Chris [Whitesell]. We meet with the network and the producers.  We agree on where they’re going to go and then once a week we sit down and we break that weekly story into bits and pieces.  We have a great staff.  They’re awesome.

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Rant: Sean Young’s Appearance on ‘The Young & The Restless’ Is Not A Casting Coup

The oh-my-God an actor with some mainstream recognition is slumming on a daytime soap opera is becoming a mainstream media meme.  This week, every entertainment blog has been abuzz with the news that Sean Young will play a short term role on ‘The Young & The Restless.’ They have linked this with James Franco’s recent stint on ‘General Hospital,’ and Julianne Moore’s appearance on ‘As The World Turns‘.  Franco is a bona fide current movie star.  His conviction that soap acting is performance art does not make a whole lot of sense, but the guy did do something unheard of for someone who is starring in highbrow indie feature films and playing supporting roles in big studio releases when he appeared in a major story arc on a daytime show. Moore briefly reprised a role she originated.  It is fantastic that she chose to return to the show that gave her a big break, but it is not the same thing.  Nor is David Hasselhoff’s upcoming Y&R appearance.  The Hoff is more of a personality than an actor at this point, but he has always acknowledged that he owes his career to Y&R.

Young has not been a major star since the early 1990s.  In fact, her bad reputation has made her virtually unemployable in major movies.  Her recent credits include guest starring on ‘One Tree Hill’ and a role in Eric Braeden’s western ‘The Man Who Came Back’ which was released straight to DVD.  It is not unusual for someone who makes guest appearances on primetime shows to appear on a soap.  Current Y&R star Michael Graziadei, will guest star on Miami Medical this Friday — his third prime time guest star appearance of 2010 alone.  He has also starred in indie movies. So why is Sean Young considered the bigger star? Y&R is giving Young an opportunity, not the other way around.  Y&R is smart to milk her appearance for the publicity, but I am so sick of the mainstream media acting like it is shocking for an actor with any film credits to appear on daytime when Independent Spirit Award winner Debbi Morgan is starring on ‘All My Children.’

Want To Own A Piece of ‘Guiding Light?’

New York area ‘Guiding Light’ fans can buy their very own piece of Springfield. As the New York Times reports, a firm is auctioning off the show’s props and sets, but for some unexplained reason Procter & Gamble refuses to let the auction house mention GL in any of the advertising materials.  The auction will take place on Saturday May 1.  It is unclear whether the pieces for sale will include pieces from the show’s beautiful old sets or the tiny newer sets that doubled as Production Assistants offices.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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