Coleman Bell, 38, founded the organization Fans United Against ABC (FU-ABC) and joined the administrative team of Protest ABC Across America four days after it was founded both in 2011 when ABC unceremoniously cancelled All My Children (AMC) and One Life to Live (OLTL). Here are his thoughts on the state of soaps, among other things, 3 years after our stories were taken from us (then given back and taken away again!). Stayed tuned until the end of his fascinating interview for an interview with Cole conducted by LTAS at one of the ABC protests in 2011. And always remember to stay soapy!
by Akbi Khan
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got interested in soaps? How did you feel/react when you heard ABC was canceling AMC and OLTL?
Sure-About me-I grew up in Miami, FL in the 1980’s, the oldest of an extended family of 11 kids, so there has always been an element of having to be able to get a lot of people to listen to me at the same time effectively in my personality-when you have that many younger siblings it is necessity more then desire to be heard, let me tell you!
I got interested in soaps because my mom used them as a reward for me-because I was the only one she could get to help her do the laundry, we would fold laundry while we watched the day’s episodes of OLTL and AMC which she had taped. I have vague recollections of watching soaps befor that as well, with my great great grandmother (who lived until I was ten) and watching Y&R and GL with her, but I don’t remember any of the plotlines until OLTL-the earliest I remember is Victor’s will missing the last page and Tina coming to Viki and then taking over Llanfair when Viki split personalities. I was OBSESSED with Andrea Evans’ Tina and it was around that time that I discovered I had some talent myself, and got bit by the acting bug. I often credit Andrea’s work with getting me through some of the hardest experiences of my younger years (Getting into New World School of the Arts-and later getting through college with my degree in Theater Arts.) I wanted desperately to get on to OLTL and play CJ Roberts! I don’t think I would have ever made it through school without Andreas inspired performances to push me to be always the best actor I could!
We at LTAS were always in awe at the way you and your colleagues organized protests against ABC/Disney in 35 states?Can you say a little about the process of doing so—the challenges, anything that pleasantly surprised you?
Okay’ lets give credit where it is due here-I was only one of so many inspired people working together at the time-Rhonda Kennedy, Erin Hart, Shawn Brady Mary Dunn, Darlene January, Spins Vixenella, Flo, Nathan, Paula-so many of us who lead our own groups now were a part of the original Protest ABC Across America administrator team and we ALL contributed so much to the movement in those days-it has been a while and we have different ideas about how to do things today, but one of the best parts of the 22 city protests (round 1 and 2) was that each of us just dove in and got our hands dirty working with whatever needed to be done. The unfounded and false accusations about that group and mismanagement of funding were tossed in at the worst possible time, and when the group imploded and we had to go in and remove manually each member who had joined (you couldn’t just delete a FB group back then) it was one of the most painful moments we experienced. Nathan and I both created groups to fill the void, and as we appealed to vastly different audiences, we were logical choices to keep the movement going-but our strength as a unified movement has always been our best quality-our unity of purpose-that is what has always made me so proud-that all these groups and leaders and, let’s face it’ EGO’S are able to come together and see the greater good and keep our eye on the ball and the prize. We are all here because of our love of the genre, and we have never forgotten that.
My colleague at LTAS, David Arwood, recently wrote a blog post (titled, “Stand for Soaps” at letstalkaboutsoaps.com)about how the return of soaps to NYC would bring 40,000 jobs and $4 billion in revenue there. Can you explain some of the ways that bringing soap production—AMC and OLTL, certainly, but even ATWT, AW, and GL—back to NYC would help the NYC economy?
Well. not just the economy-the “soap factory” is such a great proving ground for actors as a whole. You get some of the strongest talent anywhere on daytime-and there is no harder job for an actor. I don’t know many people who can be handed 40, 50 , 60 pages of dialogue the night before and be off book and camera ready the next day! While I can’t speak to the numbers David cites, I can tell you this-the average soap shoots at a cost of approximately $1million/week in NYC and employs around 200 people full time. This doesn’t include under fives, extras, special effects crews that come in for pyro or water shots, location shoots, or anything like that. My best estimation is that the shows employ around 5000 persons each when all that is included annually. Now, each of those people lives somewhere, eats somewhere, many have partners or spouses and children who also work and go to school in the area…there are events to attend, clothes to be used through things like Studio Services at stores like Bloomingdale’s, hair and makeup teams-and all of these people who earn their salaries in NYC then spend money living in the NYC area-there are truly billions of lost dollars there. But for me, the biggest losses we are experiencing are artistic opportunities which are now gone in NYC. Some of our best and brightest minds are going to follow the money out west to LA or south to Atlanta or North to Connecticut, where production and jobs are more plentiful.
It was a truly brilliant move to get the unions involved in the 2011 protests and boycotts. Can you talk about the status of the unions’ involvement at this time in the boycotts?
The Unions were happy to help us protest the loss of jobs and the end of an era in NYC in particular-PAAA was so fortunate to have people like Cat Hickland, Ilene Kristen, Robin Strasser, Jill Larson, Colleen Zenk and Nathaniel Marston join us for some much needed star support. It was largely due to their involvement with the fan movement that we were able to get the unions on board. For all the love soap fans give the stars-our special stars return it a thousand fold-it is one of the most beautiful fan/star relationships in entertainment. Daytime stars are so accessible and open to fans and supportive and appreciative of fan love-it is amazing to watch!
We at LTAS now want to take this fight to the Mayor’s and Governor’s offices? How would you, Cole Bell, go about this?
I would start with a plan-a solid production plan and a plan for financing the shows that is feasible and realistic. Bringing these shows back to NYC is going to cost money-and a lot of it, so there needs to be a clear plan on HOW it is going to happen and a strong breakdown of how it is going ot be financed. Both the mayor and governor are huge proponents of bringing industry into NY, and would, in my opinion, be supportive of a production model that would bring in new jobs.
You and your colleagues back in 2011 started the advertiser boycotts, and they are still going strong in many respects. Can you suggest some ways to show the advertisers that if they support the soaps, we support them; if not, we boycott them (cost them money)?
For me, this is a back to basics sort of idea. I am actually in need of a new vacuum right now, and I am waiting to save up for a Hoover canister vac with a pet attachment, because I will always be grateful to Hoover for their support of us! I have been so very aware of things like not supporting Disney and maintained my resolve in the boycotts of so many products like Hershey and reinforced my purchasing of products like Neutrogena (who advertised on the reboots!) Keep sending copies of receipts to companies you USED to support when you now purchase their competitors product, and send Thank You notes to companies like Hoover and Neutrogena and Nestle who have supported us! Written notes carry so much weight, and are always appreciated by companies when they are supportive and positive. Also, take a photo of yourself at checkout with the products you NOW buy INSTEAD of those who advertise on Disney/ABC/Lifetime/ESPN etc. Also, if it is within your budget to do so, buy a share of Disney stock and go to the shareholders’ meeting. Sign up to speak and share your discontent at the lack of quality scripted daytime programming like OLTL on their networks compared to a few years ago. When shareholders speak, companies listen, and when enough shareholders filibuster a shareholders meeting so nothing else can get done, companies get fed up and will cave to the demands of their shareholders.
And finally, can you give a little last push of inspiration to the fans, now that we are on the brink of getting the soaps back? If you had to guess, which network would bring its soaps back first?
How can I inspire you guys, when it has always been you who have inspired me? Your constant love for the genre, relentless loyalty to these shows and our extended family of fans have made this movement all worthwhile to me. These shows mean so much to so many people, and I would be so happy to see them coming back on our screens where they belong-Keep the Faith, Keep the Pressure on and stand strong together. Keep calling ABC, keep calling Disney, keep the conversation going and we will see the results we desire. Only if we persevere and keep a true and steady course can we succeed! But I feel that ABC is on the verge of making a grand gesture to fans to try to get us back-and NBC will follow. I think CBS will be the last to come around-but it is anyone’s guess!
Keep up the good work, friends! And always remember that we ALL only have ONE LIFE TO LIVE-so make it worth living-stand up and be counted!