We all love our soap divas, don’t we? From their larger than life romances to their ability to get anything they want by any means necessary, we simply love, and in some cases love to hate, our soap divas. One of the reasons we love these divas so much is because they always keep it 100% real. Over the years, countless actresses have mentioned how they love playing a diva role because they are able to do and say the things that in real life you simply can do and say. Some divas, however, transcend the TV screen and when they feel passionate about an issue, their inner divas follows them into the real world and they tell it like it is and speak truth to power. This has been especially true in the past few years as soap after soap has faced financial struggles, internal strife, attack from network executives, and sometimes from within the writing and production staff, and eventually cancellation. When their soaps were threatened, our favorite divas did what we expect them to do, they spoke out and revealed the truth about what was going on behind the scenes. This made us love them even more.
Two divas took the lead. Susan Lucci, Erica Kane of “All My Children,” and Kim Zimmer, Reva Shayne of “Guiding Light” both felt compelled to speak out and in their own special way, and they put the TV executives, writers and producers on blast! These brave women are the only reason we, the viewers, know what is really happening to our beloved soaps. By blowing the lid off of the inner workings of soap production, these divas have educated us, enlightened us and guided us. Because of them, we now understand what we are up against when it comes to saving the soaps, and we can draw strength and inspiration from them and channel our own inner diva so we too can keep it 100% real about how we feel about the soaps and those who seem determined to destroy them.
Susan Lucci was an icon in the soap world and portrayed Erica Kane for 40 years on the popular soap “All My Children.” During her tenure she was diplomatic when it came to discussing the issues that were negatively affecting her soap. When her biography “All My Life” was published before “All My Children’s” cancellation, Lucci briefly mentioned the struggle to save the show and the measures executives were taking to keep the show on the air like moving the production from New York City to Los Angeles. Lucci also alluded to taking a pay cut in order to save the jobs of production staff and keep the show on the air when she would sit for interviews. Understanding that it would be better to measure her comments while the show was still airing, Lucci was demur and optimistic. When it was announced that the show was being cancelled, however, Lucci unleashed the inner Erica Kane and blasted ABC’s daytime chief Brain Frons in an epilogue she wrote for her book’s paperback edition. In the epilogue, Lucci called out Frons directly and blamed the condition of the struggling soap on poor decisions that he made. Lucci accused Frons of hiring writers who drove fans away with their subpar writing, and she accused him of pushing out “All My Children’s” creator and guiding force Agnes Nixon. Perhaps the most important part of the epilogue is the part where Lucci pulls back the curtain on the real reason that soaps are dying…greed! She states clearly, “An iconic show was losing out to greed. If Brian Frons could show his bosses that he could save the network 40 percent he could keep his job even if the rest of us lost ours.” Lucci has been an advocate for the show and its creator Agnes Nixon. She even voluntarily took a pay cut to help save the show. She soon discovered, however, that saving the show and respecting the audience was not part of the ABC/Disney plan. As Lucci tells her fans, Frons pushed aside Nixon and installed a writer that paid little attention to the history of “All My Children.” In a revealing and stinging quote, Lucci said, “I’d click the television to ABC and not realize I was watching `All My Children.’ If the show was unrecognizable to me, I can only imagine how our viewers felt.” Lucci lost the battle to save “All My Children” but in true Diva fashion she let everyone know who was to blame for its demise and why.
Even more outspoken was CBS diva Kim Zimmer, who originated the role of Reva Shayne in the early 1980’s on “Guiding Light.” Fans of that show remember Reva as an outspoken, fearless, loyal and in-your-face character who would fight for her friends and family and for what she believed in even if it meant putting herself in harm’s way. What was not apparent to fans and casual observers alike was that Kim Zimmer was EXACTLY like Reva. This diva was quick to express her anger and frustration when her show started its long, slow decline and she never hesitated to speak up and put the spotlight on whomever was to blame, even the highest executives at Procter & Gamble. Zimmer’s book, “I’m Just Sayin’” goes into detail about how “Guiding Light” changed and how its owner, Procter & Gamble really felt about the show the last few years. Zimmer is blunt and says clearly that she believes Procter & Gamble was tired of being in the soap business and simply washed their hands of all their soaps and hired executive producers and let them do whatever they wanted, even if their actions damaged the soaps. Procter & Gamble simply had no interest in keeping a watchful eye over their soaps in order to save them, according to Zimmer, and for her that is the infuriating.
Without guidance and a clear purpose to see the show thrive, “Guiding Light” was left at the mercy of writers and producers who experimented and tinkered until the show just died. Up until the very end, though, Zimmer fought to save the show. Zimmer had joined “Guiding Light” in 1983 when she created the role of Reva Shayne. Reva was an instant fan favorite and for the next seven years, Zimmer was the face of the show. Zimmer left the show in 1990, only to return in 1995 and she was with the show from that point until its last show in 2009. In fact, she and co-star Robert Newman, who played Reva’s soul mate Josh Lewis, were the last two actors seen at the end of the last episode.
For soap fans, Zimmer’s book is hard to read because she details specific decisions taken that made the show almost unwatchable. Her harshest criticism is reserved for Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler. Wheeler had been part of soaps for decades, playing Marly/Victoria on “Another World” and Cindy on “All My Children.” As Executive Producer of “Guiding Light” Wheeler was given a free hand, again because Procter & Gamble no longer cared what happened. With her free hand she made radical changes to the show. As Zimmer makes clear, she thinks Wheeler had good intentions, and believed if her ideas worked it would save the soaps. Unfortunately, her changes doomed “Guiding Light.” With every decision she made. Zimmer was there to raise her hand, yell, cry, and generally advocate for the show. Zimmer tells how Wheeler moved production from the long-time Manhattan studio to the town of Teaneck, New Jersey. Filming was done on the fly, in rooms barely big enough for two people and that were hot as hell with the production lights and outside temperature. There were no dressing rooms, and rushed production. Zimmer tells the story of one scene where she and her lover were having a dramatic moment that was pivotal to the storyline. The scene was filmed outside, with the wind blowing and the camera was across a river. When the scene aired, viewers could barely see the pair and they could hear nothing. Zimmer was livid and most of all embarrassed. This incident, as well as many others led Zimmer to the breaking point and she tells of the day she stormed into Wheeler’s office and they had an epic shouting match worthy of any soap. The final insult came when Zimmer learned that “Guiding Light” had been cancelled from the radio in her car while she was preparing to drive to work. The powers-that-be didn’t even have enough respect for the actors and production staff to let them know in advance.
Both Lucci and Zimmer fulfilled their contract duties until the last scene because they are professionals, and both have moved on. Both women are proud of the stand they took to try to save their soaps and to maintain, against all odds and powerful forces, the dignity of their soaps and their history. Above all, both tapped their inner divas to stand up for the fans, who never knew what was going on behind the screens, but who could see that the soaps were being destroyed. Because of these women, the powers-that-be were not able to destroy the soaps without challenge, and because of them, the fans had a voice until the very end. Even more important, because of them, the fans now know about the lengths soap owners and producers will go to get rid of the soaps and we can mobilize to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to the remaining soaps. God bless our soap divas!