Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Interview (Days): Ken Corday on the Days of His Life

Husband-and-wife team Ted and Betty Corday fulfilled a longtime dream back in 1965, when their soap opera “Days of Our Lives” first began airing on NBC. Unfortunately, Ted passed away eight months later, and Betty took the reins solo. She semiretired in 1985, passing the “Days” torch to son Ken Corday. She passed away two years later, and “Days” has been Ken’s baby ever since. Ken recently wrote a book called “Days of Our Lives: The True Story of One Family’s Dream and the Untold History of ‘Days of Our Lives.’” I spoke with Ken recently about the show, his books and the future of “Days of Our Lives.”

Daytime Dial: What made you decide it was time to write a memoir?

Ken Corday: There were two concurrent forces; one was that none of my children knew my mother or father, and I wanted to write the story of my mother and father from their beginnings to their passing. The other force was that when Jim Reilly was alive, God rest his soul, he and I would talk. I would go back and meet with him occasionally. On one of those trips back, about three and a half years ago, I mentioned the story, which is actually the first two pages of this book, about something that happened to our family in New York when I was very young, and he said: “Well, it’s dramatic, and it sounds like the first two pages of a novel. Why don’t you write the story of ‘Days of our Lives’?” So, as I was penning my parents’ story, I realized there was more to it than that. This is my biography here, too, and it’s all out there. That got me to where I am today.

DD: Now you will have more books coming out soon, correct?

KC: The deal with Sourcebooks was a three-year overall deal. November we are coming out with the 45th anniversary coffee-table book — a pictorial retrospective of the show from day one. The rest of the deal with Sourcebooks calls for extended romance novels based on couples who are not on the show today: John and Marlena, Shawn and Bell, Jack and Jennifer, Patch and Kayla. And then there will be two more books from me. One will be a work of fiction that I’ve had brewing for a while. And then, Lord willing, as the show gets closer to the 50th anniversary, there will be a continuation of this book.

DD: “Days” has always had very strong female characters. This might be an obvious question, but was it the strength of your mother that rubbed off on the characters?

KC: Well, as you know, I will never really know the depths of the difficulty because I was all of 15 at the time, but as I said in the book, my brother had gone off to college and I was there every night when she would come home, and the first three years of the show were difficult. Launching a new show, especially for a woman who is running a company as an executive producer in what was in the ’60s really a man’s world — it was a real test for her. It was also the strength of Irna Phillips, who was in at the ground floor. And later I give credit many times in this book to Bill Bell, who has had the same sense of formula on “The Young and the Restless.” The women on that show are just as powerful if not more powerful than the men and are still very, very prominent. Nikki is still prominent; Kay is still prominent. It’s a woman’s medium, and women want to watch strong women — villains or not.

DD: In 1976, Time magazine had Susan Seaforth Hayes and Bill Hayes on its cover, which was a first for soap stars.

KC: Actually, I think that’s when the light bulb went off for me. I was 26 at the time, in graduate school, walking through an airport in San Francisco looking for a book to read on the flight, and there was Time magazine with them on the cover. I realized after 10 years, my dad’s dream and my mother’s hard work put that show on the map. It was the beginning of soaps being in their golden years — say, from the mid ’70s to the mid ’90s — when everyone in college was arranging their classes around which soaps they wanted to watch. It was definitely a first.

DD: The Cordays really paved the way for breaking new ground in soaps. What are some of the “firsts” that they are responsible for that makes you most proud?

KC: Tough question. Well, obviously, from the first interracial couple; we also dealt with other social issues for the first time and would learn and sometimes get burned doing those, even though I was proud of them. You learn from them that people watch the show for escape and romance and not necessarily public service. We did a number of difficult stories; one with Mickey’s insanity and the one where Marlena’s baby died of crib death. We learned that even though they were firsts, the viewers didn’t have a good time watching them. Those are like the three no-no’s in telling a story on the soap. Mental illness, bad idea. Killing babies, bad idea. And child abuse and spousal abuse are just too difficult to watch.

DD: What are you most anxious for “Days” fans to learn about you and the show when they read your book?

KC: I am most anxious and excited to tell them the parallel between our family’s lives and the show’s life. Just because you own a soap opera that is successful, doesn’t mean your life is a bowl of cherries. We had some difficult personal things to endure. First my father’s death, then my mother had some very serious health issues. My brother was never well and committed suicide in 1990. The other anxiety was how close the show has come to having the ax fall, certainly since I’ve been there since 1980. We’ve had a number of times where either their hand was on the plug or one time my hand was on the plug. In the end, it’s more important to keep the show on for a few million viewers a day than to appease the network or appease myself.

DD: Unlike many soaps, lately “Days” has increased its viewership, hopefully putting to rest questions about the show’s future. What do you see for “Days’” future?

KC: Good question. Currently, it’s very rosy. Our ratings are up 10 percent from last year. We’re having the highest ratings, as we approached April, in three years. NBC, in two weeks, goes back to New York and sells the sponsor time for the next year. Based on these numbers, they should profit more than they have the year before. I believe it should, and I always say this old girl has a lot of life left in her.

DD: Through the years, “Days” has gone through its share of criticism from TV columnists. Does it bother you if critics pan the show, or does it not matter to you as long as the fans are happy?

KC: If I started listening to what the critics say or, more important, what all the disgruntled fans say, I’m going to start second-guessing myself. And that is the biggest mistake and certainly the most important lesson I’ve learned in 30 years: Do not second-guess myself.

DD: You have many loyal actors on the show who have been on for a while, or who have no qualms about coming back for guest appearances. What is it about “Days” that keeps them around and keeps them coming back?

KC: We’re blessed. I’ve talked to a number of actors who are on other stations’ soaps who’ve come and gone, and they say every time they come back to NBC Burbank, it feels like home. It’s family. Perhaps because it’s a family-run business, it’s a feeling of family here. When you ask an actor to come back after a long period of time — Charlie Shaughnessy recently came back, and he’s now a known prime-time commodity and a bigger star than he ever was when he was Shane, yet he walked right back into the role and played it better than ever. When Macdonald Carey died, and now Frances Reid is gone, my mother and father, and we’ve had a few other unfortunately young deaths of stars on the show, they kind of become our guardians, and I feel that presence when I walk into the studios every day. It’s a safe place to take chances and to perform.

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