The real life soap opera that has been going on behind the scenes at All My Children has sent the viewers as well as the cast and crew on an emotional roller coaster that has lasted for nearly four years.
In 2009, the cast was forced to take pay cuts and uproot their lives in order to begin filming in Los Angeles after filming in New York for the show's entire 39 year run. Things went from bad to worse when former president of ABC Daytime, Brian Frons announced on April 14, 2011 that ABC would in fact be cancelling both All My Children and One Life to Live in September 2011 and January 2012, respectively. Shortly after, Prospect Park came in to save the day and announced that they would be buying the rights for both of the beloved soap operas and would begin filming them to be broadcasted in an online format beginning in late 2012.
But in the world of soap operas, you are programmed to expect the unexpected and when One Life to Live went off the air in early 2012, Prospect Park later abandoned their plans to continue both shows in a Friday cliffhanger that seemed to have no resolution. But just like the infamous back-from-the-dead story lines that soaps are known for, in late 2012 Prospect Park resumed plans to bring back both All My Children and "One Life to Live online beginning April 29, 2013.
I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with legendary actress and two-time Emmy Award winner Cady McClain who has played Dixie Martin on All My Children on an off for nearly 20 years. A veteran in the business, known not only for her incredible work in front of the camera but also for her dedication to the history of the genre, Cady discusses the return of All My Children, how the soap business has changed and what the show will not only look like aesthetically in its new online format - but also without the venerable Susan Lucci.
How did you feel when All My Children was canceled and Prospect Park scrapped their plans to do the show online? Did you think all hope had been lost for the genre?
When AMC was canceled in 2011, it was pretty depressing for me because the show had been like a family. This included many of the people behind the scenes. I hated seeing so many of my friends unemployed. However, I didn't think it was a death sentence. People had been kicking around the idea that soaps were on the down slide since the mid-'90s when the O.J. Simpson trial was cutting into all the show's airtime. The problem became how to get their attention back when the OJ trial ended because a lot of people had stopped watching, for various reasons. After 2011, when the show was cancelled by ABC and Prospect Park wasn't able to pull the show together right away and I had a lot of compassion for them. Soaps are massive productions, and taking over to re-start up a stopped roller coaster isn't a simple matter. But I had faith. I inherently knew All My Children was something millions of people enjoyed, that it was a part of many people's family traditions, so I strongly suspected someone would remember that and bring it back. I'm so glad Prospect Park worked everything out. They are amazing.
What was your feeling when you got the call that All My Children was coming back? Were you in disbelief?
Oh God, I wondered if they were even going to call me. I hadn't been a big part of the show in the 2000s, and didn't know if Michael [Knight, who plays Cady's characters Dixie's love interest Tad Martin] was going to do it because I knew he had been pretty beat up those years when I was gone. I suspected he wanted a breather for a bit. If he didn't do it, I wasn't sure that they'd call me because our characters were so connected. When Ginger [Smith, EP of AMC] called and asked me to come back, I was over the moon. Ginger is an incredible person who knows the show backwards and forewords and really appreciates its history. She told me "you're essential to this show and we need you, I can't do it without you," which was amazing to hear. I mean, incredibly validating after everything I had been through. I told her, "Whatever you want. I'll come back for five hours, five days, five weeks. Whatever you need. I love you." Everything has been kind of a whirlwind since then, on every level. But it's great. I believe in the show and believe that Ginger will take care of the show and the characters in a way that makes the fans very happy.
What difference do you find between the traditional television production of the show and the online version? Are there many differences in costumes or scenery?
I think fans are going to be shocked at how gorgeous everything is. I think when people think 'internet soap' they think it's a bunch of people running around shooting the show with their iPhones and it is not that at all. The producers are going for the highest production standards possible. The Chandler Mansion looks like a mansion: they have a foyer, that grand staircase, the secret passageways and everything! And Cortlandt Manor looks even more beautiful than before. The production is also treating the actors very well, very respectfully. We even have these amazing meals together, which I think is really important. We have everything we could possibly need to do our best work. Comparing this to ABC in the late 1990s when budgets started to slide, oh my God, it makes me laugh. I remember when they cut the bagel tray. Man, that caused some hilarity. Coffee and no breakfast. Kelly Ripa did a whole series of Polaroid pictures with her and the stale bagels in, well shall we say, "compromising positions" as a form of rebellion. God, I love that girl. Then, in the 2000s, suddenly everybody started to shoot outdoors to save money. Oh my God, I hated that. Almost every character ended up in the park to talk about the most important things in their life. Like, "Hey I want to ask you this really important question, but first, let's go to the park." I was like, "Whaaaat??"
What's the new filming schedule like? How does that differ from traditional soap filming?
We used to film nearly every day; five days a week and now we're on a few weeks and off a few weeks, taking turns with One Life to Live. I think it's great. The first two weeks [since resuming filming] everyone worked really hard and now we've got a few weeks where we can all step back and rest a bit. We didn't have time to rest before -- memorizing pages every day, five days a week...it's a marathon. It's an emotional, athletic marathon and at a certain point, you burn out. You can't help it. We're only human! Bottom line, I really think having time off is going to up the quality of acting on both shows.
What was it like reuniting with old co-stars such as Julia Barr [Brooke], David Canary [Adam] and Ray MacDonnell [Joe]?
I love these people on a very deep level. I've known them since I was a teenager! And they didn't need to come back. I have a feeling they returned because the show meant something to them, the way it means to me. It was also a sign to me that things were going to be done the right way this time and that the vets would not be standing around serving tea and only talking about their kids. These shows are grounded in generations of fans and their families. In my opinion, Prospect Park really understands this, but they also, along with Agnes, understand that All My Children is about being modern and progressive. I feel like there is a good balance of all things right now.
What direction are they taking the character of Dixie considering Michael Knight [Tad] is not officially on board with the All My Children reboot?
I'm getting great stuff to play. Relationships are what soap operas are all about. I can't speak to the plot but I feel very fulfilled in what they have given me. In regards to the character of "Tad," no one knows exactly what is going to happen with that, but just like when Dixie wasn't on-screen, Tad is still "there," an important part of the show. I feel like the writers are being very respectful to what is going on. But, it's a soap opera for Chrissake, so you never know what's going to happen, right? Anything is possible!
How do you think the fans are going to react to an All My Children without Susan Lucci, who played Erica Kane for the shows entire forty-one year run on ABC?
Susan is obviously a big star, but in the bigger picture of the show, she was always a member of the ensemble that made up the cast of All My Children. I know there are a lot of fans who love her and want her back but I think it's important to remember there are also die-hard fans of Debbie and Darnell [Angie and Jesse]. From what I am getting, the fans are excited to have their show back and that is what comes first and foremost. I've heard that Susan is totally supportive of the return of the shows return, and she will always be welcome in Pine Valley!
In 2007, controversy abounded when former AMC head writer Megan McTavish made the decision to kill of Cady's character Dixie via poisoned pancakes (seriously) in one of the most ridiculous and controversial story lines in daytime history (and if you ask me, one of the worst). How did that all go down? Who thought that killing off one of the shows legacy characters by way of pancakes was even in consideration, let alone a good idea?
I have to say it broke my heart when I was killed off because I had given so much to the show and I had cared so much and wanted the show to be wonderful. I have to say that instead of feeling sorry for myself I took the time to learn the Internet and began blogging and working on a memoir about growing up in show business, a book I hope to release later this year! Megan McTavish and I had some disagreement when it came to the storyline of Tad killing Greg Madden. I really would have liked to film a scene where Tad and Dixie explained to their children that Tad had done a very bad thing and that it wasn't okay. I wanted Tad and Dixie (American soap opera characters mind you) to be able to tell their kids, "What Dad did was wrong." Needless to say we agreed to disagree, even though it really sucked at the time. But when I think back, it all worked out for the best!
Finally, if you had one wish, who would you hope to see back in Pine Valley?
The first name that pops into my head is Dick Shoberg! [ex-Tom Cudahy]. He's so charming and lovely and was such an essential part of the show for so long. I loved him with Julia Barr (Brooke.) It would be amazing if they brought him back.
Tune into All My Children on HULU when it returns online April 29th at 12pm to see Cady McClain as Dixie Martin. Episodes will also be available on HULU+ as well as ITUNES.