‘World’ Turns 50: Q&A: ‘World’ Is His Soap Universe

Mar 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Early in his career, “As The World Turns” executive producer Christopher Goutman was an actor. He spent a year on “Search for Tomorrow” as Marc D’Antoni, then another year on “The Edge of Night” as Matt Sharkey. That was 28 years ago, but from then until now, Mr. Goutman has called the soap world home. He moved from acting to directing-for “Another World,” “ATWT” and “All My Children,” where he won a Daytime Emmy-to producing, succeeding at every turn. Mr. Goutman has carved out a prestigious career and as “ATWT’s” top gun, he finds himself in the unique position of head cheerleader for the 50th anniversary of CBS’s venerable soap. He’s as happy to be leading the applause as he is to talk about his show, which he did recently with TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman.

TelevisionWeek: What is unique about “ATWT” compared with other soaps?

Christopher Goutman: Multigenerational storytelling with each generation [is] still intact and well represented. The show is blessed with a core of veterans who have been in Oakdale for decades. Furthermore, because of the show’s age, the family trees have become intertwined at so many levels that the community itself has become one gigantic extended family.

TVWeek: Considering its long, storied history, what are the challenges faced by “ATWT” today?

Mr. Goutman: Externally, the change in viewing patterns precipitated by lifestyle and advances in technology-specifically, women in the workplace and a multiplicity of viewing choices. Internally, the challenge is always the same: tell compelling story.

TVWeek: How do you balance the storytelling and keep such a large cast happy?

Mr. Goutman: It’s tough. But good story has a ripple effect, and greater participation always enhances and enriches story. That said, you can’t make everyone happy 100 percent of the time. Everyone wants to work more and have important story. But to a person, the cast is extremely generous and understanding, and all realize that it’s a team effort, making the most of what they’ve been given and appreciating the contributions of their peers.

TVWeek: What keeps the audiences tuning in after so many years?

Mr. Goutman: Good story.

TVWeek: How do you keep a 50-year-old show fresh?

Mr. Goutman: Good story.

TVWeek: What do you think of the technical innovations-TiVo, podcasting, etc.-and their effect on daytime soaps?

Mr. Goutman: So far technical innovations have had very little effect on the way soaps are made, but they’ve had a seismic impact on viewing behavior. I would go as far back as the late 1970s and the introduction of the VCRs as having a critical effect on measuring viewership. As for other innovations, if they grow our audience and/or give them an opportunity to enjoy the program in another format or add value to the viewing experience, I’m all for it.

TVWeek: What influence do ratings have on your plans for “ATWT”?

Mr. Goutman: We live and die by the ratings. That said, the ratings rarely dictate story. If we’re in a stinker of a story, we’re usually the first to know.

TVWeek: Does the history of the show influence what you project for the future of the show?

Mr. Goutman: Every story is conceived on the bedrock of the show’s history.

TVWeek: Give me a quick hit about some of your cast, starting with Helen Wagner, who has played Nancy Hughes since day one?

Mr. Goutman: Indomitable; our very own Eveready battery.

TVWeek: Eileen Fulton, the ever-fascinating, ever-interesting Lisa?

Mr. Goutman: She’s the original vixen-tart, tangy and sweet as a mint julep.

TVWeek: What about Don Hastings, who plays Dr. Bob Hughes?

Mr. Goutman: Dr. Bob is a comedian masquerading as a physician. We all think he should have his own show on Comedy Central.

TVWeek: Martha Byrne has grown up on the show, playing Lily and, recently, her twin, Rose. What about Martha?

Mr. Goutman: [She’s] the Force.

TVWeek: And what about Jon Hensley, her on-screen husband, Holden?

Mr. Goutman: He’s our show’s Elvis. On our college tour several years ago, fans greeted him as if he were the King himself.

TVWeek: Tell me about Roger Howarth, a Daytime Emmy winner from “One Life to Live” [Todd] who’s now your show’s Paul.

Mr. Goutman: Sly, playful and prodigiously talented.

TVWeek: How about Maura West [Carly]?

Mr. Goutman: She’s the real thing. Beautiful, talented, can play anything. She makes everyone around her shine.

TVWeek: Finally, Trent Dawson [Henry], who seems to be the best comic relief around. What about him?

Mr. Goutman: He’s our secret weapon.

TVWeek: Overall, what’s the key to soap success? Stories? Star power? Production? Time slot?

Mr. Goutman: Mostly storytelling. But casting is key.

TVWeek: Where do you see “ATWT” 10 years from now?

Mr. Goutman: As alive and vibrant as it is today.