Since 1983, one of the brightest lights on “Guiding Light” has been four-time Daytime Emmy-winning actress Kim Zimmer. As the dynamic, Tulsa-born virago Reva Shayne, Ms. Zimmer has been an electrifying daytime star and a longtime fan favorite. With the show poised to celebrate a milestone anniversary, TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman spoke with Ms. Zimmer about her past, present and future with “Guiding Light.”
TelevisionWeek: How does it feel to be on a show celebrating seven decades on the air?
Kim Zimmer: I think when I joined “Guiding Light” in 1983, as much as you want a show like this to go on forever and ever and ever, with the history of television being what it is you never expect it to reach a milestone like this. To be a part of something that will probably never happen again in the history of television is daunting. I know that I have scenes that are in a time capsule at the Museum of Broadcasting, and that’s a little strange too.
TVWeek: Your character, Reva Shayne, has become part of the history of American television.
Ms. Zimmer: Well, my job is to say the words to the best of my ability, and fortunately most of them have been wonderful-most of the time-in the past 20-something years. I can’t take credit for that, but the fact that the character has sustained to become one of the more well-known characters in the history of daytime is pretty wonderful.
TVWeek: Which head writers have really shaped your character?
Ms. Zimmer: It was Pamela Long who created Reva. I remember when I first auditioned for the show, and they really wanted Reva to be a fiery redhead. After I had auditioned a couple of times, they asked me if I would be willing to dye my hair red. I said, `Absolutely not.’ I knew they loved me, and I didn’t see what red hair had to do with the character. They admitted to me that the head writer had this thing about Reva being a redhead. I wouldn’t dye my hair, but they cast me anyway and so Reva became a blonde.
TVWeek: With a penchant for wearing red dresses.
Ms. Zimmer: Yes, that’s true! And the red has always been an important part of Reva’s makeup. I don’t know if that was ever meant to happen originally, but it did. Reva in a red dress means something bad is going to happen. And it usually does. I have really protected that with the various costume designers that we’ve had. They might hang a red dress for me to wear, and I’ll say, `No, we really need to find something else for Reva to wear. This isn’t a Reva-in-a-red-dress day.’
TVWeek: What do you think of the plans to celebrate “Guiding Light’s” anniversary by giving back, first in the Gulf Coast and then every month after around the country?
Ms. Zimmer: It’s all about paying it forward. When the idea was initially presented to us, I had a knee-jerk reaction to it. If we were going to give back, why were we doing an episode about it? It didn’t feel like charity to me and I thought it would be confusing because when it aired in our timeslot, we weren’t going to be our characters. So I went on the Hands On Network Web site. It really struck me that there is still so much to do down there, and whatever it’s going to take to give back these three homes, which is what we’re going to give back, then it’ll be three more homes rebuilt.
TVWeek: What do you think Irna Phillips would think of her show still going so strong?
Ms. Zimmer: I think she’d be appalled by some of the story lines that have come and gone. But I think she would feel so blessed to know that this is her legacy. When we air the anniversary show on Jan. 25, I think people watching will know exactly who Irna Phillips was. Beth Ehlers plays her in our re-creation and she did a fantastic job of showing her as a real innovator, really hard-nosed about her material. I’m playing Charita Bauer, who was Bert on the show for 35 years. It was a lot of fun, from wardrobe to art direction to sets to props to direction and writing, and the makeup and hair most of all. I had five different hairstyles and seven or eight costume changes. We walked away feeling very proud of our work that day.
TVWeek: With your recent breast cancer story line, were you ever worried they were going to kill Reva off?
Ms. Zimmer: Well, there’s always that possibility, especially since my contract was up at the time that they proposed this story. It very well could have gone either way if we hadn’t come to terms contractually, which is how it always is in daytime. The minute an actor’s contract is up, the producers-being intelligent-will put a character in a precarious situation. There have been times when they haven’t done that with me and they’ve been stuck and their hands were forced and they had to re-sign me! They’ve gotten smarter over the years. I never felt my job was jeopardized. The breast cancer story line was pitched to the network when Paul Rauch was executive producer. At that time they didn’t want it as a summer story line. They felt summer was a time for something lighter. It was head writer David Kreizman and executive producer Ellen Wheeler who brought it up again.
TVWeek: Were you satisfied with the way it was done?
Ms. Zimmer: Yes and no. I know that I could have never gone through something like that without having my family involved. I think they set up the reasons really well why she didn’t, but in the long run I think it backfired on Reva. David based it on a person that he knew who kept her cancer from her family, so that does happen. And I’ve received letters from members of families who felt it was unfair that we received negative reactions because they had an aunt or a mother who’d done the same thing. Kim Zimmer would have never been able to do that. Reva Shayne, that’s the kind of woman that she is. I think she really thought she was going to be able to handle it on her own.
TVWeek: You’ve won the Daytime Emmy four times for this role, including last year.
Ms. Zimmer: It’s because of the character. I mean, certainly, there have been story lines I’ve had to play that-this is going to sound awful-but in lesser hands, they may not have worked. But because I believe and have always believed that no matter what the material is, if you don’t commit to it 100 percent, nobody’s going to buy it. That is my credo with daytime. Our writers aren’t Shakespeare. They can’t be; they don’t have the time to be Shakespeare. What they have to produce on a daily basis and what we’re given to say is not always gold. So if you’re an accomplished actor on any level, you’re job is to commit to it.
TVWeek: Why do you think some actors are destined to leave daytime for prime time, while others-like you-seem to thrive in daytime?
Ms. Zimmer: I think what it comes down to is the difference between actors who are patient and actors who aren’t. I’m an impatient actor. I need to work. In L.A., in prime time, there’s a lot of waiting around for the right project. If you can wait for it, then more power to you, but I never could. When I was away from daytime, I missed it. Daytime, I think, is what I was born to do. I’ve done films, I’ve done nighttime television, and there’s too much downtime for me. I can’t sit around in a trailer and wait for my close-up. Now, if I were being offered theater gigs, I would love that. I think daytime and theater are the things I was born to do.
TVWeek: What do you see in the future for “Guiding Light”?
Ms. Zimmer: I hope that we can maintain the course that we’re on where we can continue to tell real stories and do them with total commitment. And we have to listen to our fans to see what they want, because without them, we have nothing. If we lose our fan base, if we can’t answer to them, then we don’t deserve to be around for many more years.