Jerry Layton Talks Television

In 1964, television maven and future STRANGE PARADISE co-creator/producer Jerry Layton authored a piece for the Associated Press news service discussing his views on the modern soap opera. While his work on SP was half a decade ahead of him at this point, it is interesting to read his comments on the genre of the television serial. The article is reprinted from the July 22, 1964 edition of THE SHEBOYGAN PRESS. 


Inside The 'Soap Opera'
EDITOR'S NOTE — Jerry Layton, producer of NBC's "The Doctors," takes us inside the wonderful world of the daytime television serial—they often are called soaps operas — and shows us the complicated machinery that makes them work.

By JERRY LAYTON
For Cynthia Lowry

NEW YORK (AP)-Not long ago if a daytime serial actor found that he was required to say, "George, I can't seem to shake this cold," he immediately called his agent. "Al, they're giving me the pneumonia treatment. Better line up some auditions. I'd say the funeral's set for two months."

He knew his part was soon to be written out of the show. But with this formula being done to "death," so did the viewers.

Those were the days when you could go away on summer vacation and on your return find this guy still trying to shake that cold.

Those were the days, too, when the dialogue covered what happened yesterday, what might happen tomorrow, but with little or no action to show that anything was happening today.

I believe today's daytime television drama is a far cry from yesterday's soap operas. Tastes continually change in the theater, in motion pictures, in nighttime television—and in daytime television. No television chef today should rely on somebody else's old recipe.

What do we do on "The Doctors" in place of the "pneumonia treatment?" We don't just kill him off. We introduce a new character to strengthen the dramatic balance. We overlap the two and then let the newer one take over in importance.

Only one of our original four leads is in "The Doctors" after almost two years. We found that our viewers preferred a man of definite authority as the hero. So we introduced a chief of staff.

Originally we presented a new half-hour drama every day. We found that viewers wanted to know more about our leads, so we expanded to a full-length story every week. As our audience became more personally involved with the cast, we even lifted the five-days-per-story restriction to make continuing drama, in fact, a television novel.

Some specialists are prone to put the daytime television viewers under a microscope and come up with the pronouncement: "Daytime viewers are completely different from nighttime viewers." Not so. People are people. The housewife who watches "The Doctors" in the afternoon is the same person who at night views "Bonanza." Ed Sullivan, and Walt Disney's programs. That's why there are so many former nighttime programs now being rerun in the daytime. And they'd be flops if daytime audiences were "different."

 

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