March 18, 2010By Marc Wilkofsky Posted: Mar 18, 2010
Laughter can often be the best medicine, and Michael O'Leary (ex-Rick, GUIDING LIGHT) knows that. Now many people know about the writing skills of the actor behind Springfield's doctor, thanks to his new, increasingly popular Web series STEAMBOAT.
With his friend of many years, director and co-producer Scott Bryce (ex-Craig, AS THE WORLD TURNS), O'Leary brought to life a script he had written years ago. A spirited combination of THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK (along with practically any soap), the series peeks behind the scenes at a daytime soap (also named Steamboat) struggling to succeed, and starring people who need the show's success for their own reasons. O'Leary portrays Michael, one of the soap's actors, and notes, "My character is just desperate, trying to hold on to this job, and he has got this crazy roommate, and [he thinks], "If I can get everybody to vote for me for a Daytime Emmy, then everything is going to be okay."
Bryce calls the character of Michael "the only sane person in the show; he's us. He's trying to make sense of everything, but wherever he turns, it's madness. People are crazy." Some viewers would opine that Michael's interest in the Brownie Diet shows that the wildness is having an adverse affect on him.
With three of five episodes and a hilarious teaser currently available at www.youtube.com/steamboatseries, there certainly isn't anything like STEAMBOAT on the Web. Basking in the immense freedom afforded to this production (the majority of which was filmed at the Palace Digital Studios in South Norwalk, Conn.), the cast makes the most of the on-target in-jokes and ridiculousness, such as some peculiar product placement. There is no trace of GL's Beth Raines when Beth Chamberlin's headstrong character, actress Tabitha, intones to her flirtatious castmate and (possible) beau Daniel (Kurt McKinney, GL's ex-Matt and ATWT's Ellis), "Have you been a bad pumpkin?" in one of the laugh-out-loud scenes that you can watch again and again.
This is the right time to be watching this series. High drama and heavy pathos can be amazing, but sometimes there's more entertainment value in an irreverent line or raucous scene than in a woman collapsing from a horrible disease or an innocent character being beaten. Daytime viewers deserve a hearty laugh now and then, and STEAMBOAT provides an extra place for it. "One of the reasons why I love STEAMBOAT and was so happy about the response from the audience is that people are out-and-out laughing, and right now, in our world, my tragedy cup is full; it runneth over," Bryce chuckles. "I need to laugh; the whole world does. The intention was to do something that reflected our society and at the same time, make people laugh."
And people are indeed laughing, and cheering. Thrilled GL fans have posted their online praise for STEAMBOAT, which reunites several of their favorite actors, including Kim Zimmer (ex-Reva) as steel-willed, intensely outspoken executive producer Rhonda — who utters several of those aforementioned irreverent lines — and Orlagh Cassidy (ex-Doris) as ultrafriendly life coach/den mother Gwen.
Justin Deas (ex-Buzz) makes Scott, the soap's stern line producer, a bitter wonder, and O'Leary recalls, "I have to think the thing that stood out to me was Justin, when I come into [Scott's] office and he shows me what to do with Tabitha; he is plotting the whole time. He is the antagonist in this story, and I can't give it away, other than to say Justin did something off the wall and certifiably insane with that character."
Michael Park (Jack, ATWT) is a riot as dedicated actor Dirk, Michael's dressing roommate, who is up on fighting moves but just can't get his lines down. Bryce praises, "The scenes between Michael and Michael — they have amazing chemistry. I'll watch Kim Zimmer read a phone book; she's extraordinary, and to do what she did is so funny. Justin is like Ned Beatty in Network."
At the recent So Long, Springfield event at the Mohegan Sun resort and casino in Uncasville, Conn. (look for more about that gathering in my next blog entry), O'Leary previewed the fifth episode, which should be posted around March 27.
"My love scene turns out to be very violent," O'Leary reveals, noting that Tabitha (who doesn't want her "supercouple" status with Daniel's character to be ruined) gets physical in the wrong way. Michael deals with other troubles, as his attempt to win over his castmates fails: "Dirk decides that he wants to go to Daniel St. John's party in Vermont, and Michael has to find a way to return the hamburger buns, because no one's going to his party. Michael will be barbecuing by himself."
O'Leary also uncovers the answer to a mystery about the soap-within-a-soap: Why is it called Steamboat? "A steamboat is a very slow-moving boat that goes through the water, chugs along and barely stays afloat. 'Steamboat' — when you hear the theme song — has an old-fashioned, silly, irrelevant feeling to it. I thought, 'What a stupid name for a show'" — hence, a perfect one for this mockumentary. As for the title's subhead, "'Most Loved Soap' was Scott's [idea]. We were trying to figure out what kind of thing we could attach to STEAMBOAT."
Anyone looking for an additional sign that there's something special about O'Leary and Bryce's collaborative efforts can check out the GL connection between them: Bryce's father, Ed, portrayed Rick's grandfather, Bill, on the soap. "When I got hooked [on acting] was seeing my father play the lead in A Man for All Seasons," Bryce reveals. "I was sitting up in a lighting booth in some New York theatre looking at him and at the audience, and I discovered that theatre was more than just plain entertainment, but it could actually be a tool to enlighten and inspire."
Now, the Web soap's future will significantly depend on how large its audience becomes. "All I can say right now is that there are people watching it from unexpected sources, and that we're certainly getting wonderful feedback from people who make decisions," O'Leary beams. "We have a couple of pitch meetings, and it's nerve-racking. What's really positive is that some people in the industry are liking it — people that could propel it to the next level. I'm anxious to keep it going."
As for viewers posting on the show's Facebook site that they feel like they're getting another taste of GL, the actor says, "That's kind of what I was hoping for — to keep our soap audience, and expand beyond our soap audience, and to work with people that I'm familiar with and adore. There's always that trust level. There's a preexisting chemistry; it's not like we had a casting session and threw everybody together. The advantage that we had with this is that people worked together before, and worked fast."
O'Leary quips, "With STEAMBOAT, you can't ask many questions, because there's really no good answer." But with STEAMBOAT, you get a consistently fun, well-produced series that truly displays the potential of Web soaps.