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Extra Jean

Soap Opera Digest: How is it different without Hogan Sheffer [former head writer, now at DAYS]? I guess he’s been gone awhile now.

Jean Passanante: It’s been quite awhile. Digest: Do you work differently from him?
Passanante: I work differently from the way he worked. I, as head writer, am a different person. He was there in two different capacities in the time that I’ve been there. I miss him. He’s a great presence; he’s got wonderful ideas and a big heart. Every time somebody leaves, the dynamic shifts a little bit and emphasis changes, so, of course, that’s happened.

Digest: How often do you have meetings?
Passanante: I’m on the phone with everybody every day. I spend a lot of time talking with [Executive Producer] Chris Goutman about what we’re gonna do, in general, one day of the week, and then I have two days of meetings with the outline writers, the co-head writers and Chris. And then everybody has to kind of go off and do their stuff, write the outlines, and the scriptwriters are working on the outlines that were written the previous week. I’m thinking about stories and doing phone interviews [laughs] the rest of the week.Digest: Do you see the scripts first when they come in?
Passanante: Courtney Simon is a truly wonderful script editor. Her job is to make sure all of the voices are in line and that incidents track correctly and that things make sense. I’ll read them and Chris Goutman reads them and any adjustments beyond that are made at that time before they go into the studio. Digest: Are the scriptwriters all over the country?
Passanante: We have a lot of them around here, but I talk to them. Now and then, we try to get together and have meetings, but it’s very difficult. Courtney is sort of the go-between, so she attends our meetings and hears what we’re all talking about and of course, they’re reading the stories we write. Digest: Do they ever pitch stories?
Passanante: They do from time to time. Scriptwriters are fantastic problem-solvers. We sometimes set something up in a breakdown that really, when you sit down to write the dialogue, you realize it doesn’t make any sense [laughs] or more to the point, they come up with a much better idea. So I do get calls and we rely on that heavily because we’re all working so fast that it’s great to have this next phase to the writing process where people with parallel but slightly different talents are looking at the material and saying, “What about this?” I’ve had scriptwriters suggest some really wonderful things that have changed either a specific episode or have influenced the way a story has gone. Digest: There has been a lot of turnaround among the scriptwriters. Is that because of burnout?

Passanante: Any job, there’s a sort of repetition to it, I guess. I’ve never written scripts, but in a way, you’re a little isolated. You’re not in the room, you’re not hearing conversation. I’ve heard script- writers tell me that there’s a frustration to that. I don’t know about burnout. Soap opera, in general, is an amazing opportunity for burnout because we write so much [laughs]! I prefer to look at it as a great opportunity for Type A personalities to thrive. Digest: How do you get new writers? Is it just a matter of calling people you know or do you recruit?

Passanante: It’s two things at once: It’s always important to bring new people in to refresh the form, but it’s also great to have people who are total professionals and have a history with the show and the characters’ voices. So there’s a little bit of rotation that goes on. Digest: I find that there are still many young people who are interested in soap writing. It’s great that people are still passionate about it.

Passanante: If you really think about it, there are very few of us who do that, because there are so few shows and they’re relatively stable, unlike prime-time, which is always introducing new dramas. I was talking to a friend of mine who is a prime-time writer and he was talking about his frustrations. I said, “Everything you could describe as a frustration about the difficulties of interweaving plot, I’ll multiply it.”Digest: Has pacing on daytime changed?
Passanante: Definitely. From the time I started, which is about 15 years ago, we tell stories much more quickly.Digest: Why?
Passanante: I think it’s partly how television has changed and how the world has changed. I was sitting at my computer this morning, really frustrated that it took about 20 seconds for something to come up. I thought about how, when I used to have dial-up, I would sit there for so much longer. We expect everything to happen fast, and that’s a reflection of our culture.Digest: Do you ever stop and think, “We have to slow this romance down, stretch it out”?
Passanante: Yes. I think sometimes the important thing is that we have to show the romantic and emotional value, not just the story.

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