DAYS’s Head Writer, Ron Carlivati, Gives The Inside Scoop On Daytime’s Hottest Twist
Soap Opera Digest: Let’s talk about the time jump. Tell me about the inception and the execution and getting it approved.
Ron Carlivati: So the inception of the time jump really goes back years before my time on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. I have had the kernel of this idea for a very long time, the idea of moving ahead in time so that things have changed and you, the audience, become aware of what happened and wonder, “How did we get here?” It’s something I thought of back when I was writing ONE LIFE TO LIVE. I pitched it then and it did not get approved. And I pitched it again at GENERAL HOSPITAL and it did not get approved. What I got back as the feedback was, “Look, it’s a high-concept thing. It’s not a typical thing that we do in daytime; it’s outside of the norm.” I get that there’s some hesitation. But the feedback that I got was, “The audience is going to feel like they missed something.” My response is, “Exactly. That’s the whole point. The whole point is the fun that things have changed and you have to watch to see what they are and then slowly find out how did they get that way.” My intention is always to fill in the time.
Digest: So we will see what happened during the year that passed?
Carlivati: Yes. It’s not a lost year; you will find out what happened during that year, but you will find it out as we dole it out. And it’s fun because there’s a mystery to it. These two started off here and now they’re here. What the heck happened? There’s a fun to watching to see it unfold. And so then I even pitched it at DAYS a year ago. We thought about doing it back during when Marlena got shot at the wedding [in 2018]. I thought that it should be through the eyes of a character. So a character on the show is also missing the same year as the audience, so you’re taking the journey with that character. The idea was that Marlena would be shot at the wedding, she would go into a coma, she would wake up and John would say, “Sweetheart, you’ve been asleep for a year.” And Marlena would discover everything in Salem has changed at the same time as the audience. I pitched it and I got great feedback from Ken [Corday, executive producer] and Albert [Alarr, co-executive producer] and Greg [Meng, co-executive producer], the producers of the show, and from NBC. Everybody was intrigued by this idea and willing to sign off on this idea.
Digest: So why didn’t it happen then?
Carlivati: The trick is harder than writing any other story because if you’re going to jump ahead a year, you have to know what has happened to every single character on the show before you start, whereas writing just straight ahead linearly right now, I might have some big story for so-and-so and maybe these two characters don’t have a story right now, but we can just see them until I figure out their story. This one, you kind of had to know in advance what happened to every single person so you know where to put them a year later. So once we figured it all out, there were a couple of glitches in story that made me ultimately decide, “This is not the right time to do this.” There were a couple of things that were really complicated to tell, and then there were other things that if we did the time jump, you’re gonna miss this, that and the other thing. There were certain beats I wanted to be able to play that would have been lost based on what was happening on the canvas at that moment. So as much as it was painful because I finally got the approval that I wanted for years, I had gone back to them and said, “I’m not gonna do it right now. It doesn’t make sense for the show.” They said fine.
Digest: So, how did you find a time?
Carlivati: All of a sudden, we got to a moment in story where Sarah’s pregnant and Kristen’s pregnant. I thought, “Whatever we do there, we’re gonna have to wait nine months to tell whatever story we want to tell.” And I’m impatient, so I thought, “This could be a good time for the time jump. We can fast-forward through those pregnancies and we can jumpstart some other storylines.” We started to look at the canvas, and obviously Marlena can’t go into yet another coma, so I still wanted it to be someone like a legacy character, so then we finally hit upon Jack and Jennifer. Jack had recently come back to the show, we finally reunited them, they’re this iconic, old school couple and they’re happy and together now, so what could happen maybe to Jennifer? And we tell the story through Jennifer’s eyes of waking up and Jack telling her, “You’ve been asleep for a year.” And once we hit on that, it all started falling into place. Gina pushes her off a building. It was super-fun to come up with that moment, plus we came up with the gimmick of the conceit of the hourglass, which is so iconic to the show, as a way to kind of show that the time passed. We were all very excited. And then we had to sit back down again and look at 30 people and say, “What’s gonna happen? Whose lives are different?” And the dilemma was, you want enough big, crazy changes that it’s worth doing. The audience has that “WTF” moment of, “How did we get to there?” If every single thing is different, it just becomes a new show. You want some consistency for the audience; you don’t want to break up every single couple. The temptation is to change everybody’s lives, make everything nuts. Marlena’s on Mars! I had to curtail that a little bit to be like, “Okay, when is it that enough things are changed that this couple can still be together? Or this person is still doing that job?” Or whatever that might be. So that was a balance. We started to do it and I’m like, “No, we need more! We need more things to be changed!” It was a lot of fun to do, and a huge undertaking.
Digest: What other factors came into play?
Carlivati: There were production issues that I never thought of. We have a very tight production schedule. They’ve got it down like clockwork to film eight shows a week. What I didn’t take into account is in the same episode, if suddenly someone says, “Hey. Remember what happened last year?” and we show a flashback, that’s new hair, that’s new wardrobe, that might be a different time of day, that might be a lighting change; all these production considerations that I never thought of. So not only was it a big undertaking for the writers, it was a big undertaking for the production people because they’re dealing with two different timelines now and, of course, for the actors, as well. But the feedback that I got from almost everyone was they were really excited. We’ve never done anything like this before. Some people didn’t quite even grasp it at the beginning. They thought like, “So how long are we staying in that future?” And I’m like, “Permanently!” Like, this is not just a brief little flash-forward; we are now a year later in Salem. There was a year of things that happened that you just never saw, and we are going to show you most of them. The other thing that’s kind of cool for me is down the line, if we come up with a story idea, we could pull from something that happened in that year that you didn’t see. So there is still a little treasure trove of things maybe to be uncovered that happened during that year that might affect something in the future. “Oh, remember when so and so came to town?” I think we achieved, in the end, a really good balance. There are big, big changes, circumstances are totally different, there are people who are no longer married, there are people who are no longer alive. You just have to tune in and watch it unfold. There are some mysteries to it. You might know this person’s not around, but why are they not around? We will slowly, slowly, slowly tell you exactly what happened. Going back to my note that I got a few years ago was the audience is going to feel like they missed something. If you tune in and you watch the show, you won’t. We will show you what you missed.
Digest: How did you keep everything straight?
Carlivati: It was a lot. Once we got through everyone and figured out where everyone was a year later, it became much easier. The struggle was just like, “Where’s this one?” or “Should they still be together?” or “Did they split up? Where are they now?” And then you realize how to dole out all that information, when to give away stuff, when to hold stuff back. We do build a certain mystery around a certain character’s absence. You know that they’re gone, but you do not find out for a few months exactly what went down on this one particular day in the missing year. I think in the end, when you pitch it as a concept, it sounds so big and confusing for a moment, but you sit with it and go, “Instead of going to the next day, we’re going to the next year. The show is the same, but it’s just a lot of stuff changed.” It was really like launching a whole bunch of new stories and that was fun for us, too. We knew we were building to it, so you wanted to make sure you got the characters where they needed to be, you tied up certain things so they weren’t left hanging, except for the things that we purposely wanted to keep hanging. The stars kind of aligned once we picked that it could happen on the anniversary. I always thought it would happen on New Year’s Eve because I thought there was something interesting about the clock striking 12 and somehow the calendar flips, but it flips an extra year. But in the end, we were ready to do it sooner and [Creative Consultant] Ryan Quan, who is like my right-hand man, said, “What about on the anniversary?” which was November 8, and that turned out to be perfect. We’ve been moving toward that direction for several months as writers once we knew we were going to do this jump.
Digest: What does it mean to you to be doing something that has never been done before in daytime?
Carlivati: I didn’t realize when I was pitching it. I mean, look, obviously it’s been done in prime-time. When it is on every day and you have this loyal audience, you do have to think about the impact on that. I think in the end, the bulk of our audience is going to be happy. It’s very exciting. I’ve been waiting anxiously for the audience’s reaction when this airs. I think hopefully, it gets some attention for the show and some buzz for the show. I didn’t set out to be like we’re doing this groundbreaking thing, it’s just a thing I always wanted to go.
Digest: Any feedback from the cast?
Carlivati: Yeah. The cast was super-excited. I was actually in L.A. at the studio when the scripts were starting to come out that were going to show this. The cast knew something was happening, but they didn’t know exactly what. I happened to be there the week that they were being told, so I got to see a little bit of that first reaction. And then I saw the curiosity. I think it was fun for them to suddenly be like, “Guess what happened to you?” I have yet to hear someone going, “I don’t know why we did this. I don’t like this.”
Digest: The show films months in advance. It was kept a secret for a long time. Why was that important for you?
Carlivati: I hate spoilers. I want the audience to feel that [excited] feeling. Not like, “Oh, yeah. I heard that.” To me, you’re spoiling it for yourself. Growing up on soaps, there really were so few spoilers and there was no Twitter. Sadly, I saw things leaking out that people were aware of the time jump and certain speculation about certain things on the show, a lot of which were not correct. I wish people had no idea. To me, the fun of the time jump is not knowing. But if that’s somebody’s good time, fine. I never understand when people feel compelled to post them for everyone else to see. I know it’s somewhat of, in this day and age, a losing battle. We wrote this nine months ago and I’m amazed that it took so long before I heard even a rumbling of time jump. So we got pretty close. In my perfect world, no one would even know this was coming.
Digest: What do you hope is the audience’s biggest takeaway from all of this?
Carlivati: I think, in a way, it’s kind of a reward for being such a loyal fan for all these years. It’s like, we trust you enough to say we’re going to skip this whole thing and because we know you love this show and you’re going to tune in, you’re going to tune in to see what you missed. To me, it’s like having faith in your audience. It is a fun shake-up for the show. People get a steady diet of soap opera every day and it’s my job to come up with twists and turns and things that surprise and excite and sometimes upset. To me, this is sort of the ultimate one. This, to me, is the ultimate tune in. You just want enough things to be different to make it worthwhile to do a time jump, otherwise, why do it at all?
Still To Come!
Here’s what ahead in Salem:
• Xander and Sarah grow closer over her baby.
• Brady and Kristen’s relationship takes a shocking turn.
• Kate makes a surprising career change.
• Chad tries to wrestle DiMera away from Gabi, while Abigail tries to find out what really happened to Jennifer.
• Ciara is desperate to help Ben out of a dire situation.
• Love unexpectedly comes back into Kayla’s life.
• Will and Sonny are torn apart by a tragic incident.
• Princess Gina schemes to break up John and Marlena.
• Gabi is on top of the world, believing she’s gotten away with everything … but soon finds herself being attacked on multiple fronts.
• JJ goes down a dark path.