Night And Day

Cynthia Watros (Nina, GH) is one of the many current soap stars who has also found success in nighttime TV. Watros followed up her Daytime Emmy- winning television debut as GUIDING LIGHT’s Annie (1994-98) with a slew of prime-time appearances, from guest gigs on shows like CSI and GOSSIP GIRL to longer runs on sitcoms (TITUS, THE DREW CAREY SHOW) and hour-long dramas (LOST, HOUSE). One of the major differences she points to in working in prime-time is the time to fine-tune even scripts. “It’s critical, and it varies on how shows do it. If it’s a half-hour comedy, and you have some sort of audience and they’re not laughing, you get a rewrite, and then you might get another rewrite, to see what the response is with the audience. If there’s no audience, then just to see the response of the producers, or maybe it just didn’t work on the day. You get a lot of rewrites.”

When it comes to the actual performance, “It’s a different feel,” Watros says. “Like, if you’re on set and you feel like maybe you would like your eyes to do the talking for a second, like maybe they would do on an hour [prime-time drama], you don’t have that luxury so much on a soap. There’s no long pause, you know? It’s very quick-paced. When the cameras are rolling, there is no time to let it all soak in. It’s just, ‘I’m making choices, I’m having emotions, I’m saying the words and now it’s over!’ That’s another difference between the two.”

Working with directors can also vary from medium to medium. Notes Watros, “When I was on TITUS and other half-hour shows, you would have different directors come in, like guest directors, and the same was true on my last hour show, FINDING CARTER. You might get one producer who likes to direct so he or she does it more. So I’m used to working with different directors and being my character and dealing with the directors’ information coming in, but I think that working on a soap, the directors are so busy doing so much — cameras, they are rehearsing other things, they have to think about props — they have to wear so many different hats and it has to be so quick, that there isn’t a lot of direction for the actor. The actor has to come in with ideas, and what I tend to do is that I do stuff until I’m told no. With prime-time, I do the same thing, but they will guide you a little bit more, because they have the time.”

Katrina Bowden (Flo, B&B) was known primarily for her role on 30 ROCK before she landed her current soap gig. “Coming to daytime was a distinct challenge,” she relays. “Both mediums have their challenges but they’re very different. The most interesting thing about daytime is that it feels more like you’re doing a play every day, but it’s a brand-new play you have to learn every day. You’re really learning so much at once and you have to adapt quickly. I think it’s really honing my skills as an actor by having to make decisions quickly and not having a whole lot of time with each episode. That’s a big challenge but I also think that’s the fun part of it. You need to focus in a different way than you do with prime-time.”

Bowden is impressed by the talent she’s been exposed to in her current gig. “The actors who do daytime TV are really good,” she praises. “Things move so quickly and sometimes we do these amazingly intense scenes in one take, and that is unheard of in any other medium. You don’t see that anywhere. When you see great performances in film or prime-time, that actor has probably had 10-15 takes combined. On this show, we get one take, maybe two if someone messes up, but that’s it. You have to be prepared, make the right choices and make them quickly. That’s what I’d like people to know. From now on, no job is ever easy-peasy, but I can certainly have my lines memorized!”

Between his run as DAYS’s Max and his current role as B&B’s Wyatt, Darin Brooks was the lead in the raunchy football comedy BLUE MOUNTAIN STATE, which ran for three seasons on Spike. “They both have their pluses and minuses,” he asserts. “I always tout daytime. Kelly [Kruger Brooks, ex-Mackenzie, Y&R] was talking to an on-set acting coach and there was something that he said that always sticks out to me. He said, ‘If you can make soap opera work, then in prime-time, you will be amazing.’ Because, if you think about it, we only get one take, barely two, so we have to be spot-on and have the emotions there. That acting coach mentioned that what you see [in prime-time] is maybe the best of 100 takes, whereas with us, it’s the best of one or two, so if you can make it in daytime, you can make anything work in prime-time. I love the fast pace of daytime. It’s the closest an actor comes to having a 9-5 [job] where you come in, do your thing and get it done. Do things repeat sometimes? Yeah. In prime-time, it is fun to dabble and try things a different way and do things in different versions. You can play various emotions in the same scene with different takes, and that is fun to do. In daytime, there is no time to play.”

Jessica Tuck (Cassandra, GH) has a wide range of prime-time work under her belt, including stints on JUDGING AMY and TRUE BLOOD and guest-starring roles on series ranging from SEINFELD to NYPD BLUE to LETHAL WEAPON. She points out that on daytime, “There’s a lot less time to deal with a lot more mate- rial and things go quickly.” But pace is only one aspect of what she finds different about prime-time work. “If I do a guest spot on an hour show, there’s a beginning, middle and end to my character’s story. With Cassandra, I’m working on the lines, but I’m also trying to figure out exactly what I’m doing — what do I know, what don’t I know, what are the relations [between the characters]? Sometimes I have to ask who is who. I have to get to know all of the characters. It may not matter for the scene, but it does matter for me in terms of me making sense of it. I only get the pages I’m in, and [Cassandra’s] backstory is rolled out through other people, but I don’t get to hear that until I see the show — and it can be very con- fusing that way. So every so often, I have to ask somebody, ‘What exactly does Cassandra know at this point? What exactly is my aim?’ People will say, ‘Oh, I’ve been talking about you!’ And I say, ‘Oh? What have you been saying?’ Like, I want to know  because they know more about [my character] than I do!

”While that can be frustrating, Tuck embraces the immediacy of working in daytime. “Once I get into a rhythm, then it’s sort of lovely because soaps don’t allow you to get too in your head about things. You’ve got to know your lines and then you get in there and you’ve got to just listen to the other person and you just have to be in the scene and play the scene in the moment in the way it’s rolling out in that take, because you only get one take. You might have rehearsed it before and done it a different way, but this time, the way it comes out is the way it’s going out. You cannot get in your head and disappear because the scene’s over by the time you’re present. That’s both what’s daunting about it and also invigorating and fabulous. Ideally, we should all be like that all the time, but if you’re doing a bunch of takes on a one- hour show and you space out in one of them, well, you can make it up. There’s no [second take in daytime] short of calling someone by the wrong name or falling on your face. So you’ve got to make it work.”

B&B’s Thorsten Kaye (Ridge) has four soaps under his belt, but in 2012-13, he was part of the critically-acclaimed series SMASH, and had a good time. “I enjoy nighttime stuff because you have more time to try things,” he says. “You can do one scene 15-20 times, depending on what you’re doing. However, in daytime, you get to do something new every day, and see what sticks and what you can get away with. My favorite is still theater, because there is a definite beginning, middle and end, and you can also find out the ‘why.’ ”

And for Darin Brooks, prime-time offers him the chance to tickle his funny bone. “I do like prime-time to do more comedy,” he says. “That’s fulfilling, but the great thing about B&B is that Brad [Bell, executive producer/head writer] loves to include comedy whenever he can. Whenever the Spencer men get together, it’s just comedic mayhem!”

For 20 years, Beth Maitland (Traci, Y&R) has worked behind the scenes on prime- time shows as a recordist, a position that doesn’t exist on soap sets. “I was basically an intermediary between production and post-production,” she explains. “I take time-code notes and run some equipment, but mostly, my notes go to the editors to help them with their part of the creative process. The process is very different than on a soap, and the pace is much more relaxed. For instance, we get five days to do a half-hour show instead of one day to do an hour-and-a-half of television like in daytime nowadays. Most prime-timers admit straight out that they could never keep up in soaps [laughs].” Maitland first got into production to learn about directing. “I realized I knew a lot about what to tell actors and how to do the blocking and analysis of a scene, but was insecure about the camera side of it,” she explains. “I realized I had some technical things to learn. Over the years, production people have been very generous with sharing information and helping me learn.” She has seen firsthand the differences between night and day TV. “There are definitely production jobs that don’t translate in both directions mostly because of how shows are shot — on soundstages, on regular sets, or on location with car crashes and helicopter chases — and the actual format — videotape vs. film — with different equipment and processing that has to be serviced.” Maitland’s takeaway from working in both the prime-time and soap arenas is that both are ultimately helpful for her overall immersion into her craft. “It takes a great team of hardworking folks to create excellence and get a show on the air,” she says. “Every experience makes me a better actor: doing prime-time, doing production, doing voice-over jobs and doing live theater. We are a stew of our experience and should let it all inform us.”