In the first installment about how soaps evolved, the standard length of soaps was discussed as was its migration from radio to TV. In this installment, which was previously published on Soap Hub Insider in 2020 but is new to Soap Hub, learn more about the half-hour format and so much more. Interviews with many daytime legends were used for this piece, though the interviews were conducted many years ago by this writer.
Half Hour Soaps Have Their Pros
In the days of the half-hour soap, the production schedule was quite different than that of the hour schedule. To understand the changes that took place when the soaps switched to an hour, one must first understand the production process of the half-hour shows.
When the serials were still a half-hour in length, they were shot in what was called “live on tape.” Although the soaps were not airing live at this point, they were still recorded as if they were. The show was shot in order and rarely was the tape stopped for errors. It truly was as if the show was going out live.
Rehearsals took place in the mornings, with dress rehearsals usually taking place after lunch. Then it was time for taping. Since it was done “live,” that process took only a half-hour. When the day’s show was “in the can,” a quick rehearsal usually took place for the next day’s episode.
It was here that the actors learned their blocking and movements for the upcoming show. Usually, by mid-to-late afternoon, the day was done. The hour format changed all of that, and the production schedule needed to be adjusted to accommodate it.
Huge Changes, Longer Day
Time suddenly was a huge factor in the daytime world. It became impossible to keep actors around all day to tape the show in order. Film techniques were introduced to the soaps; scenes that took place in one location or with certain actors were shot in one segment, allowing the actors to tape all their scenes and be done. Editing and post-production now became a vital component.
“They saw that the better way to go was to not do it in order but to take it out of order,” observed George Reinholt in an interview held years before his passing on November 11, 2013. “They could get some actors in from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm and shoot all the scenes that they were in and edit them later so that they wouldn’t keep anyone there for more than so many hours. It was the only way they could do it, really.”
Actors, staff, and crews no longer had the luxury of working on their craft. An hour needed to be completed each day, so a rush factor was introduced. Speed became the single-most-important element in production.
Soap legend Rosemary Prinz (Penny Hughes, ATWT) lamented, “In the days of the half-hour, the actor had to know the technical aspects so well. You had to make it a two-shot, and then they would tell you when the close-up was coming so that you knew when to isolate yourself to make sure you didn’t mask somebody’s light.
“You had to take care of the shadows and you had to take care of the boom swings; you had to know that when you got up, you couldn’t get right up because the boom had to accommodate you. They don’t deal much with that anymore. The focus of the hour show is to get it in the can. So you’ll see shots that are not clean; the actors have no idea what the shots are,” she related.
The most destructive aspect of the new process, however, was probably the loss of rehearsal time. “We worked on the scenes” recalled Prinz. “It was always about working on the objectives and the intentions and the acting, and not about if we go past 3 pm we have to pay overtime.”
Former One Life To Live legend, Erika Slezak (Victoria Lord) concurred. “When I joined the show, we were a half-hour and we had a lot of rehearsals, and thank God for it. Later on, you’d show up in the morning and there’s no time for rehearsal; you’d spend all your time running lines and learning lines and trying to remember where you have to move.”
The late cast member of Days of our Lives, John Clarke (ex-Mickey), felt very strongly about the benefits of the shorter format. “When we were doing the half-hour show, we would come in knowing what our moves were and with our lines learned. It was a good situation; we could take chances and try things differently in the morning, knowing that there was an opportunity to pull it back and go in a different way if it didn’t work.
“It was more of a creative situation than the hour show. With an hour show, you can’t take a chance. It is just about getting the lines learned and said in a decent way and getting onto the next show. The director doesn’t really get to direct and the actors, if they can be creative, have to kind of do it on their own in the dressing rooms – off stage.
“You go in in the morning now and they’re taping almost as soon as you get on stage. You always walk away thinking ‘Well, if we just had a little more time or if we could have done just one more run-through, we could have done it.’ Or, ‘I could have found a better way to approach that; it never really worked for me.’ The half-hour show was artistically more satisfying and more enjoyable than the hour. Being in the hour situation, we’re just trying to keep from bumping into each other.”
It was not bumping into each other, however, that seems to be the saddest loss that soaps have suffered. The family feeling that prevailed among casts of half-hour shows was very much weakened with the advent of the hour format. Locke Wallace, a former stage manager on Guiding Light, felt that deeply.
“The way the half-hour show worked was that we would call everyone on stage for a blocking and then we would take a half-hour break. And that’s when people got to know one another. They’d go over to the coffee and sit down as a family and they got to know each other. And then when they came back, we’d do a run-through from top to bottom – from A to Z.”
Along with the increase in time came an increase in cast size. While half-hour serials consisted of casts of 10-15 actors, the hour soaps utilized 25-35 regulars. Actors’ schedules shifted, as those that taped in the morning sometimes never saw the ones that taped later on.
“We taped separately,” noted OLTL’s Michael Storm (ex-Larry). “Then they edit the show in post-production. Because of that, if you’re not in the lower living room, you’re downstairs doing makeup, getting dressed, or doing a thousand different things. You’re totally unaware of what’s going on up there. It’s really expedient and more efficient in terms of getting the work done, but the emotional involvement by everybody is a fraction of where it used to be.
That Family Feeling
“In the days of the half-hour, everybody on the show knew what everybody else was doing. We were all involved in each other’s storylines, and if we weren’t personally involved, we were on-set watching. The show was shot in such a way that all the actors were on the set from the time they started taping the very first scene. And you had to keep quiet and you had to work on your stuff off in a corner somewhere, but out of the corner of our eyes, we were watching everything that was going on.
“We had a vested interest in every storyline that was going on, and because of that, it was easy to get involved in everything that was going on. You were there so it wasn’t just me, it was the entire studio, cast and crew who were hooked on what was going on at the time,” he recalled.
“I think it affected the show” continued Storm. “I think you got much more of a team effort when everybody knew what was going on. I don’t mean to imply that everybody doesn’t—there are some people who certainly do know everything that is going on. But an awful lot, especially newcomers to the show, don’t see a need to know all that stuff and they don’t. They do what they do very well, but they’re not personally involved with everyone else.”
Storm’s feelings are shared by The Bold and the Beautiful’s John McCook (Eric), a soap veteran who spent many years on The Young and the Restless when it was a half-hour serial. “We fell in love with each other, and I mean that in the most positive, professional sense. We needed to be very close while we were there, and in a way, we simply don’t have to be anymore because of post-production and everything.”
Today, B&B is the only half-hour soap while the other three remain at one hour, but all have increased the speed of production even further by shooting scenes for multiple episodes each day. Many actors long for the time lamented by those above. Now in the age of social distancing, who knows what changes will come. To read part one, click here.