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The Days of Our Lives Q&A Pages

Interview with Ken Corday!

By Suzanne

Ken Corday is Executive Producer of "Days of Our Lives" as well as music producer. His father Ted started the show, and his mother continued the show after his father died, for many years. This interview was conducted over the phone in February, 2012.

Suzanne: How are you today?

Ken: I'm doing very well. Thanks! How are you?

Suzanne: Good! You sound busy today.

Ken: Every day is busy, especially Mondays and Fridays - ridiculously so.

Suzanne: Ah...Okay....

Ken: No complaints in this climate. To be busy is a blessing.

Suzanne: Yes. Well, first, if you don't mind, I have a few questions from some people that work for my website.

Ken: Sure.

Suzanne: My friend Stacy – she's actually more of an ABC soaps fan, but I think she watches Days as well. Now, she had asked what your thoughts were on ABC canceling their soaps, but it's in your book, so I know how you feel about that. You call it the "Day of Infamy". Does it help or hurt Days in the long run, that ABC and CBS are canceling their soaps?

Ken: I don't think it can ever help. I mean, the more the better. There is a visibility factor with, more so .... People think, it's the thing to do, it's on all the networks at the same time, it never bodes well. When one goes off the air, people are concerned and sometimes have the propensity to say, well, if one's gone, mostly likely the others will be gone soon, so why even watch?

Suzanne: Right. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ken: Yes.

Suzanne: Let me ask you this. In the short run, has it helped Days’ ratings at all?

Ken: Strangely enough, we thought we would pick up a lot of viewers from the loss of the ABC shows, and initially the loss of the CBS shows. There was, I would call it, a little bit of uptick with the loss of the CBS shows, As The World Turns and Guiding Light, but with the cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live, none of the soaps really benefited from their loss. We're back to our original point, "Well, this show's not on ABC anymore, I'll find something else to watch on ABC, or I just won't watch my soaps anymore." Soaps are a habitual kind of viewing, and you have to watch at least a few times a week to stay up with things. So, it's a habit that, if people break after a few weeks, sometimes it's easy to break the habit and difficult to get back in.

Suzanne: I understand. I keep telling everyone on the Internet, "Watch Days of Our Lives. It's really good!" on all the ABC soap groups.

Ken: I think, especially, it's as good as it's been in a long time.

Suzanne: Definitely.

Ken: We’re seeing characters that we really care about, doing things that are understandable, so for that reason – the passion grows on the show again.

Suzanne: Which reminds me, as a Days fan, I want to thank you for bringing back John and Marlena because I love them.

Ken: You're welcome. I love them, too. That was a difficult, um, separation (I'll put it that way). Very difficult for me, as I said in the book. Yep, just glad to have 'em back.

Suzanne: Yes, I actually stopped watching the show when you got rid of them, and Steve and Kayla, but... it wasn't entirely the show's fault because I just got busy as well.

Ken: Well, it was entirely the show's fault because the decisions are made at the executive level. It was a different regime. It was a different writing regime, and it was a different producing regime. Still, the buck stops here. It was a real sea change of the show. In hindsight... There's no point in hindsight. I'm just really glad to have them back .

Suzanne: That's good, and I also really like Madison and Brady. They're really good.

Ken: Oh, good! That's good to hear. This is a difficult fan base to set up because Brady has been with quite a few characters on the show. She, Sarah Brown, is new, so that usually takes a little bit more time for the viewers to, as you say, really like them.

Suzanne: Well, it helps that I'm already a Sarah Brown fan.

Ken: Yes, she's marvelous. She brings a large fan base to the show.

Suzanne: Yes, and I've always liked Brady, and the actor, and her character sort of redeemed him because he'd been having problems with drinking and been in such a dark way.

Ken: Let me ask you a question.

Suzanne: Mmm-hmm?

Ken: Do you like this Brady more than the original Brady?

Suzanne: Well, you know, it's so hard to compare because the original was a teenager for most of the time. It's almost like a different character.

Ken: Oh yeah, very much so. I only ask the question for that reason, because one has played as a much more adult part, and the other played it as a person becoming an adult part.

Suzanne: Right, and sometimes when you recast characters... You take so many chances, in a way, because it is like a different character, a different person, and if they're in a couple, it usually ruins the couple.

Ken: Yes, it's very, very dangerous. I do not like recasting. Having to recast, usually, we will take the character off-screen from 3 to 6 months and then bring the new character back as we did with Brady.

Suzanne: It certainly helped that a lot.

Ken: Oh yes, it helps a lot. The audience more readily accepts it, rather than just - Monday, here's the new Brady.

Suzanne: And he's a really good actor. He doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves.

Ken: No, Eric is wonderful. He's also an amazing performer... Singer/performer. We did a Fan Fest at Universal... We put a large band behind eight or nine of our actors, and he's the one that got the ladies throwing their panties on the stage.

Suzanne: [Laughs] That's great. Stacy says that she has great respect for what NBC and Days have accomplished and how they have fought to keep the show on the air. I know you have...

Ken: "Fight" is not the right word. It's more of a dedication to do the right thing, to try to hear what the viewers want and yet not let the viewers write the story. To try to keep true to the characters, to the families that have driven the show. It is a family show, much as it is a family-owned show. Much as "The Bold and The Beautiful" is and, to a certain point, "The Young and The Restless", and those are the three shows out of four that are surviving.

Suzanne: What's amazing is that you been in charge of the show since, what, 1979?

Ken: 1979 as a full-time coffee getter, and letter-answerer, and then full-time producer by 1980 or 81. For 30 years.

Suzanne: Yes, none of the other shows have that kind of continuity. I think you do get the credit for that in a way because fans tend not to blame you when they don't like the show because they know that you were in charge when it was really good, too..

Ken: Oh, thank you for that. They do blame me, though. Sometimes fans' comments are little biting, and that's the reason I tend to stay off the Internet websites because some of the things they call you there make it difficult to sleep at night.

Suzanne: You quoted your mom in the book about people who are temporary making long-term decisions... That really does make a huge impact, especially with the soap operas, because sometimes people come in, and they really don't care about the show, and then they move on.

Ken: "Let's do the work. Okay. Gotta go".

Suzanne: That's true. And not just at your level, but above you as well... The people in charge of daytime, or NBC or whatever - they're just there to mark their time, or to get a better job. They don't really care. It's better when you have that continuity.

Ken: I live with that on my lips every day. We have to be most careful. I have respect for this network. It's a new game with Comcast running the network as opposed to General Electric. But, I mean, they are the ones that sign my check at the end of the day. So, there is due respect there, and I need to listen to them, right or wrong, there has to be a synergy. In the end, it's my legacy; it's my parents’ legacy. It's the one I need to protect.

Suzanne: What made you decide to write the book, and why now?

Ken: That's a question that I've been asked many times. Easy answer. My children are now 23, 19, and 11. They never knew my mother or father. You know, my father passed when I was 14. My mother passed - I think it was a year after I got married. My first was born two years after we got married. So, I said, "I should write down the story of Betty and Ted Corday, so my children have something to read long after..." And that's how it started, and when I came to the time of my father's death and the inception of Days, I said to myself, well, I might as well keep writing. The story before this was great, but there's still 45 years after that, that needs to be told. So, that was the original reason for writing the book, was for my children. To put down in writing my mother and father's history, and then the rest told itself. A novel and a book are very different. You have to tell the truth in a book. In a novel, you have the right to be fictitious. This book – I shouldn't say it wrote itself because there are a lot of my personal feelings I infused in the book. But, back to your point, it is really written for my mother and father, and for my children, and secondarily, and more importantly, for the viewers.

Suzanne: How long did it take you to write it?

Ken: Funny you should ask. The spark of the idea happened in a meeting with James Reilly, God rest his soul, when he was alive. I told him the little vignette about my brother's seeing this woman commit suicide on the West side of New York, and he was a native New Yorker, and he went, "Wow, sounds like the opening chapter in a book, Ken"... And it was three years later that the first copy came out.

Suzanne: Wow. Okay.

Ken: Sometimes, you know, you just... We had gone through a number of agents and a number of publishers, and finally found one we were comfortable enough. Curiously enough, based in Chicago, where Irna Phillips, the creator of the show was based, where Bill Bell was born and lived in, and my father went to the university there and met her, so...Chicago has been good to us.

Suzanne: And what would you say was the most difficult part in writing the book?

Ken: Well, obviously, on a personal level, what was difficult was talking about the loss of my mother, father, and brother. As they say, pulling the scab off the wound and taking a deep look at what really happened... Not so much with my father and mother because I knew it was coming with both of them, but my brother's suicide was quite difficult to deal with. So those three instances, most difficult.

Suzanne: You really did bare your soul there.

Ken: Well, one needs to do that if honesty is what people want to read.

Suzanne: Yes. Now, you wrote it solely by yourself?

Ken: Solely by myself. Draft after draft. [Chuckles] Someone explained to me, a good writer explained to me when I started the project, "Oh, your first draft will be 500 or 600 pages, and your final draft will be about 350. And when the book goes to print, if you're at 300 pages, you're lucky. So, yeah, it took a long time, and no one else's pen is in that book.

Suzanne: Did you just sit down and write it, or did you make an outline first?

Ken: That's a good question. I outlined it in a page or two . (I asked myself) “What are the big beats, where are the transitions in the book, what sort of voice is the writer, and what is the viewer - who am I writing this book for?” Who, what, when and why, that kind of thing. Then I started outlining it chapter-by-chapter and knew what each chapter was going to be. I had a basic idea of the 30 chapters before I sat down to write each one.

Suzanne: It sounds like, in a way, you learned to write from writing Days.

Ken: Very apt point. Yes, I did. I learned to write from working with so many talented writers. The phrase is "talent does what it can, and genius does what it must." I can count them on one hand, but there have been that many writers on the show that are geniuses, or were geniuses in the soap medium. There are three of them that are no longer with us: Irna Phillips, Bill Bell, and Pat Smith. And yet, their fingerprints are still all over the show. I mean, as creators and as brilliant writers... so just being around them from the age of 14 until recently. You always learn from writers – even bad writers can teach you what not to write.

Suzanne: Did the cast and crew know about the book before it came out?

Ken: They did not. We had a book unveiling/party/signing. I think it caught some people quite off-guard, especially the cast because they came, and I read a bit of each of a couple of chapters... It was a large turn-out, and I looked around the room, and it was quite interesting because (I imagine they were thinking) "Oh, here's Ken, we know he's a producer and composer, and we've seen him doing his job, but we didn't know he could write." Not that I'm saying that I can ... No, but they had no forewarning. There were only a few people that knew I was writing a book because I had gone to them and said, "I'm going to write about you personally. Are you okay with that?" Those were certain actors mentioned there... that I wrote my personal feelings about- Suzanne Rogers, Deidre Hall, Drake Hogestyn, Jim Reynolds... I just wanted to let them know that I was cooking this up, but I asked them to please keep it to themselves.

Suzanne: So they were all very supportive?

Ken: Oh, very much so. Actually, with some of them, I read them the pages, and I asked them, "Are you going to be okay with this?" One or two had a line that they didn't want to have written, and let's just leave it at that.

Suzanne: Okay. And so did everyone pretty much like it after it came out? Were there any comments you'd like to share?

Ken: I never had any negative comments. In fact, it was quite funny. The press was there. It was at the Museum of Television Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. The cast lined up like they were at a book signing, having me inscribe the book. This, that and the other thing [chuckles] . I said, "This is silly, I see you guys every day at work... Here's a free copy." (They replied) "No, no, no, this is a book signing. Write something down." I got a hand cramp and enjoyed it very much.

Suzanne: [Laughs] That's great. Have you received many comments or letters from fans about the book?

Ken: I have. Again, not to beat my own drum – all positive. I have not gotten one hate letter, like, "Why did you write about this? Or why didn’t you write about that?" It's been very positive because I think, for many of the viewers, this was a story they didn't know. They were a number of stories they didn't know, especially about my mom and dad. 26 years covers, what, four generations. If we're playing on the liberal side, or probably more like three on the conservative side. These current generations do not know about Doug and Julie, and Don and Marlena (before John and Marlena), and how much went on before people really started watching in the 80’s.

Suzanne: Yes, I wish I could go back and watch the show in the 80s. I didn’t watch until ‘91, so...

Ken: It was quite a kick! We were spending a lot of money on the shows back then, that we would now consider absurd things. Shoots on location, just lavish--there was so much more money in the business. NBC was making a fortune off us, as they were the Tonight Show and the Today Show. We were paying the bills there and licensing fees dictated that I could, you know, if we wanted to use a real waterfall, or go to Greece, or run the rapid in the Sacramento River, or wherever we went. And we did.

Suzanne: Speaking of e-mails and letters, do you get a lot of fans writing to you personally, and do you read them, and do you reply?

Ken: Yes, yes, and yes. Because it’s sometimes impossible for me to read each one, I have someone sort through them, extract and summarize what everyone is saying, on a weekly basis, that's important to know. Or a monthly basis. It becomes part of our research. And there if is a letter or two that is very specific, you know, is asking for, or pleading for an answer. Sometimes people just need.. They're coming to Los Angeles, or this sort of thing... The direct answer comes from me.

Suzanne: That's good.

Ken: Oh yeah, you have to be hands-on. The reason we're on the air is the viewers. It's not because we think we think we're this, or that, or the other thing. We're only as good as our last week of ratings and what the viewers think.

Suzanne: Back to your book – was there a time when you were writing it that you were tempted to share more gossip about people from the show, more of a tell-all?

Ken: Oh, yes! There are pages that ended up in another drawer, deeply filed and locked away. There were some things I was tempted to expose, or talk about, both in a personal or a professional level, and I said, "Wait a minute, do I need to cross the line on a personal level?" People want to read about Days, not some tantrums, issues that happened, familial or otherwise, and there are certain secret stories, whatever, that don't belong to the public here. They were just too personal.

Suzanne: Right. Do you think that in the future, maybe if you retire or something, you would edit the book and add more of a tell-all, gossip kind of thing?

Ken: Actually, you know, what I’ve done is I’ve taken those chapters, changed names to protect the innocence, and I’m now writing my first work of fiction, a real novel, and used that material as characters for source in my new novel.

Suzanne: Oh, cool. Well, that takes care of my other question, which was about whether you were planning to write more…

Ken: Oh, yeah, I will write a follow-up to this book, God willing, until we hit 50. We have other publications that are doing quite well. We have the coffee table book, the chronological pictorial history book of Days, which sold like hotcakes, and a second book coming out, more of a lifestyles kind of book about the cast, and a look inside their lives. But, no, my passion now is trying to learn how to write fiction, which is no easy task.

Suzanne: No, it’s not.

Ken: It’s much more difficult. I would’ve thought that the free rein it would afford me would be freeing, but you don’t have a path that’s already been trod. You have to find your own way.

Suzanne: Well, you know, if you need help, you should call Eileen Davidson. She’s written all those fiction books now.

Ken: I know. I’ve been tempted to call her…there were a number of other people that I’ve spoken to. Advice is always well taken, but in the end, it’s me alone with a pen and paper. I don’t write on the computer. My brain races way too fast for the computer. I have a shorthand. I just feel better if it’s all coming from me. Help is one thing; partnering is another.

Suzanne: That’s good to know. I had an observation question, sort of thing. Days of Our Lives has Stefano, E.J., and Victor, who are, you might say, what, mobsters?

Ken: Bad guys.

Suzanne: You never use the word mobsters on the show.

Ken: Mobsters is a little heavy because they love their families…but of course, so did Don Corleone.

Suzanne: Right, exactly. You know, General Hospital gets a lot of flak because they have prominent mobsters on the show.

Ken: Right.

Suzanne: But no one makes a complaint about Days. Why do you think that is?

Ken: No, no, we try to balance things…I don’t want to discourage my competition, but we try to balance the dark with the light, and if there is a “villain” or bad guy, he is well-rounded because he loves his family, XYZ. There’s sympathy for all three of these characters. People do sympathize with Victor. Victor is a much nicer man now than he was years ago. Stefano is Stefano. He will always be that kind of arch-villain. He even calls himself the diavolo in the room. And E.J. – still finding his way. I don’t know if he’s going to become exactly like his father, but he sure has put his foot in it. But again, to your point, we want the audience to feel like they’re redeemable. Maybe Stefano’s crossed that line. I don’t know if Stefano is redeemable, but he certainly loves his family and he certainly loves whoever it is he’s married to at the time.

Suzanne: Good answer. It’s really great that you’re doing a gay story on Days. It seems to be moving very slowly. Are you purposely doing that because you’re being cautious, and worried about--

Ken: Nope, you better fasten your seatbelts.

Suzanne: It’s gonna take off, huh?

Ken: We felt that it was important just to ease the audience into this story, you know? We know what this country is today; it’s very divided on certain issues. So we didn’t want to slam this story into the front of the show. So Will’s coming out has been very, very slow. He is still a man who’s not sure of his sexuality. Yet you will see that in the next week or so really get ramped up.

Suzanne: Okay, great.

Ken: Yeah, we’re gonna go for it.

Suzanne: And is there anything that you’re doing or that NBC is doing to move Days forward more into the future with technology or other ideas?

Ken: Interesting question. After high definition, which we went to, basically at the 45th anniversary…it was January two years ago. We’ve tried 3D. We’ve actually done a broadcast in 3D. I don’t know who watches anything at home in 3D, so as far as the digital answer to that, I think that’s as far as we’re going to go with it right now. Technologically, you know, they have the show on the internet every day on and it is hugely followed I think the number of viewers or hits they get each month is 4 and a ½ million.

Suzanne: Wow.

Ken: Well, it’s such a double-edge sword. We’d rather have people watch the show when it is telecast because then it counts like a rating as opposed to, if it’s watched on the Web or on Soapnet, it is not counted in or factored in to our national Nielsen rating, which is what makes or breaks us--the every day from 12 to1 or 1 to 2 viewing. “Very pithy. Good answer. Hmm…”

Suzanne: So if they’re watching it on the Web, with ads on the Web, the advertisers do take that into account, don’t they? They like that.

Ken: Yes, you’re a very bright woman. They certainly do. That money must be going into somebody’s pocket at NBC, but we do not benefit directly from the viewing on the Web. Of course, it does keep people involved. If they can’t get to a computer, they can either watch it on the broadcast every day or on Soapnet, but as far as a financial revenue stream for us, or a measure of the audience, it’s not inclusive.

Suzanne: Wow, that’s not fair.

Ken: You took the words out of my mouth. What’s up with that?

Suzanne: So the average ratings for the TV viewing are, what, 2? 3?

Ken: Yeah, in the neighborhood of 1.8 to 2, which translate to 2-3 million people because a ratings point is not quite a million.

Suzanne: Is there anything else you’d like to tell your fans, or the fans of the show, about your book or the show?

Ken: What a great question. Well, number one, stay tuned. Number two, we always listen to what the fans say, whether in writing or on the internet, or if they show up at the studio (chuckles) which we discourage. And number three, I realize after this much time, you can’t change the wheel. It’s not broken. The show is about romance, and that’s it. That’s what we need to give the audience on an hourly, daily, weekly basis, is great romantic stories.

Suzanne: That’s great. I had another question from the two people who run the Days of Our Lives section on our site, Michele and Cheryl. They’ve been running it since they were teenagers, and they’re now in their twenties, so it’s pretty amazing.

Ken: Wow.

Suzanne: And they’re big Passions fans, too.

Ken: Oh, we do miss that show.

Suzanne: They were asking if there’s anyone else that you plan on bringing back to the show.

Ken: Yes, but stay tuned. There’s going to be a big surprise.

Suzanne: Ah, someone you can’t say, huh?

Ken: Someone very popular will be returning.

Suzanne: Besides Lucas?

Ken: How’d you know about him?

Suzanne: The soap opera magazine…

Ken: Oh, well, darn.

Suzanne: (Laughs)

Ken: Yes, Lucas will be returning. I don’t see any other characters coming back…oh, wait, there’s another one, too, but I think you know about Lisa Rinna, Billie, coming back. After that, the Salem Inn is full. Our cast is very full right now.

Suzanne: Well, let me just pitch it – if you ever want to bring more people in, I really miss Tony and Anna.

Ken: I do, too. There’s two issues there. One is, even though anything can happen on soaps, Tony did die, die. I mean, he was impaled on a sheer piece of glass, buried and…you know, that would be a hard one to sell the fans, really not dead, then their trust goes away. But I love Thaao and Thaao Penghlis is a marvelous actor who brings out a special color to the character and to the show. Leann Hunley who plays Anna – I don’t think you’ve seen the last of her.

Suzanne: Oh, good.

Ken: Yeah, she’s marvelous.

Suzanne: Their other question is, what has your favorite storyline been?

Ken: No fair. No fair!

Suzanne: Too hard to pick just one?

Ken: That makes a lot of people unhappy no matter what I say. My favorite storyline is in the first show where Tom says, “Alice”, and Alice says, “Tom”. And Tom says, “Alice”, and Alice says, “Tom, dear” as he comes down the stair and picks up his pipe, and they talk about their children, and this, that and the other thing, and their grandchild Julie, and that’s episode one . And that dynamic continues today although we don’t have either of those actors. My favorite story on the show is the one when Tom and Alice started.

Suzanne: Well, that’s a good diplomatic answer.

Ken: It’s the basis of the show.

Suzanne: I understand.

Ken: And then we can see that Shawn and Caroline perpetuated that once they came on the show in the early 80’s.

Read our Review of his book "The Days of our Lives: The True Story of One Family's Dream and the Untold History of Days of our Lives"

I wish I could have told Mr. Corday some more of what I think about the show...I was trying to be kind, and positive. Yes, the show is much better than it's been in a long time. I'm very glad to get some of our favorite stars back and they are focusing on romance. However, the show is kind of boring. It does have romance but needs more good stories as well. I think it was a bad idea to keep Hope and John out of Salem for so long and to keep Bo in a coma for a long time. They are getting rid of Carrie, Austin, Jack, Bo and Madison. I don't know if it's for money or story. It's the writers that are boring, not the actors or their characters. As Caroline Hinsley said in her recent column in Soap Opera Digest, we need to see more of Victor and Maggie again. The stories need to be more innovative, the way they were back in the 1980's on all the soaps.

I hope they get it working and the ratings come up again!

Page updated 5/16/12

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