By Rick Rose
Michael Fairman has been in the soap opera business for well over half his life. Our Rick Rose met Michael when Rick was a journalist for several soap magazines. Michael has seen his life and that of this great American institution change over those couple decades. From growing up in “small town Wisconsin” (like Rick), then moving to LA, from living in the closet to living out, from Lucci winning the Emmy (finally) and ONE LIFE TO LIVE breaking the spell of canceled soaps by moving from network TV to the internet, Michael has informatively and humorously rolled with the changes on his daily website called Michael Fairman On-Air On-Soaps (www.michaelfairmansoaps.com). Here he candidly tells lgbtSr all!
RR: How, why and when did you start your website? Did it grow with hits fast or take time?
MF: I started SoapCity.com for Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment in 1997. It was the first online portal for soaps ever. With this, I could bring all my talents together to connect worldwide fans closer to their stars. I have this insane knowledge of daytime and was able to parlay it into this successful model. In 2001, when the higher-ups wanted to make money off the site with $1.99 downloads of episodes, it was like watching your baby changing into someone else. I stepped away and went into producing and writing TV. In 2008, I wanted to create my own web platform with my own brand. In 2009, I did a 100% overhaul of that site which is what you see today. Coming back into it, (after so many years away) I saw how online had blossomed, but of course with that came a lot of online soap site competitors which made me want to make my video, interviews and presentation be very modern to stand out from the bad wrap of a soap’s traditional “grandma” feel. It launched with a big benefit for AIDS Walk Los Angeles as I have always believed in the social responsibility of the soap genre. We have increased traffic and hits by 100% in the last year.
RR: Why your ongoing fascination with soaps and hasn’t the passion for them dwindled in general over the years?
MF: Ricky Paul Goldin, Emmy-nominated again this year for his lead role on ALL MY CHILDREN which was recently canceled just asked me that same question, Rick. He commented that I have never abandoned my soap friends. I believe that you have to follow your heart and your passion even though it may not always seem to be the right decision at times. Look, it is human nature to be fascinated by doom and gloom. So while soaps seem to be dying due to lack of interest, their cancelations have conversely made folks want to look online and see where the genre is headed. My relationship with the actors and fans who I love has been for 23 years. Is it time for me to move on? It is a tough call.
RR: The Michael who first started watching soaps as a young boy in Wisconsin vs. the Michael today living in Los Angeles…what was life like then vs. now?
MF: As a kid I had huge dreams and aspirations. I wanted to leave Wisconsin really bad and pursue a career in acting and singing in NYC or Hollywood. I knew I didn’t fit in with where I was from at a very young age. Now, having lived a full fifty years, the spirit is still there, but what is real isn’t exactly what I dreamed. You get kicked down, you get up again. You must persevere. At times I questioned whether or not I was strong enough to handle it all. Then I look at it and see how much I have survived, and realized, I am strong and a survivor to boot! I have handled a lot of issues and kept on going. As an older gay man living in WEHO (West Hollywood, CA), I am surprised as I never thought I would be living in the Mecca for our gay community, in the thick of it. When I was in my 20s and 30s it was about my looks, something that is true for gay men in LA. It is superficial. I have always been out in a large city, so there has always been that “high school” pressure. I feel that the Gay community is often harder on itself and I wish we were more supportive of one another. And now at 50, I am looked at differently, as a Daddy. It drives me up a wall. (Laughs)
MF: No. Where is the poor family on Y&R? Where is the character from the inner city of Milwaukee? Soap people are all beautiful and no one works at a brewery. (Laughs) Soaps are too glamorous for what it is really like out in America. But every soap at its center, and why it relates to people from the South to West to Midwest, is that it is about core family relationships, bringing kids up, falling apart, losing loved ones…it is an amped up version of what we may experience in Anywhere, USA on a daily basis. That was the successful formula of soaps for years. We could relate, and we could watch as a family….it became an extended family for many viewers. My moral values and the people I meet from the Midwest are salt of the earth. I get along best with them. Generally there is something to be said about moral values and backbones. They know what is right and wrong. You don’t find that in other parts of the country, and not always on soaps either. (Laughs)
RR: ONE LIFE TO LIVE and ALL MY CHILDREN are perfect examples of a recent slew of soaps that have been canceled. Why? Have they stayed current and real?
MF: This didn’t just happen overnight. It is a domino effect. Networks have made decisions years ago which are making a difference today. When televising the OJ trial, the public fascination with that came into play. Now, TV executives see they can create a similar sensation at 40% less of the cost with reality/makeover shows in the daypart, or at least they think they can. Before that back in the 80s and 90s, they would use the large soap revenues and pour them into primetime shows. Coupled with that is the internal disappointment that soap producers and designers never really modernized the look and feel. GUIDING LIGHT tried to do this too late in the game with almost all location shooting yet they had no budget. It was too late for America’s oldest soap/TV series. Right now, OLTL is on a creative high. It has been riveting for months. It is number 3 in the ratings! On AMC, the results of bringing in its creator Agnes Nixon to fix the big mistakes from recent years of bad writing is just showing on-screen now. The decision to wipe out both shows at the same time is shocking. To put on two reality/ talk shows at once as replacements is crazy versus trying one to see how it does. ABC tried to breathe new life into an older art form with creative marketing campaigns but some of the audience was already gone. SOAP OPERA DIGEST may go out of circulation next year, but its numbers were dwindling for years. No one saw this?
RR: An Entertainment Media/ internet company, Prospect Park, has signed licensing agreements with ABC to carry OLTL and AMC on the internet. As an expert in these two areas (web and soaps), will they succeed and will a new era for soap operas begin?
MF: Rick, I wish I could tell you the answer. I am seeing positive things happening very fast. There are a lot of discussions happening, but it is shrouded in secrecy because of negotiations. The networks, the shows and the actors are all interested and excited, but when it comes down to it, it is all about how will they make money and will they be protected by their specific unions. Prospect Park is coming in as a player with a lot of cash and capital, so that brings hopes. Some variables that could make it problematic though are: What is the production model? They are saying they want the shows to be the same length and quality and have the same cast and studios. But will viewers watch on line for that long? They should. How will the budgets change? Can they afford the high salaries of veterans like Susan Lucci and Erika Slezak to allow them to move from TV to internet? And above all, will fans be okay with video on demand and subscription? In other words, will the soaps be sponsor driven with advertising or will the fans pay for them. It is all very interesting and fast paced right now.
RR: DAYS OF OUR LIVES has shaken things recently by replacing its executive producers and headwriters, resolving to tell contemporary stories using characters who viewers have loved from years ago, steeped in tradition. The gay love story between Sonny and Will being the first story to launch and the first same sex story since DAYS inception in the mid 1960’s. Is this working? Is that story real?
MF: They had to make the shift. It was at the bottom of the ratings. It lost 350,000 viewers in a matter of months. The stories were clearly off kilter. DAYS fans are diehard; the most loyal out there. They want to see their beloved favorites but yet get excited about fresh stories and characters. Fans are often fickle. They complain when certain characters are on air, then complain when they are off. DAYS cut its budgets to survive and canned Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn. Now they are both coming back as Marlena and John. But how long will they stay? As far as the gay storyline on DAYS it is just getting started. It is great because Sonny is the son of long time fan favorites Justin and Adrienne and Sonny has been gay from the getgo, so thank God it is not another coming out story. We have seen that a hundred times. And longtime favorite Sami’s son Will is who we are hearing will be the love interest for Sonny.
We need to see more normal, everyday stories for LGBT characters. Why doesn’t THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL have a gay character? After all it is set in the fashion industry. There are fan bases for the gay couples that exist on daytime, yet this is an oxymoron still today. When I interviewed Y&R’s headwriter, Maria Arena Bell for PRIDE MAGAZINE she shared that people wrote and said, “We have no problem with gay characters, we just don’t want to see them on our show.” Maria said, “So what do I do as a headwriter with that? But, I would love to tell a gay story that is character driven and makes sense for our canvas.” Sadly, a few years ago, there were five gay stories on soaps, now there will be only one when AMC leaves the airwaves, and that will be on DAYS. The internet will allow us to explore and show more. Crystal Chappell’s LGBT themed web series, VENICE, regularly had lesbian characters kissing and in bed. So far, there aren’t the broadcast standards to uphold, which is great! It’s about time everybody got on the bandwagon because the TV and web convergence is here.
RR: Then why haven’t we seen modern world conveniences like Grindr and Scruff enter into storylines making them more real?
MF: App’s like these are so popular and so branded, and are used for dating and sex hook-ups more than any other outlet now. There are news stories that they are killing the “gay bar” as we know it. So sure, they will come into play as the “new soap” uses more product placement. Convergence is here…between TV and internet and soon between real world and reel world. It is finally all coming together. Social networking is all new territory to explore. Will these stories work? Do they work in our life, Rick? I don’t even have Gridnr, by the way, because I have a Blackberry! Unfortunately, once again, I can’t come to the party. If I get an iPhone, will my dating options be better? Would I have more fun? Does anyone date a fifty year old senior anymore? Ha!
RR: How is your dating life?
MF: It’s funny. When I do go out, it always comes down to the question of what one does for a living. They usually answer that they are an executive banker at Wells Fargo. Or recently, a date told me that he produced this show on CBS called CSI or something like that, and asked if I ever heard of it. Then it is my turn, and it is hard to explain what I do to begin with. So I simplify and say that I am a journalist for daytime drama who has my own website. “Ohhhhhhh,” they respond. Then dead silence, and I think back to high school, and all that I have done to keep in shape and be desirable at 50 and it all just slinks away on me at that moment. But, for those that don’t run, and do look at my website, they see how modern and legit it is, so that makes me feel good. There is hope!
RR: So why aren’t you creating and producing the first majorly successful
internet soap, Michael?
MF: I do know the platform, you are right; and I know the formula. When new actors or publicists, or show producers for the Daytime Emmys, and sometimes marketing outfits in the mainstream, come into the soap world, they always call Fairman! They don’t know the characters, the histories. They admittedly don’t know what works, what fans long for, and they feel safe and comfortable with me. It is both a unique and wonderful position to be in. I provide a voice for the fans and the actors which they can trust. It is that Midwestern integrity. I have never been a TMZ journalist, and the one time I did leak a secret, I got scolded so bad that I will never do that again.
RR: So just one secret for our readers, please?
MF: Well I do have vision. I do know the bigger picture. And I’m keenly watching what is going on here. Last month was our biggest to date….we had over 6 million hits on the site. Maybe the next step for Michael Fairman On-Air On-Soaps will be to do my own soap. I wonder if Andy Cohen at BRAVO who launched the REAL HOUSEWIVES series is single and uses Grindr? Now there is a gay man who really needs to be producing a soap. Do you know him? Let’s hook me up with him. A true soap on BRAVO or bravo.com? It’s time!