Sunday, May 27, 2007

On the Set at Somerset (1976)

Ever wondered what life if like for most cast and staff of those daytime soap operas? I had some first hand experience in the spring of 1976 when I was working for NBC in Rockefeller Center in New York City as a computer programmer-analyst, while living in the Cast Iron Building.

The technicians for NABET (National Associations of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians) went on strike, and NBC offered the opportunity for non-union employees to come and operate the videocams (just becoming smaller then), books and cables necessary to produce many of the daily shows. I got assigned to a thirty-minute soap opera called Somerset, which was a crime-ridden saga about the Delaney company in Somerset, Ill. The best known actor was Joel Crothers who played publishing magnate Julian Cannell.

I operated the microphone booms, which dangled over the set from wires and poles, and the main technical problem was avoiding boom shadows. Other employees operated the cameras or pulled cable. Each morning, we were bussed from Manhattan to the studio in Brooklyn. Lunch was catered and consisted of delicious New York deli sandwiches. A couple of times there were pickets with signs complaining about “scabs.” We could finish the half-hour show in an eight hour day. Most scenes required multiple takes (“it’s a buy”). Other teams did hour-long soaps in the same time. The two directors were Bruce Minnix, who commuted from Cape May, NJ, and Jack Coffey, who directed a shooting murder scene.

With little apprentice-like training, we were pretty good at this. The strike lasted, as I recall, eleven weeks, although I got behind in my regular job and had to sweat out a couple of end-of-month accounting closings (given the mainframe computer technology of the time).

Somerset, however, would be canceled soon, by the end of 1976. Compare this to today’s “Days of our Lives” (Corday), filmed in California, running since 1965. As Ms. H says, Sami’s troubles are only beginning.

While talking about another expired soap, I want to mention the sci-fi like "Port Charles", (better than NBC's "Passions") a half-hour soap on ABC that ran at 12:30 PM EST (before Entertainment Daily and then Jeopardy took over), from 1997 to 2004. The conclusion had a woman turning to a vampire (as a tiger or some large lovable cat) and a man marrying her, not knowing what he was getting in to. Michael Easton made a name for himself as Caleb on that program; now he is a cop on ABC's "One Life to Live" in which a woman's authored murder mystery comes to life.

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