An interview with Jim Romanovich, EP of this year's Emmy telecast
Posted Thursday, August 14, 2009 8:17:44 PM

This year's Daytime Emmys ceremony will be broadcast on Sunday, August 30 from a location, on a new network, by a new production company. Jim Romanovich has been working his magic behind-the-scenes of some of television's most-talked about specials. Now, as he prepares for his role as executive producer of this year's Daytime Emmys broadcast, the President of Worldwide Media and Entertainment for Associated Television International talks to Soap Central's Dan J Kroll about the future of daytime, fan's anger towards network executives, and, of course, what fans can expect from this year's Emmy extravaganza.

This is your first year as executive producer of the Daytime Emmys. How did you get involved? How is working on the Daytime Emmys different than some of your other projects? Are you excited… or will the rush hit closer to show time?

Now, I have been a fan of daytime for many years, and was well aware of the recent situation the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) was facing. They would have cryptic releases of promise, but nothing you could ever put your finger on. So, I called [NATAS president and chief marketing officer] Frank Radice, who was just taking over for exiting president, Peter Price, and made them the offer they couldn't refuse. And they didn't! I showed them a new model in how to produce a show and get it on the air without costing NATAS a dime. I said give me three weeks and I'll get you a network. And I did.

Interestingly, the Daytime Emmys is the most prestigious event we have done, but not the biggest. The World Magic Awards is by far the biggest, because we have to build the stage from the ground up. We're talking about a very enormous stage that has to accommodate several illusionists' needs, which means we had to shoot it at Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. Plus big animals! One year we made the Sphinx in Egypt vanish. You don't think that was big?

I'm very excited about the Daytime Emmys, because I have a real fondness for the soaps. It's amazing to me what they have to do each day to get a show on the air. There's a real troupe attitude about it that you don't see anywhere else. We are very excited and thrilled for the opportunity to be bringing this to you.

For soap fans who don't "understand" what is involved in putting together a Daytime Emmys telecast, can you offer a brief explanation of what it is that you do?

It takes a vision and then bringing in those people who will help realize your vision the best. This is a laborious process. My initial phone call to NATAS was in January. It was a two-part process. One, I had to convey our vision to NATAS and then, two, convey it to the broadcaster. Once that was done, then we had to figure out how to make it happen. But it's all in picking the right team and, man, we sure did on this one!

There's been such a great buzz about you being a friend to the daytime community -- particularly soap fans…

Thank you for that. I believe I am and I'm not looking for any special accolade for that. The thing that I bring to the table is the bridge. I think that fans feel that their soaps don't reach out enough to them and that they don't have a real voice in what happens on their shows. I'm not a journalist and I'm not a critic. I'm the color commentator. Especially in these uncertain times. They're scared and they want answers. On the flipside, I think the studios have a friend in me, because I really try to explain to the best of my ability why things happen the way they do.

Fans take any soap news very personally. Especially bad news. They don't understand why a certain actor isn't used enough or why the shows are not the same as they used to be or why AMC is moving to LA. Fans see this as personal. But they need to know that it's not, and no network executive is standing over a cauldron trying to conjure new ways to torture them. These are desperate times and the networks are doing everything they can to save themselves. As long as the viewers remain committed, so will the networks. It's all about money.

With Guiding Light being replaced by Let's Make a Deal, I wouldn't call it the most creative move in the world. Let's Make a Deal has been done and re-done for decades. But what it does is save CBS some money. If it doesn't work, then they'll put in a talk show or another court show. Something that gets virtually the same rating as GL, but at less than half the cost. How do you argue that with the guys keeping the ship afloat? They don't have the same sensitivity as the fans do. The networks don't care about being in the daytime drama business. They care about being in the "how can I get the most profit" business. There's nothing new to that and there's nothing wrong with it. Don't we live our own lives that way? Don't we want to make the most money we can to lead the best lives we can for ourselves and our kids? Why should television be different?

In 1985, daytime soaps were raking in the bucks and that's where the networks' loyalties were. That's the battle fans face today. It's also the battle actors face. ABC gets behind a lot of promotion, mainly because they own their soaps and they have SOAPnet. I believe they are seeing the best profit margins of all the networks because of that. It's really sad that NBC hasn't done more for Days Of Our Lives--especially in light of its success. DAYS is a really good show and NBC should pay more attention. Same for CBS with its shows. Why they haven't figured out a way to take a The Bold and The Beautiful fashion show to malls across America is beyond me. Sounds like a money-maker to me. That's actually the biggest daytime soap in the world. When I go overseas, B&B is huge! But maybe there's more to the story that I don't know.

I think that soap fans, next to sports fans, are among the most devout you'll ever find and they'd rather kill you than have you disagree with them. I don't know another genre quite like it, and if the fans stay abundant, persistent, and really support their shows, then it makes it easier for me to do the Emmys again next year. That goes for soaps themselves, too. Help me help you.

For a while, it seemed like there might not be a telecast for this year's Daytime Emmys. Why do you think that it was so hard to find a home for the awards show?

Awards shows in particular are hard sells. The Daytime Emmys ratings have not held up and the creative focus was lost as networks were trying to latch on to being trendy rather than being entertaining. Technically, those shows were very well done. But if you ask both fans and soap stars which year they liked best, it would probably be the one from Radio City Music Hall. It was elaborate, prestigious, and had a real sense of entertainment to it. Budgets obviously won't allow us to do that as such, but we can certainly re-create that feeling of entertainment and glitz. And we will.

I do love SOAPnet and many fans are angry with them for seemingly turning their back on the soap community. Fans should relax. This goes back to what I said earlier. It's about growth and prosperity. SOAPnet believes that being the rerun network is not the way to grow their network. They don't feel that rerunning daytime programming in primetime -- especially that of a declining genre -- is the ticket to generate advertiser confidence. And I have to agree with them. This why I think I'm the bridge. I understand what they do, because I'm a part of what they do. TV Land went through the same thing. How many episodes of The Munsters (one of my favorite shows, by the way) can you run before advertisers start to bail on you? You have to be original and you have to create something that can be branded as your own. Food Network does this very well. So does Lifetime and Sci-Fi Channel…excuse me, SyFy. What the hell were they thinking on that one…

So with all this information at hand, I made the decision not to approach them to run the live show. The other reason is that I wasn't ready to give up on broadcast television. I did give [SOAPnet] the opportunity to rerun the Emmys, and to do a Red Carpet show, but they said that this really wasn't their focus. And they're right! And you know what? We were able to put together an even better Red Carpet show on the CW with Lara Spencer and Kevin Frazier that we own. This is better than anything I could have imagined. So fans, don't be angry with SOAPnet. They are a great network that is just starting to build upon its base, and they'll still have a presence at the event. And I think they will always have a place for the daytime soaps. It just may be in the off hours or on weekend afternoons at some point.

What are your plans to make this year's Emmy broadcast stand out from previous broadcasts?

It will be a return to the glory days and will focus on entertaining the audience. There will be a sense of purpose, perhaps, that previous years didn't have. We want this to be well-paced and filled with everything you would want. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll come away feeling that you haven't wasted two hours out of your life. We'll do our best.

This year, there will be a special "Daytime Gives Back" segment to the awards. Can you explain a little bit about this and what inspired it?

[ATI President] David McKenzie inspired it. Feed The Children, our charity of choice, is very special to him and to all of us. Each of us has kids. I have two girls ages 10 and 11. He has a 14-year-old daughter. Last year, we took a bunch of stars to Kenya with Feed The Children, turned it into a documentary, and had a huge success with it because our presence there really made a difference. Feed The Children really makes a difference. They feed nearly 800,000 a day every day.

And daytime television has always been on the forefront of awareness, whether it was a disability, or a life choice, or a cause. Primetime wouldn't touch it. But daytime knows what its relevancy is. These characters come into our homes every day and become a part of us. When Luke Spencer is ringing in the New Year at the casino, we are, too, because his story is happening the same day as ours. They have the time to devote to real issues in their stories. It just made our "Daytime Gives Back" segment the perfect fit for the Daytime Emmys.

And I personally want to thank those that went to Africa -- Anthony Geary (Luke Spencer, General Hospital), Kelly Monaco (Sam McCall, GH), Montel Williams, Erik Estrada, the Massey brothers, and Susan Lucci (Erica Kane, All My Children). There's no way that even the coldest heart won't be moved by what you're going to see. Both Tony and Susan said that their lives are changed forever. As a matter of fact, Julie Carruthers felt that Erica Kane should also have this experience, and you'll see that unfold on AMC in the next few weeks. We can't thank Julie enough for that. We did this again in New York last week, and stars from As The World Turns and One Life To Live joined Susan and Montel for what turned into a huge event for Feed The Children. Kmart supplied nearly 1,000 back to school bags for these kids to get them off to a smart start. When have you known the Daytime Emmys to do this? This is why we're here.

It seems that every year, one of the biggest criticisms from soap fans viewing the Emmys is that they feel there is too much "filler" and they don't get to see the "clips" from nominated performers.

I'm not sure what they mean by "filler." I don't believe we'll have that, as everything has a purpose, the way I see it. But, I never felt that the clips did the actors any justice. It's either the yelling or crying scene. To me, that's hardly the mark of great acting, because you're seeing it out of context. With that being said, there will still be some actor clips, but only in key categories. But look for great show clips. My initial wish was to forego the standard actor clip and do more of a tribute. For example, if Kirsten Storms is the nominee, it would be more interesting to see someone like a Bradford Anderson give a quick sound bite of praise on how her excellence as an actor makes the show that much better, or makes him that much better, with a montage of footage of Kirsten behind him. We, unfortunately, found that difficult to do in the time frame we wanted. Next year, perhaps.

There have been so many significant losses on daytime over the past year. Are their plans to honor any of the stars who've passed away? We're also losing Guiding Light next month. I understand that there will be something very special for GL fans during the broadcast...

We honor those that pass away the best by celebrating what we do so that their work will continue on in the work of others. The Daytime Emmys has not aired the Memoriam segment for many years. I thought we might be able to do it this year, but it didn't happen. Yes, there will be something very special for Guiding Light. This was my mom's favorite show. This is not a tribute. It's a farewell, as you will never see them again all in one place and all for this one show. This moment is over 70 years in the making.

There has been a growing movement among the members of the daytime community to return the Daytime Emmy broadcast to the daytime hours. What is your thought on that?

Members meaning the shows or actors? Or the networks? The daytime community has all the power. The Daytime Emmys belongs to them and they should be entitled to celebrate themselves as they like. For now, it's still in primetime, and we're going to make it mean something. Next year is an open book.

Finally, soap fans seem to be so worried about whether or not their favorite soaps are going to be cancelled that they might not feel like "celebrating" with the Daytime Emmys. Do you have any message for them?

I'm here to say right now that all fans need to quit being afraid of what might happen. Support the ones you have. If one goes off the air, some of your favorite stars might appear on other soaps. So you have to support them all.

Unfortunately, at some point, the landscape of daytime will be much different than it is now. It's inevitable because daytime broadcast television is changing. By saving the Emmys, you're really helping us prolong the inevitable until a better solution can be found. The ship is sinking, but we're here to bail water as fast as we can until another better ship comes along to rescue us.

And that's what my greatest hope is with these soaps. I can see them moving to the Internet as that becomes the preferable way to watch media. I can see them as a weekly primetime series on cable. Don't you think some of those could be well-crafted as a weekly show? Many great daytime shows survived radio to television. Why not television to the Internet? Some great, creative people are already doing it successfully. Where many see doom and gloom, I see opportunity. It's going to take that mindset with producers to be successful. Many of your favorite shows are already online. Eventually, the money will follow if they play it smart.

But that's not today. We have years of great daytime television drama to come.

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