That Kay Alden, always putting words in other people's mouths!
It started with her Communication Arts dissertation for her Ph.D. at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Encouraged by her college advisers to write about dead people because their body of work is complete, Kay instead decided to write about her passion, soap operas, hooked on since age twelve. Her dissertation title was Daytime Serials as Mediators of Social Change.
Why mediators of social change? Often times, Kay found soaps to be ahead of the curve in dealing with everyday family problems with their characters serving as positive role models for their viewers in dealing with sticky domestic situations.
For example, a pregnancy outside of marriage. Years ago, in families too often the attitude was, "Ban her!" from the family. Alden feels soaps helped viewing families to be more compassionate in those real-life situations and found viewers looking to soaps for help in getting them through tough times in their own lives.
The next step? As part of her research for her dissertation, the brainy blonde found Chicagoan William J. Bell's number in the phone book and called the creator of the CBS soap, The Young and the Restless for an interview. She went to his home on Lake Shore Drive and a requested 45 minute interview turned into 2 1/2 hours.
After submitting sample scripts over a period of months, Kay ended up as a writer for The Young and the Restless, starting on May 13, 1974 (my nephew Jack's birthday) through 2006 when she left for a short stint as a consultant for ABC's All My Children.
Returning to the Bell family fold in 2007, she started writing for son Bradley Bell's soap, The Bold and the Beautiful, also on CBS. Kay worked her way up to Head Writer at The Young and the Restless and is currently Co-Head Writer for The Bold and the Beautiful.
By the way, for her first trial script in the 70's, she received a check for fifty dollars and was in heaven! Her timing couldn't have been better, too. When she was hired to write for The Young and the Restless, the soap had been on-air for only about a year or so. She was able to get in on the ground floor.
For years the five-time Emmy winner, has written her scripts from Chicago. Who says you have to live in LA? Kay says nowadays you may have to go to LA at first to get established but you don't necessarily have to stay there.
But since the shows are shot in LA, the scripts have to go there. It's much easier today to get scripts transported across the country with the click of a mouse than it was years ago before the age of computers when they had to be overnighted by whatever means was available at the time.
She likes the Bell family soaps because they often deal with social and health issues like rape, the effect of brain injuries and cancer on family life, homelessness and what may be a first for daytime dramas, heartbreaker Katherine Kelly Lang as Brooke Logan, going through menopause and an accidental pregnancy at age 50. Also her modeling lingerie at age 50 edging out younger competitor Stephanie Forrester Spencer (Jacqueline McInnes Wood) at Forrester Creations.
But it's not just the women who model lingerie. In a new twist, the guys on the show modeled a pajama line. The grand dame of Chicago television talk Lee Phillip Bell doing it before there was an Oprah, made a cameo appearance on that particular show. It was all in the name of charity. Who knows? Maybe Oprah or Gayle King will come on next.
Kay Alden so admires Lee Phillip Bell for her socially conscious shows and hosting the first major daytime talk show in Chicago, all the while working with a rape crisis center. She did interviews on rape and talked with cops who didn't get that rape victims are not criminals. At the time there were no DNA rape kits and questions like 'what did you say to this man to cause him to rape you?' were still asked.
Her tips for doing what she does? Really know your soaps. Don't just watch the show a few times. There are bibles online that will give you the history of how the characters are related to each other. She highly recommends checking those out before you start writing.
Really know your characters. Write down their dialogue as you watch the show to help you get the feel for the way each character talks. Ask yourself. Does this sound like the characters or not?
Scriptwriters are given an outline of the episode for that day and each script writer does a single episode. It is not divided up with men writers writing only men's dialogue and women writers doing only the women.
They don't plan what's going to happen really far in advance either. For example long-time matriarch 84-year-old Jeanne Cooper who played Katherine Chancellor on The Young and the Restless and is the mother in real life of actor Corbin Bernsen, passed away May 8, 2013. But she was in episodes being aired up to five days before her death, and those episodes were taped less than a month ago.
They are not sure yet, Kay said, how they will handle her death on the show.
A private memorial service for Cooper was being held on June 2, the day Alden addressed the Chicago Screenwriters Network at Chicago's Roots Handmade Pizza located at 1924 W. Chicago Ave.
Her advice to those just starting out is to get your foot in the door. Apply to be an "office intern" to learn how it all works. Meaning those putting together the show, often work 15 to 16 hour days. You have to be willing to put in the time.
Daytime shows are scripted, Kay says, despite rumors to the contrary. The actors can't just make up their lines as they go along. They spend long hours memorizing their pages each day.
Other advice from the lady who puts words in other people's mouths. Write for the ear, not for the eye. Read your script out loud before you turn it in. You need to find a good ending moment (a good strong tag) to leave the viewer with as you go to commercial. Each episode should end with a cliffhanger.
Kay says when someone higher up gives you notes on your work, if you are in your infancy on the show, do it. Even if you hate their suggestions, do it until you have a track record established. Because you don't yet have the autonomy to protect yourself.
Watch out and don't be one of those many writers who are unfortunately too ego-involved, she cautions. They often don't last long.