Drake Hogestyn speaks with TVSource Magazine about his return to Days of Our Lives and what fans can expect from the show beginning September 26.
September 26th marks the beginning of a new era on Days of Our Lives. After a two-and-a-half year absence, fan favorites Drake Hogestyn (John Black) and Deidre Hall (Marlena Evans Black) will return to Salem, bringing back the super couple known as Jarlena. A lot is placed on the returns of Hogestyn, Hall and other fan favorites like Patrick Muldoon, Christie Clark and Matt Ashford. DAYS execs hope to recapture the viewers who have stopped watching over the years. With a new creative and production team, DAYS wants fans to embrace their theme for the summer, “Watch Now to See How We Change.” Come September, DAYS 2.0 takes over. Hogestyn spoke with TVSource Magazine on Tuesday to discuss returning to the show he called home for twenty three years. What can fans expect from this new DAYS? Why have John and Marlena returned to Salem?
TVSource Magazine: Welcome back! You’ve been greatly missed by your fans.
Drake Hogestyn: Thank you very much I cannot even tell you how excited I am to be back. I think I speak on behalf of my leading lady also when I say that.
TVSource Magazine: It’s such an honor for me to interview you. I’m 24 years old; I’ve been a fan of yours and Deidre since I was a kid. I grew up watching John and Marlena.
Hogestyn: It’s my privilege. You know what? It’s kind of interesting you said that. I had a guy over here at the house today – nothing glamorous, but it was like I took the septic tank lids off and he came out here. I helped him get his pipes out as we were going to do the pumping and he said, “Oh my mother would just die right now if she knew who I was talking to.” I started laughing and I said, “That’s interesting. So you started watching Days of Our Lives because of your mom?” He goes, “Absolutely.”
We’re talking about that right now – about being respectful of the audience that enjoyed Days of Our Lives for 45 years and for whatever reason they might have turned the set off – maybe an emotional favorite like Deidre or myself had left the show – but for whatever reason the TV is off. When we come back to the show on September 26 along with Christie Clark [Carrie], Patrick Muldoon [Austin], Matt Ashford [Jack] and a lot of other fan favorites – that warm, fuzzy feeling is going to return to the audience and they’re going have that TV set on. Once they have that TV set on, other eyeballs are going to walk through that living room and they’re going to say, “Hey grandma or mom what are you watching?” That’s how you get the younger demographics. NBC has tried different ways over the years – as DAYS has, to get the younger demographics. They threw a lot of things on the wall, some stick, some don’t – but the most important is just make sure that TV set is on in the living room. If we can do that by Deidre and I returning to the show, then so be it.
TVSource Magazine: I think it’s going to be great for the show and great for the rest of the industry too. If people see that DAYS is respecting its audience and bringing back fan favorites, hopefully the other soaps will follow suit.
Hogestyn: You’re absolutely right. You need to be very respectful of that audience that has gotten you where you are today. The medium is always changing – always trying different things. But the bottom line – the two crucial elements – and you know this better than anybody Omar – you need to have engaging writing and compelling actors. If you have those two you have a winner.
TVSource Magazine: When I spoke to Deidre earlier, she said fans will see “DAYS 2.0″ in September. What kind of stories can fans expect from this “new” DAYS? How will the characters fit into the new vision of the show?
Hogestyn: We’ve got a couple writers that are back on board that wrote for our show years ago. They know the history of the show – they know the characters. And even though they wrote under [former DAYS & Passions head writer] Jim Reilly – who had some pretty zany stories in his own right [Laughs] – what they’re bringing to the table is contemporary stories now that are character driven. Everybody can relate to them – they’re topical stories. They’re stories that have been torn right out of the front page of the newspapers – stories that have been affecting a lot of people’s lives and John Black just happens to be right in the middle of it. They’re redefining each character into black and white so the audience will easily recognize who they are.
Sometimes with plot driven stories, even as an actor you’re reading the scripts saying, “Ugh.” You’re kind of like fighting against it. You go, “He wouldn’t’ do that, he just wouldn’t respond that way.” But everything we’re getting right now – yes your character would respond that way. They’re redefining them and it’s kind of like a revitalization of the show – it’s DAYS 2.0 [Laughs]
TVSource Magazine: How did your return come about? When did they approach you to return and what did it take to get you to say yes?
Hogestyn: It’s kind of interesting. It worked in several different steps. I was kind of under the impression, that, you know, I had worked there 23 years to the day and the time had come. Even though I will always be emotionally attached to the show, I was no longer a physical part of the fabric and that was very sad.
I was invited to [DAYS owner and executive producer] Ken Corday’s book signing. I got to play with some of the cast mates for a couple hours and then I had to put my toys away because they all went back to work the next day but I didn’t get to join them. [Laughs] Joe Mascolo [Stefano] of course came up and gave me the biggest bear hug. I love that man, he is like the greatest adversary and one of the greatest human beings [Laughs].
There was a little stir that started there and Kristian Alfonso [Hope], Alison Sweeney [Sami], Peggy McCay [Caroline], Suzanne Rogers [Maggie] and Joe Mascolo – were very instrumental in getting that started. Between the five of them, they started a buzz with Ken, with [DAYS co-executive producer] Greg Meng and one thing led to another. With Days of Our Lives having their 45 anniversary book signing tour, Greg Meng invited me to Houston. I went down to Houston with Kristian Alfonso and Jim Reynolds [Abe] and just had the best weekend. What topped it off was being at Barnes and Noble – seeing the fans that showed up and hearing the outpouring and their need for a return to the basics. “When’s John coming back? When are John and Marlena coming back?” I know Deidre went on the book tours and she received the same and Greg Meng was right there taking it all in.
One thing led to another, changes were being made at DAYS – new writers were being brought in, Greg Meng was made executive producer along with Noel Maxam. I got a phone call, “Drake, there have been some discussions here and we’d like to –.” And I said, “Yes.” [Laughs] And he said, “Let me finish” and I said, “You don’t have to. The answer is yes.” It was just that quick. He said, “Who should I call, what representatives?” I said, “You’re talking to him. I don’t have any representatives. There’s no other show I would want to be on outside of Days of Our Lives.” After that he said, “That’ll make this clean. Get ready to roll your sleeves up; we’re moving forward in a big way.”
Let me tell you something about that. That call I got was on May 12. That was my father’s birthday. I lost Dad on July 11 of last year – my first start date in the contract was July 11. I happen to believe that Dad, in heaven, found [DAYS creators] Ted and Betty Corday [Laughs] and said, “Ok guys, come on. We got to shake this show up a little bit.” [Laughs] So I think dad was reaching out and gave me a shout out. God love you dad. [Laughs]
TVSource Magazine: Before you received that call, did you ever think the day would come where you would be asked to return?
Hogestyn: I was keeping an ear to the track and obviously, you live this, you know what’s happening with the daytime genre. It’s very sad to see what’s happening. It all comes down to the budget; it all comes down to making money, that’s what it’s all about. As far as storytelling, no one can do it better than daytime dramas. Can you do it every single day? That’s the big thing.
There was talk of the end from the [former NBC Entertainment President] Jeff Zuckers of the world who had canceled Passions and he owned that show. He called to congratulate me for the great run on the show and everything I contributed to NBC, and inferred that the soap opera genre on that particular network probably wasn’t long. He owned Passions and he doesn’t own Days of Our Lives. From reading between the lines – he owned Passions and declined to keep it on the air, and he doesn’t own DAYS – you can kind of see where it was going. But here we are! By god I understand Jeff Zucker is doing the Katie Couric show that’s supposed to premiere in September 2012. I hear some talk about if that’s a success, then General Hospital might be having a hard time. I’m thinking Jeff probably is over at ABC with [ABC Daytime President] Brian Frons, who used to be at NBC, and by god he’s trying to knock another soap opera off the air! [Laughs]
TVSource Magazine: During NBC’s TCA [Television Critics Association] panel, new NBC President Robert Greenblatt said he’s happy with Days of Our Lives‘ performance and sees DAYS on NBC for a very long time.
Hogestyn: Omar I love to hear that. As you know, I come from a sports background in baseball – anytime a manager gets a vote of confidence, I’ve always got my ears up. [Laughs] All I’ll say to that is, just like baseball, you’re only as good as your last game. And just like daytime, you’re only as good as your last show. If you keep hanging some crooked numbers on there you’re going to see tomorrow. That’s what the cast is doing right now. Everybody is coming in there ready. It’s been revitalized, the energy is through the ceiling and everybody is on the same page as far as putting on a successful show that the audience is going to embrace. To do that, we’re going to take them backwards. We’re going to give them romance and all that action, adventure, intrigue and mystery that they loved so much in the early 90’s. It’s happening right now in front of us, we’re creating magic again.
TVSource Magazine: How does John Black figure into Salem in 2011? Preview a little about your return.
Hogestyn: We basically pick up where we left off. You remember January 23, 2009 – John intercepted a toxic syringe in the spine from the evil psychiatrist that wanted him for herself and Marlena was in the way. They got him to Switzerland within 24 hours so they could save his life. He’s been pretty focused on his recovery. He re-enters Salem with Marlena at the opening of the Horton Center – it’s a fabulous set that runs the width of NBC [Laughs]. It’s going to be up forever. Bo and Hope were instrumental in bringing it to fruition. John and Marlena attend the grand opening. Certain groups have been waiting for John to land on American soil because another event is unfolding that he is responsible for. That’s where the storyline is right now. It’s a topical, umbrella storyline that encompasses five different couple who don’t see eye to eye on the event and that’s going to create some disturbances – that’s where we are! John is getting his faculties back as far as all the movement in all the extremities, but because he was so focused on his recovery, he kind of let the business aspect slide. That’s part of the story we’re telling.