Daytime Emmy award-winning director and producer Sonia Blangiardo recently spoke to TV Source Magazine about the success of her Emmy-nominated soap drama Tainted Dreams, life behind the scenes in daytime, New York vs. Los Angeles and her family of friends.
Blangiardo has served as a producer/director on five iconic soaps, including All My Children, One Life to Live, As the World Turns, General Hospital, and currently Days of Our Lives. She has two Emmy wins for her work on One Life to Live and As the World Turns. Her more than 25 years of experience in the soap industry is the inspiration behind the Amazon Prime series Tainted Dreams. The series follows the dramatic lives of the cast and crew of the fictional soap Painted Dreams.
Tainted Dreams is nominated for five Daytime Emmy Awards this year including Outstanding Digital Daytime Drama Series, Michael Lowry for Outstanding Lead Actor Digital Daytime Drama Series, Kelley Menighan Hensley for Outstanding Lead Actress Digital Daytime Dramas Series, Anthony Wilkison for Outstanding Supporting Actor Digital Daytime Drama Series and Natalia Livingston for Outstanding Actress Digital Daytime Drama Series.
TV Source Magazine had the privilege of speaking with the industry veteran about the popular online series.
In addition to Tainted Dreams, you also worked on the web series Winterthorne. Is there a difference between creating content for online vs. television?
I think definitely there is a difference because I think online you can’t do what television networks traditionally have done which is an hour of content five days a week for years on end. I think the online audiences want shorter series where they can watch it all and hopefully leave them wanting more. And hopefully if you tell the story right they’ll be like “When’s more! When’s more!” and I think anytime I see any post as far as Tainted is concerned that’s the biggest compliment ever. “We want a season two!” It’s like okay job well done. Where as with traditional network soaps, it’s ongoing. It’s every single day brand new content so you just have to keep that story going. So there is a difference in how we tell the story. It’s shorter, quicker, it kind of needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end so theoretically it resembles primetime more than it does daytime if you are really looking at the model.
Tainted Dreams in now available on Amazon Prime. It took a few years for you to find the right home for your series but during that time online entertainment started to gain popularity. Do you think the success of shows like Orange Is The New Black, The Man in High Castle and Transparent has made it easier for independent series?
Absolutely! Undoubtedly! I think so much has happened in the last two to three years and it’s been kind of earth shattering. Personally, I took a pitch meeting with a digital outlet for a different project I was working on and I ended up saying to them “What are you looking for?” It was right off the cusp of Transparent I believe winning a couple of Golden Globes and without batting an eyelash he said “Award-winning content.” So they were all looking at this like this is valid, this is real, this isn’t just a network game. And I think if you go back to years ago [it was about] ABC, CBS and NBC and then it became about HBO and Showtime and all the other cable outlets competing. Now the pool is just open even more and I think shows like that definitely enabled more content to be considered mainstream whether it’s a Transparent type of show or whether it’s something a little more high concept or whether it’s something about a soap about a soap. You know there is a home for it because people watch when they want to watch at their leisure. I think that’s a freedom that we all want and crave right now because we’re all so busy and even with the TV we want to watch what we want to watch when we want to watch. You know I think the younger generation is just accustomed to watching programming and content online. So it’s definitely a trend that I think is here to stay and will keep growing.
The four remaining network soaps are all filmed in Los Angeles but Tainted Dreams is about a New York based soap. Why did you choose New York as the setting of the series?
My history has been New York based soaps. My first LA soap was General Hospital and now obviously Days of our Lives. But when I was in New York, I worked on All My Children, One Life to Live, As The World Turns and they were all New York based soaps so there was a certain element that was part of our daily life. You know like the feature Blondie’s which was a sport’s bar near by and where many of our soap events happened. I feel, kind of like with Sex In The City, New York is a character. For Tainted, I just truly feel like it is because it replicates my experiences in the soap world. Like it’s very easy in New York and in LA you have to plan things and it’s nothing against that but in New York it’s always like “Hey do you want to go grab a bite?” “Yeah, sure.” It’s very easy and we did that and we all bonded because of that. So now not only are you working together several hours a week, you also get to enjoy each other’s company on a more social level. And I think that’s what really creates a family environment that I hope came across in Tainted because we do all become a family.
What would you say is the biggest difference between the New York and Los Angeles based shows?
The difference is space. In New York, we had such smaller spaces that we had to deal with and in LA everything is so massive, so you just have the luxury of having two stages and standing sets. We didn’t have that option in New York. But outside of that, what I did notice the minute I stepped into Days of our Lives, I felt with every show that sense of family one’s created. Obviously it’s individual to the show because those are the people that have worked together for years and years so that vibe is still there, “We need to get this done. We need to go fast. We need to tell this story in the best way possible.” That’s the common thread. I don’t care where the soap is based. It’s just that that’s the common thread you all move forward with. It’s kind of interesting how the different elements are there but they’re all the same thing. It’s just like going from town to town. Everything has its little uniqueness but all in all it’s that same feeling.
Do you think location played a factor as to why the LA soap survived and the New York soap didn’t?
Honestly, no. I think each show had its individual challenges as the shows got cancelled and the decisions were made by so many participating people and circumstances. I don’t think New York was a factor. I just think that when the time came for the show to negotiate or not, there were different circumstances. When I worked for As The World Turns, it was Proctor & Gamble owned with negotiations. I’m experiencing the same things with Days of our Lives. There is a negotiation with a production company that owns the show and the actual network where as ABC shows they were [network] owned. So it was just like one day, “Yep, All My Children and One Life to Live are gone.” Which I think was the most shocking thing because there was no negotiation. There was no “could we, could we not.” For me, it really came out of the blue. Especially since they announced both shows in one day. Again, what the rhyme or reason for that was I have to assume boiled down to money and a business decision and I’m not privy to those — the reasons why. But I don’t think it was a New York/LA thing. I think it was just a decision that was made by the powers that be to not move forward with the shows.
Were those cancelations the inspiration for Tainted Dreams or was this a story you had in your back pocket before then?
This is a story that began with one of the lead actors in the show, Michael Lowry. He started on As The World Turns about ten years ago. He played a day player role and we were always close during All My Children. We were like “we really should write a show about the difference of perspective, like me being behind the scenes for so many years and you being in front of the camera.” So the original show was called Forever and a Day and it was really about that. It was about the experiences he had and the experiences I had as our careers were moving. And once the shows did get cancelled, I called him and was like “I think we should resurrect Forever and a Day. I think we just need to revamp.” And he was like, “Godspeed. Go for it!” And we kind of took over from there and I just kind of said it should be about the fact that the shows are now dying. There is still a need for these shows or an audience for them just not in the way that we’ve been accustom to tell the stories. So it is interesting how it did transpire. Originally, I just wanted to write a show and you write what you know so I knew this world. I thought it was really fun, you know all the fights we’ve had, all the experiences and joys and weddings and you know christening and bar mitzvahs and everything and we were just all for each other and constantly throughout. I just thought that was something very unique about the way these characters, ourselves, kind of evolved over the years. So it was a bit of everything but has been something that has been on our minds for about a decade until finally it was brought to fruition.
The series is fictional but I’m curious how much of it is based on your real-life experiences working behind the scenes in daytime. For example, Veronica’s onset drunken meltdown. Is that something that actually occurred?
I have to tell you that we’ve experienced it all. There’s very little in Tainted Dreams that [didn’t happen]. The characters are completely fictional. The circumstances were adapted for the character for the purpose of story telling but sadly there have been experiences like that but also very joyous ones and going away parties and things like that were part of our everyday life. Now, I’m not saying someone showed up everyday drunk and threw a tantrum but we sadly did have some experiences with people who shall remain nameless. It definitely wasn’t something that I exaggerated or came up with. It truly is based on real life events. Even the friendship between Anthony and Angelica. That’s the basis of my real life friendship with Anthony [Wilkinson] who plays Anthony. That’s very real. Everybody loves the line, I get comments all the time about “I have rotten eggs” and that’s a conversation that he and I had. We couldn’t get more real than that.
My heart is in all these pages with these personal experiences. I never forget him saying it so innocently and I’m like this is just so classic, this is too funny to me and he just made me laugh and I forgot about whatever issues I was going through at that moment. Everything is really based on things that have happened. I think another perfect example is the late Larkin Malloy who portrays the late Henry Kaplan. I mean he was the outrageous, politically incorrect director who we all loved to hate. He was just such an unique character. You can not make a person like Henry Kaplan up and Larkin did an amazing job of portraying his quirks and uniqueness and he was offbeat and just everything about him. It was very important that I cast someone who knew Henry. Even though I wanted Larkin to make [the role] into his own, which he did and then some, he understood what I was after because you really can’t describe Henry to people who don’t know him. It was just great even from those perspectives. Like we were trying to be as accurate as possible.
You mentioned your friendship with Anthony, who you also worked with on the off-Broadway play My Big Gay Italian Wedding. A lot of the character’s story is based on Anthony’s own experiences. In Tainted Dreams, he deals with family drama and with being a good friend to Angelica while also trying to navigate the New York dating scene and find his soul mate. Was there something specifically about his story that you felt was important to tell?
I mean again Anthony is a person you can’t describe. He has a heart of gold. He is a character that you’re completely entertained with. We had a joke, another producer on the series and I, she used to have a jar and every time that Anthony would come in and say that “I met my soulmate last night” he would have to put a quarter in the jar ‘cause he said that so much. So that whole story line that Anthony is forever searching for his soulmate is completely accurate. Our friendship translated itself into anything that Anthony did. With the plays, I was involved, Teresa [Cicala] was involved. Now with Tainted Dreams, Teressa’s involved, Anthony’s involved. So when I say you form these bonds it’s not just like “Yeah, you’re a great friend of mine.” Anthony was with me the last three days. We were in Iowa together. So everything we experience, it is together. And you can’t fabricate that. You can’t plan it. It’s just something that evolves when things click in life. They’re my family and it’s very real. So I think part of why he did the show was so that we could be a part of it. Part of why I did Tainted Dreams was so that everybody I’ve loved throughout the years can be a part of it. There is something about Tainted Dreams because my family is involved so the goal to make that continue and move on to a season two and move on to a season three is so special because of that reason.
I love the main character Angelica and Alicia Minshew is perfect in the role. Did you write the character with her in mind or did the casting come later?
Well this is a funny story and again this is true. I’d work with about everybody throughout the years because I’ve jumped around and at some point you just know all the casts and directors and producers. I left All My Children and [Alicia] started a few months later so she’s one person I never worked with but through people we knew from All My Children we always heard each other’s names. I did start writing it and I just kept on picturing her and I don’t know why. There’s no rhyme or reason because I didn’t know her. So at the end of it when I was finished, I was like I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role. So we met through mutual friends and we had lunch at Amber in the city of Manhattan and it’s so ironic, by the end of it I understood why I had her in my mind. It’s like I’ve known her forever. She jumped on board immediately and it’s been amazing ever since. It’s again one of those connections that you can’t describe and, I’m not even remotely making this up, it was like “if you don’t say yes I don’t know what I’m going to do” because I just saw her completely in the role. I knew she would be great with Anthony and she was great. And she’s amazing with Michael and with Austin. She’s just that person. So my joke whenever I’m asked that question about the first time I met her was like “Hi! I know we just met but can you play me?”
How much of the character of Angelica would you say is you?
Quite a bit. I mean the experiences, the frustrations, the struggles with motherhood or not achieving. You know you grow up and think well of course this will happen in my life and life has other ideas in store for you. I have to admit a lot about Angelica is me. It really, truly is. I created this character so she has her own uniqueness, her own voice but the relationship with Anthony, very authentic. Her struggles at work with just trying to assess who she is constantly, that was me to a large extent so there are many, many similar elements. And just trying to always be the one to make sure everything was peaceful and everyone got along and just being the caretaker. That sadly is me because sometimes too much you can’t really take care of everyone so when you take that on it becomes a big responsibility. You wake up one morning like “oh boy I’m taking care of too many things” but all of those elements are in Angelica. Definitely.
In the series, there is a hilarious scene of the awkward network meeting where the producers tried to trade the teens for a bedroom set. Angelica’s argument was that the soap audience is smart and they just want a good story. How do you think the push to appeal to younger audiences has impacted soaps?
Well, I mean, without disrespecting anybody or the powers that be because I’ve never been on the creative side — I’ve been everything in the soap world but I’ve never been a writer — I have to be completely honest when I say I don’t understand the mentality that younger is better. My mentality is we have an audience. We have a loyal audience. Yes, those numbers are dropping, like everything else. It’s very difficult to get numbers like we did ten years ago or 20 or 30 years ago for anything across the board, let alone a daytime serial when less people are home watching. When kids come home they’re not being groomed. We joke about this all the time. I was groomed to watch soaps as soon as I came home and mom and grandma were watching them. So of course I became addicted to them. I just kept saying through my high school years “I will work on All My Children” because I was so focused with wanting to work for the shows. They became such a part of my life. When we try to get the younger viewers, the irony is I was a younger viewer.
I started watching when I was five. I was a kid that when I came home from high school and collage, I would watch. The kids weren’t reflecting my age. We didn’t have 18-year-old story lines. Some where if they organically fit. I remember Greg and Jenny and Tad and they weren’t my age but they were younger. It was a great story that involved the older characters and the family and the dynamic and the older mom sleeping with Liza’s boyfriend Tad. It was just good story telling. At the end of the day, I just feel like if you just tell good story the audiences will watch and they’ll come. You know we had a resurgence of Grey’s Anatomy fans ever since it went to Hulu. When Grey’s Anatomy came out the millennial generation was ten. They didn’t watch. They found it. They discovered it and now they’re all like binge watching all of the seasons leading up to the current one on Grey’s Anatomy. These characters like Meredith Grey may have been in her 20s when she first started. She’s now obviously older. You grow with them. I don’t like forcing characters to tell a story. Tell the story and let the characters organically fit in it. That in my opinion is the best way to tell the story and you’ll get the viewers young, old and everything in between. Again, not in the position to make those decisions but I tried to do that with Tainted and just really just told to the story and whomever fit in the character fit in the character. Case closed. There really isn’t much more to say you know.
Do you think that those views have change in recent years?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I always give Ron Carlivati the biggest credit when he first joined the writing team when Frank Valentini took over General Hospital and he brought back one of the veteran actors and I say it all the time. I worked with Finola Hughes on All My Children. She’s an incredible, incredible actor but that character, bringing back that character Anna Devane who still goes strong, is still very intriguing to watch, that’s brilliant. He brought back several characters. And you don’t need to bring back characters. I mean she is just so amazing. Like she fit into the fabric of the story and you want to see where this character keeps going. But he brought back Robert Scorpio and he brought back Frisco and he brought back these characters that kind of made the show iconic. They didn’t have to be there forever but if you bring them in for a story arc in order to tell the story, I think the fans love seeing these faces that they just enjoyed watching many years prior and I’m so grateful that he saw that. He’s very brilliant at what he does and I think that is something that made a difference for General Hospital. Again we will always want to tell the kids’ story lines. Always, always. And I’m a big fan of that. Right now Days of our Lives has amazing kid actors. I’m intrigued with their performances and their stories that they’re being given and what they do with them. They’re tackling real story lines and real issues. Which I think if you do that, it’s fantastic. It’s absolutely fantastic.
When can fans expect season two of Tainted Dreams and do we get to see Eddy Parish’s evil twin?[Laughs] That’s a very good question. That I can’t divulge but I can say that we have a season two shot. We’re in the final stages of getting it ready. We are not quite sure when but I can guarantee it will be out there before the year’s over definitely. My goal is late summer, early fall but certain decisions are in other people’s hands. I kind of follow the lead. But it is ready to go. This is not something we’re working towards. It will happen.
To learn more about Tainted Dreams, visit tainteddreams.com. Episodes are available for viewing on Amazon Prime. Follow the show on social media at @TaintedDreamTS and Sonia Blangiardo at @SoniaBlangiardo.