Interviews Soaps

Interview: Ladies of the Lake: Return to Avalon Executive Producer Michael Caruso

Ladies of the Lake, the series based on the novel by Days of our Lives owner/executive producer Ken Corday, debuted on Amazon Prime in May of 2017. The first season went on to receive 18 Indie Series Awards Nominations with Wins for Best Guest Actress (Arianne Zucker), Best Guest Actor (Ian Buchanan), and Best Lead Actor (Kyle Lowder) as well as a Daytime Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Digital Daytime Drama Series. Taking from the core of the novel, Season 1 was 88 minutes (4 episodes, 25 minutes each) of pure campy, soap fun. Secrets, lies, affairs, dead husbands, and a few over-the-top performances made for a fun summer afternoon of television.

Season 2, Ladies of the Lake: Return to Avalon debuted June 19th and delivers 3 stand out episodes of rich, soap entertainment.  The series quickly sets aside two main characters, shifts tonally, and focuses in on the stronger performers. The pace picks up, the dialogue is smarter, and the sex is steamier.  In addition to returning cast members, Arianne Zucker (Nicole, Days), Jessica Morris (ex-Jennifer, OLTL), Marie Wilson (ex-Summer, Days), Jillian Claire (ex-Abigail, Days), and Kyle Lowder (ex-Brady, Days; ex-Rick, B&B); the series adds Marc Anthony Samuel (Felix, GH), Robert Scott Wilson (Ben, Days), and Kathleen Gati (Liesel, GH). All 3 actors elevate an already stellar cast and push forward the story to a jaw dropping conclusion leaving us begging for a Season 3.

Kathleen Gati shines as the mother of Jessica Morris’ Crystal Amhurst, devoid of her Dr Obrecht accent; she’s sipping cocktails and dropping snarky one-liners with sheer delight. Robert Scott Wilson, smoldering and sexy, just as any soap male lead should be, brings the heat opposite Marie Wilson’s Morgan Firestone; while Marc Anthony Samuel as Teddy Dupree, stands toe to toe with powerhouse actress Arianne Zucker as her character “Lisa Roth’s” new wealthy husband.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Ladies of the Lake executive producer Michael Caruso (Devanity, Winterthorne) about Season 2.

What factors lead to the decision to shift the tone and focus of Season 2?
It was a couple of things really. The first season was based on the novel obviously, so adapting anything like that is always going to be a major challenge. There were plot points in the novel that had to be very clearly adhered to, and the character count was enormous. The novel was designed to be a fun poolside read, so in making a lot of the initial creative choices we went towards the campy side of the spectrum because it worked with the nature of the environment as well as the over the top murders and whatnot.

It was designed to be a “version” of Los Angeles on steroids. I also put an intense amount of pressure on myself to be as faithful as possible to the novel, and in the process the exposition in my script became VERY heavy handed. There was WAY more talking than showing, which to be blunt is never fun for the audience. There were things we simply didn’t have the resources to show, so I picked my battles and the byproduct of that was a very polarizing first season. People either loved it or hated it, which is a typical reaction to my work in general.

Taking all of the feedback from the audience both positive and negative, and not having source material for a second season I definitely felt more freedom to continue the story, but at a much faster pace and alter the physical styling of the show in the process. I think it’s the responsibility of any showrunner/EP to not stick their head in the sand and pretend that everything they do is perfect. I’ve learned over the years to embrace the things that work and correct the things that don’t. That’s why I was so grateful when Ken wanted to do another season.

Characters like Vivian (Martha Madison) and Angelica (Lilly Melgar) did not return for Season 2. Was this for contractual reasons or did you just feel that shifting the focus to Crystal, Morgan, and Lisa were better story?
No, not at all. Unlike traditional television, digital series don’t typically have long term contracts for any of their actors. At least none that I’ve ever heard of. At the time I wasn’t even thinking that we were going to get a second season. When I got the word, it was literally a whirlwind with very short turnaround. Before I could even start writing the second season I had to see who was available and who wasn’t. Both Martha and Lilly were invited to return, but Martha was moving to Texas at the time, and Lilly had been working on a ton of different projects as well as directorial work, so we just couldn’t make the schedules line up. They are both spectacular actresses and we missed their energy on set, but the creative silver lining of the scheduling issues is that it basically set the wheels in motion for everything that drives the storyline of the second season. It’s not a better or worse scenario, it’s just the evolution of the storytelling based on availability.

This season definitely felt like old school 80s/90s soap with a modern twist. Were there any specific shows, characters, or storylines from soap operas past that you drew inspiration from? 
Anyone that knows me will tell you that I am a diehard Dallas fan. I also loved Falcon Crest and a very seldom remembered spinoff to Melrose Place called Models, Inc. My shows are very often compared to soaps from the 80s and 90s which I take as a great compliment. It’s not even an intentional thing at this point, I just feel that those were the shows, I grew up with so there is always a lingering influence. I love the glamour and the verbal sparring. I’m a big believer in escapist television and the 80s and 90s produced some of the best. If you want a gritty show about “real life” I’m not your guy.

Robert Scott Wilson’s character, Detective Ethan Wyatt was the perfect blend of sexy and creepy. His story with Marie Wilson’s Morgan was a twisted callback to Season 1. In the first, she longed to be touched and here, the gaze she felt from him was very unwelcome. Did you worry how the audience would respond to that?
We had many discussions about the relationship between the two characters. Rob and Marie had almost instant chemistry when they worked together. Sonia Blangiardo, our director really wanted to make sure that we added layers to the relationship, to sell it and make it as authentic as possible. We played it from the aspect that they both are genuinely attracted to each other, but they struggle with those feelings because of the various agendas they’re dealing with.

You’re very astute in pointing out that Morgan had little to no physical affection in her first marriage so as repulsed as she is by being blackmailed, she’s also drawn to Rob because he really made that character very charismatic and likeable even though he’s doing some not so nice things. That storyline was one of those times where the performances really transcended the material, and with Sonia really communicating every step of the way, something that could have been creepy in a not good way really developed into something that we’re all very proud of.

Arianne Zucker’s Clara/Lisa in season 1 was an aspiring truth teller and in season 2, she ends up becoming the villain in her own story. What made you take the character in this direction?
Season two is all about accountability and self-discovery. Clara was so hell bent on revenge in the first season that she backed herself into a corner and got in over her head. Ari and I have a really great working relationship, so before I started writing, I sat down and told her where I wanted to go with the character, and she expressed her thoughts and feelings as well. I didn’t want Clara to be a one note villain or the designated “bitch” of the show. Ari thrives when given lots of layers, so I wanted the new direction to have all sorts of emotional twists and turns. I absolutely wanted Clara/Lisa to come to the realization that she’s had these women all wrong. Sometimes the things we hate in other people are the things we hate about ourselves if we stop and take a minute to think about it. That’s Lisa’s journey this season. She was all wrong about the women of Avalon, and it’s hard for her to admit that to herself, and now she has a colossal mess on her hands of her own making, and she needs to repair that damage.

Kathleen Gati as Crystal’s mother, Margaret was a great addition. She brought some fun and flair. Are there any wish list actors/actresses you would like to get for a potential season 3?
There isn’t enough time in the world for me to adequately gush about Kathleen. I’ve been blessed to work with some astounding performers, but with Kathleen there’s something extra special for me personally. She’s warm, thoughtful, and a consummate professional who still knows how to have a good time.

My wife and I are friends with Kathleen and her husband Michael outside of the work zone, so after Winterthorne (the first time we worked together) she’s become my good luck charm, because honestly, she’s like family at this point.

As far as actors for a potential season 3, the truth is I very rarely think about casting until the story is written. As I write, perhaps one or two people might pop up in my head if I already have a working relationship with them, but that’s not what drives me. I love talented, hardworking, ego free actors, so if there were to be a season three I’d be grateful to anyone who wants to come along for the ride.

What is the best way for fans to share their enthusiasm and help get a season 3 pickup from Amazon?
First of all please let me say THANK YOU to all of the soap fans out there. It never ceases to amaze me how loyal and passionate they are. The fans are literally the reason we got a second season because the numbers were so good and the fan reaction was so supportive. Honestly, the best way to share enthusiasm is to leave a review on Amazon. We love the Tweets and the Facebook posts, and those are always incredible, but leaving reviews is incredibly important to the folks at Amazon, because that’s how they gauge the presence of the show on the platform, so if you liked it take five minutes to leave us a review. It is more appreciated than you could possibly imagine.

Thanks for your time!

Of course! And thank you again for supporting the show.

If you’re a soap fan and want something quick and fun to watch during the summer, Ladies of the Lake: Return to Avalon is for you. Three episodes may not seem like a lot of time to develop characters or a story, but trust me when I say Season 2 delivers on all fronts with multilayered characters and storytelling. Amazon Prime series survive on viewer feedback, so after devouring this second season, be sure to leave a review on Amazon and tell all of your friends to watch.

About the author

Michele Curran

Michele Curran is the newest addition to the TV Source Magazine team! She is a proud New Yorker with a passion for all things television, movies, and music. Follow her on Twitter @MimiC1019.