On November 8th 1965, Days of Our Lives broke new ground as the first soap opera to premiere in full “living” color. Now the trailblazing soap ventures once again into uncharted territory as the franchise makes the transition from network television to streaming.
With this transition, we had the amazing opportunity to sit down with the reigning Queen of Daytime, Deidre Hall.
Spanning four decades (off and on), Deidre Hall has aired in a staggering 4,955 episodes. As Dr. Marlena Evans Black, she has been kidnapped 33 times, had 18 on-screen weddings, given birth to 6 children, been possessed by the devil twice, and continues to be one of Daytime’s most talked about characters.
Without further ado, TVSource Magazine is pleased to present to you our discussion with the one and only, Deidre Hall.
TVSource: Hello, and thank you so much for taking this opportunity to speak with us today! We are huge fans of both you and the show. We are so honored that you took the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today.
Deidre Hall: Well, you are very kind to say that and thank you for helping us to get the word out!
How was the news of this transition to Peacock shared with the cast? And what are you and the rest of the cast most excited to do on this new platform?
You know, there was so much rumbling about NBC and Peacock, and we [Days of our Lives] have been on Peacock for awhile and it’s been a very good home to us.
So I think we were all just sort of already on this road and just waiting to see what was going to happen. Then we were told that we were going to Peacock and it was like, “It’s great.” Without hesitation. We’ve been there before. They’re very good to us and we perform well on Peacock. It’s where we did Beyond Salem Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 as well as the Christmas special, so it’s been terrific.
Ron Carlivati, our head writer, has that lovely way of turning the crystal just a little bit to make it work for Peacock. A little bit of suspension of disbelief, a little bit of, “Oh, here’s something new. Let’s try this!” Ken Corday, our showrunner, signed off on everything and the two of them just made magic happen. So we’re thrilled to be back and home at Peacock.
With that said, speaking for myself, I’m excited to see how it goes. And to ask, “What are the numbers on Monday? How did we do? What do they say?”
What would you say to fans that are nervous about the show’s future as it leaves network television and begins its life on this new platform?
Well, it’s a really good question and the answer is that we’re all feeling that same low-level anxiety. It’s new. It’s different. Nobody likes change, especially after 57 years on the network. So it’s a learning curve and what I’ve been saying is if you can’t get it to work then ask your 8 year old neighbor next door. Because the kids are so savvy about streaming. Streaming is just the venue of the future.
Days of Our Lives, well, we are the first to truly leap into it with both feet. So I think everybody is watching us a little carefully and we’re just hoping for the best results.
You can catch us in most markets from 6 a.m. on, all day long. With streaming, one of the best things is if you missed yesterday’s show because you were flying in from New York, guess what? It’s still on Peacock and you can go back and watch it.
Speaking of New York! Recently, Days of Our Lives fan, Elizabeth Capobianco flew over 500 miles to help her grandmother set up Peacock to make sure she continues watching Jarlena’s adventures on DAYS!
SHUT UP! Good girl! We flew in late last night, so I haven’t been able to keep up with all of the fan reaction but you know what? What a great, passionate and caring granddaughter. Wow, just wow.
I hope she stayed for a while because it doesn’t take that long to set up. Hopefully they grabbed lunch or something afterwards.
Editor’s Note: We reached out to Ms. Capobianco who happily assured us, “Yes, I stayed all day. We went to lunch and made a day out of it.
Not to worry, Deidre! Grandma got the Peacock and hasn’t stopped watching yet.”
While some fans wish for their favorite couple to settle down and trade pleasantries, Jarlena fans have proudly proclaimed, “Shoot the bride” after that now famous wedding shooting and often cheer whenever they hear their favorite supercouple’s lives are in peril.
What do you think it is about John and Marlena that created such a pleasant group of ride or die fans?
I think that Jarlena fans — and I think that it’s so weird for me to call them that — so the John and Marlena fans are responding to not just the greatest love story of all time, and not just how these characters have fought their way through some very difficult times, but we’re all hungry for consistency right now.
You know, we’re all hungry for that feeling of, “I want to turn on my TV and no surprises.” I want my favorite people doing my favorite thing, being happy, being safe, and reassuring me that the world is a safe place. Because for so many people, it is not a safe place right now. Between wars and pandemics. It’s been a hard couple of years and I think we have provided the audience with that adventure and consistency.
Oh, and we’re cute.
Days of Our Lives and in particular, your character of Marlena have been at the core of telling positive LGBTQ storylines with the relationship between her and her grandchildren (Will and Allie).
What has that experience been like for you as an actress?
As an actress, I’m getting to work with kids that I love and adore and it’s just been so much fun to have screen time with them. As I’ve said before, we really are on the cutting edge of most things, for example, we did the first gay wedding which I got to preside over. We got a lot of letters after Will’s coming out story and from the wedding. We got a lot of positive feedback from the audience about how important these stories were to them and how they wished they had someone like Marlena in their lives and it was rather touching.
We were so delighted by the audience’s response to those stories because it meant that they weren’t just finding it entertaining or even provocative, they were deeply moved by it. And some to the point and it was psychologically important to them.
Our writers and our whole team are very good about having their pulse on the country and seeing what’s going on, then addressing it.
Does it feel like soaps are slowly having their resurgence again with NBC and Peacock doubling down on support for DAYS?
We’ve lost a number of soaps over the years. We used to have over 13 soaps on the air and we’re down to 4. But what we are seeing now is that soaps and continuing drama is not a lost art form.
I think people that love us are really dedicated to their shows, and I think the Days fans hands down are the most dedicated of any fans. As I said before, I’ll be so curious now to see what happens with Peacock and to see the numbers from this move. We have shot shows through Christmas, so we will be there.
How did it feel to record the opening epigraph for the first season of Beyond Salem, especially since John and Marlena are filling the void left behind by Tom and Alice?
When I was asked to do it, I was deeply moved. I had spent 40 plus years hearing Macdonald Carey say the words. So when I was asked to do the opening for Beyond Salem, I was moved.
I was terribly excited and hearing it on the air was peculiar. It was just peculiar, it was a new animal to me and I was thrilled to do it and would love to do it again.
When you and Drake Hogestyn started working together in 1986, did you ever imagine that John and Marlena would become one of Daytime’s most iconic supercouples?
First, thanks for saying it that way.
You don’t think about that. You just think about the job in front of you. The day in front of you. There are so many people who are a part of getting a show on the air and it’s not just Drake and me. It’s hair and makeup, and wardrobe, and production, and direction, and sound, and lighting. It’s everybody doing 110% of their very best to get that show on the air. I love the show.
So, does it surprise me that we are still on the show? No, it doesn’t because I love it and our audience loves it. But I’m glad we are one of the remaining few that are on and having fans come to watch us.
Watching old DAYS clips, it’s so frustrating watching Marlena falling off a building, ending up in a coma, getting kidnapped by the ISA and blown up a few times while John comes to her rescue as we’re cheering for him through the screen.
One of the best parts of DAYS is seeing how your character’s adventures unfold. So thank you for the hard work that you all do every day.
Well, first of all we have to get you medicated for that.
Second, DAYS provides all sorts of different types of entertainment ranging from a damsel in distress and or helping people through incredibly difficult times or welcoming a gay grandchild who is coming out. It’s all a part of what we do. I think that’s why we’re able to have such a wide demographic. There’s something for everybody in every show. There’s always a young love story, there’s always a jeopardy story, there’s always something else that’s surprising.
I watched soaps a million years ago. I watched one. Doesn’t matter what network it was because it wasn’t ours, and I didn’t mean to get hooked on it. I just was watching a show where there was a young girl pianist and I wonder if she’s going to get… and there. Just like that I was hooked. I wonder if she’s going to achieve whatever goal she was after. So I understand it. I have a very deep understanding of not wanting to miss an episode.
The character of Marlena has been involved in some of Daytime’s most influential storylines, which of those countless storylines are you most proud of being a part of?
Days of Our Lives, with the character of Marlena, told the first crib death storyline. It was so amazing, and I gained such a deep respect for our team at that point. I thought the story was written so beautifully.
You know, Don Craig (Jed Allan) and Marlena’s child was going to die of crib death and our team was deeply concerned about how to announce that. Whether on the one hand, to promote it enormously and say “Days of Our Lives tells a tragedy, a crib death” or do we just air it with no preamble? What was decided in the moment was that when a woman comes in and finds that baby, she doesn’t get a warning. She walks into it. The decision was to let that happen to Marlena and I thought that was beyond wise and disturbing… but beyond wise.
We got an enormous amount of calls at that point. There was such an outpouring of people who were trusting us with that part of their lives and hanging in there with us.
I was just so impressed with our ability to do that for our audience.
Over the years, Marlena has welcomed many fresh faces into Salem, and as such, you have welcomed many actors into the soap fold.
What would you say to someone that is aspiring to set foot onto an iconic soap opera like Days of Our Lives?
I think there’s a grave misconception that Daytime is a good training ground for actors. Every time I hear that, my reaction to it is always the same, “Are you kidding? I mean, seriously are you kidding? A training ground?”
These are some of the hardest working actors you will ever find. We work so hard every single day and everybody comes in utterly prepared and ready to do a day’s work. Not just the actors, but everyone from those behind the scenes including the set people that come in at 4 a.m., to those that are there at the end of the day taking it all down. All day long this job is being done, and the show is being churned out and it is not a training ground, folks.
This is a place where you better arrive knowing what you’re doing. Otherwise, everybody has to pull you through it and they’re working at capacity already.
I’m sounding so fierce… whew!
Not at all! From a viewer’s perspective, we feel the same.
Daytime’s production model is one of the most rigorous, and you can see the heavy lifting that the veterans are having to do to lift the scenes up sometimes.
Having said that, my twin sister joined the show, Andrea Gengler, and she had come from working as a special education teacher. When our then head writer, Ann Marcus realized I had a twin, they flew her in and they put her on camera. We’ve never had real twins on a Daytime show, and it’s too difficult to have one person playing twins. So they brought her out of her special education contract and put her on camera.
Watching her have to learn… oof. That learning curve of how to go from a special education teacher to an actor who is being given quite lengthy material was extraordinary.
So my suggestion — I don’t give advice — but my suggestion is if you want to do a soap opera, go do something else first. Go to a class, go take a college course, go do some stage work. Learn how to hit a mark, find a light and not overlap.
What does overlapping mean? Don’t pour coffee over somebody else’s line. It’s a world of information and not a thing you want to learn at everybody else’s expense.
There have been numerous actors who have come on the scene with Days of Our Lives and with the urban myth that it’s a training ground, that has to be frustrating.
With that said, with the nature of our production, we hire young actors who have never really done a three camera production before. At that point, all of us pull together and it turns into a workshop. So when we’re not doing our dialogue, it becomes, ”You need to step back 6 to 8 inches until you see my face, fully lit.” That kind of thing.
Or, “If you step downstage off your mark, you’re now blocking my camera,” the new actor doesn’t know that. So the veteran will take another step downstage and adjust.
It’s all things that we love to help young people learn and it makes them extraordinary performers.
Soap fans love a good wedding, and Marlena has had her fair share of them. Which of the many iconic weddings has been your favorite?
I think it might have been the first wedding with John [then Roman] in 1986. I’m never quite sure because there have been rather a few. It is when Marlena married John in the church.
Lee Smith designed an extraordinary headpiece, we didn’t want a veil because it wasn’t quite appropriate to have one, but it had these amazing cut out sleeves with cut outs on the side with a lovely little train. I just adored it.
What can you tease for us that’s coming up for Marlena on Peacock?
We have shot through December, with all of those shows in the can. So what’s coming toward you is what was prepared originally to be on network television. But with that said, Marlena will always be consistent. She will always be empathic and available and dare I say in jeopardy from time to time, I’m sure.
But nothing will really change for the moment. I think farther down the road, Ron Carlivati will figure out a way to relax those margins a bit. But for the moment, no surprise changes to the audience, just find us in a different place. That’s the only surprise.
Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. It was a great honor and we are so appreciative!
Days of Our Lives streams exclusively on Peacock.
Fans can sign up for Peacock at PeacockTV.com, or by clicking here. Throughout the month of September, new premium subscribers can get Peacock for $1.99/month for 12 months or for $19.99/year for one year.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Greg Meng as Co-Executive Producer and has been updated.