Tom Casiello (T. Casiello)

I had a lot of fun with everyone in Genoa City. recently had the opportunity to speak with former “Y&R” writer, Tom Casiello, who offers up an interesting behind-the-scenes perspective on the show, the soap opera writing process, and the soap industry as a whole. He also talks about his favorite storylines and characters from a writer’s standpoint. Enjoy! You briefly worked at “Y&R” under Lynn Latham, how did you end up back at “Y&R” this last time, and how long were you there?

Tom: It came out of the blue. I hadn’t worked since the writers’ strike ended, and was basically told I wouldn’t work in Daytime again. Eleven months later, I got a call that I was recommended to them, and it was a dream come true for me. The strike had been so frustrating and so ugly on so many levels, and I really had a bad taste in my mouth regarding Daytime. To get a chance to return to the industry, and have it be at the number one show, was really incredible. I consider it such a gift. You were a ‘breakdown’ writer at “Y&R.” Could you outline how the writing process works at the show and explain your duties?

Tom: Basically, this is how every soap writing team works (although there are a few differences for each head writer). The head writer (or head writers) know what will happen in the next set of five episodes, and write it out in a document called a ‘thrust’. Once the network approves that, the head writers will assign each breakdown writer an episode, and we figure out how to map out those stories into five episodes – which ones should play more than others, which days each story should play on, which sets we use (or are allowed to use, for budgetary reasons), what the end-of-act tags should be, etc. It’s a 10-20 page (depending on the soap opera) narrative document that includes dialogue, some stage direction, explanation of subtext and directions to production about certain scenic elements needed for the story. Basically, it’s a short-handed version of the episode. That’s read by production and the network, and once their revisions and notes are put in, it goes to a script writer to be turned into a script. Basically, the job of an outline writer is to take the head writer’s vision for that day’s episode, break it up into 30-50 scenes (again, depending on the soap), where each scene inches the story forward and keeps you coming back for more. We also have the opportunity to fill in some of the blanks, and dig into more specific emotions from the thrust, with approval from the head writer(s), of course. How important was it for you to know the actors’ strengths and weaknesses – did you write with this in mind at all?

Tom: I always tried to take that into consideration, but I definitely had to learn that over the years. When I first started writing on “ATWT” in 2000, many times I would write a scene based on what I’d want to see ‘in a perfect world’, but not taking into account certain actors’ limitations. I always tell this story – once I wrote a character breaking down into hysterical tears when she found out her boyfriend was dead. The actress couldn’t cry on cue… we knew the actress couldn’t cry on cue…but in a perfect world, on paper, she should be hysterical. But the scene fell flat. What I should have suggested is that she find another way to express her grief that the actress could handle, which would have benefited the episode. It’s a fine line to walk – playing to the actor’s strengths, but not doing a disservice to the individual scenes or the stories. Which were your favorite characters to write for? Why?

Tom: On “Y&R,” I loved any time I got to write the four Abbott siblings together. I just love their dynamic, and getting a chance to show all four of them in a different light – where it’s not all about Jabot or Newman necessarily, but about the fact that they all grew up in a house together – pulled each other’s hair and opened Christmas presents and fought over who would get the last croissant or whatever. It just makes me smile to dig into their psyches in that light. On the other side of the coin, I loved writing Adam and Sharon, just because there’s so much psychological meat to them. They’re both so deliciously messed up, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into. I loved writing Nikki’s alcoholism, and I really grew to appreciate the fairy-tale aspect of Cane and Lily. I had a lot of fun with everyone in Genoa City.

Outside of Genoa City, I have to say: Jack/Carly/Hal/Barbara/Rose/Katie on “ATWT,” Tess/Nash/Natalie/Rex on “OLTL,” and EJ/Sami/Lucas/Marlena/Belle/Phillip/Shawn on “DOOL.” I’m sure I’ll think of a hundred more after this interview. You can’t help but fall into some form of love with all the characters you write for. Which were the most challenging characters to write for? Why?

Tom: The toughest characters to write are always the ones who don’t have a storyline at the time, but you still want to find a way to include them in the canvas in an important way. It really depends on what’s going on at that point in story, but it’s always tough to include those characters without making them extras, giving them a strong point-of-view, but not having them say anything that might step on future storylines down the road. That’s always a challenge, for me, at least.