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The Ryan's Hope Family Speaks Out!
Originally Published in Soap Opera People
(September 1986)
Top: Ron Hale, Michael Levin, & Malcolm Groome; Bottom: Bernard Barrow, Helen Gallagher, & Nancy Addison
It will be eleven years in May since Nancy Addison, Bernie Barrow, Helen Gallagher, Malcolm Groome, Ron Hale, and Michael Levin first got together as part of the original cast of ABC's Ryan's Hope. Now, they are the last remaining original cast members in what is one of only three surviving half-hour programs. The show's appearance represented a real departure from the usual daytime formula. Through its locale, the strong ethnic and ethical background of its major characters, and the often gritty realism of its writing, the show quickly became known as something special in the otherwise homogeneous field of soaps. For a while, it seemed as though RH would dominate the Emmys forever, and the cast enjoyed an elevated status among their peers commensurate with the show's startling success.

But times have changed for the Ryans. A loss of the show's thematic identity and high standards, falling ratings, and a disastrous time change have all taken their toll, but at the same time have only served to wield this group of six incredibly talented performers into a remarkably close family of its own. Listening to them talk about a show which has taken so much of their energy and devotion over the last decade, you are aware that no matter what the present fortunes of Ryan's Hope, these actors have formed a band with their show and with each other that is unique among daytime casts. It is hard to imagine any other six actors being able to combine their personalities with the remarkable spark and gusto of this group.

We'll let these six speak for themselves, as they touch on some of their concerns, their memories and their hopes for Ryan's Hope.

Michael: I think the creation of RH was a rather special thing - a unique set of circumstances. A talented pair of writers, Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer, fought to get their show, which nobody seemed to want, on the air. They went against all the standard rules and regulations - which actors to hire and what experience they're supposed to have.

Nancy: Most of us had never worked on a soap, everybody had come out of theatre...

Michael: ...which was unheard of at the time. To pat our own backs a little I think they hired some awfully good people. And the writing was superb.

Ron: The Ryan clan, when it started, was the closest thing to reality that daytime had ever seen.

Helen: The show was written from a character basis, so therefore we were given very strong characters. For the past five years...

Nancy: We've been trying to maintain their integrity. Sometimes you have to fight tooth and nail...

Helen: That's one of the reasons that we're still here as a group.

Standing: Daniel Pilon (Max), John Sanderford (Frank), Malcolm Groome (Pat), Christopher Durham (Dakota), Michael Levin (Jack); Sitting: Nancy Addison Altman (Jill), Helen Gallagher (Maeve), Bernard Barrow (Johnny), Yasmine Bleeth (Ryan)

Michael: Yeah, you're looking at a group of troublemakers!

Helen: Because of the way this show was established, because of the way we've protected it, it's very difficult to bend. It breaks before it bends.

Ron: So we all came in and opened this damn thing and loved it so much and were involved with such terrific work every day. I mean, it was really a thrill. And then ABC purchased the show, and started bringing in storylines and characters that were effective on their other shows, and all of a sudden everything was just crazy. It wasn't working.

Helen: The network thought that they could take this award-winning show and "improve" it and get still higher ratings.

Michael: And every time there was a switch in the concept or the writing, our audience was confused and the ratings went down.

Helen: The network has certain formulas fro daytime serials, and RH has, from the beginning, defied that formula. It has always been a difficult show to keep alive - an Irish Catholic family. You can't monkey around and intermarry like you can on other shows.

Malcolm: But we did and when we did it had the potential of being even more powerful, because it went against all the Irish Catholic morality. It became a stronger storyline then it ever would have been on another soap.

Michael: Forget about the writers and ABC, we also lost many of the actors who were closely associated with the show: Malcolm [later to return], Kate Mulgrew, Ilene Kristen...that's a pretty tough bunch to replace.

Malcolm: There were other things that contributed...like blowing up Ryan's bar. That was terribly destructive. Ryan's Bar is the hearth of the show. It had to be brought back a year later.

Nancy: There was a period of time when the show was totally unrecognizable as Ryan's Hope! It had nothing to do with the original concept. You would turn it on and never see any of the original actors, you never saw any of the original sets...they could have renamed the show.

Helen: And the core of this show is so important that it is almost impossible to bring on characters who are not in some way connected to that core.

Ron: The interpersonal relationships are the most important things on Ryan's Hope. The audience only responds well to new characters when they are integrated with the Ryans and the Coleridges because the audience has a long-standing emotional investment with these core characters.

Malcolm Groome and Nancy Addison Altman Bernie Barrow with Helen Gallagher

Bernie: It's great to have some Black characters on the show again. It seems to me that the strength and backbone of the show has always been solid middle class people who work for a living.

Michael: Yeah, I think the show's in better shape than it's been in a long, long time. We have an excellent cast; a strong blend of the old and the new.

Helen: Ryan's Hope is getting back to people who are willing to put themselves on the line, and maybe be willing not to be liked, certainly not be loved, but willing to stand behind what they believe no matter how the chips fall.

Bernie: I was talking to a young girl on the bus who had recognized me - a medical student on her way to classes at Fordham University - and I asked her why she watched the show. And she told me that her father had made his children watch us and had told her, "That's what a good family is like, kids - a strong sense of morality at the bedrock level." I don't think actors on a lot of other shows hear that. That, to me, is the nicest part of being on Ryan's Hope.

1986 Soap Opera People

Courtesy of Wanda

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