James Houghton who played Kenny Ward in Knots Landing answered your questions at Knots Landing Net.
Questions asked by Jason Yates and James Holmes
As a writer on hit US soap THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, James Houghton is a
busy man. When KNOTS LANDING fan Jason Yates emailed him from the UK to
request a telephone interview about the four years he spent playing Kenny
Ward, he graciously agreed but explained that, due to the demands of his
work schedule, the conversation might be interrupted or even cut short. Afer
a few emails back and forth, a date was arranged – January 25th 2006.
That afternoon, Jason and his trusty digital recorder arrived at the door of
fellow Knots Nutter James Holmes, having sped through the London traffic to
make the appointed interview time of 5pm. It was mid-morning in Los Angeles
when we called James Houghton at his home office. In spite of his other
commitments, he was focused and erudite and ended up giving us almost an
hour of his time.
Jason: The first question we kick off with is [from CloddyYaWitTicker] “Have
you pre-ordered your KNOTS season 1 DVD yet?”
James: Well, I’ll be perfectly honest with you. I don’t – this is the first
I’ve heard of it.
James: Yeah, I mean –
James: – I cruise pretty far and wide on the net, and I look at websites
that have to do with soaps where sometimes the night-time soaps get
mentioned, and I hadn’t seen anything about it so – but, I mean, it doesn’t
surprise me. Everybody’s mining the DVD market for – you know – to shake out
some money out of these old things!
Jason: I thought they would have – anything before 1983 or something, the
SAG rules, they need to ask your – you guys – all your permission don’t
they? Before 1983 or –
James: You know, again, you’re educating me! (They chuckle) I don’t know
when – I know that when the deals were made for DVD, it was not seen – much
like what happened with the videotape, I think it wasn’t seen as a great
source of revenue, and so nobody fought very hard for a slice of it – and,
lo and behold, it’s a huge source of revenue and we don’t really get much
out of it. I don’t expect to get more than 25 cents out of – yeah, if it’s
coming out with a DVD, it – really, I literally expect to get a cheque for
fifteen dollars and that’ll be the end of it.
Jason: Oh really? Oh, that’s –
James: That’s all right. I – listen, I’m not looking for, you know,
additional income from that. If they can make money out of it, more power to
Jason: Oh well, that’s good. That’s a very nice attitude to have, I think.
The next question is [from David Smothers], “When you went from playing Greg
Foster on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS to playing Kenny Ward on KNOTS LANDING,
what was difference between working on a daytime schedule and a night-time
schedule?” Could you discuss that?
James: Sure. I mean, there’s very – of course, there are similarities –
almost any earthbound activity shares similarities with any other earthbound
activity – but when we shot YOUNG AND RESTLESS back in the early days, it
was a half hour and was what you call “live to tape”. In other words, they
had no ability to edit video tape so you did a lot of rehearsing both with
and without the cameras, and going through it and going through it. Then you
shot the whole thing live like it was a play, and it was a – you know, there
was a lot of – you built sort of towards this moment of tension when the
whole thing had to happen and there was no going back and, short of a wall
falling over on somebody, really they didn’t stop tape. (Jason laughs.) It
took a lot, it took a lot, so you didn’t wanna have to, you know, watch the
show and see your mistakes. Nobody did. The guy that ran the microphone –
overhead microphone – or the cameramen or the director or any of the actors
didn’t wanna have to go home and cringe to watch themselves bobble
Jason: Yeah. Was it almost like doing a sort of theatre show?
James: Well, exactly. I mean, it was – you know, you started and, when it
was time for the commercials, you stood around quietly for two minutes to
leave a space in the tape so they could insert the commercials, and then you
started up again. I mean, it was very – you had one shot to get it right
and, in those days, because of that, if you look at a very old videotape,
and I’ve got a couple of them from the early days of Y&R, it’s very static –
very little movement, very little camera movement. I mean, there’s some but
not much compared to today when, with digital tape, you can shoot out of
order and edit all together on an AVID machine. It’s much like making a mini
movie as opposed to putting on a mini play so that, you know, people come in
and do their scenes and then go home, whereas we were a big family. We all
worked together all day long because we had to be there for every rehearsal.
Jason: I was gonna ask you about that. Did that bond you guys together in a
way that – is there a difference between a bond on a daytime soap ensemble
and a night-time soap ensemble?
James: Well, yes – yes, because – yes and no. I mean, the older soap where,
if you were in story with people you spent the whole day with them and all
the downtime and everything, so it was much more of a group effort. I mean,
today it’s a group effort too, but people, especially the actors – in fact,
uniquely the actors – come in and do their part and then go home –
James: – because their part is on digital tape and will be edited together
with the other parts much the way you put a movie together, so it’s a little
different and plus they get paid a lot more today –
James: – and this creates more free time for them. It’s a good life, it
really is. I mean a lot of people, especially the younger people, of course,
have ambitions that go beyond soap, but given the hardships of – and the
camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle nature of becoming, you know, a television
star or – my God – a movie star, a soap’s not a bad way to make a living.
Jason: Yeah. Wow. That’s great. That –
James: It really is different. The technology has made it a lot different.
So, to go back to your original question, when I went from Y&R on to do
KNOTS LANDING –
James: – the difference was enormous, just because the technology, the whole
approach to putting a show together, was different. We shot for seven days
and then it was edited together. The thing about KNOTS LANDING was, because
we were all on a cul-de-sac together and because we interacted with one
another, it was still very much a family. Plus, we were putting on a show
that – the initial season or two at the very least, a new show – we were in
this foxhole mentality of, “we’re all in this together.” We’re all praying
that it’ll catch fire and we’ll be on a show that will last a while and put
us all into some kind of security, which most of us had never had –
James: – and so, yeah, there’s a lot of bonding and, unlike some shows that
– we really were down at that cul-de-sac together a lot, and they were our
stories, you know, as we interacted –
James: – compared to, let’s say a detective show, where you’ve got the
villain of the week and only a couple of main characters, so –
Jason: Mm. Well, just taking you back to those days, the first time when you
met everybody, could I – I’m gonna throw some names at you and I’m just
wondering if you could kind of, um, give us an anecdote or just talk a
little bit about your first impressions or perhaps a lasting memory you have
of them. Would that be all right?
Jason: Sure. Let’s start with Michele, Michele Lee.
James: Yeah, Michele Lee is one of those people that has boundless energy,
she’s a performer’s performer, and she’s got a heart of gold – one of those
people that you look at and you say, “Boy, I’m only using ten percent of my
brain. I can tell, because this lady’s using twenty percent.”
Jason (laughing): Yeah, that’s great! And how about Don Murray?
James: Don Murray was a very nice guy, very low key, not – I think he was –
felt a little bit out of – a fish out of water, perhaps, just because he was
not used to the television – you know, how fast the work has to happen.
James: The number of takes perhaps he was used to he wasn’t getting –
Jason: Yeah. Unusual leading man, I think, because he was very – he brought
a gentle quality to the show.
James: Oh, he absolutely did and maybe that was … the show maybe had that
already in spades. I mean, David Jacobs was trying to put on a show that
wasn’t sensational, that wasn’t, you know, ridiculous melodrama. He was
trying to do a story where the antagonists, if you will, were human frailty
and the complexity of trying to live with other – with people living with
one another, both maritally and just as neighbours, as human beings on the
same planet, and to write stories where the only complicating factor of the
story came from within the people –
James: – and not from some cartoony, you know, moustache twirling villains
and this sort of thing, but people you could identify with, people of whom
you could say, “Mm, I could be like that,” or “I know somebody like that.”
And that was quite a challenge and I think those first four years – and Don
Murray was very much a part of that. To keep him in the picture here –
James: – he was a real down to earth person and that gentle quality was –
you know – played right into what David was trying to do –
James: – if I could speak for David. I mean, I think this to be true and I –
Jason: No, well we spoke to him, James, a couple of weeks ago and he said,
you know, exactly what you’re saying. Yes, absolutely.
James: So, you know, and the first four years of the show that I was
involved with was very much that way and I think that was the … the change
– perhaps, if you will, the compromise – that David had to make, and I think
he did it really well with the realities of network television, when after
the first four years we were doing OK, but –
James: – we really needed to bring in – they needed to bring in some bigger
than life characters and kind of kick it up a notch in terms of soap opera.
James: And I think they did that very artfully because they kept as much as
possible of that down to earth real people quality, while still managing to,
you know, just kick it up a notch in terms of intrigue and that sort of
thing and –
Jason: And of course your character was pivotal in that with the Ciji arc
which hopefully, if we’ve got time, we can talk about a little bit later.
Let me just keep throwing some names at you. John Pleshette and Constance
James: Constance is a real sweetheart, just a delightful lady. I didn’t know
her really well, but what interaction I had with her was just the most
pleasant. A really classy lady.
James: John Pleshette was just, you know, he’s a bright guy. He never liked
me very much, so I didn’t, you know, I didn’t kind of go out of my way to,
you know, to court him –
Jason: – which is ironic because Richard and Kenny, the characters, were
best buddies, weren’t they … Perhaps best buddies is the wrong term, but
certainly, in terms of the male friendships on the show, I thought that your
– Kenny’s character and Richard – they would often turn to each other at odd
times when something was happening, like Richard would come to your
character for, you know, prostitutes (laughs) or if he needed a favour, or
if he needed – and your character came to Richard’s character towards the
end of the Ciji arc for a bit of advice about life, and you two kind of had
some nice moments together, I thought.
James: Yeah – no, that – I mean, listen, there’s – you’re asking about the,
you know, the life behind the scenes. Some of the best work I’ve ever done
has been in an atmosphere of – or in a context where the actors are not
particularly enamoured of one another. And I don’t think that’s uncommon. I
mean, look, nobody likes everybody –
Jason: Sure, sure, absolutely.
James: – and it’s not – I’m not talking about hissing and spitting and
scratching, I’m just talking about people with whom you don’t have much
interest, or who rub you the wrong way professionally because they’re too
demanding, or because they don’t rehearse, or because, you know, something
about them bugs you –
James: – and, in some ways, that distances you from them in a way that
allows you to work on your own performance, and I think sometimes you get
better work that way.
Jason: Yes, absolutely. And how about Joan and Ted?
James: Joan is a real character. She’s – they don’t make ’em like Joan.
James: She’s an original.
James: And, you know, a delightful person.
James: She’s a little – I think she’d probably say it of herself – a little
neurotic, but in a good way. Not in a harmful way, not in a – you know,
there are people that are neurotic where they see life as a zero sum game
and they think that if somebody else wins, they lose it, and so they’re
constantly keeping score and trying to make sure that good things don’t
happen to other people because somehow that’s a loss for them. (Chuckles)
Joan’s neuroses don’t work that way at all.
Jason: Yeah, yeah.
James: In fact, quite the opposite. She’s anxious that everybody around her
be happy and well taken care of.
Jason: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
James: When it comes to her work, she’s a perfectionist and, you know,
sometimes a perfectionist, I think, in a way that she doesn’t need to be.
She should trust herself a little more. But the end product is what it’s all
about and she certainly achieves one that is –
Jason: – marvellous. There’s a fantastic anecdote about her staying late to
finish a scene in full make up, and it wasn’t her shot – it was someone
else’s – and it took hours to do, because she wanted it to be just perfect
for the other actor.
James: Doesn’t surprise me a bit.
Jason: Yeah, yeah. And of course, how about Kim – Kim Lankford, who
obviously played your wife Ginger for all those years on the show?
James: Well, we had the closest relationship that I had on the show. We were
not only playing husband and wife, but we were neighbours in Laurel Canyon
for a good part of the time that we worked together so, you know, we were
close. You know, we were close – and – um –
Jason: And then what was – getting on to the episodes, what was your
James: You should understand something – I’m not hesitating there because
I’m trying to cover over some sort of, you know, relationship with Kim that
was, you know, can’t be talked about or that –
Jason: Oh no. I realise that, no.
James: I mean, we were good friends and we enjoyed one another’s company and that was that.
Jason: Oh, and Julie Harris – could you give us any sort of –
James: Julie Harris was sort of an icon, you know. That she was part of our
– when she became part of the cast, it was sort of – there was this aura
about her – and frankly, I was not of an era that I quite understood it. But
it was clear that I was expected to observe it.
James: And so I was a little nervous around her. In fact, once I introduced
her to a friend as Julie Andrews and from that point on I figured my name
was mud! I just couldn’t –
Jason: That’s great! It’s funny, because Kim said when she met – she said
exactly the same thing as you. She said that when Julie Harris came on the
show, everybody else was running around going, “Oh my God, Julie Harris!”
and because Kim didn’t really feel, you know, that way, she just went
straight into her dressing room and said, “Oh hi,” and apparently they got
on like a house on fire.
James: That doesn’t surprise me for a second.
Jason: And what about when Donna Mills came onto the show in the second
season? How was that in terms of, you know, in terms of the ensemble work
that you guys had – you guys had been working together for a whole year
until that –
James: Yeah, yeah. No, Donna was consummate – and continues to be, I’m sure
– a consummate professional.
James: She and I didn’t have – we didn’t have story really together – and so
we didn’t have that bonding experience of having a lot of scenes, you know.
There were a lot of group scenes on the show, and so we obviously were in
things together, but we never had any sort of intense story. When you work
on stuff like that with people and if you’re really doing your work as an
actor, you dig into yourself a little bit, so it creates a bit of a bond.
It’s like with Constance, I never really had scenes with her that would
cause us to have to dig beneath the surface and really connect on another
level and so, you know, it was a lovely experience knowing her but – you
know – it was sort of the same thing with Donna.
Jason: Well actually, it’s interesting because when Donna Mills came on the
show, the press reports at the time were all about you and the fact that
they were going to put Kenny – Kenny Ward was going to have this big affair
with her that never materialised, and it seemed as though, in the first
couple of episodes of Season 2, there were scenes where Donna’s character
showed a lot of interest in yours and it looked like it was going that way,
but then it just, sort of, didn’t.
James: I think if I had been David Jacobs at that point, knowing myself at
that time and knowing Donna at that time, I don’t think I was … mature
enough to hold my own against her at the time. You know, I wouldn’t be
surprised if that was what happened is that they sort of took a look at it
and said, “Ah, he doesn’t quite have the – he doesn’t have the weight that
it would need to counterbalance her.” I think she was a bigger – I’m not
saying she was older – it wasn’t anything about that, just –
James: – an instance of, you know, packing a certain punch.
Jason: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
James: I don’t think I would have been the right choice for her.
Jason: And talking of story lines that didn’t come to fruition, when we
spoke to David Jacobs a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that his original
plan for the Wards, particularly for Kenny, was going to be completely
different, that Kenny was literally force Ginger to have an affair with his
boss, because Kenny at that point, in their minds, was desperate – would
have been desperate – to get into the music business. He wouldn’t have
[already] been in it. Any thoughts on that and the way it panned out for the
Wards in terms of your arc?
James: Well, you’re saying that when Kenny was first seen then, originally
he was not going to be in the music business, but he was going to finagle
things in order to-?
Jason: Yeah, and it was going to cause – David Jacobs’ original idea for you
and Kim was that your character would be constantly pressurising her into
doing things that she really, really did not want to do, i.e. sexual things,
but apparently the network came in and said, “Listen, we can’t show this.”
They said it’s too – salacious I think is the word.
James: Well I have to say, I’m sure David, who was a man of great good
taste, did not intend to have it be distasteful –
James: – but it does sound like it would be hard to create interest in a
character that sleazy. I’m kind of glad he didn’t go that way. This is the
first I’ve heard of it. You know, I do know, as I know even from my work on
Y&R, that a lot of things that you – ideas that you cook up and run by the
powers that be – don’t make it for one reason or another. They either fail
to appeal on some personal level or violate a code or a set of rules or –
you can come afoul of any number of things that prevent you from pursuing a
story that you know is pushing the envelope a little bit. You hope that the
envelope would make room for it, but “not this time, Charlie.” So … there
may have been several incarnations of the various characters on KNOTS
LANDING before David arrived at the mix that ultimately made it to the
screen. I – you know, I couldn’t – (chuckles)
Jason: Yeah. I think, looking back, that one of the strongest shows for
Kenny, and one of your best performances I think on the show, is the
“Kristen” episode with Mary Crosby, which is unusual because I think there’s
a general feeling that the crossover shows between DALLAS and KNOTS LANDING didn’t work. But I really love what happens between you and Kristin, and I thought you and Mary Crosby really, really worked well together on screen. Do you have any memories of that episode?
James: You know, I have to tell you that my only memory of it really was
that I thought Mary Crosby (chuckling) was the most beautiful woman, and had
the most luscious lips of any –
James: – woman I had ever gotten that close to.
Jason: Yeah, yeah.
James: I – and, you know, it was really – as I was saying before – sometimes
it’s better when there’s a little distance between the actors that allows
you to sort of pursue your craft, without there being a – you know,
distracted in any way by other feelings? And I was – it was completely
professional, the whole interaction – but it was – I was – I just couldn’t
take my eyes off this woman.
James: Hopefully that showed through, but at the same time, it was –
(chuckles) – that’s the only thing I remember about it.
Jason (laughs): Well, I tell you, it really does show. I mean, there’s real
chemistry between you on that.
James: Well, I’m glad to hear that. I’ll be sure to check out – if they send
me my free copy of the DVD, which seems to me the least they could do, I’ll
check it out.
Jason: Oh yes. Certainly, certainly. Also, you wrote some fantastic shows
for the show, and I’m wondering if we can talk a little bit about your
writing career on the show. How did that start?
James: Well, it started because David was a wonderful guy who was, you know,
the sort of person who would do that. Again, he was the sort of person who
didn’t see life as a zero sum game, who thought that by giving this kid a
chance to, you know, to take a shot at writing, that it wasn’t gonna cost
him anything. In those days, and I don’t know how it is now, the Writers’
Guild required shows to hire a certain number of non staff writers because,
increasingly, starting around then, shows were becoming more and more staff
James: – whereas before that, it was less the case, and there was some alarm
amongst the Writers’ Guild people that a few people were gonna get very,
very wealthy and a lot of people were not gonna be able to work at all if
all these shows were staff written, so they had this rule.
James: I’m sure that rule was part of the reason, not to detract anything
from David’s generosity, but part of the reason – they needed to hire a
certain amount of people who weren’t on staff. Why not hire somebody you
work with every day who knows the show and who seems reasonably bright? And I brought my sister into it because she had been writing soaps and –
Jason: Your sister’s Mona?
James: Uh huh.
Jason: Uh huh.
James: And we worked on those two or three shows together, and yeah, you
know, I created – I had the idea to bring Gary into the music business. I
thought, “Now, you know, here’s this guy. We keep talking about all this
money he has. Let’s have him get some of it and have Kenny say, ‘Wow, listen
– all that money! Ooh, you should do something with that! How about –
wouldn’t you like to be a record producer?’” – which is a little of that
original Kenny, you know, seeing this possible access to wealth that could
boost his own career.
James: And so that’s how that whole thing got started.
Jason [reading from a hastily scribbled note by James from London]: You
wrote – correct me if I’m wrong – I think you wrote Lisa Hartman’s first
appearance, her first episode.
James: Well, yeah, I might have. I remember there was – you get an extra
payment when you create a character, you get a cheque every time they’re on
or something like that, and somehow I didn’t get that, so it might not have
been the first episode. I don’t know. You know, we’re talking a long time
Jason: Yes, yes. Sure, sure, sure. I think everybody will be really, really
interested to hear about the, you know, the Gary arc, because I think what
became apparent talking to David Jacobs about the show is that often things
would happen, he said, because of something else that had happened – e.g.
Jim Davis [Jock Ewing in DALLAS] dying created a situation where obviously
Gary would inherit money, that that caused them to think about Abby making a
play for Gary, because of course if he had money, she would then be
interested in him – and he gave us a string of things that happened almost
James: Well, and that’s of course one of the things about the serialised
drama, where you – not to say “soap” because, I mean, soap’s fine, but for
night-time there should be a different word – you really aren’t stuck with a
James: You know, on MAGNUM, P.I. – a wonderful show –
James: – that kind of thing wouldn’t happen, because you’ve got a formula.
You know, you got Magnum and you got the other character, the older – the
English guy, and then you’ve got whoever comes in during the week to create
the complication for that week – whereas, in a serialised story, all these
things are interconnected and you can incorporate them, which is what brings
them to life.
Jason: You wrote one of my favourite episodes, which was called “Best
Intentions”, which is – oh it’s so good, that episode. It’s – to jog your
memory because I know it’s been a long, long, long, long time –
James: Yes, I’m afraid you’ll need to jog it – forever -sharply.
Jason: Oh, OK. It’s the episode where Lilimae and Abby scheme to get Val’s
book published –
James: Oh, that’s right.
Jason: – and Richard hits a pregnant Laura when she tells him she’s thinking
of having an abortion. And it’s one of the most shocking moments –
James: That’s right.
Jason: – you know, I think, in the whole show. And then Laura, finally she
leaves him and he comes back, Richard, and the house is empty. It’s one of
the most resonant episodes in Season 3 which is quite a dark season, I
think, because Don Murray had left and there’s a sense of desolation –
James: Uh huh.
Jason: – in the cul-de-sac, and it’s one of my favourite shows.
James: His departure really – I think people were – I think people at the
show were more surprised at the intensity of the reaction to that. I think
the audience sort of felt like, “Look, in this kind of show, you’re supposed
think things like, ‘oh, so and so’s gonna die,’ or ‘so and so’s in danger’,
‘somebody’s hanging on the cliff by their fingernails’, whatever – but
you’re not supposed to let them fall!”
Jason (laughs): Yeah, yeah.
James: “You know? That’s breaking the contract – ”
James: ” – between us. Take us to the edge if you want, but don’t go over
the edge,” and so – not, of course, being privy to the fact that Don wanted
off the show – they thought we had just sort of carelessly killed somebody
they had affection for and, you know, (chuckling) they took some pretty
serious umbrage at that.
Jason: Yeah. And of course it gave the show –
James: [They thought] this was just gonna be really, really good
entertainment and it wasn’t gonna be shocking in that way that was more – I
don’t know, I just think they wished it hadn’t happened.
Jason: Oh really? Really?
James: Well, because, as you say, it knocked things into kind of a dark
place and the reaction was not, “Oh, that was a rousing good story,” but
“Hey, why did you kill him? That wasn’t nice!”
Jason: I see. And it’s interesting, isn’t it, because you all give so much
your best performances during that season. I mean, Michele Lee is incredible
and you all – there’s a sense of all your characters – there’s something
very edgy about Season 3. There’s a darkness and a tension that moves the
story somewhere else, I think, so that when you get to the next season,
Season 4, and all the Ciji stuff happens, it flows. It’s like a novel.
James: Well, that goes back to what I was saying about it being serialised.
You know, you don’t – you’re not just rubber stamping each episode. You
really can, you can grow, and the writers can sit back and look at the
chemistry between the characters as much as we do in daytime. When you get a
new character, or a new actor playing a character, and you sit back and you
look and you see how their chemistry – which is something that is completely
– there’s no formula for it. It either happens or it doesn’t, and you pray
for it, of course, to happen. When a couple – you know, whether it’s a boy
or a girl, man or a woman, two men, two women, whatever – if there’s
chemistry in their scenes then you obviously scrap whatever plans you might
have had for those people and start playing towards that chemistry.
Jason: Mm. Could I ask you, actually, what – were there any characters on
KNOTS LANDING that you found particularly hard to write for, or any
characters that came to you as if you heard their voices more easily than
James: No, I wouldn’t – I – if there was, I can’t say what it is was. And
keep in mind, when Mona and I worked on our shows, there was Diana Gould who was the story editor, there was David, there were, you know, long
conferences. Nobody is sole writer on a television show. It just doesn’t
happen – maybe in a TV movie or something like that – but a lot of decisions
and a lot of characterisations and a lot of what went into that script was a
group effort. Mona and I did the dialogue, and certainly participated in all
the – in all of the discussion of where the episodes were going to go, but
it’s not as though we just went off in our corner and worked the whole thing
and then they shot it the way we wrote it.
Jason: Right, right. Moving on as well –
James: Hang on one second, I just have to –
Jason: No problem, no problem.
(While James disappears briefly to deal with another matter, Jason switches
off the digital recorder. When James returns, the discussion continues.
After a moment, Jason silently realises the machine is no longer recording.
After frantically fiddling with it, he silently motions to James from
London, who hastily locates an old fashioned cassette recorder, puts a tape
inside, and hits record.)
James Houghton : Kim also was a wonderful singer. You know, it was an opportunity for her to have some screen time doing what she did very well and so, you know, it was – I was glad that it happened. I was glad that it worked out.
Jason: And how was Lisa Hartman?
James: Delightful girl, beautiful. Kind of – she came already – you know,
there are some people that just have that sense about them that they are on
a mission, that they are going to make something of themselves. They’re not
in the moment so much as they see the moment as kind of a trajectory that
they’re on that’s going to take them some place and – I don’t mean that
they’re just ambitious and don’t treat people well or are completely bemused
by their own ambition – it’s just that you – there’s just this sense about
them that they’re on a different path, that maybe they inhabit a slightly
different universe, and Lisa was somebody like that, you know. You just knew
that she was taking this job and doing it well and, not so as to make new
friends, but so as to move her chess piece to the next square.
James: And that didn’t make her any less pleasant to be around at all, but
it just not – it wasn’t – she wasn’t there looking to make a lot of friends.
And undoubtedly she did make some friends, so maybe it was just me, you
know? (They chuckle) We weren’t close, but I certainly enjoyed every
encounter I ever had with her.
Jason: Wow, wow. And then, of course, the Wards were no more at the end of
Season 4. Could you talk a little bit about that – you know, the ending of
your time on the show.
James: Well, I think that they knew that they had to make some changes, and
I think that they knew that they needed to trim some of the cast in order to
make room for the changes that they were going to make, and while I think
that – while Kim and I were doing a workmanlike job for them – that, you
know, we were – the Wards and what was Richard’s – I can’t –
Jason: The Averys, um, John Pleshette – Richard Avery.
James: – were the sort of secondary – slightly secondary – characters to the
– the – (laughs) the names are escaping me!
Jason: The Fairgates and the Ewings and of course Abby and Laura.
James: Yeah. Those characters had sort of become slightly more primary – and
I say slightly – but, you know, there comes a time when you’ve got to throw
some ballast overboard in order to make room for something else. You know,
it’s a pretty surgical process. I didn’t take it personally.
Jason: And, of course, you went on to do –
(A few days later, while he was transcribing this interview, James from
London’s computer crashed several times. Succumbing to computer rage, he
bitch-slapped several inanimate objects on his desk, inadvertently pressing
the record button on the cassette recorder and wiping the next twenty
seconds of this interview. We now rejoin Jason talking to James Houghton
about his guest stint on another 80s prime time soap spin off, THE COLBYS.)
Jason: – THE COLBYS failed, and do you have any comments on where KNOTS in terms of, you know, its story structure? I mean, would you have ended the
Wards’ time differently if you were writing the show or were you happy with
the way they left?
James: Well, at the time of course I wasn’t happy. It was a wonderful job
and it was a – you never want to think of yourself as the one who’s going to
– you know, who’s expendable. So naturally there was some hurt there. It was
not – it didn’t take the form of resentment against Michael or David, or any
of the people who made the decision, but it was, you know, it’s a tough
thing even when you’re young and resilient. I think that THE COLBYS – you
know, I kinda hate to say this of any fellow workers in this difficult
industry – but I just don’t think it was very well written. I mean, I think
what made KNOTS LANDING great was the writing. You know, (chuckles) it’s
funny – when you go to the Emmys or something, the stars are all getting the
red carpet and the flash bulbs are going off in their eyes and, you know,
they’re all having this wonderful time. And if you’re a writer for the show,
you show up and they look at you and they direct you to this, sort of, side
door, where you won’t … (Jason laughs) That’s just the fate of the writer
(chuckles) but the fact of the matter is it’s all about the writing.
James: Of course, it’s also all about the performance by people who
understand what the writing is trying to accomplish.
Jason: Was there a very different working relationship – if you like,
atmosphere – on THE COLBYS to KNOTS LANDING? What was the differences to
work on the shows, for you as an actor?
James: Well, it didn’t have quite the family feel. I mean, we – it was just
different. It was – you know, Chuck Heston was there. He provided this sort
of sense of everything being bigger than life because he was so bigger than
life, that anybody that grew up on BEN HUR – and he also provided a work
ethic that, you know, if a guy that big is going to know his lines every
day, be on time, insist on everything being done right, it doesn’t behove
anybody else on the show to be sloppy or careless or late or anything else.
Jason: No, absolutely.
James: He really set a great example in that sense. But it just – somehow,
giving birth to KNOTS LANDING from its inception, and the kind of person
David was – he was really, really there in every respect, sort of the father
of this whole family – it was just a different feel. The writers on THE
COLBYS weren’t around much. It just was a different feel.
Jason: And there’s a scene I was just quite curious about. I just wanted to
ask you – there’s a scene with you and Tracy Scoggins, where your character
James: Uh huh.
Jason: And I don’t know if you remember, but it’s almost as if it’s a
pastiche on the JFK assassination because Tracy Scoggins is wearing, you
know, something very, very, very similar to what Jackie Kennedy was wearing
[when her husband was killed]. Was that deliberate or – do you remember
anything about that?
James: No, I don’t remember anybody saying, “Let’s do JFK,” because – let’s
face it – JFK was sort of a – that’s sacred ground. You don’t wanna be seen
as trading on that image.
James: At the same time, JFK was in a car, they were outdoors – I mean, the
assassination of a politician is bound to draw some comment – I mean – or
have some similarities. I mean, in this case the politician wasn’t the one
who was shot. It was somebody who thrown himself in front of a politician –
James: – to save him, which we could only wish that had happened in the case
of JFK, and so I frankly don’t see the parallel. Perhaps with Tracy’s
wardrobe, somebody had decided to try to borrow a little of the power of the
magic of that iconic event. I don’t particularly approve of anybody doing
that, but if they did, that was their decision. I never saw a parallel
Jason: OK. And finally, talking about your life now and your career now –
obviously you’re busy, very, very busy on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. A
question came in [from ChrisSumnerMatheson] asking came in if you’re going
to return as an actor on the show. Your character was very popular.
James: Well, I did do a turn on the show here last year or a couple of years
ago, because that character needed to return and we thought it would be fun
to get the two brothers who were, you know, started the show – because I was
an actor on YOUNG AND RESTLESS when it first started as well. I have the
honour and the pleasure to be in that initial moment with two shows that
went on to success and that were family shows – you know, stories about
family – and so, it – I sort of belong to these two families outside my own
that were really very meaningful experiences for me.
James: So it was really fun to go back with this – you know, with these two
old grizzled guys now [that were] kids together on this show, practically –
James: – in their first employment of any consequence at all. Bill Espy and
I started on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. We were both driving around in old
beat up cars (laughs) and, you know, just trying to make ends meet, and that
was our first job where we actually weren’t worried about where our next
meal was coming from. And here we were – God – thirty odd years later with
the lady who had played our mother and it was a real gas. We had a ball with
James: And, listen, it’s a lot easier work. I don’t mean to demean acting in
any way, I know they work hard.
James: Just in terms of the hours that’s spent wondering what the hell
you’re gonna do next!
Jason: And of course there’s a lot of pressure on you guys and expectation,
because, you know, it’s an institution, isn’t it, that show?
James: Yeah, you know, it’s – anything that’s been on the air this long – I
mean, trends are changing, the audiences is dwindling because they just have
so many more choices and people are less patient and less inclined to follow
a slow moving story –
Jason: Can I pick you up on that? How does that – how is that going to
affect, do you think, the direction of drama in television? It must really –
because even looking back at the early episodes of KNOTS LANDING, what’s
really clear is how much time you as audience get to really get to know the
James: Well, I turn your attention to C.S.I. or, you know, shows that I
can’t relate to because I just feel they hit a few high points and create an
illusion of depth by everybody looking heavy, and the lighting being heavy,
and everybody giving each other looks that imply that great – still waters
run deep, and all this kind of stuff, but I don’t see it there. I mean,
those shows are like fifty calories to me – and more power to them, if
that’s what the audience wants. I think that’s what the audience has been
trained to want, but that’s just – that’s not a very original opinion; I
just happen to agree with it. Something like THE WEST WING, where there is
actually substance – in order to get substance across, they’ve got to go at
a million miles an hour or people will say, “Hey, gosh – there’s too many
calories in this. There’s too much thinking going on!” and then tune it out.
If you can keep it coming at ’em so fast that they’re dazzled by it, it can
Jason: And you think that’s starting to creep into daytime, in terms of your
audience dwindling – the effect of that?
James: Well, yes and no. I mean, Y&R is still the number one show. It shows
to more households than any other daytime show, and we have given in less
than any of the other shows to this sense of, “My God, we’ve gotta keep
things going! There’s gotta be everything on the boil all the time, or
people will tune us out.” In fact, some of the lowest rated daytime shows,
if you turn them on there’s this aura of desperation. Everybody’s waving
guns around and there’s take-overs by – you know –
Jason (chuckling): Yeah.
James: – they wanna rule the world, and there’s ghosts walking through walls
James: Here is the stuff that they’re throwing at people, desperately trying
to keep their attention, while Y&R has really stayed loyal to the families
and the inner lives of some complex characters and, much like David – what I
was saying about David Jacobs’ original intention – just to keep the story
generating out of the people, out of their personalities, out of their
attempts to live their lives, rather than from space aliens or earthquakes
Jason: Also, did you watch the reunion – THE KNOTS LANDING REUNION – that
aired a couple of months ago in the US?
James: You know, I didn’t. I (chuckles) – I made a mistake a few years ago.
They invited me to one of those things [BACK TO THE CUL-DE-SAC]. I was just
– I was working seven days a week. You know, my children were growing up not
– seeing the back of my head in my office – and I just felt like I didn’t
have room for anything else on my plate, and I said, “I just can’t get into
that. I’m sorry.”
James: And I think they (laughing) took care of Kenny by implying that, you
know, he was a bad lover or something like that.
Jason: Yes, they –
James: I deserve that for not showing up!
Jason (laughing): It was a bit mean though, wasn’t it? They didn’t need to
say that! It was –
James: Oh, well. You know what? Like I say, I –
James: All’s fair.
James: I’m not complaining.
Jason: No. Well, of course, you know, with THE REUNION, one of the biggest
complaints from the audience is that the – Constance, John and yourself and
Kim Lankford were not involved.
James: I don’t know why John and Constance and Kim wouldn’t have been
involved. Certainly my absence didn’t create their absence.
Jason: No, no. Sure, sure.
James (chuckling): I don’t – I was not – this last one, I think after the
experience of the first one which is the one that I turned down, I wasn’t
even asked to be involved in it.
Jason: No. Also, just finally, there were questions about Joan van Ark and
Ted Shackelford’s involvement on your show. Is that fun, you know, having
them around again?
James: Well, yeah. It was a lot of fun having Joan around. You know, it’s
funny. I never – I don’t go into the studio much, even though I do live in
Los Angeles. I just don’t go in very much cos I – it’s a long time on the
road and that time can be better spent at my word processor so –
Jason (chuckling): Right.
James: – I don’t go in and I don’t go – you know, once in a while, they’ll
have a cake cutting or, you know, somebody’ll throw a thing for a secretary
who’s retiring or something like that.
James: I get invited to those things, but again I just don’t feel like I
have the time.
James: And so I never – I didn’t see Joan any of the time she was working.
Jason: Oh I see, I see.
James: And it was certainly fun to see her again. All these years, here we
all – many decades pass –
James: – and we’re all still, you know, doing our thing.
Jason: Yeah. And of course, with the DVD coming out, a whole new audience,
we hope, will see the quality of the early shows and the wonderful ensemble
work you did –
James: Wait a minute, do you think they’re going try to market this to a new
audience, or is this just something –
Jason: They all –
James: – kinda try to just sell it to the myriad of –
Jason: – of KNOTS LANDING fans? No, I think – because what’s happened is,
James, because of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES which has, you know, has got so much attention in the press – they started in the press, the media, comparing
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES with KNOTS LANDING – and so what’s happened is a lot of people are saying, “Well, what was KNOTS LANDING? What was KNOTS LANDING?”
And I think this DVD release is intended to not only reach the original
fans, but also the DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES – the younger audience who see – you know, who are now watching DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.
James: Well, that’ll certainly be interesting if that happens. I mean, much
like we were saying a few minutes ago, I think they’ll find that the pacing
is a good deal slower and, you know, just the whole presentation is a lot
less glitzy. And it’ll be interesting to see whether people have the
patience to see that KNOTS was this real quality writing.
Jason: Yes, and performance and ensemble piece.
James: And Ted. Yeah, Ted’s gonna be working on the show. I guess he’s – I
saw Ted, oh some years ago at a – actually, it was at a funeral for a mutual
friend who was killed way prematurely in a car accident – so I didn’t – that
was under –
Jason: Was that Steve Shaw?
James: – to see him, but he looked well and it was good to see him and –
James: – and I was pleased to hear they had pulled him into play this role
for us on this show because, who knows, it might turn into something.
Jason (reading a message scribbled on James from London’s hand): Oh, and
also you and Ted were on a Warren Zevon LP cover! Did you know?
James: He was Kim’s boyfriend. And, yeah, it’s funny. I just showed that to
my son the other day, my eighteen year old son, and he just about flipped!
(Jason laughs) He thought that – my stock rose considerably when he realised
that I had been on a cover of an album.
Jason: Yes, yes! He must have thought –
James: All my other accomplishments, he doesn’t really have – he can’t
really relate to them, even though they pay his bills – and that really put
me on the map in his book.
Jason (chuckles): You finally get the recognition you deserve!
James: I think I got a little of it anyway.
Jason: Yeah. Oh well, listen – James, thank you so very much for answering
the questions that have come in from all over the world. Thank you for your
James: I’ve enjoyed it.