All My Children's Michael E. Knight Reflects on Soap's Cancellation and the Return of Dixie
Michael E. Knight
He's the most famous and beloved rascal in all of soap history. But there's so much more to Michael E. Knight. As Tad (the former "Cad") Martin of ABC's All My Children — a role he won back in 1982 — the three-time Emmy winning Knight has emerged over the years as a consummate and deeply admired actor, equally gifted at comedy and tragedy, as well as a insightful statesman whose POV on the soap scene is both wise and heartfelt. TV Guide Magazine lunched with the actor to get his take on Tad's reunion with Dixie (Cady McClain), airing August 8, and of course AMC's fast approaching exit from ABC.
TV Guide Magazine: I can certainly see why a Tad and Dixie reunion is best for the show as it prepares to leave the network and best for the fans — and I will probably love it and be blubbering like an idiot — but yet another return from the dead in Pine Valley? Isn't it this kind of been-there-done-that writing that has helped sink the genre?
Knight: I agree with you about the back from the dead thing, but the fans deserve a happy ending. If this is our curtain call, then mazel tov! I'm glad Cady and I can take our final bow together. Yeah, she came back as an angel, but I don't care. I feel so blessed that the audience still wants us. [Laughs] After more than two decades together, Cady and I still look at each other and go, "What is this? How the hell did this happen?" Initially it was the luck of the draw. The stars and the story aligned and we ended up together. Now, as two performers with all these dings in our fenders, there's a richness to our relationship that feels so good and so natural. Sure, doing yet one more back-from-the-dead plot is like papering over the old wallpaper but, in this case, I'm totally at peace with it.
TV Guide Magazine: And Tad's poor wife Cara [Lindsay Hartley] is just S.O.L.? When I first heard Cady was coming back to help wrap things up, I assumed — foolish me — that her spirit would show up and bless Tad and Cara's relationship and send them happily-ever-after into the sunset. You and Hartley make a terrific team. I think a lot of fans will miss seeing that relationship grow and unfold.
Knight: The choice to bring Tad and Dixie back together was made before this whole internet thing happened, when a reunion seemed like the right thing to do. Would they have made this choice if they knew we might be going forward with the show? I don't know. But I feel very lucky to have Cady back. It's a nice thing for me personally and karmically. But at the same time I have to say that I'm very impressed with Lindsay Hartley and have really enjoyed working with her. She's a sweetheart and a damn good actress. Your heart just bleeds for her character.
TV Guide Magazine: How did your emotions run during that period when there were so many cancellation rumors?
Knight: There was so much anxiety around the studio. News outlets and websites would be saying it's all over for AMC and ABC would deny everything. And then, when it finally happened, it was almost a relief because we no longer had that Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. It was more hurtful and annoying going to work waiting for that sword to fall. What's been really gratifying is finding out how much everyone still cares about us. I've done more publicity in the last two weeks than in the last 10 years! We know our show is not what it once was — or should be — but you wouldn't know it from the outcry of the fans, which has been huge. The interest and the energy generated by the cancellation have surprised everyone, including the network. There's been a collective reaction — not just from the viewers but from the press — that says this show still means a lot to people. Sure, maybe they haven't watched in 10 years or since they were in college but they're very upset that AMC was cancelled. "What do you mean it won't be on TV anymore?" [Laughs] You don't necessarily want to live with your mother but it's nice knowing she's still down the street.
TV Guide Magazine: Were you at work the day the ax fell? And how does it feel when you wake up in the middle of the night and realize that this legendary show — as we know it — will soon be over?
Knight: I wasn't in the studio when [ABC Daytime chief] Brian Frons came down and made the announcement. I had a late call that day and I'm glad I wasn't there, but I walked into the studio an hour after it happened. There were a lot of tears. People were angry, sad, in shock, whatever. Then it became a little surreal. We shoot so much material so quickly now that we're basically tap-dancing as fast as we can. I don't think the reality of the whole thing will really be felt until maybe mid-August — that's when the rubber band is going to snap. There's a part of me that's really, really anxious about how that's going to feel. There's also a part of me that's really OK with everything, I gotta admit, because this show has been such a circus in the last few years. It felt like they've been trying to remake the wheel as fast as they could and getting it wrong. There are people I have worked with for three decades who are family to me, who have been there for me when times were tough, and have been so fun to work with. That I will never forget. That's the stuff that'll hurt in the middle of the night when I finally realize that's it all gone. But there are also people I have worked for that I am not going to miss at all. Flat out.
TV Guide Magazine: Could this cancellation have been avoided?
Knight: I'm not smart enough to figure that out. In retrospect, as I sit here on the lowest level of the food chain trying to do the math — as we all are — it seems to me that ABC knew years ago, before AMC moved out to California, that they'd be getting out of the soap industry. Our world is in a tremendous state of flux — economically, politically, culturally — and the network is hedging its bets. From a creative and financial standpoint, something had to change. I think they were between a rock and a hard place. Look, it's been a great ride. When [AMC creator] Agnes Nixon, in all of her brilliance, came up with the idea for our show she didn't think she'd still be writing stories and keeping it alive over 40 year later — not in her wildest dreams! I'm just really, really glad I got to be a part of it. The amazing thing about being at AMC this long, and being this age, is that you never know what you had until it's gone. You come on a show when you're 22-years-old thinking this is the way life is and that it's always going to be like this. And then you watch the show change and grow and morph and struggle and finally come to realize how much you should have appreciated it when you had the chance. Being on AMC has been an experience that's amazing, sometimes frustrating, sometimes really exciting, sometimes a little boring. I will never forget the gift Agnes gave me, but I gotta say that the last eight years have not necessarily been easy.
TV Guide Magazine: You achieved supercouple status with Cady, yet you're one of the rare daytime stars whose fans have loved seeing you with other partners, too. In fact, you've had extraordinary chemistry with many actresses on the show.
Knight: You can't explain chemistry. In the glory days they used to bring us onto the show and develop us slowly. When I came on AMC they knew Tad was going to sleep with both Liza [Marcy Walker] and her mother, Marian [Jennifer Bassey], but I didn't get to go there for the first year and a half. It was a year before I even started working with Marcy! We've lost that long, slow building of emotions because we got to the point where they want things moving fast — they need more bang for the buck. We keep giving the patient shots of adrenalin in order to keep things moving. We lost our skill in knowing how to use our legacy, and a big part of that is because Agnes has been out of the mix for the last few years. She has not had the control she should have had. There was a point where the people at the network said, "We can take it from here." And the fact is they couldn't. Agnes, like Bill Bell, God bless his soul, were master storytellers. They learned it at the knee of Irna Phillips. They knew how to string the viewers along and keep them in suspense and in a state of great expectation. They knew how piss off the viewers a little bit now in to order make 'em really, really happy later on.
TV Guide Magazine: And they loved every minute of it and chose to remain in daytime drama when they easily could have moved on to primetime. That sort of deep, unwavering passion and devotion seems to be missing in so many of today's soap writers.
Knight: I do have to cut the network some slack there. It's hard to know when to rock the boat. It's hard to know when to try something new. Do you hire new writers to give the show a different flavor, or do you go with people who are tried and true, people who know the characters? I personally am thrilled to have Lorraine Broderick back. She writes from a sense of character, not from the need to move plot. The only thing we have to offer is our history. In daytime, we don't do nudity or profanity like cable does. We don't blow stuff up. [Laughs] Or we rarely do... there is a tornado in Pine Valley once every five years. The audience knows when we're veering away from our history, when we've lost track of what our characters are really about. God forbid we have two characters sitting on a sofa just talking and revealing themselves the way we used to 20 years ago! Now every scene must have entrances, exits, movement, stuff. We can't just be.
TV Guide Magazine: In the event you don't continue with the show after it ends its network run, who will you miss the most? Who's going to be your scarecrow?
Knight: I could never narrow it down to just one person. There are a couple who are already gone — Julia Barr [Brooke] and David Canary [Adam]. I respect the s--t out of both of them. They are two of the most talented people I've ever met, as lovable as the day is long, and generous, graceful and dignified. They are everything in life that you'd want them to be. But of the people who are left, I'd say Walt Willey [Jack], Susan Lucci [Erika], Thorsten Kaye [Zach], Jill Larson [Opal], Ricky Paull Goldin [Jake]. And Cady, of course. Man, does she look annoying good! [Laughs] I'm like, "Jesus, woman! Now you're just making me look bad!" Who needs that? It's bad enough I have to cover up the mirror in my dressing room at the studio. The only thing I can see is my hair, so I can check the 'do before I go on camera. [Laughs] Because the rest is too depressing!
TV Guide Magazine: Stop! Both you and Tad have aged and mellowed beautifully.
Knight: There is something sort of touching about Tad these days. He used to be such a mover and a shaker, the womanizer who came into town going, "Hey, baby! Hey, baby!" Now he's this fat, middle-aged, gray-haired dude married to this young, hot, incredibly gorgeous gal but in the back of his mind he's going, "I'm not fooling anybody!" For the people who've watched Tad for nearly 30 years and know his journey, that's solid gold. God bless our loyal audience. I thank each and every one of them for the support and the love that they've given me because I'm amazed that I made it to the end. [Laughs] My expiration date was up, baby! Several times! The only people who made sure I hung in here and crossed the finish line are the fans. I owe them everything.
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