She's back on The Bold and the Beautiful and not because she needs a paycheck! Longtime fan fave Joanna Johnson — now a writer and co-executive producer of ABC Family's Make It or Break It — returns to the CBS soap July 22 for a four-episode stint as Karen Spencer. The plot finds Katie (Heather Tom) renewing her vows with Karen's brother Bill (Don Diamont) — a seemingly happy but complicated situation considering Bill's wandering eye. TV Guide Magazine had a chat with Johnson, who was also the creator and exec producer of the Kelly Ripa-Faith Ford sitcom Hope & Faith. Does she miss acting? Ha! Don't bet on it.
TV Guide Magazine: The last time we saw you on B&B was in 2009 for Katie and Bill's wedding. This is like Groundhog Day — soap style!
Johnson: [Laughs] And I'm feeling like Pacino in Scarface — I try to get out and they keep pulling me back in! No, actually I love this. It's a lot of fun to do the show every now and then. Maybe Katie and Bill will be like Brooke and Ridge and keep getting married and remarried. This could be really good for me for the next 20 years!
TV Guide Magazine: So give us the plot scoop. What's up with this vow renewal?
Johnson: Katie calls Karen, who is coming to town for a Spencer Publications board meeting and asks her to come a day early but doesn't say why. It's a surprise to all the guests, including Bill, that Katie is having a minister come over to renew their vows. It's the same minister who married them originally, and all the same guests [Brooke, Donna, Justin, Stephen] plus a few new ones [Pam, Liam, Hope]. Supposedly, Karen has been running the New York office of Spencer Publications, which was news to me. I was wondering where she went. [Laughs] I kinda thought she'd gone back to the trailer park along with Dorothy Lyman.
TV Guide Magazine: Now that you've moved away from acting, how does it feel to not be victim to the cosmetic demands of the business — the emphasis on looks, on weight, on age?
Johnson: Usually when [exec producer] Brad Bell calls me to do the show I think, "Oy. I should lose some weight before I go back." But this time I didn't. I just said, "Oh, what the heck." I'm not here to push any romantic stories or be the ingénue. One of the reasons I got out of acting was that I didn't like the pressure of having to be beautiful and skinny and perfect — which is why I understand and appreciate what the young women on Make It or Break It are dealing with. I'm so glad I no longer have to worry about that stuff.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you a mentor to the MIOBI girls? Does your experience as an actress make you a better and more sensitive writer and producer?
Johnson: Oh, absolutely! I have great respect for our actors and great compassion for them. Sometimes producers will think that actors have it easy. They don't understand the insecurities that come with an acting career. I love actors. I get their psychology. When I'm on set I'm able to communicate with them in a kind of actor shorthand and I think they trust me more because they feel like I'm one of them. The girls on the show are all about the age I was when I started in this business and they are all very responsible and professional. Sure, they're a little scattered at times because they're young, but they're really good girls and we don't have the kind of problems other shows do. They are not out at night stirring up trouble, they're not showing up late on the set. They're wonderful, bright and not self-destructive. They walk around all day in leotards and that's not easy. I mean, man! They don't have the clothes to cover up the dimples and the imperfections. They're very brave and I so admire that.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you advise and prepare them for the realities of the biz?
Johnson: Oh, I try, but everyone has to learn life's lessons in their own way, I guess. I do want them to appreciate the material they get handed every week. We give them some really meaningful stuff to perform that I would have killed to do at that age. I want to say to them from my vantage point of experience, "You're young and you're working and so you probably think it's going to last forever but, the truth is, this is a very up and down business. In the blink of an eye you can go from being an ingénue to playing someone's mother [laughs] and you'll be desperate to get that mother job!" I want them to work on their craft and become really great actresses because great actresses will work regardless of age. Just being good and being pretty in this business is not enough. [Laughs] But I didn't listen to anybody when I was their age. I left B&B the first time because I wanted to go be a movie star and we know how well that turned out!
TV Guide Magazine: Loved your season finale! Lots of happy endings. No tragic or shocking cliffhangers. Was that on purpose? Will the show come back?
Johnson: We don't know right now. We're on hold. I don't know if it's a financial issue or what. ABC Family has picked up four new shows. Our numbers are quite solid, but Switched at Birth does huge numbers for them. They maybe want to reinvent certain aspects of the network so we don't really know what the future holds for us. But I guess it's for the best of reasons — ABC Family is kicking ass right now!