Michael E. Knight Interview: 'All My Children' Star Thanks Fans for Tad Martin
Daytime Emmy award winner Michael E. Knight is best known for his portrayal of Thaddeus (Tad) James Martin on the ABC soap All My Children. Knight’s first stint on the show ran from 1982-1986; he returned in 1988, left again in 1990, and has appeared continuously from 1992 to the present.
Other television appearances include Matlock, Sydney, Dear John, Murder, She Wrote, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, One Life to Live, and Hot in Cleveland. The actor also starred in the 1987 feature film Date with an Angel.
“In the old days, 20 years ago, there was a longer period of character development. They would bring characters along very slowly. As we went along there was less and less time for that. I noticed they would bring on major characters very quickly and characters that had only been on the canvas a short period of time would be handed major storylines very quickly.”
The New Jersey native was honored with two Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Younger Leading Actor in 1986 and 1987 and won the Supporting Actor trophy in 2001. He is one of the very few actors to be nominated in younger, supporting, and lead actor categories, all while playing the same character.
Knight was married from 1992 to 2006 to actress Catherine Hickland (Texas, Capitol, One Life to Live).
On April 14, 2011, ABC announced that All My Children was cancelled after 41 years on the air. The network has announced that the daytime drama will air its final episode on September 23, 2011.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Michael, did you find out about the cancellation with the rest of the All My Children cast?
Michael E. Knight: Well, yes, they had a formal declaration. Brian Frons came down and did a thing in the studio. But it had definitely been on the rumor mill for about two years because of shrinking Nielsen ratings and budget cuts. You could really see it coming. I don’t think it took anybody by surprise. I think we thought it might go a little longer, but due to the bad economy and the effects the Internet has had on entertainment as a whole, we knew we were coming up on cancellation.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you thought about joining another daytime drama or even an Internet soap?
Michael E. Knight: I don’t know. I’m very hopeful. I’ve been around for quite a while. My mom says: “God doesn’t bring you that far to drop you on your head.”
There is a very large industry out there of people, very trained in front of the camera and behind the camera that know the format. I can’t help but think that at some point the audience will get sick and tired of reality television and would want to go back to soap operas because they have had such a following for decades. Surely somebody out there is going to take a shot at it.
You might start seeing soap operas on three days a week or there’s the novella format which is six months limited run or a year. I’m kind of hopeful that if not AMC, somebody out there is trying to think of a way to keep this going without just shutting down the format entirely.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There have certainly been rumors of other networks picking up the shows and a more recent rumor has been Netflix.
Michael E. Knight: Netflix … that would be interesting. If you know you sort of have the base audience out there estimated upwards of 2,000,000 people that like a show or like the format, there’s an audience out there getting to them. I think the waters have been muddied by a lot of things like SOAPnet.
My heart goes out to the major networks because they are still operating on the Nielsen rating model which has been dying across the board. I mean, if you start looking at it, soaps across the board have taken a 20% hit. I think it’s because people are getting their programming elsewhere or they’re DVRing it. It is wonderful to have had a run as long as we’ve had and as long as I’ve had. But as long as you’re still in the game, something else will happen. It always does.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you answer if General Hospital or The Young and the Restless came calling?
Michael E. Knight: I’m sort of hopeful. I have wonderful representation and certainly would love to cast my net out there and see what happens, maybe even a sitcom or something like that, but I certainly wouldn’t turn up my nose if a cable outlet could afford to do the soaps. Of course, it would be at a reduced cost and reduced budget but they might start experimenting with it. I think it would be a great idea.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think you’d be great in a sitcom.
Michael E. Knight: I would hope so (laughs). We’ll see what happens.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You are a funny guy. I’ve used the word “jinkies” more times than my husband can count.
Michael E. Knight: (laughs) Believe it or not, there was a radio commercial centuries ago in New York and it was just one of these guys with an overbearing voice saying the word “jinkies” so it stuck. That’s the thing about a soap character. You never know what little signature you can give him and what people are going to hook into. I think I throw a couple of “jinkies” in there two or three times a year.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There are many people who think of soap characters as family members.
Michael E. Knight: And some who tend to treat them as guilty pleasures, but you never know. It’s all over the world, too. I went to Italy with my wife Catherine. She’d been on a show called Capitol probably 25 years ago. I think it came on at night over there after work sometime. I was stunned walking around Rome and everybody chattering at Catherine in Italian. You just never know.
That’s another thing. Think about the programming slots. In the last 40 or 50 years soap operas have been on during the day. Well, we know that especially in a bad economy more people have to work. You have working mothers now so that whole sort of social model has changed. So you never know. A cable outlet may pick up All My Children or The Young and the Restless and say that the trick is to put them on in later time slots when people get home from work. Try 5:30 or 6:00 and see what happens.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Michael, you left All My Children for a few years to pursue acting projects. Would you be open to giving the movies another chance?
Michael E. Knight: I’m open to anything. It’s sort of a blessing and a curse in a way. I’ve had a job for so long. It will just be another person making a transition in America, you know?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Cady McClain is returning to the show as Dixie Cooney Martin. Will this storyline give Tad/Dixie fans some closure?
Michael E. Knight: I think that’s going to be the way they’re looking at it. They’re also bringing back other characters, too, I think to sort of tie up … if it’s possible to tie up a 42 year run. I was lucky and the positioning was such that Cady could come back and reprise the role of Dixie. I certainly love working with her. She’s been a dear friend for a long time and is a wonderful actress.
They’re supposedly bringing her back from the dead (and we’re no stranger to that), but they’re bringing her back to have Tad and Dixie walk off in the proverbial sunset. I think that’s the way they’re looking at it. I always had such wonderful chemistry working with Cady. It will be nice to get a chance to do that. Other than that, I think they’re kind of struggling to give the audience some semblance of closure, bringing down the curtain as it were, but I think they’ll leave it open ended in case the show gets picked up somewhere else.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): They’re also bringing back the character of Zach Slater.
Michael E. Knight: Thorsten, yes, a wonderful guy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are some memories from the show that stand out for you? One that comes to my mind right now is the tornado that hit Pine Valley and demolished the Martin house. That was definitely art imitating life.
Michael E. Knight: Oh gosh yes, especially nowadays. All you have to do today is turn on the 6:00 news and see that a tornado has hit somewhere.
I can’t really put my finger on many memories and say, “This was a high point.” I would say that it has been interesting to see the show kind of evolve, to be a part of something, and watch the show expand and do more. Things were so simple back when I started. You basically had very structured shows and now I think soaps try to compete more with nighttime and try to do things to thrill the audience.
God knows we always had these masked balls and weddings. There was the time they blew up the Crystal Ball. I remember when they built the set and there were actual special effects involved with explosions. I remember on One Life to Live that whole thing where a train gets turned upside down. It has been interesting to see how much we could get away with in such a limited time. The first producer I ever had compared soaps to summer stock because the production schedule is so intense and so non-stop.
In terms of memories I would say there have been the people that I’ve loved working with over the years. I’m so proud of that. I can’t think of particular moments but I can think of somebody like David Canary who I just thought was one of the most brilliant guys I ever worked with. To watch him do Stuart … he was the best person at doing split screens and doing two characters. There’s Julia Barr, Cady, Carmen Thomas, Walt Willey, Vincent Irizarry. I can’t say enough of what a wonderful person Susan is and has been to me over the years.
Soaps are kind of unique in that so much of the industry is temporary. Even in a hit show you maybe get 5 or 6 years except for Bonanza or Gunsmoke (laughs). I think you could look at All My Children as the “bonanza” of soap operas. One of the cool things about getting to work with someone like Cady McClain is that so much of soaps (because they’re so fast) is chemistry, a sort of chemistry that you have to figure out as you go along with your fellow actors and then they very quickly tune in on it.
In the old days, 20 years ago, there was a longer period of character development. They would bring characters along very slowly. As we went along there was less and less time for that. I noticed they would bring on major characters very quickly and characters that had only been on the canvas a short period of time would be handed major storylines very quickly. Sometimes the characters worked and sometimes they didn’t. The character would come on, work a lot, and then sort of disappear.
Some of the fondest things I remember are some of the character actors I thought were so wonderful; first and foremost being Jill Larson who plays Opal. I have a glowing respect for her. I go back to people like Billy Clyde Tuggle, Phoebe, Myrtle, and Langley. There was sort of a more rounded ensemble. That was when the budgets were bigger and you had room for character actors. As things have become leaner and meaner over the years basically there has been a stripping away of characters that drive story.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do the writers give you free rein when it comes to adlibbing?
Michael E. Knight: No, the writers have been pretty damn good to me (laughs). I’m not going to say that I don’t occasionally throw in a one-liner, but everything is so structured and the writers have been very good to me over the years, developing situations in which to put the character so that I could sort of come up with something … but I’d say we are pretty loose.
One of the people I love working with because he’s very similar in style is Ricky Paull Goldin who plays Jake. He is probably one of the most fluid actors I’ve ever worked with. He’s a thrill ride because you never know what you’re going to get (laughs). He’s so fun and inspiring to work with. I’d say over the last few years he’s been one of the bright spots on the docket for me for sure.
For a while there the Martins kept getting thinned out, then they brought Jake back and Ricky has such a wonderful presence on screen. He has a very unique and eccentric style that I think serves the overall canvas of the show really well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It does appear at times like your banter with Ricky is not exactly scripted.
Michael E. Knight: Oh, we love to throw curves at each other all of the time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Ricky is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor this year.
Michael E. Knight: I was really thrilled about that. I really wanted him to get it. As a matter of fact, I was upstairs when I cast my ballot to the associate producer and said, “Is there any way I can just vote for Ricky?” I’m thrilled that we got some nominations.
Michael Park had been a friend of mine and Catherine’s in New York and it was very touching to see him win the Best Actor Emmy the year the show (As the World Turns) was cancelled. It’s kind of a unique little curtain call. I’m hoping that happens for Ricky.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you think that All My Children and One Life to Live will take home more Emmys because of the cancellations?
Michael E. Knight: Well, you wonder, especially with the legacy of 42 years if that’s not in the back of the minds of the people voting, but I don’t think it’s a deciding factor. It might have something to do with it, I don’t know. I never sat on a Blue Ribbon panel … well actually I was a voter a couple of years back.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You recently celebrated a birthday so Happy Belated!
Michael E. Knight: Thank you very much.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you think with age comes wisdom?
Michael E. Knight: I think with age comes humility and with humility comes wisdom.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And then comes the dying of the hair (laughs).
Michael E. Knight: I colored my hair for a while back in the 90s. I think if my fans are devoted enough to keep me on for 30 years they can handle a little snow on the roof (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think it looks distinguished. Do you receive many marriage proposals from fans?
Michael E. Knight: (laughs) Not in a long time. But I’ve got to say I can’t say enough about the fans. They are so dynamic even with the slap in the face of the cancellation and the sad news. I was real honored to see the amount of energy the fans poured into the Internet, Twitter, and all of those things. You really do get a sense of how close they hold their beloved soaps. They’ve been amazing.
I’ve worked for many regimes over 30 years and the fact is more than a couple of them had been convinced that I’d reached my expiration date and that Tad wasn’t really doing too much for the canvas. The only thing (and I mean it came down to the wire a couple of times) that kept that from happening was the direct response from fans when they would do focus groups.
The audience fights hard for the people that they associate with Pine Valley, this place that was created so brilliantly by Agnes Nixon. You really have to push it back to the early days, the 70s and 80s. You have this small mythic town somewhere where people kept their back doors open at night and everybody knew everybody’s business.
I know that personally I can never repay what I owe to the loyal viewers that watch the show that really kept Tad there because for a long time for a few years, it could have gone either way. If I’m around, it’s directly because of the people who watch the show.
I’ll be interested to see if the people who have been so wonderful to watch for 42 years are going to be looking for a new soap or if in fact, when you break that cycle they say, “No, I was married once and that was enough for me and I had my one soap.” But I know I want to send a major thank you and a lot of love out to people who watch the show. Thanks for Tad because if it weren’t for them I certainly would not be here now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have to have the talent to last also, Michael.
Michael E. Knight: Well a lot of people have talent. You never know what’s going to click. It’s really very strange because I’ve known wonderful actors who have come through the doors and revolved out. It’s sort of this magic that happens. You never know what’s going to happen. I’ve got to say that this was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me.
I was a wallflower growing up and all of a sudden at 22 years old I’m playing this kid who is sleeping with both the girl down the street and her mother and the audience is just eating it up. I’m on the sidelines thinking, “Well this is surreal.” But everything around me came together. I was working with just amazing people like Marcy Walker, Kim Delaney, and Dorothy Lyman. These were really the glory days for me on All My Children.
It was like lightning in a bottle and I just happened to be in the right place. It made enough of a social imprint or cultural imprint that I was able to surf the wave for 30 years. It was luck. You do have to have talent, you’ve got to get your foot in the door, but you still never know. I’ve been lucky.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve spoken with many actors who praise daytime television as being a training ground for their craft.
Michael E. Knight: Well, again it’s a blessing and a curse because you learn to work very quickly and you learn to trust working on your feet. There was a wonderful man I worked with for 10 years in New York called Alan Savage who sort of turned me around because if you get used to working so quickly you tend to become kind of presentational.
There is nothing more interesting than watching two people trying to negotiate their way out of a problem either in plot, character, or relationship. So you do get good at thinking on your feet, but at the same time you are doing a storyline. You may get handed a lot of pages in a day but the story you’re working on makes its own kind of psychological imprint on you. When they develop the story it’s like you’re not starting from scratch, whereas if you walk into a play or movie or episodic thing on TV you’re starting from scratch so you’re basically sort of creating the scene in your mind from the ground up.
In soaps you’re part of a storyline that’s moving forward. So it’s not as daunting as you would think. It can be taxing at times. You walk in and get 60 pages in a day and it’s going to be tough, but then again you’re doing a storyline you know and you’re working with actors that you know so you develop on the job skills.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will you be taping through August?
Michael E. Knight: I believe our last tape date is September 2. As to whether or not we go through that, I don’t know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It has to be a weird feeling to know that there will be a last day. How do you and the other actors handle that on a daily basis?
Michael E. Knight: We’re working really hard because we have a 3-week hiatus in July so the work schedule is very intense here in California. It’s in the back of your mind, though. It will be surreal for many people as the day approaches.
I think in that last week of August a lot of people really aren’t going to know how to deal, but right now we’re just busy trying to keep it going, you know what I’m saying? We know it’s there. We got the announcement and it was like, “Okay, I’ll deal with that later because I have so much to do first.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Michael, how would you describe your overall experience at All My Children?
Michael E. Knight: Good question … God has really been good to me. You know, it’s always easier to see your faults with 20/20 hindsight. I don’t mean to get spiritual on you, but I think we’re here basically to do something. We’re here to learn some kind of lesson. I tend to be a spiritual person. I come from a spiritual background, my parents were spiritual and I believe we are here to learn a lesson or series of lessons.
I came into this industry with certain ideas and certain expectations. Everybody in life, if you’re lucky enough to be on the planet long enough, reach some sort of personal crisis. You get to a point where you think, “Is this it or am I missing something? Have I done everything I wanted to?”
I had a marriage to a very dear woman who is one of my greatest friends in the world. I think what makes life interesting is not the things that do work but the things that don’t work. I have had this blessing under me. It has been like working with a circus net. I don’t know how to describe it. I’ve either gone through parts where everything was sunshine and rainbows or parts that were not so good and were very challenging.
Throughout it all I was able to make a living. I was able to go to work with people that respected me (not all but most of them), people that I loved, and got to play a character that seemed to matter. I just can’t help but feel that somebody was looking out after me for a long time because I had something that most people on the planet don’t. I had this thing that I could rely on with a constant that was a source of affirmation, a source of appreciation, a source of respect.
I started out thinking, “Oh, it’s just a soap.” But looking back I’m thinking that I’m the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet just to have been a part of this thing. It really was a cultural phenomenon and you see it changing now because the world is changing, we’re changing, and so is television, networks, and production.
I think it sounds ridiculous to hear myself say this, but to be part of the golden era of daytime television has really been a singular experience. If you had told me when I was 22 years old and was cast that I would be doing the same character now at this age … well, all I can say is, “Gee, these people are willing to pay me for what I love doing.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): At 22 years old, who showed you the ropes at All My Children?
Michael E. Knight: Dorothy Lyman was a major figure in my life when I started out. I was just amazed at how creative and fearless she was with her character. She said, “Honey, there ain’t no reruns on this thing. It’s a soap opera. If you’ve got some, bring it!” So she challenged me a little bit.
I always thought David Canary was one of the most dignified people I’d ever known. I used to look up to him when I was young and think that if I could carry myself with that kind of dignity and purpose and grace 20 or 30 years down the road I’d be satisfied. I don’t know if I have done that, but I do have the hair (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Michael, are you settled in LA now or would you like to move back to New York?
Michael E. Knight: I don’t know. I’ve counted on a job for so long I don’t know where the future will take me but I’m amenable. We’ll see. I think that if I’m going to be out of work it’s better to be out here. It’s kind of like, “Okay, the show is going down, but you’re still in LA.” We’ll see what happens.
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