As Executive in Charge of Production of NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives, Greg Meng knows a thing or two about the fictional town of Salem and its famous residents---John and Marlena, Bo and Hope and, of course, Tom and Alice. The openly gay Meng is an eloquent, enthusiastic man with a great passion and knowledge for his work.
After over twenty years with the popular daytime drama, he's gathered some backstage goods for the show's faithful followers. Days of Our Lives: 45 Years is a new project that commemorates the show’s history and offers a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes efforts of cast and crew. It's a beautiful collection of photos, both on and off set, that tell a story through the Days of our Lives characters.
Various cast members from Days of Our Lives are currently involved in a multi-city book tour promoting the new book along with the book's authors, Meng and Hollywood art director Eddie Campbell.
Meng notes that future projects might include a reference book with health and beauty secrets of the stars, as well as a more in-depth photo collection that showcases the comprehensive history of the show. Until then, he's proud to present this true treasure to fans nationwide.
Given your long history with the show, was there one or two things in the archives that surprised you or really stood out?
One thing that really resonated big with me was the early, early stuff, like seeing Tom and Alice Horton in the early years. You get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the show. I'm actually doing another book that will be including all those archival photos we couldn't put in this book.
What came out for me most of all was the values---the traditional Midwestern family values that are part of the show. I'm from Oklahoma, so it kinda resonated with me. There were a lot of photos over the years from the Horton living room. It showed me that over the years, the basic things had remained and the basic principles don't change. Days of our Lives has been in people's living rooms for 45 years, so it's great to show viewers what happens.
The ratings for daytime soap operas have dropped in recent years. How have you dealt with the changes in your business climate?
There's a whole city behind the city in Salem. We used to operate 24/7. The crew would finish taping at 11 p.m. and they would be moving sets in overnight. Then the cast comes in at 6:30 in the morning. Now we only change sets every couple weeks.
We've actually created a model that really works well. The boring part is we've created kind of this factory that's cost-effective. We crank out seven shows a week and we're out before five o' clock every day. Gary Tomlin (executive producer) has really helped built a system that works. It's actually given us a lot of freedom. Before there were a lot of the flowers and extraneous things on the set. Now that we've fine-tuned this thing, we have a lot more creative license to do great things. The show is better now: our energy level is up, our morale is up, and the set is such an invigorating place.
In terms of the creative part, we are dealing with a quicker pace. Now you don't get retakes and it's all in one shot. But we're able to tell more stories in a certain time and add more layers of stories. It's an extremely delicate puzzle.
Don't you feel like the show is best described as a family thing?
Yes, a lot of people relate to the show because they've grown up with it in their families. That's the one thing I see in the book tours. In Chicago, I saw three generations at the event---mother, daughter and granddaughter---and they've all watched the show together. It's great to see. You have that on the show where you have these inter-generational relationships.
How do you feel about the future of Days of our Lives?
I'm hoping that overall we're in a good place. We've lost some important daytime dramas in the last few years. I think now we're down to the core ones. A lot of our viewers don't show up in the ratings; they're watching it after work and they often don't see it every day and it's not reflected in the ratings. But we have an incredible network in NBC who has been amazingly supportive of us. We're looking forward to our continuing story and exploring areas we haven't explored.
Editor's note: Days of Our Lives: 45 Years is available at Amazon and book stores nationwide.