Can Sally Sussman Find Happiness with Her Own Soap Opera? Only Time—and Generations—will Tell
Excuses, excuses. Working one summer as a gofer at a Toronto TV station, Sussman was fairly young and restless herself. As a junior, she transferred to the University of Southern California to major in radio and television. Two years later she began to work her way up from production company secretary to scriptwriter, collecting two Emmy nominations during a five-year stint as a head writer on—dream come true—The Young and the Restless, CBS's top soap. Sussman was beginning to feel "a little burned out" in 1987 when NBC offered to let her develop her own show. "It was a gamble," she says, "but worth taking."
Her magnum soapus, Generations, debuted two weeks ago opposite The Young and the Restless. Featuring Pat (Dynasty) Crowley and Lynn (Sanford and Son) Hamilton, the show follows two Chicago families—one crusty, rich and white, the other newly upper-middle-class and black. But, says executive producer Sussman, any friction within the families will be based on personal interactions, "not on race. I'm writing a show about people, and the fact that some are black is secondary."
Sussman, whose parents are in commercial real estate, has long been fascinated with "how families change over time, how people are a product of the time and place they're born into." Though she has written for Knots Landing, Sussman says she prefers daytime because "everything doesn't wrap up with a neat little ribbon every week. The networks know soaps are habit-forming and that it takes time to build an audience. It's comforting to know you're not under ratings pressure right away."
If there is a soap plot in her own life, it is that success leaves her little time for anything else. Single and "still looking," Sussman owns a two-bedroom condo in Santa Monica and enjoys at least the idea of jogging, skiing, reading and traveling to faraway places. For now, though, her most significant other is her word processor. "I've been living with all these characters in Generations for over a year," she explains. "When I'm writing, I'm not me, I'm them. I wish I could control reality the way I can control fantasy. But I figure I'll get the show on the air, and then I'll work on the rest of my life."