By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Not since Peyton Place has there been a fictional town with this much drama. But when “Proper Manors,” hits the MyTV airwaves in September, creator/director Pietro D'Alessio hopes his daytime soap will have the same drawing power – and staying power – as its successful serialized New Hampshire-based predecessor.
D'Alessio's storyline promises to take all kinds of soap operatic twists and turns as it winds its way through a small New England town – Proper Manors – and the spirited teenagers who live there with their complicated and intertwined families.
It will launch Sept. 14, the same week “As the World Turns” airs its final episode after 54 years, filling a void for CBS soap fans, who watched another longtime favorite, “Guiding Light,” go dark last year.
It's an ambitious project that should put New Hampshire on the map in terms of hyper local innovation mixed with a bit of old-school TV broadcasting, said MyTV Development Executive Christopher Murphy.
“This is totally unique. No one else in New England, has the resources we have to distribute original New England content to every single home in the Boston designated market area,” Murphy said.
He first met D'Alessio while working together on another film project.
“Pietro was talking about doing this as a small web series, but I saw the potential for regional broadcast,” said Murphy. “I picked it up for MyTV and, in a short amount of time, here we are, set to start filming in August – and we've signed on Victoria Rowell for a recurring role,” a casting coup for those who recognize Rowell as the actress who played Drucilla Winters on daytime drama “The Young and the Restless” and Dr. Amanda Bentley on “Diagnosis: Murder.”
Along with “Proper Manors,” the station is touting the newly-launched “Leslie Taylor Show,” described by Murphy as a cross between Chelsea Handler and Oprah Winfrey. He is also looking to expand programming to include other locally produced content, with a particular interest in independent films that have been left languishing in post-production purgatory.
“I love the Internet as much as the next guy, but let's get back to entertainment. Let's get back to some laughs. Let's get back to some good old-fashioned sit down, watch a show, everyone get together and enjoy TV, and let's do it with local talent,” Murphy said.
If all goes as planned, “Proper Manors” will lead the way for the future of local programming. Filming on location around the state, using local businesses as sets or even backdrops, will help not only with advertising, but in creating a sense of ownership for viewers.
There is already buzz within the production industry for D'Alessio's project. Today's third casting call should draw actors from far and wide to MCAM studio in Manchester, just as the first two rounds of auditions did, with aspiring soap stars coming from as far as Los Angeles and New York.
“This would be a life-changer,” said Alison Whitney, a polished New York actress looking for a lucky break. She was going over her lines in a large holding room, along with six others from New York, one from Jersey and one lone New Hampshire actress, representative of the 75 out-of-work actors who showed up last month in Derry for a shot at one of 35 recurring roles in the 26-episode soap opera.
Cinda Donovan is called in for her four-minute audition in front of a row of production assistants and D'Alessio. The Massachusetts-based actress enters the studio and is greeted like an old friend – in part because she is, sort of.
“It's her third audition with us for the role of Blanche,” says D'Alessio, a role based on his own southern belle of a step-mother. “I love her. She is my mother,” he says, giving Donovan some direction.
“The dislike and hatred of your mother has ruled every breath you breathe on this planet; you're a bitch on wheels. Go for intensity. Go for the jugular – and have fun with it,” said D'Alessio, who created “Proper Manors” as much an homage to his old hometown of Plant City, Fla, as to his circle of family and friends.
His inspiration was the drama of his youth, magnified by televised drama like “Falcon Crest,” and “Dynasty,” where cliff hangers combined with strong women and manipulative men for must-see TV that hooked viewers in week after week.
“Of course, me being me, I'm balancing it all out with a Christopher Guest approach to all the seriousness,” D'Alessio said, with a gleam in his eye.
“We're filming primarily here (in southern New Hampshire) and the Seacoast, but will take our characters wherever they need to go,” said D'Alessio. “I think we're getting so much buzz because these are well-developed stories. I mean, how often do you get to create a place where a New York Italian Jew meets Southern aristocracy, a story where the Mafia, white trash and beauty pageants are all woven together with plenty of scandal? I've never had this much fun on a project in my life.”