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Matthew Ashford tells his
version of his split with Day's
TAPED TO THE DOOR OF MATTHEW ASHFORD'S (JACK DEVERAUX, Days of Our Lives) dressing room is a card depicting the Marx Brothers — Harpo, Grouch and Chico — each hanging by his collar from a coat rack. "Did you see this?" asks Ashford, flashing a smile. "Michael Sabatino (Lawrence) gave it to me. He and I have the same sense of humor."

SOW 93, Matthew talks about being let goThe card, of course, is meant to symbolize the fate of Ashford, Sabatino and Crystal Chappell (Carly), all of whom are being written off the show— hung out to dry, so to speak — in a manner of months. "We all just say, `Well, this is part of the [business], and at least we're in good company,'" Ashford says matter-of-factly.

Ashford, a six-year Days veteran, whose contract expires Sept. 26, had all intentions of signing on again. "Negotiations were going along, as far as I knew, very well," he says. "There was definitely no question of money. It was not a problem at all, which is interesting after the last time, when we just couldn't get over that hurdle.

"What I was going through was a series of meetings with [executive producer] Ken Corday, [co-executive producer] Tom Langan, and other people at NBC." he continues. "I was talking to them about my creative concerns. My feeling was if they wanted me to commit to two more years — they even wanted three years at one point — they needed to commit to two years of good story." Ashford diplomatically describes his last two years on the show as "less than glorious. I think everyone is aware of that. Nothing was fully thought out, a lot of damage was done to characters." He believes Jack, in particular, went through an endless cycle of "buffooning."

While Ashford admits he's always fought for the opportunity to go for the laugh, he concedes that it snowballed. "I never wanted to be comical; I wanted to be humorous. . . someone who'd be able to laugh and then cry. My aim was to try to show the humor in life, but not make it too big. But things stated to get out of hand. I fell into a niche." Ironically, the actor says he has seen progress in recent months, noting that Jack has been moving in the direction of becoming "a more solid and effective character." Ashford also believes the show's current writing regime is "not just give over to blatant jokes and stuff like that. If there's humor in something, they allow Missy (Reeves, who plays Jack's wife, Jennifer) and me to find it. I think Jim Reilly is capable, competent writer," says Ashford. "if he is left alone by other people around him, he can tell a good story."

Story being Ashford's prime concern, he felt compelled to question the Days brass about Jack's future. Those inquiries were never answered, he says. Instead, the show halted negotiations. "They just withdrew," says Ashford. "Obviously something happened up in the offices. I can't really speak for what their ultimate reasons were. I think it has to do with what they want to see on the show now, and I think they don't want to see me. My understanding is that they going to recast the role.

"Last year, 21 contract players were taken off the show. The year before that, it was a similar number," he explains. "As much as The Young and the Restless holds on to its people and builds an audience that way, Days continually gets rid of people when something goes wrong. That's the way they run things."

Did he ever anticipate becoming one of those causalities? Maybe in sense I did. Underneath, as an actor, my challenge has always been to grow. Sometimes I take that are written one way and challenge myself to find more levels to them. It's not easy, but I take what I can bring to a scene very seriously. That's the kind of work I want to do. I have a feeling that the producers and i don't always see [things] the same. Sometimes new challenges aren't what they have in mind. I think we were getting to a point where the cage was getting a little too small."

Ashford also believes that in an attempt to shake up the show and boost sagging ratings, Days execs have been moving the show in an entirely different direction for some time. "When a new production team comes in, they have their people that they want to focus on," he explains. "That's part of this business. I feel like the production team as it is has wanted people to forget about Jack and Jennifer and try to focus more on other characters. . . like Austin and Carrie. it's literally the old world order and the new world order kind of thinking. Jack and Jennifer are part of the old world.

"The goal of the present producers is to push Kate, Lucas, Billie and Austin. They are, in a sense, the new Horton family," says Ashford, referring to Days' blossoming new core. "Even though not all their names will be Horton, they'll be part of that circle. I think Days is taking a chance. I think they're betting on the future. They're bringing on new actors with new faces, and I don't think they're that concerned about viewer acceptance," he adds."Unfortunately, there's a feeling that if people watch the show, they'll keep watching. It's a bi jaded a bit cynical, but I think that's what their bet is."

Why Ashford, one of the most popular and youngest old faces on the show, doesn't fit into Days' remains a question, and one he can only speculate about. "I remember a lot of things the producers don't exactly want to remember, think about or deal with." he notes, adding that a recast with no real knowledge of Jack's past "definitely makes it easier. He'll probably do things based on what started the day before.

"It's funny. Memory is selective thing," Ashford says. "You can remember what you want. The history being remember about Bill, Laura, this person and that, suits [upcoming[ story. But other things they want to forget."

Ashford cites a scene in which Deborah Adair's Kate was supposed to hold up Harper Deveraux, Jack's late father, as someone for Jack to emulate. "Deborah had no idea that the man was an ax murderer who had hacked up three or for women," Ashford explains. "To let her talk about him in an admiring, wonderful way would have been unfair to her as an actress. Then, the audience watches and says, `Bogus!' So I mentioned it to her, and she was able to make an adjustment [in her dialogue].

"The whole rape story is something they couldn't deal with," he continues, referring to Jack's violation of Kayla Johnson. "But for better or for worse, those were the stories of Days. My hope was that we could have developed from them rather than away from them and not act like they didn't happen."

Despite the size of his role, Ashford has never really fit Days' brand of macho, heroic leading men. "I've always been odd man out, but I like to play that — neither good nor bad but somewhere in between," he insists. "Jack's kind of a common man with common problems. How can someone be totally clean and never be considered a villain? How can someone hardly ever take off his clothes, never hang all over someone, have deep quenching kisses, and still be considered [part of the best] couple in daytime?" he says, referring to the Soap Opera Digest Award he and Reeves won on more than one occasion. "To me those things are very interesting." He notes that the year he took flak for being the lousiest kisser in daytime, he and Reeves won awards for best wedding and most romantic love story."

He doesn't give credence to the rumors that he and Reeves lack chemistry, and that's part of the reason he's being let go. "To me chemistry is not just to people licking each other and throwing off their clothes. Sometimes that becomes a crutch." he declares. "I feel sorry for Drake (Hogestyn, who plays John) sometimes; they'll just write in he has his shirt off — in the middle of a snowstorm."

Ashford believes real chemistry isn't necessarily hot, sweaty and animalistic. "Sometimes you have to dig deeper, find a deeper connection. Missy and I try to be as honest, simple, and sincere with one another as possible. I feel we have a communication and a trust that is our own, and that is the most important thing.

"We have definitely been in an unfortunate story pit," he admits"We've constantly asked for things that we could challenge together, and we've constantly been pushed aside. Newly married couples have all sorts of interesting, funny, romantic problems. Things could have been written on and on, but nothing was ever delved into in a serious, real way."

Despite the recent lack of storyline attention, Ashford has found memories of his tenure on Days, "in terms of everything I've been able to do, express and explore. I feel I've grow a lot as an actor, and become more confident in the process. Jack has been a very interesting phenomenon from the writers to the press to the public," he says "Many people connect with the character. They'd tell me he was just like their boyfriend, husband or brother. Yet, I'd still be pointed out or ridiculed for some of the things I tried to do just on a person-to-person level. But I was always into taking chances, doing the thing that was not expected, making the difficult choice and not the easy one. And by that I mean making the choice that is not cosmetic, the choice that doesn't show the character in a bright, rosy light. I got flak about that in various places and that's OK, because I wanted to provoke thought. I wanted people to consider things — that sometimes a villain is not a villain, sometimes a good person is not a good person. There are different sides to everything.

"The opportunity to play this role has been tremendous. I may not have gotten it on other shows. I've really appreciated — Ken Corday to former producers Al Rabin and Shelley Curtis, even down to Tom Langan — the latitude give to me, whether they wanted to give it or not. It's been a learning experience, a chance for me to push and grow, try things and make mistakes. You can't do that everywhere."

As he prepares to leave Days September, Ashford says he'll long remember the show's crew. "Within the acting quarters there's a nice camaraderie," he says. "The crew has always been so supportive. They laugh. They keep things up and moving and give honest responses."He'll also miss the devotion of the Days fans. "They've been everything from the very beginning," he notes. "They've seen me through changes, and their response — everything from letters of support to letters of criticism — has been incredible. It's something I don't expect to experience again on any other show. I want to express my appreciation to them."

Most of all, Ashford will miss collaborating with Reeves, who he terms"a hard worker who deserves the best." He cites concern for her future in Salem as the sole reason he wishes Jack were not going to be recast. "I really feel it's a great opportunity for Missy and the character of Jennifer to be cleared." he explains. "We got stuck being together in the way they write for married characters." Ashford even offers his blessing to Jennifer/Austin pairing. "That seems to be a strong possibility, in which case that's fine. My feeling, personally, is that would be better for Missy. It would give Jennifer a chance to start over. If that's the way it works, out Patrick Muldoon (Austin) couldn't ask for a better partner to work with."

As far as what lies ahead for him, Ashford assures his fans that he and his family — wife Christina Saffran, who's currently starring in a production of My Fair Lady, and their daughter, Grace — will be fine. "When we got married, we were both out of work," he recalls. "I'd been off Search for Tomorrow (Ashford played Cagney McClary) for some time, and we were saying, `Well, do we have enough money to get married?' Yet, underneath I felt this confidence. I wasn't going to worry about it. I knew we would be all right."

"Now I feel like we're kind of back to that time," he says. "We're going to enjoy this moment, get the most gusto out of it. It's times like this when you feel things more and think more. It's not a time to shut off, but to open up and be more receptive to everything. I feel we're experiencing more; that's exciting."

The actor has already started auditioning for night-time series and movies-of-the week. He is also interested in getting involved with a theater group recommended by Marilyn McIntyre (Jo). "It's a group of actors who do new, serious plays. They've TV and movies. They're interested in doing good theater. That's what I want to do, get involved in things where i can really dig down and work." As for the possibility of doing another soap, "I'm not going out looking for it. If something comes my way. . . it depends on the situation."

Ashford hopes his exodus "doesn't send a message out that (his Days co-stars) not ask questions or be challenging or be able to talk to [the show's producers]. If that is what comes out of this. . . if the producers feel they can control actors better by staying behind closed doors and actors are afraid to go to them, then I'll feel very sad, because a wonderful opportunity to create together will be lost. A free flow of ideas is what can really create very interesting, lively show. It's my hope that communication between actor and producer doesn't totally close down. I've been on shows like that before, and there's not a lot of vision. . . they're not very far-reaching. I hope actors can always have choices, make decisions, create things and go with them — not just totally take what is given to them."

If Matthew Ashford had done that, Jack Deveraux might have been just another soap clone instead of an unforgettable enigma.

by Janet Di Lauro

photos photos photos photos photos photos photos photos
SOW 93 Matt fired, Matt/Missy Ashford and Melissa Reeves, his Days co-star
SOW 93: Matt fired: Christina & Matt Ashford Ashford and wife, actress Christina Saffran
TV Soap  Matt, Mary Beth Evans (Kayla) & Stephen Nichols (Steve)
Ashford, Mary Beth Evans and Stephen Nichols
(ex-Kayla and Patch Johnson) during their triangle.

SOW  93: Mathew Ashford

Matt letters to the editor regarding Matt's firing


IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A SHOW TO COMMIT SUICIDE? I'M speaking metaphorically, of course, but the question remains valid. Why would a soap that has already slipped badly in the ratings over the past couple of years knowingly let go three of its most popular stars an act certain to alienate a hug chunk of its remaining viewers? The show is obviously Days of Our Lives. What is not so obvious is its motivation for dumping Matthew Ashford, Crystal Chappell and Michael Sabatino.

If he show's brass mae the decision to let these actors go based on some unconscious desire to undermine the already shaky viewer loyalty, then it was a brilliant move, certain to get the job done. If, however, the actors were terminated (or in Chappell's case released upon her request) for "storyline" reasons," as co-executive producer Tom Langan stated — with the expectation that the fans would get over it. . . well, I think someone goofed. Gentlemen, never underestimate the fury of a viewer scorned!

Although certain storylines seem to have a life of their own (especially the more bizarre examples), they are, in reality words on paper, the creation of writers. Storyline doesn't dictate to man (or woman!); man controls story. Why do people return from the dead, or discover an evil twin or children they never knew they had, or the many other storyline conventions seldom found in nature? Because a show wants to keep an actor who has otherwise been written into a corner. Reality need not even rear its ugly head if writers wish to accomplish something that can't be accomplished any other. way. If the Days honchos had wanted to continue employing these three actors, it was within their power.

Days' fans are among the best organized and most vocal. They know the value of a letter-writing campaign and wield their pens like swords. But these organized efforts are east to spot. The letters recently — even before the firings — have taken a different tone. The dissatisfaction with the show which these letters demonstrate is widespread, sincere and destructive. Many fans have been hanging with the show by a thread. For many, the exit of one or all three of the departing actors will be the act that severs that tenuous thread.

I've heard writers and producers state that they won't allow the fans to dictate who they will and won't employ, what will or won't transpire on their soaps. What arrogance! The shows exist because of their fans, in service of their enjoyment. if the viewers love a soap in large numbers, that soap will be successful. If they turn off in droves. . . well, we know what that means. We've all lived through enough cancellations, don't you agree?

It seems obvious that, given an easy out, NBC would happily ditch its last two soaps and fill its daytime airwaves with cheap talk and dull game shows. But it wasn't NBC who let Ashford, Chappell and Sabatino go. It was the Days brass itself. Why on earth would they put a figurative noose around the show's neck? One more major boo-boo is all that will be needed to kick the chair away.

See you next WEEKLY,

Mimi Torchin


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