NEAL CONAN, host:
Television soap operas explore the drama that goes on in our every day lives. And as a result, they often break - end up breaking new television ground. The latest example comes this week on, “All My Children,” with a transgender character named Zarf who will make “All My Children” the first television show with a male character who becomes a woman.
Julie Hanan Carruthers is executive producer of ABC's daytime soap opera, “All My Children.” She joins us now on the line from New York City. Nice to have you today on TALK OF THE NATION.
Ms. JULIE HANA CARRUTHERS (Executive Producer, “All My Children”): Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Tell us a little bit about Zarf.
Ms. CARRUTHERS: Zarf is a rock star, internationally acclaimed, who lands in Pine Valley and befriends some of the women in Fusion - one of which a very special woman, Bianca, who plays Erica Kane's daughter and who has come out on the show as a lesbian.
Ms. CARRUTHERS: And in Bianca, Zarf finds the safety and comfort to be able to come out with her true identity as a transgender woman.
CONAN: And we should explain that Pine Valley is the fictional town in which this drama is set.
Ms. CARRUTHERS: Yes. Correct.
CONAN: And why a transgender character?
Ms. CARRUTHERS: You know, “All My Children” is known for and famous for socially conscious issues and relevant stories dealing with humanity. And in, you know, this time that we're in when we're seeing all types of different people be brave enough to come out as who they truly are, we felt it was something that was on the cusp of breaking out in our society. And we wanted to be there to help illustrate, educate, and make people emotionally connect to different types of other people.
CONAN: Have you made some efforts to ensure that the character and the transgender issues are handled sensitively and the character is handled accurately?
Ms. CARRUTHERS: Absolutely. We've had several meetings with the GLAAD organization. Our actors have also been in kind of tutorials as well, as the writers have done an amazing amount of research.
We even actually have some transgender actors coming in to play some roles as we go forward. We're really trying to get first-hand information, make it accurate, not sensationalistic, and tell the story of a human soul.
CONAN: And that's all, you know, not sensationalistic - yes, that's an effort to do it in terms of how you do it, but in fact by doing it, you know, there's got to be some hope for sensation - interviews like this one.
Ms. CARRUTHERS: You know, I have a real aversion to that. We take this very seriously. We obviously have sensationalistic stories on these kinds of shows.
Ms. CARRUTHERS: We do anything, you know, with, you know, explosions and baby swaps and all kinds of things that go more in that direction.
CONAN: Amnesia might work in there at one time or another.
Ms. CARRUTHERS: There you go. There you go. This, however, is something everyone has taken on with just a level of integrity that we did as well with Bianca and her coming out as a lesbian, because we don't want to misrepresent it in any way. It's too important an issue.
CONAN: And by casting this relationship with Bianca, this is one of the core relationships of the show.
Ms. CARRUTHERS: Correct. Correct. Bianca has amazingly become the moral compass, is what we call her, for the show. People relate to her in a way they don't relate to anyone else. And they trust her in a way that they don't trust anyone else.
So this is not only the story of Zarf coming out, but it's actually Bianca's journey to acceptance and learning, you know, where she may also have prejudices or misunderstanding and learning how to accept others.
CONAN: And how long is this story arc going to continue do you think?
Ms. CARRUTHERS: Certainly for the foreseeable future. I mean, we have, at the moment, on paper, a six-month arc. You know, things change rapidly around here. But at the moment, we're very committed to this story.
CONAN: And I assume you're also going to be careful to make sure that this is not portrayed, whenever it ends - and all things must come to an end - as some sort of mistake on her part.
Ms. CARRUTHERS: Oh, absolutely not. We're very, very - this - what we have learned and what I have learned personally about the transgender community, it is what it is. A transgender woman is a transgender woman. They're not confused. They're not mixed up.
They may be in a different biological body, but you can't change who you really are. And that's what this story is about.
CONAN: We wanted to get one call in. We just have a few seconds left. Joan in Cedar Rapids, go ahead, please.
JOAN (Caller): Yes. Why didn't you bring Zarf to that wild Thanksgiving gathering?
CONAN: He wasn't invited for Thanksgiving.
JOAN: No. I was waiting.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CARRUTHERS: It would have been a great idea. Unfortunately, we didn't have the actor then.
CONAN: Didn't have the actor then. Well, you know, logistics get in the way of everything. Joan, thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.
And Julie Hanan Carruthers, is it Hanan or Hanan?
Ms. CARRUTHERS: Hanan.
CONAN: Hanan Carruthers. Thanks very much for being with us today. Good luck.
Ms. CARRUTHERS: Thank you. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Julie Hanan Carruthers is executive producer of ABC's daytime Soap Opera, “All My Children.” And she joined us today by phone from her office in New York City.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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