Soap Opera Digest: When did you first hear that there would be another installment of BEYOND SALEM and what were your initial thoughts?
Ron Carlivati: After BEYOND SALEM 1 dropped last year, by the end of that week, we had heard back from Peacock, wanting more episodes of the show. And given the tight time frame of what it takes to write it, produce it, etc., we didn’t want to rush Chapter 2, so we ended up doing the Christmas special instead so that we could take our time to plot what the story would be in the next five episodes. We pushed that off until the spring and then that became the summer. So when we were conceiving the story, we were trying to figure out, “Okay, what is this going to be?” And we liked the concept of doing BEYOND SALEM in different cities. It also made it easier that you’re not in Salem; it doesn’t contradict what’s happening on the network show. And this was right around the time that we brought Peter [Reckell, Bo] back on to, as we like to say, the mothership, to play an angel at the finale of the devil possession story. So we had known that Peter, who had been living in New Zealand, was moving to Alaska and was now available to us, so if he was coming all the way to L.A., we started to think, “Hey, maybe we should put him on BEYOND SALEM,” and then it evolved from there. And then, of course, if we’re telling a story about Bo, then naturally, it has to include Hope. So we started thinking about Hope and where has she been for two years? Where is she living right now? And that kind of made sense with our BEYOND SALEM concept, and we started to build around that.
Digest: So, did you go to Kristian Alfonso (Hope) next?
Carlivati: Before we started to write the story — because we knew that we probably could have Peter — we wanted to know if Kristian would be interested in doing it. I really left that up to Ken [Corday, executive producer] and Albert [Alarr, co-executive producer] to reach out to Kristian and her management team. She wanted to know what the story was about, so I had a phone call with Kristian and pitched her in broad strokes what the story would be for Hope and she was very excited. It was a great conversation and she liked the story. So once we knew we had Hope and Bo, we just started to build around them.
Digest: How did you decide who else would be a part of it and what cities they would travel to?
Carlivati: Once we settled on a city for Hope, we started to think about what other characters we wanted to see. For example, we really wanted to use Steve and Kayla because they weren’t in the first one and they weren’t in the Christmas special and they’re such a great part of the show. And it was kind of great because their kids live in Seattle and that automatically gives us another city. So we decided that Steve and Kayla would go to Seattle to visit, and so that’s where we reintroduce Joey and Tripp and Stephanie. It worked out that Tripp had just left the show to move to Seattle as we were writing this. So then we had to look at the rest of the canvas, and unfortunately, by the time we were writing this, we had written well past July. We were probably in September or something at that point. You don’t want people to be in two places at once and we couldn’t really plan it, so we had to work with what we had. So by total coincidence, we were writing Sami and Lucas’s wedding, and we have definite parameters on the regular mothership — I’m supposed to write an average of 12 characters a day. So when you’re doing a wedding, that becomes tough because you have to limit the guests, and a lot of people are just sitting there doing nothing. So sometimes we say, “Oh, this person couldn’t make it,” or, “That person couldn’t make it.” Of course, we wanted Marlena there, but we said on the regular show in passing that John was visiting Paul in San Francisco for the weekend; that’s why he wasn’t at the wedding. So we decided, “Hey, let’s take that little nugget and show John visiting Paul in San Francisco and see how we could tie that into our bigger story.” So that’s really how it went. We just went through and saw where people were on the show that week, who was free, who wasn’t free, who could we kind of fudge, and that’s how we built the whole story.
Digest: What’s the overall thrust here? Is there another mystery?
Carlivati: So because we’re doing people in all different cities, you want a story that connects everything. The last time was the Alamainian Peacock, which connected everybody because everyone was looking in a different city for a different gem. So we kind of did something like that. We used an old-school DAYS OF OUR LIVES-type story, a little action-adventure tale that explains everything. And there’s one villain that ties it all together.
Digest: Let’s talk about recasting Stephanie and Joey. What went into that decision?
Carlivati: Well, this is a bit of a spoiler, ’cause everything comes down to the timing of when we were writing this compared to what we were writing on the regular show. We had already made the decision to bring Stephanie home to Salem on the mothership, so we’d been writing her already after July in Salem and then now, we’re introducing her for the first time on BEYOND SALEM, even though we’d been writing Stephanie for a few weeks at that point on the mother-ship. But we were playing around on how best to introduce her. I had an idea that we ended up not doing. In episode one, I wanted you to see her played by Shelley Hennig [ex-Stephanie], and something would happen to her, and at the end of the fifth episode, she’d be injured in the hospital and they would take the bandages off and it would be our new actress, Abigail Klein, and you’d be like, “It’s a whole new Stephanie.” But it turned out Shelley was working on the TEEN WOLF movie, so we couldn’t do our wink-wink to the audience and the face change. So we just introduced Abigail and didn’t injure her face [laughs]. And just like we introduced a new Sonny [Zach Tinker] in the first BEYOND SALEM, which worked, we decided to try that with Joey. We also have Eileen Davidson [Kristen et al] in this one, and obviously we have Stacy Haiduk playing Kristen on the mothership, but Eileen originated the part and we used her in BEYOND SALEM 1 for multiple reasons. We have this HOUSEWIFE connection with Lisa Rinna [ex-Billie] and it was super-fun. For this one, we had a concept of including Kristen, which kind of necessitated it being Eileen. I don’t want to get into all the nitty-gritty, but we love Eileen and we love Stacy, and we think there’s room for two Kristens in the DAYS OF OUR LIVES universe.
Digest: What about Li’s sister? Carlivati: We have a story where we go to Hong Kong and there’s a big DiMera gala that’s going to happen. So we see Li Shin and Gabi there and we decided to introduce his little sister. Her name is Jing-Wen but she goes by Wendy Shin and we wove her into this story. She is someone that also might come to Salem later on. So it’s fun to be able to broaden this. We don’t know that much about Li and his family life. We know his dad a little bit but that’s it.
Digest: And what about Steve Burton?
Carlivati: If I’m remembering correctly, Albert and maybe Ken had some general conversations with Steve after he left GH [as Jason]. And I think what happened is that Albert came to me and said, “What do you think about using Steve Burton on BEYOND SALEM?” And I was like, “Oh, well that’s intriguing.” I wrote for Steve on GENERAL HOSPITAL and we had a good relationship, so I started thinking, “How does he fit in?” And then it was brought up to me that he actually played a character on DAYS OF OUR LIVES in a high school story with Eve. He already played a character named Harris Michaels, who didn’t do all that much. We could have started completely fresh but we decided, “You know what? It’s kind of funny that he played this guy all the way back. Why don’t we make it the same person?” So we decided to make him Harris Michaels. And again, I don’t want to give away what he does on the show. But he plays a very pivotal role. You’ll see how he’s woven through.
Digest: And finally, tell us about Loretta Devine?
Carlivati: We are beyond thrilled to have a star of her caliber on our show. Loretta brings her signature warmth to a very important role. Can’t wait for the fans to see it.
Digest: How are you feeling as the series is about to premiere?
Carlivati: I’m very excited for people to see it. I think when they see Bo and Hope they’re going to freak out — I know that I did. So I’m really excited about it. And I really think that the DAYS OF OUR LIVES audience is going to love this. I have not seen all five fully completed with music, but I’ve seen a lot of it and I just don’t want to say too much or overhype it, but it’s amazing. It’s great.
BEYOND SALEM (Chapter 2) premieres on the streaming service Peacock today and drop one episode a day until July 15.