Independent TV series creator Anthony Anderson is a shining example of how a dream can be transformed into quite the pinch-worthy reality. The life-long soap opera fan has been writing, producing and starring in soap opera Anacostia since 2009.
This Sunday night, April 26, Anderson's soap will compete against The Bay, Beacon Hill and East Los High in the Outstanding New Approaches Drama Series category at the 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. Daytime soap legend Martha Byrne (Lily, As The World Turns), who plays a "bitches better have my money" madam in the steamy soap, is also nominated. I recently caught up with Anderson to talk about the great year he's having.
Daytime Confidential: The year 2015 is shaping up to be quite the banner one for Anacostia. First your show gets nominated for a Daytime Emmy, then you win the Indie Series Award for Best Ensemble Drama. How does it feel to see something you created on your own terms and with your own resources achieve such recognition?
Anthony Anderson: It feels like an out-of-body experience. I have been riding a wave of emotions since finding out about the Emmy nominations and then to win our seventh ISA the night after was the icing on an already delicious cake. We were almost asked to leave a mall when we saw the nominations because the screams were so loud and it alarmed security. As a kid I lived for the Daytime Emmy telecast. I used to make fake envelopes out of notebook paper and write a category on it and put my name inside as the winner and do a mock acceptance speech, so to be a real life nominee this year and to share it with an idol of mine, the immaculate Martha Byrne, is like a dream come true, it really does feel like everything I ever fantasized about is coming true. My mother always says, “God hears all prayers, all you have to do is be patient”.
DC: Anacostia is set in a Washington D.C. neighborhood. News media in our nation's capital has been covering your success. Was it surreal seeing your show featured on Fox 5's Good Day DC?
Anthony Anderson: That was amazing when we got the call that they wanted to do a spotlight on the series and its Emmy nominations. That program has a huge viewership so it really allowed other people in the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area, who may not have heard of the series to go and check it out, and so far our subscriptions on You Tube have been steadily growing and my inbox has been crazy with requests and congratulatory messages. I really hope more than anything, aside from a possible Emmy win, that the Emmy nomination and the attention it brings will for one, make it possible for corporate sponsors to come take a look at some of our shows and get involved financially. Web series are often done with a whole lot of heart and dedication but not that much money so that would be great and two, I hope that this inspires those creators of color that may have an idea for a web series and think that there is no place for them or their stories to get out there and create. Find like-minded individuals that can believe in your vision and work at it, pound the pavement and stay dedicated to it. It will eventually pay off but you have to make the first step.
DC: For the most part, the independent soap opera community seems to be very close-knit and supportive of one another. It isn't at all strange to see stars of one indie soap appearing in projects from other web creators. How much credit for that goes to networking opportunities such as participating in the Indie Series Awards each year?
AA: All the credit goes to them and what they have created Roger Newcomb, Kevin Mulcahy, Jr. , Susan Bernhardt and formerly Damon Jacobs (from 2010-2014) put something together that has become the most anticipated night of the year for us online content creators. We (Anacostia) have been fortunate enough to be a part of the Indie Series Awards from the beginning we even attended last year and we were not even nominated. I must say that awards show is anything but a typical awards show its more like a family reunion of sorts. You can’t attend that show without coming away from it with new friends or new contacts. That’s how my relationship with Martha Byrne began, at the second annual ISA’s she was the host and she was just so supportive, everyone was. That year I developed a relationship with Steve Silverman of Pretty The Series, Gregori Martin of The Bay, my writing idols Susan Miller and Tina Cesa Ward of Anyone But Me. I nearly passed out when I met Kim Zimmer and Hilary B. Smith. The list goes on and on. Many of us attend not only to support our nominations, but we come to see each other, we cheer for one another we respect one another and I think each year the newcomers get inducted the same way and they carry it on. It is very much a family vibe…and the free liquor doesn’t hurt.
DC: You aren't merely a soap opera producer, you're a die-hard fan of the genre. Did you have to pinch yourself while presenting at the Indie Series Awards with General Hospital legend Sarah Brown?
AA: Whoa, did I? let me tell you when I was being walked over to her I tried to stop shaking and I kept telling myself please don’t stutter and scare this woman. My first thoughts were she was smoking hot and then she was just so sweet, kind and funny. I was really nervous to meet her but when we started talking I saw instantly that we were going to have a blast that night, we just hit it off right away. Of course, I had to tell her everything that I loved about her work not only as Carly but as villainess Claudia. Now I can’t really remember too much of our presentation because by that time I was on a whiskey cloud, but I remember her changing clothes and coming over to the after party at The Federal Bar and she danced and sang with me and my cast the whole night, it was a great night. That is one of the many great things about the ISA’s they place you in a room with such talented people such as Sarah Brown, Martha Byrne and Andrea Evans, even Richard Hatch, “Apollo” from Battlestar Gallactica was there, and the rest is up to you. As a die-hard fan of the genre, like you said, can you imagine how it feels to be in a room with such brilliance all around you, it’s epic.
DC: As an independent creator, you don't have the luxury of simply turning in a script and going out for cocktails. You are responsible for casting, producing, distributing and monetizing your project. How do you keep it all straight?
AA: Also add being a single parent to a soon to be 10-year-old son into that mix and a full-time job. You know what, I take my time, I have a great support system and I utilize it. We took a two-year break just so I could spend time being a dad. I have great faith and I rely on it heavily. I just ask God to help me balance everything that needs to get done. There was a point last year that my job I was with for six years laid everyone off. I was temping for five months after that making very little money but my faith and friends got me through until my dream job opened its doors and welcomed me. While going through that, I was still writing and working on this season. Is it stressful doing all of those jobs, absolutely, would I have it any other way? Absolutely not. This is what I asked for, it’s what I wanted. I knew it would be hard but anything worth having in life is going to be a struggle and you have to put in the work to reap the rewards and look at where we are today, with two Daytime Emmy nominations, and we are still working hard to deliver great content. I am a hard worker, its how my mother raised me to be. That’s all I know.
DC: Black soaps are all the rage now for mainstream primetime and cable networks. Fox has Empire. ABC's Shonda Rhimes-produced dramas are very diverse. BET boasts Being Mary Jane and Starz has Power. Do you think this current positive climate for scripted content featuring people of color will be a boon for Anacostia's future prospects?
AA: I believe that it will be. I always knew it would get its due eventually. Anacostia to me has always been that show on the cusp of breaking through. We’ve never really got the mainstream soap magazine coverage, but we were still able to build a major fan base. Anacostia and shows like it can’t help but to benefit from the attention being placed on African-American mainstream content. I really feel Anacostia has opened many doors especially for online content creators of color. However, I think what's even more important is the fact that our stories are now being put on display to larger and more diverse audiences. Anacostia has always had a diverse audience and it’s because of the storylines within which are identifiable to all races. That has been my only gripe with a few soaps over the years, their lack of diversity, but recently The Bold and the Beautiful put their African -American talent front and center with a jaw-dropping reveal that had people floored and I hope they play it for everything its worth. We can lead story all we need is the right story to lead. It is wonderful seeing the progress, albeit overdue, especially ratings juggernauts like Tyler Perry's The Have and Have Nots and now Empire, which lets not get it confused, Empire is a soap opera. I get really pissed when people find that term to be detrimental. I will carry that flag until the day I die. My name is Anthony Anderson and I am a lover of soap operas! And would love to be on one or join the writing team. You hear that, Ron Carlivati.
The 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards will air at 8 pm EST, Sunday, April 26 on Pop.