Tad the Cad turned dad gets hooked up with online fans
by Linda Marshall-Smith
He's Got Mail!
Originally Published in the January 19th, 1999 Edition of Soap Opera Weekly Magazine.
It was 12:30 AM on the East Coast; 9:30 p.m. in Los Angeles when the phone rang. It was All My Children's Michael E. Knight ("Tad Martin"), calling from New York. "Get up to your office, get into that chat room and tell them it's me," he said with frustration in his voice. "I've been in the AMC chat room for three hours and they still don't believe I'm me!"
"You signed on?" I responded, surprised and delighted that he had installed on-line service software and ventured solo into cyberspace. Prior to our teaming on protects, Michael was a technological Neanderthal. "I could barely work the TV remote," he confessed. Now he'd mastered a laptop computer, a high-speed modem and an on-line service, all in a matter of weeks.
Our relationship began in early 1994, when a production company optioned a script I wrote and sent it to Michael for consideration. "I never want to lose touch with you as a writer," he confided. High marks coming from a two-time Daytime Emmy winner. We were instant friends. When word of my new friend spread – both off and on line – the reaction was always the same: Oh, my God! You know Tad?
It wasn't long before I found AMC message boards, where I was quickly touched by viewers' warm reception of Michael's work. He had fans everywhere who adored him. If Tad did something funny or heartfelt, the boards buzzed with praise. Michael should see this, I thought. He's diligent at his craft, and it would please him to know the fans appreciate the effort. I printed and sent him several posts, unaware that Michael felt I had too much time on my hands. "If you've never been exposed to cyberspace, you've no clue as to the fun of it," Michael later noted.
When Tad pranced around in nothing but skimpy black Speedos and a name tag that read, "Hi, I'm Tad Martin," Dixie was unimpressed, but it caused quite a cyber-stir. That's when the idea to get Michael on line was born.
The glitch? His only previous exposure to computers was a Panasonic word-processing clone of a Smith-Corona-saurus. His first ever message on my answering machine went something like: "Call me on the cell phone, but forgive me if you don't get through. Not sure I know how to turn it on." Getting him online would be nothing short of a miracle. Or, so I thought. We scheduled a work week in New York, and I brought the "Speedos appreciation" posts along. He laughed at the witty and complimentary comments, enthusiasm mounting with every post. "Wish I could thank them," he said. "Do you think if I got on line, they'd want to talk to me?"
Was he kidding? So, we created a screen name and added it to my account. First stop, the AMC chat room. Next, the message boards. Then, off to surf the cyberwaves. We were on line for close to four hours!
"This is so cool!" he said, while typing away on my Powerbook. "When someone walks you through, it's far less mystifying and intimidating." He caught on fast, completely forgetting about his resistance to technology. We even signed on again right before the laptop returned to Los Angeles with me. He got completely immersed, and I almost missed the plane!
Naturally, the fans were all aflutter – was it really Michael? I contacted Joanne Berg, senior producer, ABC.com, and asked her to bail us out. "There are many imposters claiming to be ABC talent," Berg admitted, "so I called Michael and he verified it. Wow, I thought, because Michael was one of the most hesitant. Not only about (on-line services), but computers. I told the fans it was really him."
The crucial next step was getting Michael his own computer. We were starting a writing collaboration on a pilot for a police drama, so I was able to convince Michael he needed one. After some subtle urging, he broke down and bought his first Powerbook. I sent the software, and before long Michael had a new screen name and was back in the AMC chat room trying to convince fans of his true identity.
"People were bandying around information like it was written in stone," Michael says. "I'd say, 'No, that's not quite true.' They started asking how did I know. I finally said, 'I'm Tad Martin. Nobody has more first hand experience than me.' They were stunned. It turned into a three-hour struggle to prove myself."
One cyberfan remembers: "I had my anniversary book (All my Children: The Complete Family Scrapbook) and we were asking him questions, saying: If you're Michael E. Knight then we're Susan Lucci! He kept calling us a tough crowd!"
"The fans really have a flawless recollection of things I did years ago," marveled Michael. "They fired questions at me, and I started to sweat because I had to dig deep to remember." When his minimal typing skills failed to accommodate this third degree, Michael turned to his wife, Catherine Hickland (Lindsay, One Life to Live), for help.
"I was reading for him while he was typing," Catherine said. "At first it was kind of funny, but then it became frustrating. It was a three-hour Tad test!"
By this time I'd signed on as a reinforcement, but to no avail. I again suggested to the on-line fans that they defer to Berg. She confimed his identity in her on-line column the next day.
One chat-room skeptic remained unconvinced, however, So, Michael agreed to incorporate a code word into on-air dialogue between Tad and Liza, something about a certain cad's "wolfish" past. It was Michael's special hello to his cyberfans. When it aired, the last skeptic posted a formal apology.
As doubters became believers, the deluge of e-mail and instant messages began. Initially he tried to reply, devoting the better part of a week's vacation to answering their mail. But the task became overwhelming. "I hardly go near my mailbox anymore," Michael confesses. "There's no way I can read and respond to everyone. It would take forever." Nor does he often have the inclination to visit message boards. "They're addicting. You start reading, and before you know it hours go by, and you wonder what happened to your evening."
But he loves to pop into the AMC chat room, where being Tad takes a backseat and surprises occur. Like the visit from friend, actor and AMC fan Valerie Bertinelli! They hadn't talked in a while, and we were part of their reunion, not to mention getting rave reviews of Michael's on-screen kissing prowess from Valerie. She tattled about their sharing a sizzling lip-lock during his guest appearance on her 1990 sitcom Sydney, a scene that maintains a place of honor on Michael's audition reel.
Occasionally, he is asked for a storyline scoops. "I tell them I can't discuss that, and we go on to talk about something else," he explains. Mostly, the on-line fans respond to him as Michael Knight, regular guy. "They want to know how I feel about things. What's my life like? What's my wife like? What's my house like? Do I have pets?" And he is relatively candid, discussing his travel plans, Catherine's CD, his frustrations with the computer...
Now adept at maneuvering around cyberspace, Michael reads the news on line, and compiles research. "It's almost frightening the amount of instant information available at your fingertips," he says. "Little did I realize how fun it is. And now I've got the same problem with Catherine. She goes on for hours at a time!"
He does have a few peeves about the system, however. "Instant Messages," he says with a laugh, referring to America Online's often-intrusive one-to-one communications feature. "I type too slow to keep up, so I finally disconnected that feature." Who can blame him? "Before I learned to turn IMs off, in the seconds it took to sign on and get to the AMC chat room, I got hit with 40 at once!"
He also has some concerns. "It's difficult to be in a position where you're absolutely vulnerable," he admits. "The cyberfans know who I am, but they're anonymous. Ninety-nine percent of them are wonderful and supportive, but there are some who have an ax to grind. Sometimes what they say is unbelievably cruel." Whether it's a shot against his friends and cast mates on AMC, his wife or himself, he finds it hurtful. "Everyone has a right to an opinion, but the lack of tact has kept me away at times. Plus, fun as it is, cyberspace is the world's most high-tech, rapid-fire rumor mill. But if I feel it's getting intrusive, I can always use another screen persona. For the most part, people on the waves are kind, funny and a joy to be around."
They've also taken personal appearances to new heights for Michael. "In the last three years I haven't appeared anywhere that I've not run into someone I've talked with before on line," he reports. "It's like meeting a pen pal for the first time. They're not total strangers, and that's very cool."
Although his schedule and commitments limit on-line time to about once a month, his impromptu chats continue to delight and thrill. Once, when we were on line together, Michael sent me a special Instant Message: "I'm hooked on this bad, honey, and it's all your fault."
Making The Connection
"I was starstruck," says a cyberfan from Maine after her first on-line chat with Michael E. Knight. "My husband kept saying, 'Bet you can't believe you were just talking to Tad!' And that's the way I felt!"
"I have to remind myself that the guy I see on TV is the same one who just gave me a cyberhug and said, 'Good night, sweetheart!'" reflects a fan from Simi Valley, Calif. "I talk to him, and he talks back. Where else would I have such an opportunity? Sometimes, it's hard to believe."
Some fans have benefitted in other ways – special attention at comedy club appearances, their screen names used on the air in dialogue and hearty greetings at Super Soap Weekend. A cyberfan from Texas, who, two days before one of Michael's public appearances, slipped off a curb and broke both ankles e-mailed me saying she was still going – wheelchair and all. I told Michael to look for a die-hard cyberfan in a wheelchair, and during the event he asked the crowd to help find his "friend with the broken legs." They pointed her out and he jumped off the stage, gave her a huge hug and posed for pictures – right in the middle of the question-and-answer segment!
"He told the audience we met on-line," she later e-mailed, "and that he couldn't believe what a klutz I am. It was great! He was sweet, charming, gracious, and downright nice! An extraordinary experience. Well worth breaking both legs!" She signed her e-mail: Blessed in San Antonio.
Michael's interaction on line has also provided fans with a different perspective of the actor. "I learned he has favorite TV shows, likes pizza, hates rude waiters, just like me!" a fan from Southern California says. Another, from Maine, remarks: "I started thinking of him as a real person, with emotions, working for a living, going out to dinner and doing things just like everyone else."
"I consider myself privileged to have conversed with him," says another. "I'd probably choke and run away in person. It's so much easier behind the keyboard."
Perhaps a longtime Tad fan from Oklahoma says it best: "Having Michael on line means I get to have something very exciting happen when this wonderful and talented person says, 'Love you, kiddo' to me in the chat room. I've expressed my appreciation to him directly as someone he recognizes and respects. I've gotten to know the man behind the character, and I really like him."
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR of Soap Opera Weekly
I had to write and tell you how much I enjoyed the article "He's Got Mail," by Linda Marshall-Smith (Vol. 10 Issue 3). I, too, have noticed Michael Knight (Tad, AMC) online on occasion, and yes, it is a thrill. Marshall-Smith did a great job capturing how a fan feels when a soap celeb is spotted online. It's amazing. I hope to read more of Marshall-Smith's articles in your magazine (my favorite, by the way). Not only did she nicely express Knight's thoughts and feelings on chatting online but she also has a true knack for getting to the nitty-gritty of a soap fan's heart.
H. Lystad, via e-mail
Soap Opera Weekly,
February 16, 1999
And there's more to the story!
Michael's very first cyber experience was as the premiere guest for ABC Daytime in an Online Live Auditorium on AOL in October, l994. He was asked if he visited Message Boards. "We at AMC hope the fans will be patient," he responded, "as actors like myself, who are living in the dark ages of computer technology, catch up with the rest of the world."
In June, l995 I arranged a private online chat for Michael and invited ten of his biggest cyberfans. We joined them from my office in California, where I typed his responses to their questions in a private chatroom called "Dreamboat." It was Michael's first hands-on experience with computer technology and interacting in cyberspace. Shortly thereafter, I traveled to NYC with the "Speedo Appreciation Posts" and got him to visit the AMC chat room. Coincidentally, a group of cyberfans from around the country had arranged a tour of AMC studios around that time. I alerted Michael, and although it was a day he was not scheduled to work, he went to the studio anyway just to meet them. He opened his own online account in August, l995. Since then he has allowed cyberfans a glimpse into his life and has enjoyed getting to know them.
When he appeared for the second time as ABC Daytime's Live Auditorium Guest in August, l998 he was again asked if he ever signed on. This time he replied: "I love going online!"
Tips for Chatting with Tad
If you're lucky and catch Michael in chat, remember:
- He looks at the keyboard to type, so he misses 82.3% of what scrolls by on the screen. If he doesn't answer or greet you, he's not ignoring you. He didn't see it.
- Keep your comment brief. Say it in one line.
- Don't waste his time and yours asking if it's really him. It is!
- Begin by using his name or initials. If he doesn't respond at first, keep trying. Be patient, persistent, and considerate, of him and the other chatters, and you might sign off with a cyberhug or a smooch from Tad. Good luck and tell him I sent you! ;o)
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