Sean Kanan— Emmy®-nominated actor & Emmy®-Award winning EP

Do dreams have an expiration date? Aging soap star Sam Stevens doesn’t believe they do. And I’m pretty sure Emmy®-nominated actor and Emmy®-award winning executive producer Sean Kanan might agree. Kanan stars in Studio City—his multi- Emmy® and Indie Series-Award-winning digital video series. Kanan plays Sam, an actor at a crossroads in his acting career.

As the series opens, it’s decision time for Sam. He encounters a few amusing challenges playing a beleaguered leading man in a daytime drama. And when the camera stops rolling, personal dilemmas overwhelm him.  Is this the best time for Sam to branch out and become the action star he’s long dreamt of?

Studio City cast: (left to right, front to back) Scott Turner Schofield, Michael James Lazar, Carolyn Hennesy, Patrika Darbo, Juliet Vega, Sean Kanan, Erin Michele Soto, Tristan Rogers, and Sarah Joy Brown

Sam Stevens, aka Dr. Pierce Hartley—Kanan’s Studio City alter egos

As many know, Kanan is a true-to-life, high-flying, daytime television star in his own right. He has been beloved by fans for years, as CBS’ Deacon Sharpe. Sean has grown his character’s image for decades, on the most watched daytime drama in the world, The Bold and the Beautiful.

By contrast, Hearts on Fire— “America’s #2 daytime drama” [cue the laugh track] is the fictional soap depicted in Studio City. Kanan’s character, Sam, is a 45-year-old soap star who plays the lead as Dr. Pierce Hartley, on the embedded soap opera at the heart of the popular, first -run Amazon Prime series. (Now available to stream on Tubi.) The show-within-the-series is a decadent spoof on the world Kanan has inhabited for decades.

Maria Felicia Kelley interviews Sean Kanan on the first episode of SoCal Spotlight

SoCal Spotlight interview with Sean Kanan and Maria Felicia Kelley

Sean talks about Studio City, his breakout role as Mike Barnes in the iconic original Karate Kid movie and Cobra Kai, his Way of the Cobra book series, and so much more in my interview with this man of many talents on the SoCal Spotlight YouTube channel. Watch our interview here.

Michele Kanan— Emmy®-Award-winning EP & writer

Opening the first episode of Studio City with a mini-Hearts on Fire scene reveals a clever blueprint that scaffolds the start of each episode. The show’s talented writers—led by none other than Sean Kanan’s own wife, multiple-Emmy®-award winning executive producer and writer Michele Kanan—reveals humorous undertones through the actors’ dialogue from the very first sudsy soap exchange.

Maria Felicia Kelley interviews Michele Kanan on the first episode of SoCal Spotlight

SoCal Spotlight interview with Michele Kanan

Michele Kanan’s rise in Hollywood came after this dedicated mom and PTA president decided to, as she says, “ditch the diaper bag”. Michele’s story is one that moms—with dreams percolating while their engine’s idle in school pick-up lanes—will relate to. Michele’s success in executing that unique sharp turn toward Tinseltown sounds like a fascinating, yet-to-be-written, biopic.

Check out my SoCal Spotlight interview with Michele as she shares more of her inspired story of a woman rising. Watch our interview here.

Erin Michele Soto plays a conflicted soap love interest

As the first scene rolls on Hearts on Fire, the camera pans away from the show’s lead character, Dr. Pierce Hartley, and his love interest, nurse Anastasia—Christina’s alter ego played by actress, Erin Michele Soto. Collectively, the pairs’ eyes land on an unapologetic intruder, character Devyn Striker.

Philip V. Bruenn, as Nick Cassidy and Erin Michele Soto, as Christina Pavlova on Studio City

Establishing an award-winning format from the first frame

Deliberately manufacturing a reason to interrupt a tender moment between the soap doctor and nurse, a smarmy interplay results between Dr. Hartley’s lady and the inquiring shirtless six-pack-clad interloper. Striker’s arrival foreshadows what’s to come with this glimpse into a new season of Hearts on Fire.  With elongated emphatic glances and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, the melodrama within this entertaining digital series takes a lighthearted stab at the daytime institution of the soap opera.

Philip V. Bruenn and Emmy®-Award-winning actress Carolyn Hennessy

Carolyn Hennesy, as character Gloria Winton on Studio City

The actor vying for the center of attention in this opening Studio City scene-within-a-scene is Philip V. Bruenn. Striker is the new actor on the soap, curiously hired by Gloria Winton, the Hearts on Fire executive producer. Gloria, ruthlessly portrayed by Carolyn Hennesy of General Hospital, offers a familiar fierceness, different but not entirely dissimilar, to her GH famed role of Diane Miller.

Hennesy’s Studio City persona is determined to shake things up on and off set. It’s a plan she puts into action with a ferocious bite in scene one as she dangles an unknown fate around Sam’s tenure as Dr. Pierce Hartley. Gloria introduces a gun-toting avenger, played by Angelino Chabrieay, to shake up a scene at Hartley’s hospital. Will this be the turning point Gloria hints might lead to the demise of Sam’s character?

Tristan Rogers and Sarah Joy Brown — Emmy®-Award-winning actors

The series incorporates the considerable talents of Tristan Rogers as Sam’s stepdad, Doc Smith. Rogers, known for his long run as Robert Scorpio on General Hospital, brings his characteristic wit, enhanced by his charming Australian accent, to Studio City. He’s a patriarch facing a health crisis.

Doc has been a fill-in, enduring dad to Sam since his stepson he was 12. Rogers’ crusty bar-owner characterization of Doc laudably earned him an Emmy®.

Sarah Joy Brown, with multiple Emmy® Awards inscribed in her name, plays Sam’s saucy but loving half-sister and Doc’s concerned daughter, Laurie Smith. Brown also has a résumé that boasts long stints in not only television soaps, but primetime series and feature films.

Patrika Darbo

Sam’s mother, Violet, played by Patrika Darbo, is the plucky and critical mom of Sam and Laurie. Darbo’s character comes off as an in-your-face, rapid-fire busybody with a comedic bent. As the series unfolds, Violet shares a glimpse of her life decades earlier, as a 17-year-old smalltown newcomer to LA. It’s her Hollywood story and her humor-soaked delivery that soften her character’s rough edges.

Darbo has enjoyed a long film and television career, including a significant stretch on The Bold and The Beautiful, as Shirley Spectra.

Juliet Vega, as Delilah — Sam’s love child?

Sam’s memory is tested when he’s forced to consider a soap fan event years earlier. Juliet Vega who plays Delilah, endears her way into a handful of scenes with Sam. With claims and “proof” of her paternity, we wonder if Sam’s life might get a little more complicated with Delilah’s arrival. Juliet can be seen in Til Death Do Us Part, directed by Studio City’s Timothy Woodward, Jr. and produced by both Woodward and Studio City actress, Natalie Burn.

Real life stepdaughter to Sean Kanan and daughter to Michele Kanan, Studio City is truly a family affair, including those working behind-the-scenes along with the Kanans. And knowing a little of their backstory, having interviewed the couple, that familial sentiment drives the show, which naturally extends to the series’ cast and crew. It’s clear a convivial environment is part of the show’s success.

Timothy Woodward, Jr.—Emmy®-Award-winning director, producer & showrunner

Directed, co-written, and produced by another Emmy®-clad award winner, Timothy Woodward, Jr. works his magic transitioning from soap scene to each day-in-Sam’s-life exposé. Rapid camera shots to match the actors’ delivery of snappy dialogue contribute to the show’s pacing. Alternatively, longer, structured shots capturing heartfelt exchanges relax the pace, encouraging the audience to experience the intended poignant mood of a given scene.

Woodward also has an enjoyable cameo in an episode, playing a critical role in Sam’s next career step. It’s an appearance that harkens back to Woodward’s roots as an actor.


Using music to engage, orient, and steer

A single-note piano key theme opens each soap scene as the action begins. Many of the Studio City transitions are preceded by a lively rat-a-tat-tat heralding a preview of what’s to come. The sound of a ticking stopwatch is attention grabbing, especially when it fades to the opening title sequence.

A magical sounding chime-and-harp blend reveals the series title. Musical pacing enhances transitions from Hearts on Fire scenes to Sam’s true-to-life moments. Visual and audio elements in Studio City combine effectively, and when enjoyed in succession, the episodic series unfolds like a full-length feature.


Natalie Burn

Natalie Burn, playing the character Shelby Brock, delights with her impressive martial arts’ ability in the final episode of Studio City, season one. Burn is an accomplished actress, dancer and martial artist. And as noted previously, Burn also recently put on her producer’s hat along with Timothy Woodward, Jr., with the 2023 release of Til Death Do Us Part. The action-comedy enjoyed nationwide showings through AMC Theaters.

Burn is a Ukrainian-American who continues to be a face, and action figure, to watch as she grows her wide-ranging, Hollywood résumé.


Scott Turner Schofield

Scott Turner Schofield is the actor Max, aka Dr. Brantly, in Studio City. The script reveals Dr. Brantly’s on-camera Hearts on Fire persona early in the season. Schofield’s character plays opposite Kanan’s Dr. Hartley.

Schofield was the first transgender actor to be cast in a daytime drama. The show that broke the mold through that casting decision was The Bold and The Beautiful in 2015. The Studio City producers carried forward that progress with a similar casting choice of Schofield. The Studio City storyline, in its first season, allows Max to explore further the plight of the transgender community in Hollywood.

Schofield enjoyed a recurring role as Nick on The Bold and The Beautiful. He continues to make waves for change off-camera while advocating for increased trans-community inclusion in Hollywood.


Melissa Riso

Melissa Riso plays Sam’s sultry girlfriend, Isabella. She’s a young in-pursuit-20-something who, to Sam’s surprise, earns a role on his soap. Riso’s character on Hearts on Fire becomes the girlfriend to Dr. Hartley’s rival, with her new role as Mia. Will Devyn and Mia’s on-camera dalliance lead to an off-camera romance, wounding both Dr. Pierce Hartley and Sam Stephans? Gotta love how life truly is written to imitate art in this paradoxically intertwined series.

Riso has found success in a collection of series and shorts throughout the past decade.


Justin Torkildsen

We are treated to a fleeting taste of the overanxious and somewhat nerdy Jacob—Justin Torkildsen’s character—Gloria’s assistant and underappreciated nephew. With a subservient demeanor, Jacob responds to orders spouted by his boss and aunt. A suspected, pent-up anger and swirling agitation resulting from their interplay are bound to be released. It feels there’s a story waiting to unfold between these two unaffectionate relatives.

Justin Torkildsen enjoyed a long run on B&B as Rick Forrester. He also writes and performs stand-up comedy sketches.



The inescapable Hollywood hangup on age

Perspective is everything. Ask both a 20 and 50-year-old if either considers age 45 “over the hill” and you’re bound to get two different answers. Mix in the Hollywood element and how attitudes on aging affect potential hiring and earnings, especially for women, and it becomes clear that the topic is a real concern as noted in the recent Medium article by Kristine H-SU, Hollywood: Why Are Women Always Younger Than Men in Movies?”

The march of time is of little detriment through one’s 30s.  But when an actor clips the 40-mark, somehow an imperceptible looming timeclock starts keeping track through our collective psyche.

Michael James Lazar plays a creative Hollywood agent

Despite the age hangups and the obstacles he faces along the way, Sam has a dream. He will be an action star; he just knows it. And he directs his agent, Bryan, played by Michael James Lazar, to pursue every avenue to make that his goal.  Sam senses his time is now. He knows he’s not getting any younger, and the baby commercials Bryan has success booking for him make Sam feel like he’s spinning his wheels.



Ronn Moss and Devin DeVasquez

As episodes unfold, the audience encounters some familiar Hollywood faces from soaps, sitcoms, and the music world. One such arrival is Ronn Moss who plays himself, but as an avantgarde movie producer.

Moss originated the much-loved role of Ridge Forrester on The Bold and The Beautiful. While years earlier he enjoyed the popularity of the hit single, Baby Come Back, as the lead singer of the band, Player in 1977. Kanan’s character has fun with Moss (and the audience) with a playful mention of the hit song title—a nod to fans in the know.

Devin DeVasquez, Moss’ wife on and off-camera, plays herself in Studio City. She harkens back to a kiss she and Sam, the actor, once shared. As the producer, Ronn Moss, as Moss, reflects on that stolen kiss. He attempts to use that, and what seems other distasteful memories of Sam, as a foil to deny any chance of Sam booking the action role he seeks in Moss’ movie.



Anna Maria Horsford

Bringing an extensive body of work in film and television to her portrayal of Jolene Hernandez in Studio City, Anna Maria Horsford, also enjoyed a three-year stint on B&B.  Horsford carries her charm, self-assurance and expert pacing as the casting director who may hold Sam’s fate in her hands.

Horsford’s character unites the two soap studs of B&B—Moss and Kanan—in scenes between, the original, “Ridge” and “Deacon” that B&B fans from the early 2000s will enjoy. Moss and Kanan will remind nostalgic viewers of their sometimes-explosive rivalry, as these two characters each wooed Brooke, Kathrine Kelly Lang’s B& B character.


Sudsy soap dialogue amuses

Artfully, satire drives one track of this two-pronged fictional series, that is all soap when the cameras are rolling, before flipping to life-imitating-art on the opposite side of the lens. It’s a whirlwind of Sam as actor, friend, son, brother (and dad?), advancing the drama swirling around Sam’s life.

If soaps are unfamiliar terrain, welcome to a camped-up introduction to daytime TV genre! The writers, cast, and crew offer up an entertaining, humor-laced romp with just enough sincerity to pull you into caring about the plights of the characters in the mix. If you haven’t already, you may even find yourself tuning into an episode of Kanan playing opposite the devilish Sheila (played by Kimberlain Brown) on B&B to see where Kanan must have pulled a little inspiration.


The wrap up

This multiple award-winning series is the winner of three Emmys® and 16 nominations. Studio City, season one delivers 11 engrossing episodes. With scenes that are also amusing, and not to mention, bloggable, the Kanans give the audience a behind-the-scenes look at the genre from an expert of the field.  If you’re a fan of soaps, you’re going to love the camped-up innuendo. And if you’re not, you’ll appreciate the exaggerated execution that Studio City manages to balance for broad audience appeal.

Smartly written to mimic some of the spectacle that ensues on set, this series will keep you wondering how life will unfold for Sam when the director calls both action and cut.  As the show’s tagline shares, “Life happens between takes.”

SoCal Spotlight gives Studio City, season one, 3-out-of-3 spotlights.  

Reality Mimics a Playful Melodrama — A Review of Studio City, Season 1
[Photos courtesy of Sean Kanan]
Written by María Felicia Kelley — @1mariafelicia, 9 June 2024
Writer, Publisher, EP – SoCal Spotlight
Copyright © 2024 María Felicia Kelley | Circle7531, LLC

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