Soap Star Plans Birth on TV

DARIEN, Conn. (AP) _ Maura West and Scott DeFreitas could hardly be described as private people. They're both actors on ``As the World Turns'' and, in real life, DeFreitas proposed marriage on the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium.

Nothing compares to the ultimate act of exposure they'll experience in a few weeks, when they invite a camera crew to film the birth of their first baby for a TV audience.

The baby's debut will be featured on an episode of ``A Baby Story,'' a daily series on The Learning Channel that is quietly catching on among young women, normally the target audience for the made-up daytime dramas that employ West and DeFreitas.

``We enjoy the show so much that we just want to be a part of it,'' said DeFreitas in an interview near the couple's suburban Connecticut home.

``A Baby Story'' is part of TLC's effort to bring reality television _ the kinder, gentler variety _ to daytime TV and give viewers another option for a time period that's usually dominated by soap operas, talk shows and courtroom shows.

TLC began five years ago with ``A Wedding Story.'' Each episode follows a couple as it plans and carries out their wedding, from the seating plans to the bouquet toss.

Two years ago it added ``A Baby Story,'' which does the same thing for the birth process, following a couple from early pregnancy into the delivery room.

TLC has done so well it is expanding its daytime reality programming to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this fall. The cable network also airs ``A Dating Story'' and in the fall will premiere a show about makeovers.

But ``A Baby Story,'' which airs back-to-back, 30-minute episodes at 2 p.m. EST on weekdays, is the most successful of the bunch. An estimated 700,000 people watch each episode, three-quarters of them women. Fifty-four percent of the viewers are women ages 18-34, a demographic group prized by advertisers.

West, 27, has been a regular viewer since she became pregnant. She has one child by a previous marriage.

The couple has already filmed a segment for the show, describing how they became friends in the close quarters of filming a daytime drama. DeFreitas, 30, even pinpoints the day they fell in love _Oct. 16, 1998 _ when they danced together at an industry function.

Despite appearances, West insists she's not outgoing and wonders how discreetly producers will show the birth.

``I don't even know if I'll watch it,'' she said, shooting a look at her husband. ``Do you think I'll watch it? I'll probably watch it.''

She figures the filming might be beneficial during the birth _doctors, like everybody, tend to be on their toes when a camera is running _ and might even help her. She wants to go as long as she can without pain medication.

``If there's a camera there, it might stop me from saying, `I'm giving up, give me an epidural,''' she said. ``It might make me tougher. I might not wimp out if I know everyone is watching.''

Their episode will be telecast sometime in the fall, assuming everything goes smoothly. If it doesn't go smoothly, it won't air at all.

The one requirement for all episodes of ``A Baby Story'' is that they have a happy ending, said Chuck Gingold, TLC's senior vice president. TLC's daytime schedule is meant to be enlightening and uplifting, not a downer.

Gwen Westley, a magazine editor from Manhattan, found ``A Baby Story'' while channel surfing one day when she was pregnant with her first child. She began watching it regularly.

``It's sort of comforting to see people have babies over and over,'' she said. ``It makes you think, if they can do it, why can't you.'

She was particularly interested in an episode where a couple delivered by Caesarean section, which she was scheduled for. Since Westley's son, Devlin, was born, she's given up watching ``A Baby Story.''

``I would find it too emotional,'' she said. ``Every time I would be watching it, I would be crying. I guess I get enough emotion now that I've had the baby. It's just not the same.''

Even though births are one of the most intensely personal episodes of a person's life, Gingold said producers have no shortage of volunteer couples. DeFreitas said he wanted his baby's birth documented, and didn't feel like holding a video camera.

``Being on the show is not even one-tenth of the importance of what's happening,'' DeFreitas said. ``It's not like I had a burning desire to have this birth be on `A Baby Story.' It's more the birth that really matters.''

It's somewhat strange that a couple who works in one of the oldest television forms _ the daytime drama _ is lending tacit support to one of the newest at a time soaps are fading in popularity. ``As the World Turns'' airs at the same time as ``A Baby Story'' in New York and other markets.

Viewers can thus choose between their haracters, Carly Tenney and Andy Dixon, or West and DeFreitas in a real-life drama.

West and DeFreitas shrug this off. What's most important, West said, is the chance to teach people who may be apprehensive about the birth experience.

``A lot of women who know that there is such a show will watch it when they're pregnant,'' she said. ``I think it will be very helpful to people.''