Soaps revolve around and are driven by the characters that people them. One way these characters enter fans’ hearts is as half of a super-couple. I define a super-couple as one that resonates particularly powerfully with fans, loves intensely, or lasts particularly long. Its chemistry sizzles, crackles, and practically leaps off the screen—better have a fire-extinguisher at home! The most famous example is Luke and Laura, who wed as 30 million Americans looked on. We rejoice when their partnership prevails over obstacles. We cry along with them when circumstances come between them. And we can even accept that, as the old dramaturge’s saying goes, happiness is boring, so their comfortable, cuddly moments will be few and far between.
Fictional storytelling is about conflict, which moves story forward. Characters even grow from it, and I love that. Even super-couples will have lots of rocky times. This is the case in life too. We grow and evolve by learning from our troubles. Fine—I wholeheartedly accept this. But sometimes, stories (like life) take turns I cannot understand and that make no sense to me.
Such is the recent ubiquity of death on Days of Our Lives (DOOL). Rumor has it The Massacre Parade may be coming to an end in Salem. Thank Dionysus, the Greek god of drama! A super-fan and contributing writer here at LTAS has blamed the murders largely on what fans have informally called The Reckell Effect. Yes, this is an informal, unconfirmed theory, but we at LTAS tend to believe it. Peter Reckell, the most cherished portrayer of powerhouse character Bo Brady (though Robert Kelker-Kelly was an admirable actor to portray him too) is said to have wanted to come back to DOOL. Producers, who must look out for ratings and the financial windfalls that can ensue from high ones, supposedly told writers to make his return happen, story-wise. An actor of Reckell’s popularity, who instills devotion of the most passionate sort in fans, commands a high salary. To accommodate that salary in the ever-shrinking budgets of daytime soap operas, other characters had to be killed off, leaving their portrayers’ salaries to be handed off to Reckell. The last twist in Bo’s return to Salem, though, makes the deaths of other characters and firing of their portrayers totally bizarre to us. Read on.
So if The Reckell Effect is an accurate evaluation of what has gone on at DOOL over the last few months, it would be responsible for three deaths we at LTAS cannot abide. And the resultant ending of three DOOL super-couples, both of them including legacy characters. These events have all been difficult for us to stomach, to say the least. We define legacy characters as those descended from fan-favorite characters, often inheriting some of what made their progenitors popular with fans, causing those that begat their characters to live on in some way.
One such character was Will Horton, son of Sami and Lucas. We and many fans, gay and straight, were thrilled by DOOL’s inclusion of a gay couple, Will and his boyfriend, Sonny, on the main story canvas, wedding and all. Not long after their historic, televised wedding, the writers broke up this nascent couple. Sonny left town. Eventually, Will, son of my beloved Sami, grandson of possibly even more beloved Marlena, fell victim to The Necktie Killer.
Then there was Paige. Her death too struck us as unnecessary and a serious bummer—I don’t want one of my favorite soaps to dishearten and disappoint me every day, though I’ll never stop watching. Paige and JJ were another super-couple that I wanted together for a long, long time. And JJ, as son of fan faves and their own super-couple, Jack and Jennifer, is a legacy character who means a lot to me. I want him to have a full, satisfying life. Additionally, soaps need their young characters in robust storylines now more than ever, as network executives gnash their teeth and wring their hands over appealing to the 18-49 demographic.
Remember the last wrinkle in the Bo Brady returns story that struck me as extraordinary (in a bad way!) that I mentioned earlier? Well, as I said, if I and you, dear readers, take The Reckell Effect to be true, it is almost inexplicable: Bo Brady just died! Why bring an immensely popular actor and character back after years of absence only to kill the latter, rending super-couples and butchering legacy characters along the way too? On top of the tease of having Peter Reckell and Bo back for a month, then have both ripped from us, Bo’s death shattered super-couple Bo and Hope!
Super-fan Karim el-Masri put it thusly, “I understand that sometimes things need to be burned for something new to be made. But this is ridiculous! It’s like Salem is becoming the movie, ‘The Purge,’ or worse.” Luckily, on a soap opera a character can be cremated or put through a wood chipper and still come back from the dead one day!
I respectfully, and with the knowledge that they have difficult jobs that may be even more complicated than I realize, ask the writers at DOOL to, in the words of Suzanne Powter, “Stop the Insanity!” No more killing, please! The late, great soap scribe, Douglas Marland, wrote a list while head writer at As the World Turns titled, “How Not to Ruin a Soap.” The also late and great Jeanne Cooper recounted it in her book, Not Young, Still Restless. The full list is included below, but I have bolded the parts most germane to this post:
How not to ruin soap by Douglas Marland
- Watch the show.
- Learn the history of the show. You would be surprised at the ideas that you can get from the backstory of your characters.
- Read the fan mail. The very characters that are not thrilling to you may be the audience favorites.
- Be objective. When I came in to ATWT, the first I said was, “What is pleasing the audience? You have to put your own personal likes and dislikes aside and develop the characters that the audience wants to see.
- Talk to everyone, writers and actors especially. There may be something in a character’s history that will work beautifully for you, and who would know better than the actors? There may be something in a character’s history that will work beautifully for you and who would know better than the actor who has been playing the role?
- Don’t change a core character. You can certainly give them edges they didn’t have before, or give them a logical reason to change their behavior. But when the audience says, “He would never do that,” then you have failed.
- Build new characters slowly. Everyone knows that it takes six months to a year for an audience to care about a new character. Tie them in to existing characters. Don’t shove them down the viewer’s throats.
- If you feel staff changes are in order, look within the organization first. P&G (Procter and Gamble) does a lot of promoting from within. Almost all or our producers worked their way up from staff positions, and that means they know the show.
- Don’t fire anyone for six months. I feel very deeply that you should look at the show’s canvas before you do anything.
- Good soap opera is good storytelling. It’s very simple.
Well, fellow DOOL and all soap fans, let us not be silent! The Save Our Soaps movement is about speaking up and letting The Powers That Be know how we feel and what we want. Post to DOOL’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/daysofourlives/?fref=ts) and Tweet them (https://twitter.com/nbcdays). Scroll down on its official “About” page on NBC’s website to find the names of head honchos at DOOL to send messages to (http://www.nbc.com/days-of-our-lives/about) (if you have trouble finding them on Facebook or Twitter, comment here, and we’ll help you out!).
Here’s to 50 more years of sands through the hourglass!