Deep Soap: Days of Our Lives Thrives By Ignoring Conventional Wisdom

Crystal Chappell on Days of Our Lives. (NBC)

Crystal Chappell on Days of Our Lives. (NBC)

Days of Our Lives’ Counterintuitive Path To Success

The soap opera panel discussion I attended last week got me thinking about how counterintuitive Days of Our Lives success is. DOOL has ignored the conventional wisdom about what soaps need to do to succeed in the 21st century.   The show has not has switched to shooting in HD.  I do not think they have done a remote since John’s car accident in 2007.  There are no new sets or edgy camera work.  There are few attempts to be hip or trendy in either plotting or dialogue.  The wittiest lines regularly come from senior citizen Victor Kiriakis.  Other than the contemporary wardrobe, the show looks virtually the same as it did in the 1970s.  Though throughout the 1990s DOOL was the teen and young adult soap of choice, the show is currently building its audience by appealing to the allegedly undesirable 55+ age group.  Every good decision that DOOL has made flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that daytime needs to reinvent itself.

Having struck gold by bringing back the 1990s with the returns of Carly (Crystal Chappell) and Vivian (Louise Sorel), the show is now kicking it even older school.  This week late 80s supercouple Justin (Wally Kurth) and Adrienne (the outstanding Judi Evans) had an unhappy reunion.  Soon, one of the shows most popular characters from the mid-80s Shane Donovan (Charles Shaughnessy) will be appearing for what is described as ten episodes with the possibility of more.  Kurth’s initial return was similarly open ended.    Last season, Shaughnessy had a recurring role on television’s most prestigious primetime soap Mad Men, so his career is going quite well.   His decision to return to DOOL speaks volumes about the show’s current energy.

I suspect that, in addition to co-Executive Producer Gary Tomlin’s leadership, DOOL is zigging when the rest of daytime is zagging because it is not micromanaged by the network.  While CBS and ABC’s daytime executives go over every breakdown, weekly story thrust, and longterm document with an electron microscope, NBC does not even have a dedicated daytime executive.  Instead Bruce Evans, NBC’s Senior Vice President of Drama, oversees DOOL along with multiple primetime shows.  Given his busy schedule, and NBC’s struggles, I assume he allows the show a much greater degree of autonomy, trusting the writers and producers to do their jobs.   NBC’s neglect of daytime has ironically let to DOOL’s creative renaissance.  Perhaps CBS and ABC will take note and give their writing staffs a similar amount of freedom.

Drew Garrett’s Unexpected Departure

I am still reeling from  General Hospital’s decision to recast the role of Michael Corinthos III.  Drew Garrett’s performance was universally acclaimed.  Playing a character whose traumatic brain injury often makes him unable to control his impulses is not an easy task.  Garrett’s Michael could go from sweet to raging and back again and a moment’s notice.  He perfectly conveyed a young man who is at times scared of his own behavior but had little desire to change it.  He was at once an aspiring mafia kingpin and a scared little boy.  When I first read about the recast, I thought he must have landed a primetime role.  But based on the surprised but supportive tweets of his cast members, this was GH’s decision.  The lack of rumors about the reasons for his departure is unusual for the gossipy world of daytime. We may never know what happened — although the answer could be a really dull contractual issue.  I hope that his replacement Chad Duell manages somehow to fill his shoes.

How Not To Avoid Jury Duty

I know that General Hospital does not generally stand up to the legal standards of even an Ally McBeal rerun.  I know that the actual legal protocol of Sonny’s trial for Claudia’s murder is the least of the problems with a storyline that has twisted itself into knots to make a man who recently shot his own son in cold blood a victim.  But the twist of having people who know Sonny on the jury takes the scenario into the realm of ridiculous.  Unless they want to give Diane grounds for a mistrial, how can having Lisa, who once enjoyed Sonny’s Italian cooking, Coleman, who is currently dating Sonny’s ex, and Alice, the housekeeper for a family that believes Sonny stole their grandson — decide Sonny’s fate?  In the real world, people are dismissed from juries for having read newspaper articles about a case.  When I was on a juror in a low-stakes drug possession trial, people were rejected for such offenses as being a legal secretary and knowing police officers who had nothing to do with the case.   Yet in Port Charles it is apparently okay for openly biased people to decide whether someone should go to prison as long as there are an equal number of people biased for and against the defendant.

All of the jury scenes have been written for comedy, with Alice exalting at the opportunity to do her civic duty, Lisa ticked that her prestigious job did not get her exempted, and Coleman relishing thumbing his nose at the law.  This seems tonally off in a serious storyline about a man taking the rap for the one crime in town he did not commit in order to protect his guilty son.  Though I cannot imagine many longtime viewers thinks there is any chance that Sonny will actually end up in prison, it removes the gravitas from the story.  If the characters are not taking the trial seriously, then why should the viewers?

Michael’s exile to Sonny’s tropical island paradise has also been played for laughs, with limbo parties and silly escape attempts.  Michael comes across as a teen who resents being grounded instead of a young man who is determined to take responsibility for his regrettable actions.  I wonder if this decision to shunt Michael away from the action is related to the impending recast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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