A lot of people in the daytime soap opera industry like to blame O.J. Simpson, the growing number of cable channels, reality television, the growing number of women in the workplace, and many other factors for the decline in ratings over the years. While some of their points are valid, and you hear these excuses in most mainstream articles, there are also a number of intentional decisions made over the years that decimated soap casts, future storylines and viewer loyalty. We Love Soaps revealed our 25 Biggest Blunders in Daytime Soap Opera History in September 2011. This list was not easy to edit down to 25. Sadly there are many more we could have included. We will revisit this list from time to time to see how the rankings might change as perspectives do.
25. Killing Jo's son on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW
On June 9, 1955, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW's Joanne (Mary Stuart) married Arthur Tate. A year later their son, Duncan Eric, was born. Stuart's real life pregnancy was written into her storyline and SEARCH filmed on location with her in the hospital. Her newborn son, Jeffrey, played Jo's baby on the soap.
A year later the writers decided the toddler would run out into the street and get hit by a car infuriating Stuart. It was the first of many battles she would have over the years trying to maintain the integrity of her popular soap character. She even threatened to quit the soap.
"It was my own child," she later told Afternoon TV. "It had been a complicated pregnancy for me, and playing the death of the child was just too horrible to even consider. The show's ratings had been dropping, and I knew they were killing the child just to have something dramatic to boost the ratings. I played those scenes all right, but I made them so horrifying that nobody could watch. Not even the make-up girl. She wouldn't even look at the monitor to see whether my make-up was right, it was too awful to watch. And nobody out in television-land watched either. In my own mind, I was remembering the morning my own father died. My mother just could never accept it. She'd walk around with a hopeful smile, in a daze, saying, "He's going to get better..." That's the way I played it. I destroyed them. It didn't help the ratings."
Duncan Eric could have been the center of future stories for the next 30 years on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW. The writers wasted this future legacy character for a quick ratings spike. We've seen this happen many times again in the future including the complete waste of Lisa's son, Chuckie, on AS THE WORLD TURNS. What is it with soaps and dead children?
24. The Messy Murder of THE EDGE OF NIGHT
In THE EDGE OF NIGHT's first 16 years on the air it never finished below sixth place in a season's ratings and was commonly near the top, just below CBS sister soap, AS THE WORLD TURNS. A series of terrible network and producer decisions would cause the ratings to sink.
It started in 1972 when CBS changed EDGE's timeslot from 3:30 to 2:30 p.m. ET. The mystery soap added some additional romantic storylines for its new time. The show immediately dropped in the ratings and dropped from 4th in the 1972-173 season to 10th the following year.
In 1975 CBS wanted to expand AS THE WORLD TURNS to an hour (see #23) but didn't have room on the schedule to keep EDGE. They also wanted to pit ALL IN THE FAMILY reruns against NBC's ANOTHER WORLD. This all led Procter & Gamble, who had a policy at the time of not allowing their shows to compete against each other on different networks, to propose moving the soap to ABC, the only network without a P&G show. CBS agree to delay the expansion of ATWT for two months to make this plan work (game show GIVE N' TAKE got axed in this process).
ABC aired a 90-minute EDGE OF NIHGT special on December 1, 1975, and even offered to air the show late nights a year later (the actors couldn't agree on residuals). But the network never really promoted the show properly over the years (it was the only soap they didn't own).
In 1983, after a 15 year run, head writer Henry Slesar was fired. This was the straw the really broke the camel's back. Any hope that EDGE could survive was gone. P&G decided to drop the show at the end of 1984 after 28 years as over 100 ABC affiliates were not airing the show at the time.
If EDGE had remained at 3:30 p.m. on CBS, how many more years would it have stayed on the air? What if it stayed on CBS and never moved to ABC? Could it still be on today? Sadly, we'll never know.
23. Expansion of soaps to 60 minutes
All six of the current daytime soap operas debuted as 30 minute dramas. Today only one remains a half-hour, THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.
On January 7, 1974, HOW TO SURVIVE A MARRIAGE premiered with a 90-minute special. On May 3, 1974, NBC's ANOTHER WORLD aired a special one-hour episode in honor of its 10th Anniversary. Steve and Alice were married. It was a hit, and on January 6, 1975, the show expanded from 30 to 60 minutes full-time. Similarly, DAYS OF OUR LIVES aired a one hour special on November 20, 1974, and expanded to an hour on a regular basis on April 21, 1975 (HOW TO SURVIVE A MARRIAGE was canceled to make room for this expansion).
Betty Corday said at the time that the show would add three acts and expand the cast by at least 25%. This happened around daytime as ONE LIFE TO LIVE and GENERAL HOSPITAL expanded to 45 minutes and then an hour. ALL MY CHILDREN expanded to 60 minutes, and THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS did as well, in 1980. As the shows length grew, so did the cast and crew. Writing staffs doubled, and in some cases, the casts did as well. It was the beginning of the dilution of the stories, and each episode began to include more filler material. These bigger productions were more difficult to manage, which impacted their futures in many ways. As ratings declined, budget cuts were required, but shrinking the soaps back down to a manageable size was nearly an impossible task for most producers.
In November, 2009, Emmy winner Susan Flannery (Stephanie, B&B) shared in an exclusive interview with We Love Soaps what her thoughts were on the change to the hour format on DAYS OF OUR LIVES: "I said to them, 'I’m glad I’m leaving. It’s so rushed that you’re no longer in control of your performance. And that doesn’t make me happy.' So I did the first six weeks when the show launched for an hour. That’s the reason I agreed to do BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL [a half-hour show]. I like that form. That was Bill's favorite form too. He hated the hour. He thought they had to pad too much story."
On March 5, 1979, ANOTHER WORLD expanded to 90 minutes, broadcasting from 2:30-4:00 p.m. ET each day. It would remain an hour and a half until August 1980, when spinoff TEXAS premiered. Would the 30 minute versions of ANOTHER WORLD, GUIDING LIGHT or AS THE WORLD TURNS still be on the air today? We're not sure. But what we do know is this: no daytime soap opera that ever debuted at a full hour ever became a ratings sensation. And none of them are still on the air (TEXAS, SANTA BARBARA, SUNSET BEACH, PASSIONS).
22. Introduction of focus groups and the obsession with a younger demo
William Clay ‘Bill’ Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Henry Ford, likes to remind the focus-group brigade that “My great-grandfather once said of the first car he ever built, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
By the same token, Apple's Jonathan Ive, the reclusive designer responsible for the iMac, iPod, and iPhone, rarely speaks publicly. But when he does, he almost always makes a point of saying firmly, “"We don't do focus groups." Ive explains that focus groups resulted in bland products designed not to offend anyone.
In the soap world, the introduction of focus groups in the 1980s changed the culture of storytelling and creativity. There was an increase in attempts to push borrowed, cliche ideas (“faster horses”) and a decrease in investment in risky or groundbreaking moments.
In a February 2010 interview with We Love Soaps, Daytime Emmy Award-winning ALL MY CHILDREN writer, Wisner Washam, detailed exactly how focus groups go wrong: "The trouble really started with a Vice President of Daytime named Jacqueline Smith, who brought in all these new procedures and focus sessions. We never had focus sessions before. They required us to go and waste a morning watching 12 ladies from the Bronx discuss who they liked and didn't like. Jackie took the opinions of those 12 women as almost words from the Mount. We were asked to write according to their opinions."
The networks also used the infamous Q Ratings to help determine who was popular, and where it all led was an obsession with youth and, more specifically, the younger demographic. Focus groups and Q ratings cannot measure the investment of longtime viewers. They can, however, demonstrate the obvious fact that some people find young pretty strangers more "watchable."
As the average age of the soap audience grew, producers' obsession with youth grew faster still. The situation was unsustainable. Young actors were frequently brought on just for the sake of having young actors. More and more hiring choices were motivated by looks instead of acting ability. Worst of all, the characters that kept us watching for decades started to lose airtime. Eventually, a counter-intuitive (and counterproductive) thing began to happen. Soaps were being changed to please people who were not watching, and the loyal, longtime, core audience began to be neglected.
21. Firing Wendy Riche from GENERAL HOSPITAL
There is a reason why GENERAL HOSPITAL received five Emmy wins for Outstanding Drama Series under Wendy Riche's run as executive producer, more than any other time in the show's history. Riche had a way of crafting Port Charles into a town that we wanted to visit day after day, week after week, year after year. Her groundbreaking, exciting, and socially relevant approach to storytelling between 1992-2000 is still beloved by fans every day, and referred to consistently on air. Under her gentle but firm guidance, head writer Claire Labine, and later Bob Guza, were able to spin fascinating and memorable stories, including Jason's accident, Stone's death, Robin's HIV diagnosis, Brenda & Sonny's first go-round, Lois & Ned's courtship, Maxie's heart transplant, Lily's death, Carly's introduction, Jax & Sonny's hatred, Lucky & Elizabeth's young romance, Nikolas saving Lulu's life as a baby, Monica's cancer, and so much more.
So why, at the height of her success, was the amazing Ms. Riche fired? Only the suits at ABC can ever explain that one. But one thing we know for sure, ousting Wendy Riche in her prime was a huge mistake, one the show has never recovered from. If the show is on the air 10-15 years from now, how many of the GH plots from the 2000s will have any impact on the characters and plot of the show?
** Read our exclusive interview with Emmy-winning producer Wendy Riche from 2010 here.
20. Networks and soaps spoiling their own storylines
On a Friday in November 1984, DAYS OF OUR LIVES put Bo, Hope, Anna, Tony, Eugene, Calliope, Liz, Carlo, Andre, and Daphne on an airplane... and crashed it. All weekend we couldn't stop thinking about the fate of our favorite Salem residents, and there was absolutely no way we could not turn back in on Monday to see what happened. Why? Because we only had vague previews in 1984, and we had absolutely no way to know from week to week and day to day if our favorite character would be returning.
Around 20 years ago, the networks began telling the press exactly what was going to happen, not just vague one-line spoilers but the whole shebang. If you subscribed to a soap magazine, you would know a week or two in advance exactly who was coming and going, how that Friday cliffhanger would be resolved, who was going to live or die, and so on. Viewers were essentially told what was going to happen scene by scene. If you already know what is going to happen, why watch? Soaps built a loyal following in the previous decades by not revealing every plot twist, and keeping viewers on edge of their seat with suspenseful drama. Would you go to a movie today if you knew everything that was going to happen from beginning to end? Probably not. So why are soaps any different?
These days soap opera spoilers are everywhere. Shows all over television get spoiled but rarely at the level of detail soap stories are known in advance.
One recent exception ALMOST was the revealing of the Real Todd on ONE LIFE TO LIVE. The show had gone to great lengths to slowly build up this suspenseful revelation, and captivate the audience every step of the way. Consequently, the show's ratings continued to rise, and internet buzz and speculation remained massive. But then--and it was hard to believe--Disney-owned SOAPnet showed us in a preview that Roger Howarth would be revealed as the "Real Todd" several days before the show did! Why a network would go to such lengths to destroy its own product is beyond us. Oh yes, this is ABC.
19. Rotating Romans and the forever ret-con of John Black on DAYS OF OUR LIVES
DAYS OF OUR LIVES fans loved the original love story between Marlena and Roman Brady, played by Deidre Hall and Wayne Northrop, from 1981-1984. The couple overcame many obstacles, had many adventures, ultimately married, and had twin babies, Sami and Eric. When Northrop left the show in 1984, Roman "died" after being shot by Stefano. Marlena turned to her buddy Chris Kositchek, played by Josh Taylor, for comfort. Then in 1985 "The Pawn" (aka John Black) came to Salem and was later revealed to be Roman after plastic surgery. Drake Hogestyn quickly won fans over who fully accepted him as the new Roman.
In 1991 Wayne Northrop returned to DAYS and we learned he was the real Roman and Drake Hogestyn's Roman was actually Forrest Alamain, although he would continue to use John Black as his name. Northrop would leave DAYS as Roman in 1994, and Hogestyn's John Black would go on to learn he had been an art smuggler, a priest, a violent mercenary, a fighter pilot, an army doctor, and ultimately find out that he was really Ryan Brady, Roman's first cousin.
In 1997 Roman returned to Salem. This time he was played by Josh Taylor, the same Josh Taylor that had played Chris Kositchek from 1977-1987, had been one of Northrop Roman's grooms in his wedding to Marlena in 1983, and dated Marlena from 1985-1986. It's still hard to this day to watch DAYS and not think of Chris when Taylor is on our screens as Roman. It doesn't help that Taylor's portrayals of Roman and Chris are literally indistinguishable.
Wayne Northrop then returned to DAYS for a third time in 2005 but this time as Alex North, the abusive maniac who supposedly was married to Marlena before she came to town in 1976. Confused yet? So the first Roman was Alex, the second Roman was John, and the third Roman looked just like Chris.
There is much more that could be said about this story but we think you get the point. We would have been perfectly happy for Drake to have played Roman forever. Bringing back Wayne as Roman and then Josh as Roman made this merry-go-round a clunker, made all the other characters look downright stupid, and violated all laws of continuity. More importantly, it alienated long term viewers who couldn't emotionally invest in a story if they were going to be told that what they saw never happened (DAYS would nail the final coffin on viewer loyalty with the Salem Serial Killer Story of 2003-04). Who will John be when Drake returns to the soap on September 26? Stay tuned.
18. The launch of the new GUIDING LIGHT production model
On February 29, 2008, GUIDING LIGHT moved to a new production model, an end-to-end transformation in the way the show was created from direction to editing to scenic design. Permanent sets inside the show's New York City studio had four walls (instead of three) and a ceiling. Handheld cameras shot the actors up close and personal both inside the new sets and on location from Peapack, New Jersey. This change was to deliver a higher level of realism and intimacy to the audience and a much lower cost which would allow the 71-year-old soap to stay on the air.
The show garnered quite a bit of publicity for the change in the weeks leading up to the launch. Comparisons to primetime critical darling FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS were made. So what went wrong? The producers, writers, actors and the entire crew were not prepared for the change. In addition to an on-the-job-learning feel to the entire situation, no story at the time carried any emotional impact. We saw a lot of shots of trees, benches, and flags that meant nothing to the story. There were sound issues. Unfamiliar singers were used as background music and drowned out the dialogue at times. The overall feel of Springfield changed dramatically from what fans were used to.
GUIDING LIGHT had 2.8 million viewers the last full week before the change, and 893,000 women 18-49 viewers, placing it ahead of AS THE WORLD TURNS. Within four months, the show had lost almost 700,000 viewers, a fatal blow to its chances of survival.
A year later, the love story between Olivia (Crystal Chappell) and Natalia (Jessica Leccia) captured our hearts. The return of Grant Aleksander as Phillip was a huge success, Buzz (Justin Deas) and Lillian's (Tina Sloan) romance was front burner, and Springfield was a lively and fascinating community again. But by then the damage was done. If only the storylines of 2009 that left fans wanting more every day had been told in February 2008, then the show may have had a fighting chance.
The cast and crew, including executive producer Ellen Wheeler, gave it their all, but there were technical issues on some days that you only see on the most low budget of web series.
It was probably too late anyway, as GUIDING LIGHT had become a shell of its former self during the run of several producers who tried to leave their marks on the soap, and head writers who, in retrospect, did not have the chops to write our beloved Springfield. And with the show on the upswing, CBS canceled it anyway. Perhaps they would have done that no matter what. But if the production model change was the show's last chance, then not being ready with better stories--the only way to motivate viewer investment and the one thing that could have covered up some of the technical problems--was an epic mistake.
17. CBS canceling its remaining radio soaps a.k.a. "The day the radio drama died"
The radio era of the soap opera began to crumble by 1955. By 1956, the number of soaps had dropped to sixteen (ten of which were on CBS; the remainder were equally divided between NBC and ABC). Four years later, ABC discontinued all of its soaps. NBC had only TRUE STORY and CBS had seven remaining programs on its schedule. By the end of the 1959-1960 season, CBS was the only network broadcasting soaps, six in total since they dropped THE ROMANCE OF HELEN TRENT on June 24, 1960.
In mid-August of 1960, CBS, which began the season with six programs, decided to cease its soap opera broadcasts on the last Friday of November. Just because.
November 25, 1960 has been identified as a watershed in broadcasting. It's often referred to by aficionados as "the day the radio drama died."
CBS breezily announced the cancellation of its remaining serials--YOUNG DOCTOR MALONE (which aired on NBC-TV), THE RIGHT TO HAPPINESS (a spinoff of THE GUIDING LIGHT), THE SECOND MRS. BURTON and MA PERKINS. This was the end of an era. But did it have to be?
MA PERKINS was a prime example. As the organist ending the final show performed a variation of "My Old Kentucky Home" for the last time, Virginia Payne addressed her audience directly: "Ma Perkins again. This is our broadcast 7,065. I first came to you on December 4, 1933. Thank you for being so loyal to us these 27 years... Ma Perkins has always been played by me, Virginia Payne. And if you write to me, Ma Perkins, at Orleans, Massachusetts, I'll try to answer you. Good-bye, and may God bless you."
Then, an unidentified CBS announcer broke into the closing, letting fans know that starting Monday, they could get double the CBS News. Fans of longtime, beloved daytime television soaps that have left the air in recent years can probably imagine how faithful MA PERKINS fans felt following her dignified, earnest, and daring farewell. The CBS switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree, and the network was deluged with angry calls and then, angry letters.
Audiences still loved the radio drama, but the local radio stations wanted all of the air time for themselves.
Radio would continue to thrive for many years to come, so why couldn't radio soap operas continue? The last few years of network television decisions feel a little like the late 1950s with someone in charge deciding, arbitrarily, that the era of Daytime TV soaps is over. And as of January 2012, we will be down to the final four. It is eerily familiar.
16. The Mismanagement of the Final Years of AS THE WORLD TURNS
The first several years of the Chris Goutman era as executive producer of AS THE WORLD TURNS were award-winning and critically acclaimed, full of actors who couldn't praise their leader enough in the press. The final years were the complete opposite. The constant pats on the back were gone. In their place were a lot of confusing casting decisions, rumored turmoil, and the unbelievable mistreatment of the legendary Eileen Fulton. The show that had the most history that was still intact had a leader who could not have cared less.
Letting the brilliant Larry Bryggman (John Dixon) walk away in 2004 was a huge blow to the show and a definite sign the tide was turning. Seeing his return for a few weeks at the very end of ATWT's run in September 2010 proved what an asset he was and what a hole he left. Similarly, allowing Martha Byrne (Lily Snyder) to leave, and acting so cavalier about it in the media, was infuriating and turned off many fans. Even when the classy Noelle Beck offered to step aside so Byrne could return to ATWT in the final months for a reunion of Lily and Holden, Goutman refused. Firing a returned Scott Bryce, who actually made the character of Craig human despite awful writing, was another head scratcher. We don't know if it was pride, personal grudges, or complete incompetence but this was not the man who turned this soap around in the early 2000s. What happened? And where was Procter & Gamble? They seemed to have lost interest in both their remaining soaps at the time.
ATWT still showed moments of brilliance in its final years with Maura West (Carly), Michael Park (Jack) and Colleen Zenk (Barbara) leading a cast that gave their all, no matter what story was written. But there was no explaining the act of continuing to introduce new (and mostly unlikable) characters through the final months of the show. There was no justifying the rapid-pace style of editing that seemed to confuse and alienate viewers. And there was no reason to back burner daytime legends such as Don Hastings (Bob), Kathryn Hays (Kim), and Elizabeth Hubbard (Lucinda).
As for Lisa and Ms. Fulton, what a horrible way to end this soap. All soap opera final episodes are not made alike. For every perfect ending (SEARCH FOR TOMORROW's Jo and Stu come to mind) there is a Paul Rauch stomping on a cigar or CAPITOL having Sloane standing in front a firing squad. It's not always easy to wrap up a soap in a limited amount of time. But no soap opera had ever had as much time between their cancellation notice and leaving the airwaves as 54-year war horse AS THE WORLD TURNS. The logical ending would focus on Nancy Hughes, but unfortunately the legendary Helen Wagner passed away the month before the show wrapped production. So obviously, the next thought would be the characters of Bob and Lisa, played by Don Hastings and Eileen Fulton, who both joined the cast in 1960 (that's 50 years earlier!). The show got it (mostly) right with Bob and let him have the final words on the air. But Lisa, they couldn't have got it more wrong.
Why didn't Lisa have some kind of storyline in the final months? Fans had been questioning her airtime for years. But surely, knowing the soap was going away forever, was't Lisa entitled to one last hurrah? The producers and writers instead gave her only two scenes in the final episode, as a supporting character in the Lucinda-John reunion and in quite insulting circumstances as well. The character of Lisa is credited as TV's first "bitch" and characters like Erica Kane or Alexis Colby may not have existed without her! That's huge. That's history. So what kind of historic tribute did ATWT pay to Lisa on the last show? They gave her four lines and a sarcastic talking-down-to from Lucinda and John. At the very least, would a phone call from an old flame like Grant Colman have hurt?
Put them all together, and these decisions demonstrate a lack of respect for AS THE WORLD TURNS as a cultural icon, a lack of consideration of its millions of viewers around the world, and a general sense of contempt for the show on behalf of Goutman and P&G. The consistent and systematic dismantling of this beloved soap through poor management decisions remains a shameful blight in television history, and a tragic example of how ignorance and disdain can ruin an American institution.
15. The early 1970s soap purge
In the first four years of the 1970s there was a brutal daytime soap opera massacre. To begin with, you might remember that that was when THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, DARK SHADOWS, A WORLD APART and BRIGHT PROMISE were axed. But it was the cancellations of LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING, WHERE THE HEART IS, RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE and THE SECRET STORM in less than a year's time (March 1973 to February 1974) that was especially brutal.
Daytime serials today would love to get the ratings share that any of those soaps did 40 years ago. But, to be fair, times have changed, and 30 shares are rare for anyone in 2011. The real essence of the blunder is the rationale used for canceling the soaps.
We've seen it happen many times over the last several decades: networks decide soaps were on their way out and recklessly scramble to make room for the Next Big Thing.
During the purge, CBS decided game shows were the "in" thing for daytime, only to see soaps made a comeback and game shows fade. Beloved 20-year soap THE SECRET STORM, as well as LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING, were replaced by game shows. STORM was replaced by the awful TATTLETALES (don't ask) while LOVE gave way to THE $100,000 PYRAMID. TATTLETALES lasted four years before being replaced by PASS THE BUCK. Never heard of it? Don't feel bad, it only lasted two months. But even great game shows are unable to inspire fans to loyally tune in like soap operas. It was clear then, and it's still obvious today.
In retrospect, it's hard to argue with the decision by CBS to replace WHERE THE HEART IS with today's Nielsen champ THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, but the reason given at the time was bizarre. CBS argued that the show appealed too much to a younger "cult" demographic. What? Networks today would love for their shows to appeal to a younger audience.
RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE on NBC was pitted against top-rated MATCH GAME on CBS in its final year, but a 7.0 house hold rating wasn't good enough for NBC to keep it. The show's storylines were slow and methodical. After the cancellation, they sped up, and fans started enjoying the show. If only NBC had allowed the soap to grow it might have become a ratings success. Strangely, it was cancelled only to be replaced by another, less successful soap, HOW TO SURVIVE A MARRIAGE, that only survived a year.
These decisions, at best perfunctory and at worst idiotic, were a real loss for soap fans, usually the last consideration by network executives.
14. The unnecessary death of Maureen Bauer on GUIDING LIGHT
When compiling the blunders list, we could have started a separate "unnecessary deaths" list. Frankie Frame, John Abbott, Alan Quartermaine and many other soap characters were huge assets to their shows and were inexplicably killed off when a producer or writer decided the fan's opinions didn't count. None was more brutal than the violent murder of Frankie on ANOTHER WORLD. But it's the death of Maureen Bauer that had the most creative impact. It was a pointless, asinine story decision that sacrificed the future of GUIDING LIGHT for short-term ratings.
The family figurehead of Bert Bauer died in 1985 after the real-life death of actress Charita Bauer. Maureen (played by Ellen Parker) was perfectly positioned to become the new matriarch of the show for the rest of its run. Ed and Maureen were the tent-pole characters that lifelong GUIDING LIGHT fans could look at to see the continuation of the Bauer family. As long as the story included the Bauers as the central core family, the show felt like GUIDING LIGHT and it seemed like we were still in Springfield. Lapsed fans that might tune back in would always be able to find at one one familiar setting.
Ed had wives before--Rita, played by the fabulous Lenore Kasdorf; Maureen Garrett's Holly; the late Leslie--but the relationships had never lasted as long as Ed and Maureen. We were watching the next generation become the older generation. It all made sense. Which made Maureen's death in January 1993 even more puzzling in its short-sightedness. Fans were treated to brilliant performances by Peter Simon as Ed, Tina Sloan as Lillian, and others. But long-term, the show was left without the matriarch that a family soap like GL desperately needed.
The show flirted with another round of Ed and Holly, and had Ed fall in love with Eve Guthrie for a while before she died too (the third of Ed's wives/lovers to die!). Some fascinating stories were written as a result of Maureen's death. But by 1996 Peter Simon had left the show and Ed was gone.
Head writer Nancy Curlee Demorest had this to say when asked if she had any story regrets over the years: "Although Maureen's death was a lynchpin in a carefully conceived and well-executed story, Ellen Parker was so fine, and so well loved, that her absence left a hole in the show that was later hard to fill."
Ed would return for stories played by both Simon and Robert Gentry, but he basically was never a central character again. We did get a blink-and-you-miss-it reunion between Ed and Holly as GL wrapped up in September 2009. But, oh, what could have been...
13. Networks not merchandising the soaps
All the networks and soaps have missed a great opportunity over the years by not promoting their shows with books, tie-ins, and other merchandise. The DVD industry has been huge for primetime television. The UK soaps have capitalized as well with various merchandise over the years (cassettes, videos, who's who guides, history guides, etc.) which help obtain new viewers and keep the public interested.
If the networks had done the same in the U.S., who knows how much more popular the shows would have stayed. Or how much more money they could have made to help contribute to production costs.
There have been some examples of getting it right. The "Reva: The Scarlett Years" and "Roger Thorpe: The Scandal Years" VHS tapes released by GUIDING LIGHT were well done and are still fun to watch to this day. P&G wrote some books in the voice of AS THE WORLD TURNS and GL characters. ABC has released some wonderful wedding DVDs from their soaps. But think how much more of this could be done?
Eager interns could have done most of the leg work on these projects at little cost to the shows. From DVDs and music CDs to clothes and games and books, the sky was the limit for all these endless possibilities over the years.
And in 2011, why aren't we ordering soap merchandise from cool smart phone apps?
12. Never bringing Laura back permanently on GENERAL HOSPITAL
Genie Francis joined GENERAL HOSPITAL in 1976 and quickly caught on with fans as quintessential young heroine Laura reunited with her birth family and romanced Scott Baldwin. But it was Laura's romance with Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) that turned into the most iconic couple in the soap opera history. Luke and Laura's adventurous stories mesmerized America and they became a pop culture phenomenon. Their 1981 wedding, featuring special guest star Elizabeth Taylor, was watched by 30 million viewers, a record for daytime television (Oprah's much-hyped finale only attracted 16 million).
Francis has become the heart of the show when she left in 1982 to take a break and pursue other projects. She would come back for appearances at the end of 1983 and 1984 but was completely off the show for the next nine years after that. But Luke and Laura never left the minds of fans.
When the characters of Luke and Laura returned to GH in 1993, with son Lucky (Jonathan Jackson) in tow, it was as if time had stood still. They just "fit" on the canvas like they were never gone. The couple added another child, daughter Lulu, and faced numerous new obstacles over the next several years. Yet when Laura was written out in 2002, she was cruelly wheeled out in a catatonic state to a treatment center in London.
Francis returned for a month in 2006 when Laura was given an experimental drug that reversed her condition for a short period of time. Laura and Luke exchanged vows again on what would have been their 25th anniversary. Genie Francis won an Emmy for this return. She would return for a few months in 2008 as well.
But where has she been ever since? Francis has made it clear she would return to the soap. She said in an April 2011 interview: "I’d love to come back to work, but I want to work in a way that uses all of me so I’m not just cheating my audience. I felt for a while with the GH appearances, they were kind of using me as a media trick, bringing me on for three or four weeks, saying I was back on the show, but not really writing for me. And then I would be gone. I just didn’t like that anymore. "[GH] cannot conceive a Laura who is 48 years old, a grown woman. So that’s that. I’m a little surprised, too, since this year is the 30th anniversary of Luke and Laura’s marriage."
Watching her on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and not GENERAL HOSPITAL makes absolutely no sense (and we won't get into the blunder of shows like Y&R and AS THE WORLD TURNS hiring past GH stars to spike ratings instead of featuring their own stars). There will always be a missing piece of Port Charles without the character of Laura. As amazing as Julie Marie Berman and Jonathan Jackson are at playing Luke and Laura's childen, imagine the depth having Francis around would add to all their stories.
This is one blunder that could be fixed by ABC before it's too late. Will it happen?
11. Spinning off Iris from ANOTHER WORLD into TEXAS
Iris Cory is one of the most legendary characters in daytime history. Played by the sublime Beverlee McKinsey, fans of ANOTHER WORLD in the 1970s were hooked on her and the show stayed near the top of the ratings. After Harding Lemay left the soap as head writer, things began to fall apart.
ANOTHER WORLD was expanded to 90 minutes in 1979, creating the almost impossible task of producing that much television every day for the writing staff and crew. In 1980, to hop on the DALLAS bandwagon, NBC decided to create a spinoff show featuring Iris: TEXAS.
We are big fans of the final year of TEXAS, but Iris didn't last that long. When TEXAS premiered on August 4, 1980, the announcer said, "TEXAS, Starring Beverlee McKinsey!" She was a huge star, and the billing was deserved. But with a mostly-new surrounding cast, and in Houston instead of Bay City, Iris just didn't seem the same. The eternal struggle for Mac's attention was gone. Iris without Mac and Rachel wasn't nearly as interesting.
A year later, Iris left TEXAS and the show focused on "The Next Generation." Beverlee never would return to ANOTHER WORLD, a huge loss for the formerly high-rated drama. TEXAS never really caught on, ANOTHER WORLD had lost an incredible actress, and one of the best portrayals of a character in the history of the medium was gone forever.
10. Making Jill the daughter of Katherine Chancellor on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS
Not every soap opera story is a home run. Sometimes they can be boring or even bad. But sometimes they are just wrong.
The Foster and Brooks families were the original core families of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS when it launched in 1973. The Foster matriarch, Liz, played by Julianna McCarthy, was loving and protective but firm with her children. None needed more direction than Jill, who was always looking for "more" out of life. Their relationship grew and changed over and years and McCarthy and Brenda Dickson were pitch perfect as mother and "daughter".
Jill's bitter feud with Katherine Chancellor (Jeanne Cooper) began when Jill bedded Kay's husband, Phillip II. Jill became pregnant with his baby (Phillip III), but was bitterly left out in the cold when Phillip II died in a car crash with Kay driving. The two women started fighting and found one reason after another to keep it going as the years passed.
When Dickson returned to the soap after a few years away in the 1980s, Jill was different. Big hair and shoulder pads and glam replaced the Jill of old, but we still loved her bitter rivalry with Mrs. Chancellor, and Liz Foster would visit to help keep her in line.
It was a tough assignment for Jess Walton to step into the role of Jill in 1987 but she quickly won rave reviews (and Emmys) and the never-ending angst between Jill and Kay continued.
In 2003, written by co-head writers Kay Alden (who had been on Bill Bell's Y&R writing team for nearly 30 years) and Jack Smith (who had been with the show for 20 years), everything changed. Liz, diagnosed with a brain tumor, returned to Genoa City and revealed that Jill wasn't really a Foster after all, she was Katherine's daughter. WHAT?! It was a complete slap in the face to longtime Y&R fans who had invested in these relationships for three decades. The twist made absolutely no sense, and forever changed the Jill-Kay dynamic. The show basically told fans of the Foster family they didn't matter. And we loved them all, especially the Liz and Jill relationship.
This wasn't the end of the destruction though. There were a few years wasted on Cane being the "real" Phillip III, Phillip III returning from the dead after 20 years revealing he was gay, and finding out Cane wasn't related at all.
Then in 2010 Liz Foster returned again. Maria Arena Bell was producing and writing the show by this point and had undone some of the damage done by the previous regime, so surely she would fix the Jill-Kay-Liz rewrite. No such luck. She may have made it worse. It turned out Jill wasn't Katherine's daughter after all, or Liz's. She was the daughter of Lauren Fenmore's father, Neil. Ridiculous! Then Liz died. At least we got a full Foster family reunion but that didn't make up for this humongous blunder.
All of these rewrites have damaged the Jill character and only incredible performances by Jess Walton and her cast mates have made it work on any level. Why did multiple Y&R producers and writers continue to destroy decades of soap opera history? Especially those who really knew the show and worked so long with Bill Bell. The late Mr. Bell's brilliant work did not need rewriting.
9. Hiring Brian Frons to run ABC Daytime and SOAPnet
In the official bio for Brian Frons at ABC.com, what is the first television show mentioned? THE CHEW. Need we say more? Oh, we will anyway.
Frons began his career as the Grim Reaper of Daytime Dramas way back in 1982, when he recommended the cancellation of SEARCH FOR TOMORROW. It had been on the air for 31 years at the time.
SEARCH was a strong, respected property with excellent brand recognition and millions of loyal fans, so it wasn't a surprise when NBC actually jumped at the opportunity to rescue SEARCH. They began airing where CBS left off, and fans rejoiced--but you can't cheat death. Believe it or not, Frons actually followed SEARCH to NBC in the '80s, where he canceled it again in 1986!
When Disney hired Brian Frons as ABC Daytime president in August 2002, ABC's four daytime soap operas--GENERAL HOSPITAL, ALL MY CHILDREN, PORT CHARLES and ONE LIFE TO LIVE--must have felt chills run down their spines. But first—what is the deal with him and SOAPnet?
In 2006, Frons was promoted to president of daytime for Disney-ABC Television Group, and SOAPnet fell into his hands as well. It wasn't all bad. GH spinoff GENERAL HOSPITAL: NIGHT SHIFT still managed a successful two season run on SOAPnet. Also, the channel enjoyed record primetime ratings--for same-day encore airings of AMC and OLTL. And that's where the positives end. Because aside from the daytime repeats, SOAPnet lost its way. Sunday nights were especially misguided, programmed with tired movies that had been repeated for years on other cable networks--there wasn't even some sort of soap opera theme. Then, the name "SOAPnet" was almost changed altogether to reflect a “new direction.” He can't even handle the word, “Soap?”
Meanwhile, at ABC Daytime, the soaps began to die. PORT CHARLES was first. It was canceled a just over a year after Frons took over. The remaining three daytime soaps continued to be slowly, methodically, and painfully executed by Frons. He served as a Creative or Story Consultant for all three. It made sense for a network exec to be involved, but the level of interference in story telling, casting decisions, and head writer and producer changes (ie, Chuck Pratt) was unprecedented. Ratings, the soaps' vital signs, continued to fade.
In April 2011, Frons deep-sixed OLTL and AMC. They had aired on the network for over 40 years. Like SEARCH, they were both strong, respected properties with excellent brand recognition and millions of loyal fans. Frons told them he knew better. "We are taking this bold step to expand our business, because viewers are looking for different types of programming these days,” he BS'd. How do we know it was BS? Just five months earlier, Frons had proclaimed that ABC supported soaps, saying the network was "still dedicated to ours. We're very proud of them and have big plans for the future."
Moreover, in an act that reminds us of NBC's rescue of SEARCH, production company Prospect Park eagerly snatched up both OLTL and AMC. Even though they didn't even have a channel on which to air them, PP recognized real value where Frons only saw a target.
Fans were outraged over the news, but Frons claimed that ABC needed new shows that were “relatable." If AMC and OLTL had become unrelatable, it was due to years of hands-on creative mismanagement by Frons!
There are so many published stories out there, citing so many respected people, telling how venal, insensitive, and Machiavellian Frons has behaved since the cancellation. These anecdotes describe a man that (is it possible?) publicly enjoys killing soap operas. We choose to end with the following two sources for symbolic reasons.
1. AMC legend Susan Lucci felt a moral imperative to publicize Frons's sinister behavior by issuing a new epilogue for her memoir. The classiest woman in show business has never spoken ill about anyone in this manner, saying Frons appeared “self-congratulatory” delivering the bad news to the cast, and he “has what, for me, is that fatal combination of ignorance and arrogance,” adding, “I cannot fathom any network executive choosing to alienate millions of loyal viewers in these economic times.”
2. Even OLTL's Erika Slezak had to speak out against Frons: in the current issue of Mental Floss magazine, she sums it all up, saying "I think that Brian Frons, the head of ABC Daytime, doesn’t believe in the genre. He never believed they could last. My biggest objection is ABC saying people don’t want entertainment anymore; they want information. That’s ridiculous. People always want entertainment."
8. Lack of Diversity on Daytime Television
Daytime soaps didn't start with huge budgets but their focus on good storytelling drew fans in and the shows became cash cows for the networks. Pioneers like Agnes Nixon told socially relevant stories on daytime television before many of her primetime counterparts.
Bert's uterine cancer story on THE GUIDING LIGHT, HIV and AIDS storylines, and creating the first African-American super couple Angie and Jessie on AMC (who are still going strong to this day) were just a few example of soaps not only educating but expanding their horizons.
But somewhere along the line, soaps stopped taking chances, stopped being socially relevant and the cast of most shows became more white-washed than ever. Melissa Reeves of DAYS recently told We Love Soaps, "I love Los Angeles and I love that our kids have grown up here, for the diversity of it. Our kids don’t see race and color, they weren't raised that way. That’s what I love about Los Angeles." She was obviously talking about the real Los Angeles and not the L.A. that is portrayed on THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. The lack of a major gay character or strong leading African-American, Hispanic or Asian characters during the show's run is unrealistic and insulting. B&B has won the Outstanding Drama Series Award for three years in a row at the Daytime Emmys. And this year, they won it with a homeless storyline. But how many potential viewers is the show missing out on with its lack of a more diverse canvas?
These days soaps seem to be written for "Middle America," and the writers perceive these people as racist, homophobic and not very bright. They are wrong.
Following the overwhelming success of Angie and Jesse on AMC, how many other major African-American super couples have soaps seen over the past two decades? GENERATIONS was a great idea but never given a real chance by NBC. Other that that, not so many. THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS had a wonderful minority cast in the 1990s but in 2011 the stories for these characters are thin at best. AS THE WORLD TURNS had a strong black cast in the early 2000s but quickly made Lamman Rucker's Marshall character a rapist which pretty much ended story for all of them.
If we tune into shows geared toward younger viewers like DEGRASSI or GLEE, the casts are extremely diverse. Daytime claims to want younger viewers but prefers to try to emulate primetime's explosion quota more than its diversity (primetime doesn't get a pass but it's certainly further along than daytime).
Gay characters and couples have been introduced here and there in recent years with stories told at a snail's pace. ONE LIFE TO LIVE actually blamed their gay storyline (Kyle and Fish) for a ratings decline when they had a father tried to rape and impregnate his own daughter (Mitch and Jessica) at the same time. And they thought the gays were more offensive?
Minorities make up a significant portion of the daytime audience but are not represented on daytime soaps in a significant way. With AMC leaving ABC on September 23, the fall looks even worse.
Former Y&R star Victoria Rowell has spoken a lot about the lack of diversity in front of the camera and behind. Sometimes the message got lost in the delivery but the truth behind it is real. Would more minority viewers of all races and sexual orientations tune in if they were represented in a greater way on daytime soaps? And would this segment of the population be just enough to keep the shows alive? It would be nice if a soap tried to find out.
7. Reliance on Soap Cliches
Characters have been coming back from the dead on soaps since the beginning. Other soap cliches like switching paternity results, out of the blue doppelgangers and twins, and drunken one night stands leading to a pregnancy have also dominated soap storylines for ages. But in the past few years, soaps have done very little but use one cliche after another pretty much full-time in stories that were mostly boring, predictable and an insult to our intelligence.
Let's take a closer look at back from the dead stories. 40 years ago it was more of an event. A character would return and fans were shocked. Even 25 years go with James Stenbeck's "Hello Barbara" return on AS THE WORLD TURNS, we couldn't believe our eyes. Unfortunately, James died again and came back from the dead over and over and over again. By the end of ATWT's run it not only was a complete joke, whenever James returned, the characters weren't even surprised. DAYS villain Stefano Dimera is another "Phoenix" who has died many times (although DAYS finally has made him a more well-rounded character in recent years). From 2003-2004 they killed off ten characters who all turned up very much alive on an island.
This summer ALL MY CHILDREN has brought multiple characters back from the dead. We can forgive them, knowing they were writing an ending, but why have soap writers turned soap deaths into something fans can't even believe anymore. Unless a veteran actor has passed away in real life, we never think a character is really dead. Y&R's Cane and Chance are prime examples from earlier this year. Why bother writing a funeral, and have us watching a lover or spouse mourn when we have no faith the show will actually stick with their own plot for more than a month or two? It's nearly impossible to invest anymore.
Doppelgangers are another annoying trend that have gone overboard in recent years, resulting in viewers changing the channel. DAYS painfully experienced this a few months ago when their ratings hit record lows during the Rafe's twin imposter story. In the past few years, Y&R has had multiple doppelganger stories with Michelle Stafford, Tracey E. Bregman, Stacy Haiduk and Jeanne Cooper each playing two roles. At one point, there were two at the same time. Unreal! And to get out of the Cane death storyline, Y&R invented a twin. Tired, boring cliche.
There are too many soap cliches to cover and we will probably create a separate list for those (help us name the most annoying ones in the Comments section).
Soap budgets have shrunk, writing staffs have too, but these writers are still paid to do a job, presumably to write good stories. So why is are they relying on overused cliches more than ever? Stop blaming O.J., respect your audience, and don't create any new doppelgangers or bring anyone else back from the dead for the next year.
6. Marlena's Devil Possession on DAYS OF OUR LIVES
During the summer of 1994, the entire nation was transfixed on the trials and tribulations of O.J. Simpson. His infamous car chase and initial trial proceedings were televised live on daytime television, thereby interrupting the soaps and trumping them in the ratings. James E. Reilly, head writer of DAYS OF OUR LIVES assessed the situation, and decided that instead of trying to compete with the real life courtroom antics taking place everyday, that he would spend the next year going in the exact opposite direction, and telling the story of Dr. Marlena Evans' Devil Possession. The strategy worked, as DAYS received much press coverage during this very controversial story, and was the only soap to rise in ratings during O.J.'s trial.
However, what appeared to be a wise business move in the short run ended up costing DAYS, and many other daytime soaps, in the long run. DAYS spent the next ten years trying to replicate its success by telling absurd science-fiction stories, from art dealing doppelgangers, to a virtual Garden of Eden, to Marlena being brainwashed into thinking she killed half the town (don't ask!) to twins falling from outer space, all with declining ratings.
Other shows followed suit resulting in an embarrassing doppelganger story for Rachel on ANOTHER WORLD, a clone for Reva on GUIDING LIGHT, vampires for Lucy to slay on PORT CHARLES, etc. None of these supernatural fantasies seemed to payoff in building loyal followings for the soaps, while shows based (relatively) in reality such as Y&R, B&B, and GH continued to dominate the ratings.
5. Firing Michael Zaslow from GL when he became ill Soap opera actors have been fired or let go in many disrespectful ways over the years. For example, GENERAL HOSPITAL's Anna Lee, who had reportedly been promised a lifetime contract from a previous production regime, was fired in 2003, and she died a few months later. But the most disrespectful and disgusting casting move of them all was the way Procter & Gamble and GUIDING LIGHT treated Michael Zaslow. The word "blunder" hardly begins to describe it.
Zaslow had played soap roles before GUIDING LIGHT's Roger Thorpe, but it was his time as Roger that built him into a legend. He first joined GL in 1971, and fans fell in love with the character, and the actor, throughout the 1970s. The strong and devilish Roger was a villain like no one had ever created before. However, he "died" in 1980, and Zaslow went onto ONE LIFE TO LIVE to create another successful character, David Renaldi.
Zaslow returned to GL in full force in 1989. Roger's "death" was explained, and he fit back into the canvas immediately. He was a foil to the Bauers, the Spauldings, and provided endless hours of dysfunctional family drama with Holly, Blake, and Hart. In 1994 he was rewarded with the Emmy for outstanding actor in a daytime series.
It was in September 1996 that Zaslow began experiencing slightly slurred speech on the set of GL. Over the next few months, as he began to lose weight and the slurring escalated, he underwent a battery of tests (doctors suspected everything from myasthenia gravis to Lyme disease).
In April 1997, Procter & Gamble, which produced GL, took Zaslow off the air and shamelessly admitted that it was because of his condition (eventually, they replaced him with another actor, Dennis Parlato).
P&G exec Mary Alice Dobbins gained notoriety when she told TV Guide: "Roger is a powerful, active, sexual, multicolored villain. That's who we need him to be on the GL canvas. We do not need a wizened little old man. And that's what he would have to play in his condition."
Zaslow was a team player and GUIDING LIGHT champion. In turn, GL mocked him publicly and kicked him when he was down. In the September 1997 issue of People magazine, it was revealed that the unemployed soap star no longer received his full salary. He was in arbitration with P&G Productions about compensation. Zaslow stated that he had first suggested incorporating his condition "into the character, like a stroke," but GL executive producer Paul Rauch turned down the idea. "[Thorpe] has great strength and power," says Rauch. "It didn't seem characteristic for us to stop, then begin telling a story about whatever [Zaslow's] problem was."
The arbitration suit ended a month after his condition was finally diagnosed--Zaslow had ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease). Zaslow called the settlement "fair" but was not allowed to discuss specifics.
Would GL have kept Zaslow on if his condition had been known at the time he was let go? Zaslow didn't think so, saying, "If I had been diagnosed with ALS while I was on GL, I do not in truth believe it would have gone down any differently. I think they would have booted me out of there even faster, out of fear. It takes brave people with a sense of fighting spirit and humanity to behave with dignity in a crisis. Those at the top [of P&G] were not up to it. I bought into [the idea of GL] being a family and I have been hurt."
Luckily, in 1998 ONE LIFE TO LIVE hired him to reprise his role as David, Dorian's ex-husband. First of all, what a classy move. Well done, OLTL. Second, this final role demonstrates, without a doubt, that GL could have kept him on. For six months, unable to speak or walk, Zaslow offered OLTL viewers a memorable and sensitive portrayal of a strong man afflicted with a life-changing illness. No doubt he managed to change a few lives himself in the process.
After his diagnosis, Zaslow and his wife since 1975, Susan Hufford, exhaustively campaigned for ALS research funds. She continued to do so after his death. In 2005 Hufford published "Not That Man Anymore: (A Message From Michael)" using his personal journals. Hufford passed away in November 2006.
Undoubtedly, GL missed a huge opportunity to educate viewers about the early warning signs of this devastating illness. Yet, firing Michael Zaslow did more than just damage the show creatively. It left the audience with a sad, disgusting insight into the politics at P&G, making it immensely challenging to support the show and its sponsors for quite some time.
4. ABC canceling ONE LIFE TO LIVE
Beloved soap operas had been canceled before, including the 35 year-old (or older) SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, ANOTHER WORLD, AS THE WORLD TURNS and GUIDING LIGHT. Even though we hated these decisions, and boy did they hurt, at least, from a business perspective, the networks could justify them to a degree because of declining ratings, evaporating creativity, and usually, a last-place standing in that network's soap ratings.
SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, for example, was a shell of it former self when it left the airwaves in 1986, and although we still claim replacing the show with WORDPLAY was a blunder in and of itself, at least there was a shred of logic.
But ONE LIFE TO LIVE was actually on the rise in the ratings at the time of its cancellation. It was ABC Daytime's top-rated daytime drama, a first for a canceled soap, and it was a top 3 program in the important Women 18-49 demo. It even finished #1 in the coveted demographic of women 18-34 for two weeks in a row (August 22-26th, August 29th-September 2nd)! Who cancels their most watched soap?
Since the news was released on April 14, along with word that the show's replacement would be lifestyle-talker THE REVOLUTION, ONE LIFE TO LIVE has actually soared in the ratings even more, gaining more than half a million viewers year-over-year for several weeks. That's huge in terms of daytime ratings in 2011. We're sad about the cancellation of ALL MY CHILDREN as well, but let that fall under our #9 blunder (hiring Brian Frons and all the mistakes associated with that). It was in last place in the ratings at the time, like the other, aforementioned soaps.
OLTL has once again become must-see-TV, and it's the network's top soap in total viewers. It is up in every single demo from a year ago. Why is it going off the air in January 2012?
ABC and Brian Frons blew this one big time. We hope Prospect Park's pick up of both ONE LIFE TO LIVE and ALL MY CHILDREN for airing on the internet will someday make our "best decisions" list. Until then, we mourn the loss of this successful, popular institution and, also, the loss of network management's sanity as well.
3. Elimination of Core Families
From the Ames' on THE SECRET STORM and the Matthews on ANOTHER WORLD, to the HUGHES/LOWELL/STEWARTS on AS THE WORLD TURNS and Bauers on GUIDING LIGHT, the elimination of core families on the family-based soaps helped lead to each of the programs' decline, as well as a decline in the genre as a whole.
Can a show survive, thrive and maintain an audience when founding families are diminished or completely wiped out? This once worked successfully on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS as the show changed focus from the Brooks and Foster families to the Abbotts and Newmans. That transition, however, was executed by the delicate and thoughtful pen of original head writer Bill Bell. GUIDING LIGHT also lost core families when transferring from radio to television, but the Bauers were the center of the CBS version of the show.
In general, losing the main core family, can turn a soap opera into what is functionally a brand new show. AS THE WORLD TURNS originated with the Hughes and Lowell families in 1956. Over time, the Lowells and Stewarts sort of merged into one bigger family. ATWT's attempted to keep the Stewarts alive in its final decade involved having Susan use her ex-husband's last name again (the long dead Dan) even after having been remarried to another man. Her daughter from that marriage, Alison McDermott, would be aged and call herself Alison Stewart. Strange! Susan's maiden name would be understandable, but an ex-husband's name who died before Ali was born? Emily Stewart was the last remaining Stewart/Lowell when ATWT ended in September 2010.
ANOTHER WORLD went on the air in 1964 as a show about the Matthews family. 20 years later, most of the Matthews were gone. Even a return by Jacqueline Courtney for the show's 20th anniversary fizzled, because the landscape had change so much by them. Better writers could have made it work, but that wasn't the case. Years later, having Josie turn out to be the daughter of Russ Matthews was a stroke of genius, but a revival of the Matthews family was not to be.
After Bert Bauer died on GUIDING LIGHT, fans expected the show to continue with Ed and Mike front and center, and even Hillary. But Mike and Hillary weren't long for Springfield, and Ed was on the canvas off and on by the late 1990s. Bringing on Mary Stuart as Meta was wonderful and Michelle and Rick had storylines, but the missing Mike and his daughter, Hope, left a gaping hole felt until the very end.
Would keeping the core of these beloved families together have saved these canceled shows? With all the other blunders made on our list, it is debatable. But we are willing to bet that more longtime, multi-generational fans would have stayed tuned-in longer. Never underestimate the loyalty of a soap fan who grew up loving their soap's family along with their own family.
2. WIPING (Decades of soap history destroyed)
Want to watch Joan Crawford's appearance on THE SECRET STORM? Want to watch the entire Steve-Rachel-Alice triangle on ANOTHER WORLD? Want to watch about any soap episode from the 1950s to the late 1970s? Well, you are out of luck due to WIPING, a term used for action taken by radio and television production and broadcasting companies, in which old audiotapes, videotapes, and telerecordings (kinescopes), were erased, reused, or destroyed after several uses.
The practice was prevalent for decades, until the late 1970s, and it's astounding how much of our soap opera history was lost because of it. Most soaps transitioned from live broadcast to videotape during the 1960s, and it was a common practice to wipe and reuse the tapes. At the time, it was an expensive proposition to save that footage, to be sure, but didn't anyone have any foresight about wanting to see these shows later? Did no one understand the history they were destroying?
Most soaps began routinely saving their episodes between 1976 and 1979. When you see classic episodes aired on SOAPnet, or if you watched the Classic Soap channel P&G had on AOL a few years ago, you probably noticed that most of the episodes were from the late 1970s and later. Some soap operas have saved recordings of all their episodes, or they have put together collections thanks to fans. DARK SHADOWS has its entire five year run on ABC from 1966-1971. RYAN'S HOPE has its 1975-1989 run intact. But think of GUIDING LIGHT, SECRET STORM, AS THE WORLD TURN, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, EDGE OF NIGHT, and so many more classic and short-lived soap episodes that are lost forever. The number of surviving monochrome episodes recorded on kinescope outnumber color episodes for most of these programs, but the number we have is still small compared to what is gone.
Agnes Nixon and ABC were wise enough to save ONE LIFE TO LIVE and ALL MY CHILDREN episodes from the beginning--but in a cruel twist of fate, a fire destroyed most of the archives until the late 1970s. Different circumstances? Certainly. But they had an eerily similar outcome.
The Paley Center and the UCLA Film & Television Archive have some of the episodes that were spared from the wiping practice. We highly recommend checking out both to see some of the soap history that survived. And although it's a long shot, we implore any readers that, somehow, may have some kind of access to what may be a recording of a lost episode to please let us know.
Who is to blame for this blunder? Many people from P&G, as well as the other producer/sponsors and the networks themselves. Is there anything we can do? We must work as a community to locate, identify, and preserve any media that is part of our soap history, from audio tapes to scripts to books and magazines. And we must be vigilant: when soaps are streamed over the Internet, once again we will be vulnerable. The "hard copies" will be on servers somewhere, where they will be open to hacking, flooding, theft and so on, as well as more fires. And of course, data storage and maintenance is expensive; as episodes age, in the years and decades to come, can we be sure that a short-sighted corporate penny-pincher--all it takes is one--won't start wiping again?
1. Erica's unabortion
This is the most repugnant story line rewrite ever. ALL MY CHILDREN made television history by having Erica Kane become the first woman on TV to have had a legal abortion, even before the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. This storyline choice made headlines, and it was perceived by feminists as a defining moment in women's history as well. Furthermore, it proved daytime television's ability to address complex social issues that were relevant to its audience, as well as demonstrating the sophistication of that audience.
Erica, then married to Dr. Jeff Martin, did not want to end her modeling career. She chose to abort her pregnancy secretly, without Jeff's consent. Her secret didn't last long, as she contracted an infection from the procedure, and word got out. What makes the abortion particularly controversial is Erica's reason for doing it: not for reasons of health, but so that she can keep her job. In the end, the controversy did not hurt ratings, either. They rose from 8.2 to 9.1.
In May 2005, Dr. Greg Madden came to Pine Valley. He was soon followed by his son, Josh, first played by Scott Kinworthy, then replaced three months later with Colin Egglesfield. Head writer Megan McTavish set off controversy when the abortion storyline, now part of television history, was retconned in order to establish that Erica's aborted fetus was transferred into another woman's uterus.
Her son, Josh Madden, would eventually learn of his true parentage. Erica hired Josh to produce her talk show, “New Beginnings.” Josh lined up his father, Greg Madden, a well-known fertility expert, to be one of the first guests. Erica couldn’t place where she had met Dr. Madden until a bizarre series of events revealed that Dr. Madden had not only performed her abortion a few years back but developed a creepy obsession with her and implanted her aborted embryo into his own wife using a revolutionary new technique.
Megan McTavish "unaborting" Erica's fetus in this offensive story alienated and offended loyal viewers in droves. In an attempt to correct the error, the writers killed "Josh" in 2009, but it was too little too late. The damage was done, the shark was jumped, and AMC has only hemorrhaged viewers ever since. With equal parts historical ignorance, political inanity, and creative ineptitude, McTavish gave birth to what is officially the number one greatest blunder in daytime soap opera history.