Was it O.J. Simpson, women in the workplace, Reality TV, or did the soaps kill themselves with one bad decision after another? You decide. Our countdown of the 25 Biggest Blunders in Daytime Soap Opera History continues with blunders number 10-6.
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.
- COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (25-21)
- COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (20-16)
- COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (15-11)
COMING MONDAY: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (5-1)