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COUNTDOWN: 25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (25-21)


A lot of people in the daytime soap opera industry like to blame O.J. Simpson, the growing number of cable channels, 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. Over the next week, We Love Soaps will reveal our 25 Biggest Blunders in Daytime Soap Opera History. 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. For now, here are the first five blunders on our list.

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.

Continue reading...
25 Biggest Blunders In Daytime Soap Opera History (20-16)


EDITOR'S NOTE: We want to hear from you. Rank your 25 Biggest Blunders in the Comments section of our Blunders posts and we will post a reader's list once we compile the results.

26 comments:

  1. One of the biggest blunders on Days was how they handled Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes in 1984. Whether they left of their own accord or whether Days didn't renew their contract is still unclear. But whichever the case, it should never have happened.

    Doug and Julie were the FACE of the show, the face of the network. They had appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1976. Their love story carried the show throughout the 70s. But to suddenly backburner them in 1983 (thanks to Brian Frons directive to focus on the younger characters). And then when they complained to the media about being back burnered, Days told them to shut up.

    I know Days rating soared with the love story of Bo and Hope. But Salem never felt the same again without Doug and Julie there regularly.

    There were still plenty more stories for Doug and Julie. One is still left unresolved -- Doug doesn't know that Robert LeClair's adopted son Dougie is really his biological child.

    And in letting Doug and Julie go, we also lost her son, David Banning as a character.

    It's nice Doug and Julie have been been back in Salem with some degree of regularity since 1999. But I wish they had a storyline of thier own instead of being talk to characters for Hope and Bo. And occsioanly Jennifer and Maggie.

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  2. If Jo's son had survived, there would have been a real core family in Henderson and his character would have been a counterpart to GL's Bill Bauer or ATWT's Tom Hughes.

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  3. I think one of the biggest mistakes all the networks made was the round robin hiring and firing of a writing staff. There was a time when the revolving door of writers made it impossible to keep track of stories and shows cause they would shift mid-storyline.

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  4. Damon, this is something that needed to be written -- and you're off to a great start. #22 and #21 especially resonate for me.

    I look forward to future installments.

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  5. Recasting Allison Rice Taylor with Susan Baton on ATWT. And the whole forced relationship with Connor and Mark. Both contributed to ruining her character so badly they had to just get rid of her.

    Having Sam and Kirk disappear and NEVER addressing again, even when the show was going off the air.

    You can make a stable boy become a business executive over night and soap fans with buy it. You can even age a 12 year old to a 20 year old and make them a chief of staff at a hospital and we'll roll with it. But when you stop telling us if they are working in business or as stable boys or horse breeders and we're just forced to guess, then you're going to make us mad.

    Likewise, if Lily moves her whole family into her mother-in-laws farmhouse for about three years but there is never a storyline to tell us why they are living there, and then just as randomly they are back at her (scaled down) mansion, you're going to make soap fans mad! I get that you have to cut sets and cut budgets, but the beauty of soaps is you can just write it into the show! Faith started smoking and burned the house down, so we all moved in with Emma. Done. Easy.

    And where was Emma for the last decade? She wasn't tending to her chickens or her houseguests! Just tell me she's MOVED to be near Iva and MJ, tell me a teen MJ has a drug problem and Emma was gonna scare him straight! I'd rather see a teen MJ being scared straight by Emma on my screen, but I know they wouldn't do that, so I'll settle for a reasonable explanation, because I know Emma didn't go on 20 church retreats a year! And that excuse made me say, I guess Emma has her own drug problem and her whole family doesn't even realize it! She's in Milltown scoring a fix.

    And who in God's name owns Worldwide??? Is it Lucinda? Craig? Paul? Dusty? Why do they all share an office???

    When the writers forget or don't care what's going on, that's when the genre is really washed up and played out.

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  6. I'm not sure I have a blunder, but I certainly agree w/# 22. I'm in the process of receiving my MBA and am taking a stats course. One of the first things my professor said was that a survey doesn't necessarily measure accuracy, but certainly a degree of what is wrong. Why? Because there is no way to question all types of people within a population...only those willing to participate. And if all they listened to was 12 women from the Bronx...well I can see why soaps are on their death beds and the fact that they continue to this, just bothers me. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME on TPTB!!!
    And this younger people crap...Hey my mom and dad are just as relevant as my nieces and nephews. Hell they're more interesting. Again, the SHAME!
    ...oh and one last thing...I don't want to see NO MORE DEAD PEOPLE!!!

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  7. Great column, can't wait to read the full list.

    Not sure if it's one of the Biggest Blunders, but something that bugged me with ABC's soaps was the attempt to homoginize them and give them all the same style of opening credits. Each show is unique and should be treated as such. But when you begin treating them all as one big interchangable soap opera, then you lose any respect for the soaps as individual programs with their own audiences and tones of voice. It's not surpsing that ABC is the network that axed two of its soaps on the same day and has the third on life support.

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  8. Every soap except those run by the Bell family (# 1 and 2 in the ratings) play the game of revolving writers all the time ... they recycle stories, get rid of characters loyal fans have invested YEARS in watching ( like NOLA on GL) .. then bring in new families that we're instantly supposed to care about. it does not work. soaps need writers from outside the industry who do not recycle old storylines. I wrote a soap in college, tried to get into a writers' development program at P& G, but they had dropped it. Our soap did the GL "Marion Crane" storyline 10 years earlier... and I was a college student writing it at the time! Timing has never been on my side, but they need fresh, out of the box writers who give characters depth, motivation, and integrity to who they are as individuals...that motivates every action they do, how they interact with others, etc. Douglas Marland was a gem at this technique.... I have yet to find anyone else who even comes close except for Lorraine Broderick at AMC now and the Dobsons during their tenure at GL.

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  9. Love the info , alot I had forgoyyen about , but I moannel soaps ! I am still missing ATWT. I used to couldn't wait for it to come on an hated when it got to the weekend an I had to wait all weekend to watch again ! Good job here with the Blunders !

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  10. Hiring Ellen Weston as Head writer at Guiding Light. She re-wrote the history for FIVE legacy characters, and the storyline wasn't even good to begin with. When she came in it was the beginning of the end of Guiding Light.

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  11. Along the lines of Ellen Weston, she also wrote the infamous "Ben Reade is a serial killer" story. Although the story heavily featured Marina, played at the time by Aubrey Dollar (a wonderful actress who has gone on to theater and occasional prime time and movie appearances), it was a terrible rewrite of history. Molested as a child?

    This was not the Ben I remember, the innocent young boy who hung out with Bill and Michelle as 12 and 13-year olds in the early 1990s. The very day the Ben story ended and Ben was killed off, I immediately e-mailed CBS and said in so many words "You have to get rid of this writer. She is a cancer to your serial and an embarrassment to the daytime community."

    I wasn't the only one to think that, obviously, as she was fired not even two weeks later.

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  12. Steve, Weston was not fired so quickly after Ben Reade was killed off. Ben committed suicide in the summer of 2003 and Weston remained with Guiding Light into mid-2004. A couple months after she butchered Ben's character, she went onto butcher numerous characters in the MaryAnn Carruthers storyline.

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  13. In terms of Edge, I thought it was ONE particular actor (a major leading man) who didn't agree to the residuals and, thus, the deal to air Edge on late night fell through.

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  14. DOOL letting go of Louise Sorel 'vivian'. the first time they let her go was a mistake and it took 20 years to get her back. she is/was one of the most interesting people on that show. yet, they let her go again in 2011. BIG MISTAKE. i will no longer watch DOOL because of this.

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  15. The biggest blunder for me was when Santa Barbara came on,and it was fine.TIIC decided to change the people running it.The Dobsons.They loced them out. They had the best actors and when they had the big C fall on half of the couple I loved watching. Harley Kozak. That was it for me. They had me I changed GH and GL to watch it,boom they changed. They killed off so many actors I would like somebody next thing you know they were dead. Guess you can't please everybody all the time.
    Also they need to stop killing off chracters then when people complain,they bring them back.

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  16. The biggest blunder for me was when Santa Barbara came on,and it was fine.TIIC decided to change the people running it.The Dobsons.They locked them out. They had the best actors and when they had the big C fall on half of the couple I loved watching. Harley Kozak. That was it for me. They had me I changed GH and GL to watch it,boom they changed. They killed off so many actors I would like somebody next thing you know they were dead. Guess you can't please everybody all the time.
    Also they need to stop killing off chracters then when people complain,they bring them back.SB hasn't been on for years but fans still remember it,and go on line to watch what is left.

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  17. You could probably come up with 25 blunders just for "As The World Turns, including:

    1. Not giving Nancy Hughes (Helen Wagner, an original cast member!) a proper funeral and send off. Even Janet's father's death got more coverage than Nancy's. Shame!!

    2. They had at least 3 months to wrap up the storylines, but we were subjected to Chuckles the clown, Blackie, Iris and others two of those 3 months when Oakdale regulars should have been front and center. Also, the writing/continuity was really bad the last three months. The ending was, for the most part, crappy.

    3. A few characters did get happy endings, but too many did not (Luke, for example) and some did not appear at all (where was Emma?). And although they celebrated Eileen Fulton's 50th anniversary, she was hardly more than a piece of furniture at the end. SHAME! And Susan Stewart made a very brief appearance in the last episode and I don't think she was on air for the last several weeks/maybe even months. I was thankful they brought back Frannie (Julianne Moore) and Dr. John Dixon (the fabulous Larry Bryggman) and Will/Gwen, but it would be nice to have seen Penny or Don, or so many old favorites or have Lisa fall in love with a nice gentleman.

    4. How about Bob and Kim's 25th anniversary with their son, Chris, who was born a year after they were married but is now in his late 30s? That was bizarre, as was the storyline that their marriage wasn't legal due to the clergyman not having proper credentials(when that same preacher married others in town back in the day...does that mean other Oakdalers are not married? Even though they've probably divorced in the meantime?).

    5. Killing Brad and then immediately pairing Katie up with Chris before the end. I wasn't a Brad fan, but the Katie/Chris pairing made no sense and they had little chemistry (they had no time to conjure up any). It would've made more sense if Simon came back again for her.

    6. Killing Reid (one of the best characters they introduced in years) and making it longer than Nancy Snyder's death. Breaking Luke Snyder's heart. 'Nuff said.

    7. Character assassinations of Vienna, Lucinda and others.

    I'm getting riled up again (it's almost the 1 year anniversary of the show's demise), so I'll leave it at this although there are more things I can cite.

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  18. Robb, obviously time has dulled my senses. lol... it was one of those stories where I e-mailed CBS. And this is something I almost rarely do.

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  19. I completely agree with Anonymous's views on the 7 biggest blunders of ATWT! It's pissing me off all over again!

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  20. #25 really hits home for me. Soaps are infamous for killing children, often for shock value and a short term storyline. Then, a few years or months later, when they need a young character, a sudden mystery child from a prior relationship shows up. I'm loving the Stefano/Chad story, but it is beyond absurd that Chad is Stefano's 37th previously unknown bastard child. If it isn't an illegitimate child it's a random niece or nephew, the child of someone we never heard of before. "I know I've never once mentioned Uncle Gustav before, put here is his daughter Esmeralda, who's moving in with me and will become my sole heir."

    Overall soaps are shortsighted and foolish in dealing with death. An actor wants to leave, or or is fired, so the character dies senselessly. Soon the producers/writers realize their mistake. They recast the character and bring them back from the dead, with a new face. The recast fails, the original actor is rehired, and the character has their old face back.

    Soon another legacy character is killed, and they wonder why I can't get emotionally connected to yet another senseless death. I can't cry because I know they will be back. I can't be tricked again.

    It is interesting that they seem to hurt the show by permanently killing the children, and also hurt the show by 'temporarily' killing the adults. either way, the viewers lose.

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  21. I disagree with #23. Expansion to an hour was inevitable, and gave the opportunity for the development of previously minor characters. Yes, it has led to the introduction of pointless characters (Aubrey, Cutter, Rama and Vimal on OLTL are perfect examples of this.

    On the other side, the hour format provided the opportunity for Luke and Noah to exist. We all fought furiously and endlessly for more airtime and greater storyline development for Luke and Noah. I firmly believe that they never would have existed if ATWT had remained a half hour soap. Luke may have been there as a minor character, or maybe as a straight character in place of Casey. (A half hour soap would not have developed both characters). Luke would not have become the groundbreaking gay character he became if he had to fight for the 22 minutes of airtime available in a half hour soap.

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  22. What? I love Aubrey, Cutter, Rama and Vimal on OLTL! They're great! Has daytime ever had South Asian characters that were this three dimensional? Of course, it is disappointing that they Rama and Vimal don't get any love scenes.

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  23. BRILLIANT award winning journalism! all my best!

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  24. Tom you touched on my point spot on, not that this is surprising. I totally agree with number 25 Damon, and it is a mistake that soaps seem to make over and over again. It's like they sit around the writing table thinking hmmm what can we do to spice things up. oh I know lets kill off a kid today, we haven't done it lately.

    Now granted sometimes it works, Maxie and BJ in the nineties was a heartbreaking story. BJ suffering from the car crash and Maxie getting her heart I could BUY that, it worked and to this day Maxie always remembers that she has BJ's heart. On the flipside i am still not certain why Georgie had to die. OR Emily, or Jake or Zack on days of our lives. I won't even get into how i think the miscarriage is overdone.

    And while we're on the same tip killing characters only to decided five months down the line that they were wrong and need the character back so they have to figure out a way to bring a character who died from some disease (B&B's Taylor for example) and make it conceivable that they didn't die after all. it's especially fun when the character isn't known for abandoning their family...so they have to explain that too. I won't even go into ATWT...i agree with greg and the other poster there

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  25. By the way i love this list. i have been sitting here agreeing with each one and ranting my reasons why :) good job damon, can't wait to see what else you guys came up with

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  26. WOW. This is awesome! Loving it, Damon.

    @Mark I completely understand your frustration about fresh writing. I wrote a manuscript in EIGHTH GRADE for a soap opera - just for fun - in 1992. I wrote it on my typewriter, cut out pictures of the actors I "cast", and put it all together in a scrapbook. Apparently, since the dawn of the net, I found out that a lot of people have done this for fun, but I was 13 and just loved soaps and writing.

    "Modern Love" featured stories that I have seen on daytime throughout the 1990s - so much so I would have sworn that my creation was plagiarized. Obviously that's not the case, but I wonder what could have been if the net existed then and I got my ideas out there. Just saying!!

    @ATWT fans 1000% agreed with all posts! Thanks for the P&G love and the acknowledgment of the obvious crap that we were forced to swallow.

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