Thursday, June 18, 2009

OPINION: Return of Chappell/Kurth & the Plan to Save DAYS

DAYS OF OUR LIVES is a vastly improved soap of late. Ever since Gary Tomlin took over as co-executive producer and Christopher Whitesell became co-head writer, there has been a consistent vision for the show. Whether or not you like where the story is headed, you can sense the show is heading somewhere, towards some sort of climax. When Sami and EJ finally learn that Sydney is their baby, Nicole better watch out! The impending Sami and Nicole showdown will be something that DAYS would be smart to capitalize on. The recent death of baby Grace, a plot that had been building since last winter, showcased the talents of Alison Sweeney (Sami), Galen Gering (Rafe), Arianne Zucker (Nicole) and James Scott (EJ).

When it was previously announced by NBC's Jeff Zucker that the show was unlikely to continue past 2009 fans revolted. DAYS was the last remaining soap on the network and it appeared that NBC finally wanted out of the suds business. Against all odds, DAYS was renewed; with a 40% reduced fee (per executive producer Ken Corday). Shortly thereafter, soap icon Deidre Hall (Marlena), Drake Hogestyn (John), Stephen Nichols (Steve), Mary Beth Evans (Kayla) and Thaoo Penghlis (Tony) were all let go; Hall's firing the most shocking. The ostensible star of the show for the past 33 years, Hall's deparure seemed to signal the death knell for the show. How could DAYS survive without Dr. Marlena Evans? As painful as it was, the rationale fans were told was that in order for the show to survive, cuts had to be made. It was also a switch from the DAYS strategy of bringing back fan favorites to try and up the ratings.

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To the surprise of many, the axing of the popular actors didn't have a negative impact on the ratings and they are actually up year to date (the only soap with more viewers year-over-year in the June 1-5, 2009 ratings). With a combination of featuring longtime veterans (and presumbly lesser paid) like Emmy winner Suzanne Rogers (Maggie), Peggy McKay (Caroline), John Aniston (Victor), and Joseph Mascolo (Stefano), the focus on the new generation of Salem, and some solidarity behind the scenes, the show has experienced a renaissance. With the focus on using lower paid actors and the ratings improving, their new strategy seemed to be working. The show had finally hit upon the right "plan to save DAYS" after many attempts.

Now comes word that popular Emmy winner Crystal Chappell is returning as Dr. Carly Manning and Wally Kurth is returning as Justin Kiriakis. There is no denying that Chappell and Kurth are great actors and that their characters were popular in their heydey on DAYS. I can't say enough about Chappell and her work on GUIDING LIGHT as Olivia. It has been a masterclass in acting. We Love Soaps would follow Chappell to any soap she landed on. But just what is going on here? DAYS' new vision was finally working with ratings up, and costs down. The show had seemingly proved you could move on from the past and move into the future without losing viewers. Why bring on Chappell and Kurth when you have just let go five actors who meant a great deal to fans and who played characters that still had story to tell? Are we now going back to the 2007 plan to save the show?

Even Alison Sweeney was taken aback by the news in an interview with former soap writer turned blogger Sara Bibel.

It’s amazing. I admired [Chappell's] work when she was on [GUIDING LIGHT]. I think she’s such a talented actress. I’m thrilled to have her back. I used to be a fan of the show [before joining it] and she was one of my favorite characters.

I have no idea [if other former cast members will return]. It sort of seems sad and odd to me that they would let go of some wonderful cast members and then bring in new people in the same situation. I don’t know what the thought behind that is.

I feel the same way Alison. I love Chappell and Kurth and hope a great story is planned for them, but what exactly is going on in Burbank? Has the DAYS strategy changed again? Did DAYS just not want to write for John, Marlena, Steve, Kayla and Tony?

I haven't enjoyed DAYS OF OUR LIVES this much in years. I see so many positive changes that give me hope for the show's long-term survival. But for fans who were hurt by the departures of their Salem favorites earlier this year, it would be nice to know if the show is switching gears yet again. What do you think? Are these casting choices good for the show? Is it fair to exchange Chappell and Kurth for the other axed veterans? Has the strategy worked so well DAYS can now afford a couple of veteran returns? As always, the behind the scenes action is never boring at DAYS.


  1. Michael, I agree with both you and Ali that it is curious to sort of go back to the strategy from a couple of years ago of bringing on former actors, especially when the ratings have held steady or gone up with the younger/cheaper actors and new direction.

    If the story is there for Chappell and Kurth, I'm sure it will work out, but in terms of what thew new "plan" is, who knows. It wasn't working for everyone, but it has seem like there was a vision for the new DAYS the past few months, so I'm hope they stay on track.

  2. Well said. I am looking forward to Carly's return a lot even though it surprised me quite a bit.

  3. But just what is going on here? DAYS' new vision was finally working with ratings up, and costs down. The show had seemingly proved you could move on from the past and move into the future without losing viewers.

    Amen! I mean I have been able to watch Days these days...something I haven't been able to do since Chris Kositchek was a lead character and Wayne Northrup first came to mess with the Doc. The show is the 'comeback kid', in both ratings and storytelling. It is still classically Days, but it no longer feels like it is dying.

    Thus, I would have liked them to keep with their pared down cast and next generation.

    That said, I think these two returns are intriguing. These are widely liked performers, both of whom have been humbled in some way (i.e., Kurth was wrongly ignored on GH, and Chappell weathered the storm of all the cost-cutting at GL...and still made "gold" out of it). Thus, it seems to me that they will cost much less than the major stars who left.

    But money is not the issue...storytelling is. In that sense, even here I perceive "hope" (pun intended). I think we may finally have a viable front-burner tale to tell Bo and Hope. Justin fits in well with the rejuvenated Kiriakis clan, and if Carly keeps Bo busy...

    I just hope Days can stick to what it is doing, without network/owner meddling.

  4. I think in a way it does come down to the writers not wanting to write for Marlena/John, Steve/Kayla I really think they didn't want to. Crystal and Wally are great actors that have been away from the show for a long time which will make it easier ot write for them Carly more so because she left town with Lawrence we don't know what happened after with Justin we know he married Adrienne and had children plus they aren't taking Days to the bank so theirs more room to write. You know it helps that Crystal is high profile over at CBS and everyone wanted Wally back on GH I would say so far NBC is winning the casting wars.

  5. Great article, Michael! I had the same reaction - are they going backward or going forward? Is this just KC interfering with an EP's creative vision? And where would Justin fit in after they completely wasted Judi Evans?

    As a Leann Hunley fanatic I just have to say DON'T FORGET ANNA! She was part of the 2009 "massacre" of veterans. She may not have been on contract, but her removal from Salem was at minimum a symbolic gesture that DAYS wanted to move past the 80's.

  6. Thanks Damon. And I hear you about Leann Hunley, but unfortunately Anna was off-screen during most of her "offical return," and I didn't include her with the others. However, it could also be said that Leann was treated with the most disrespect of all of the veteran actors. I can see your point :)

  7. I have no clue what the strategy at Days is. It does seem awfully odd. I'm hoping that the writers have something up their sleeve for Crystal Chappell. It would be such a shame if all she got to do was be a spoiler for Bo and Hope. After years of that role on GL, Chappell was just finally getting truly new material.

    Wonder what Dr. Princess Manning has been doing all these years...

  8. I agree, Blithedale. I understand why the assumption is that Carly will be involved with Bo and Hope, but a third wheel in a triangle isn't my first choice. Chappell is so amazing and I'm praying the writing allows her to shine.

  9. Maybe Carly will get paired with Hope! We can call them "Harly"!

  10. I miss Steve and Kayla a lot and always feel that there was potential story out there for them, considering their history with both the DiMeras and the Kiriakis clan. But if the writers don't WANT to write it, what can you even say?

    Through decisions they've made and decisions they continue to make, they've let vet fans know that the faces they loved and followed for years aren't really useful to the show at this point. The writers aren't interested and if the fans are, so what?

    But maybe...just maybe..the writers will do right by the soon to return Crystal Chappell and Wally Kurth.

    One would hope so, as Chappell and Kurth deserve for their characters to be given decent material every bit much as the departed Hall, Hogestyn, Nichols, Evans, Penghlis, and Hunley did.

  11. I agree that there could have been so much story to tell for Steve and Kayla. Especially since their daughter is with Philip now. Also we don't really know what happened to Kayla when she was in LA. She could have had an admirer who could have come to town to now try to steal her away from Steve. Maybe Steven had another baby that he didn't remember having with someone else (forget the stupid Ava s/l). I am still mad as heck that they gave them up without even trying to come up with a s/l. As far as Marlena and John, I really think their s/l was finished even though I did like them. They became ruined for me with the Alex North s/l. I think they should have stuck with the Kate/John/Roman/Marlena love triangle that was going on and the fact that Marlena was pregnant with Roman's baby. Every since she fell down those stairs and got amnesia and Alex North came on the show I lost interest in them as a couple.
    Anyway I am looking forward to Justin and Carly coming back. Good work Days.

  12. I think the show has improved quite a bit. The albatross of attempting to try and address John/Steve/Kayla collective back histories was not helping the show move forward. And they did try and fail several times over. Whether you liked the Ava storyline or not, it was an attempt. The NuJohn storyline was an attempt. Steve and Kayla having a baby; stupid, but an attempt. Couple that with fanbases never satisfied unless their favorite couples are on screen ALL THE TIME, then no wonder they were cut.

    As a "since the beginning" Steve and Kayla fan, seeing them cut loose was a welcome sight. Not using them was more insulting than anything. I, however, can see how the writers had difficulty with their storyline(s).

    The show is leaner, crisper (though, Stephanie and Phillip tend to drag the pace down to a crawl..okay, Stephanie), and much more interesting and forward-looking. I was never a fan of Carly, but I can see how the presence of an Alamain and an old school Kiriakis (which is very relevant given the current DiMera/Kiriakis interactions) has the potential to shake things up even more. I am hoping there is more to the Carly return than a triangle storyline.