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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Days of Our Lives: Fans Missing the Good Old Days

Fans Missing the Good Old Days

As a writer and long time viewer of Days of our Lives, I'm more than a little saddened at the lost of my beloved soap, especially when it didn't need to be. As with all soaps, the fans of Days were known to be rabidly loyal until they are given cause not to be. Since the beginning of 2007, the viewers have been given more than just cause to change the channel. Ignoring the importance of the vets and corrupting the show’s history while pandering to the younger viewer only proved that the current writers and producers simply don't understand how soap loyalty is built. Factoring in the incomplete storylines and the endless triangles, there is little wonder why the ratings dropped from 2.7 to 1.9 in four months and never really recovered.

Like most, I started watching soaps with my mother and grandmother. It was something we shared especially through the teen years when it was sometimes the only safe topic of conversation. My Mom started me with Dark Shadows with its endless cliffhangers and spooky storylines... My grade school was five blocks from home and even through the show started the same time school ended, I was able to run fast enough to make it home before end of the opening credits, which wasn't bad for a short eight year old. During that half hour, people knew not to call or stop by unless it was an emergency; after once, they new they wouldn‘t be well received.

When Dark Shadows was cancelled in 1970, Mom switched to Days of Our Lives and Another World, I naturally followed. Although, I could only watch on sick days, holidays and summer vacations, Mom kept me updated. When The Young and the Restless premiered in 1973, I briefly watched, but it simply wasn’t the same and I went back to NBC’s soaps. Even back then, I was able to see where the storylines were gong, which used to drive my Mom nuts. She had her own in house spoiler, who would tell what was going to happen days and sometimes weeks ahead.

Days has always pushed the limits. Not just the typical soap, the gothic flavor kept its storylines unique. The plots were complex and well developed. The mysteries were suspenseful, with twisting plots and believable misdirection. The romances were developed in such a way that that the sexual tension drove the fans crazy--the love stories were slowly developed with so many misses and close calls that when it was consummated the fans also smoked a cigarette. The characters were written to have more shades of gray. Alice Horton, who was the perfect everything, still helped break Roman Brady out of jail, while Stefano DiMera, the epitome of evil, was still be willing risk his own life in duel with the devil for the soul of someone he loved. Whether you loved to hate or just simple loved the characters, over the decades they have become member of the family. Unlike the other soaps, humor has always been a keystone to Day’s success. From Eugene’s unique perspective on the world to the multitude of sexual innuendos of the developing relationships, humor has been used to tease and romance the audiences. By equally balancing these elements, Days became show based on suspense, romance, drama and humor, which fans were willing to suspend their disbelief even through the space alien twins whose parentage kept changing.

Although there have been dry spots when the storylines weren’t exactly up to par and many people watched out of habit instead of real interest, it was never was as bad or lasted as long as now; nor were the long-time viewers sacrificed to favor of younger. Obviously, the writers and executive don’t know or don’t understand that the new viewers have been and always be brought in by the loyal ones. With the vet being ignored and dismissed, the writers and executives are also casting aside the viewers who have stuck with the show for decades. While they are casting their net for the tweens and teens, they have forgotten that is this their parents and grandparents who not only control how the household budget is spent; they are also the ones who have the secure incomes and the buying power the advertisers are seeking.

Daytime dramas weren’t nicknamed soaps because of their clean content, but due to their advertising base that was directed toward women who were home in the middle of the afternoon. Detergents and cleaning products of all types were the primary sponsors of daytime television. With the technological, economic and life style changes, the society has changed. Women are still the primary target audience; however, the twenty-something's are no longer the power age group. Not only have popular actors aged, but so have their fans. The typical soap viewer per the Soap Opera Digest

* working woman
* 35-44 years of age
* married
* has children
* At least a high school graduate
* With a household income over $70,000.

This demographic has no interest in teeny boppers in heat or in seeing middle-aged men lusting after the barely-legal. However, seeing older women, who still have romance and adventure in their lives gives these women hope that they will have the same. They don’t fantasize about being a whiny teen, but growing older with passion, love and adventure. Marlena and John, Bo and Hope, Maggie and Mickey, and Kayla and Steve represent this demographic’s ideal. Kate is every single woman heroine; she is intelligent, powerful and sexy enough to get the attention of every man in the room. This demographic is also the ones with the spending power to buy the cars, take the trips, and buy the luxury items as well as the household products.

With the writers strike in 2007, all the soaps suffered; however, Days took the biggest hit. Writing first as a scab, Dena Higley officially joined the staff as the head writer in March. Previously Higley had been fired from One Life to Live; her writing style not only dropped the show in the rankings, but also put her at odds with both the cast members and fans alike. Emmy Award winning actress and grand dame of One Live to Live, Erika Slezak was quotes as saying, "‘Dena doesn't care about the rich history of the show, which is evident in what she writes,’ and that Higley ‘wants to write stories that she thinks are interesting but nobody else does.’" Evidently, Higley learned nothing from her dismissal as she has carried this same thought process to Days as within weeks of her taking the helm, the ratings nosed dived from 2.7 to 1.9. Instead of competing for the top spot, Days is now found at the bottom, frequently tying for last place.

As with OLTL, Higley has totally disregarded the show’s history and established characters. Her storyline are incomplete and make no sense. From the rape victim falling in love with her attacker to the incestuous relationship between Stephanie and Max to sex in the elevator, her vision of romance more closely resembles soft porn than a soap opera. Storylines were launched only to be dropped. Neither murder mystery ever had much mystery nor did any one care about the victims or if the killers were caught. The clues made no sense as did the revelation of the murderer. She turned the strongest younger character to a psycho-stalker in a matter of weeks without any build up. Hope’s statement that she saw it coming for almost a year has no basis in fact. It was only after the fans starting pointing the finger at Melanie’s mother, who would have been portrayed by Eve Plumb, did Nick start loosing his grip on reality. Writing Alison Sweeny’s pregnancy into the show only proves how little respect Higley has for her fans. The most obvious mistake was the timing. A teen or an obese woman may not notice they are five months pregnant, but most women, especially those who had children before, would have known after their second missed moon time. Time is also a factor in the Abe for mayor storyline. Although it’s great for the character, the illogic behind the plot is staggering. There is no way a political campaign could be launched in three weeks much less the candidate win.

Higley gutted the veterans with an old, rusty knife, inflicting pain on both the actors and viewers alike. With little or nor regard for what the fans want, the veterans and favorite couples were shoved aside to give air time to younger characters. She would only have to read the boards to learn what and who the fans want and don’t want. Repeatedly the fans asked for better storylines and more air time with the vets--the real vets: Marlena, John, Bo, Hope, Kayla and Steve. By no stretch of the imagination could EJ be considered a vet; he’s only been on the show for two years. We also miss Francis Reid. We were told she was scheduled to appear, but had to decline for health reasons. It makes me wonder if she was really ill or if what was happening on the screen was making her sick. There was even a tongue-in-cheek thread where posters were asked to describe the best ways to get rid of the characters they hated. Max, Chelsea, Stephanie, and Melanie were those most often killed off, yet these are the ones Higley put front and center.

She turned the strong women of Days into spineless, wimps who have lost all direction in life. Higley simply doesn’t have a clue how to write for strong women. She turned Sami, who used take no prisoners--I’m going to get my man character into one who was indecisive and inconsistent. The real Sami wouldn’t have jumped into bed with EJ when she received Lucas letter; she would have jumped into her car and drove to the prison. Even if she would have had to break in, Sami would have gone to Lucas. Sami being Sami, she would have gotten caught. I can see it now: Roman clicking his tongue and saying, “Sami, Sami. Breaking into prison? I taught you better than that.” Not only would have it be character consistent, but if well written, it could have also been hilarious. Stephanie went from a world-class racer to worrying about where Max was; at least the scripts were ecologically responsible; they just recycled them day after day. When Marlena was given a storyline, she was either trying to save John or used as a crutch to prop up the younger characters.

I wondered why way Ken Corday keeps trying to kill John Black; you would think he has a personal grudge against the character--almost as if Corday has the same obsession with Marlena that Stefano had and is jealous of their relationship. However, Corday should be aware that Higley has ripped Stefano’s balls off and has turned him from a powerful character that controls his world into a simpering, goo-gooing secondary caricature of his former self. She has also turned EJ from strong villain, who was reminiscent of Al Pacino‘s Michael Corleone, into Sami’s whipping boy, who has no life other being part of Ejamie.

In April, I started writing alternative storylines for Days and posting on the NBC boards. It was in protest to the bad writing and was only meant to be short term. I had my own writing projects to work on that didn’t leave much extra time for an off-the-cuff project. However, so many people like what I wrote that the project took on life of its own My script had more favorable comments than what was being shown on the screen and many suggested I contact executive producers. I did, but wasn’t even given basic common courtesy. It seems the industry has become so inbred and arrogant that they believe no one outside their clique could possible write for soaps. Some people claim that I’m just bitter because I’m not invited the party and that I just want the fame of being the head writer. If I wanted fame there are better and easer ways to achieve it. When head writer does their job right, they spend their career making the executive producers and the actors look good, while quietly standing in the background. The only time anyone outside the industry wants to know their name is when they really screw up. Would I still like the gig? Sure, without a doubt; however, at this rate, it would be a temp job.

Trying to make this about me doesn't change the facts. Days came into 2007 with 2.7 rating within four months, they dropped to 1.9. So congratulations Higley, everyone knows your name; however, your career will always be credited with the death of an icon. By tanking Days, you have done the same to your career. Only a moron would hire you after Days is done. The cast and crew, especially the vets, will always be loved enough for the fans to not only look for them but to also follow them to whichever show picks them up. As for me, I've gone back to my projects and will have another novel coming out by the end of the year; as time and energy permits, I'll continue what I started, at least until after the ghost story.

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