If I compiled a complete list of everything that went wrong in daytime in 2009, it would be long enough to break the internet. From insulting storylines that undid years of established history to firing veteran actors to show cancellations, this year will go down as the year one quarter of daytime died. Here are a few of my least favorite things.
Retcons That Warp Characters and History
Some of daytime’s best storylines have come from revealing never before known pieces of a character’s history, pieces that were clearly invented for the new storyline. When ‘All My Children’ decided that Erica Kane had a child that she gave up as a teenager, we got the character of Kendall. The retcon worked because the writers made the effort to more or less fit it in with the established timeline, making the pregnancy occur before the show began, and claiming Erica repressed the memories to go on to become the character we all saw on screen. It was a buy, but Kendall was enough of a payoff to make it worthwhile. 2009 brought numerous stories that revised show history, Stalin style, for no pay off whatsoever. ‘General Hospital’ decided that Paige Bowen, a kind and noble woman who died of breast cancer, sold one of her twins on the black market — and never mentioned that fact on her death bed. Paige was trashed just so that Natalia Livingston could return to the show as an Emily lookalike that the entire audience hated. ‘The Young & The Restless’ brought Phillip, who died on screen in a hospital leaving behind a wife and a young son, back from the dead. This admittedly was an attempt to undo both an earlier regime’s preposterous retcon storyline that Cane was the real Chancellor heir and an even earlier retcon that Jill was Katherine’s long lost daughter. Basically, Y&R recalibrated the Chancellors history to the year 2000 all so Phillip could be rewritten as an unpleasant coward who let his son grow up without a father because he lacked the courage to come out of the closet. ‘One Life To Live‘ created a huge hole in the time space continuum when it decided that Todd and Tea had a child who was older than Todd’s son Jack — despite the fact that the child was conceived after Todd ended up stranded on an island with Tea after he kidnapped Jack. (As I consider all these storylines it occurs to me that maybe in 2010 soaps should stop telling stories that involve any baby swapping or selling.) A soap is the sum of its history. To paraphrase Faulkner, in daytime the past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past. Viewers evaluate every scene and plot based on it. If a show’s history is subject to change on a whim, then everything that happens is rendered meaningless.
‘As The World Turns‘ may have sealed its fate when it inexplicably recast half the characters on its canvas in 2009, after recasting its lead female role, Lily, in 2008. ‘The Young & The Restless’ killed off Brad with little storyline pay off. ‘Days of Our Lives’ let go of Drake Hogestyn and Deidre Hall. ‘All My Children’ sent the already backburnered Marian to an insane asylum for no reason. Y&R was prepared to let Jess Walton, Melody Thomas Scott and Eric Braden go until they all agreed to pay cuts. While no single soap character is indispensable, and budget cuts are an unfortunate reality, the shows collective willingness to quickly jettison actors who have been loyal to them for decades and become fan favorites displays a contempt for both the performers and the audience.
Daytime is supposed to appeal to a primarily female audience. Behind the scenes, daytime is one of the most female friendly segments of the entertainment industry with a far greater percentage of women writers, producers, directors and key crew members than in primetime or film. You would not know that from the numerous sexist storylines of 2009. Sonny’s constant anti-female slurs on ‘General Hospital‘ are treated as acceptable behavior. When his son Michael killed his stepmother Claudia, other characters assured him that was how a real man protected his family, and promptly buried her in an unmarked grave. ‘The Young & The Restless’s’ Adam gaslighted Ashley, caused her miscarriage, then took advantage of her emotional problems by letting her believe her hysterical pregnancy was real. He stole Sharon’s baby and convinced her it had died, then seduced her. When the truth comes out I will be surprised if he suffers any significant consequences. When his father Victor set in motion the chain of events that led to Colleen’s death, he was rewarded with her heart. ‘One Life To Live’s‘ Todd similarly suffered no consequences for imprisoning and raping Marty. In fact, Marty offers him advice about his love life now. So much for escapist fantasies. Daytime is sending women the message that it is sexy when men treat them like dirt. There are far more stories of women desperate to hang on to a man than there are stories about men vying for a woman’s heart. Women who enjoy empowering, romantic portrayals of women are better served by primetime shows like ‘The Good Wife,’ ‘The Closer’ and even ‘Vampire Diaries’ than daytime.
Budget Cuts Influencing Storylines
‘All My Children’ had a week long dance marathon because the producers could not afford to move any sets for a week. ‘As The World Turns’ characters never interact with characters who are not in their current storylines because it might mean using some of them more often than the actors’ contracts stipulate. Soap weddings are no longer gorgeous spectacles involving the whole cast. Instead, they usually take place in a living room and only last a few scenes. By the time ‘Guiding Light’ concluded its run nearly every scene took place in a field. Sex rarely happens in a bedroom. Every living room couch in soap towns could use a whole bottle of Febreze. (There’s a product placement I’d actually like to see.) Unfortunately, soaps can no longer afford the elaborate sets and wardrobes that were common during the 1980s, but when budgetary concerns influence the writing, it creates a blow back effect: poor storytelling frustrates viewers who stop watching resulting in lower ratings which further erode the budget.
Executive Producer Christopher Goutman told ‘As The World Turns‘ fans not to waste their time writing letters to him. Brian Frons was aware he was being videotaped when he laughed about ‘All My Children’s’ lesbian characters being cuter than ‘Grey’s Anatomy’s’ Dr. Hahn. AMC headwriter Chuck Pratt compared the cast of the show to high school students. CBS President Les Moonves told a reporter on the day that ATWT’s cancellation was announced that, “They’ve had long and distinguished runs and their days are over.” I can think of no other genre where The Powers That Be put their feet in their mouth on such a regular basis. Don’t they realize that everything they say is going to end up on the internet now? A CNBC interview will be watched by Daytime Confidential readers. It’s no wonder that many fans think the people who work on soaps have contempt for them and have given up on daytime.
In 2009, daytime’s two longest running shows, ‘Guiding Light’ and ‘As The World Turns,’ were canceled. Both were an important part of television history. They were the last remaining soaps created by the genre’s inventor, Irna Phillips, and produced by the company that put the soap in soap opera, Procter and Gamble. Though GL’s creative and production problems drove away viewers, ATWT ratings were still within shouting distance of other soaps. With their demise and AMC’s move to Los Angeles, New York is no longer the hub of daytime television. CBS’s willingness to replace two of its signature dramas with cheap game shows was a powerful sign that networks no longer have any sentimental attachment to the genre. Millions of fans have lost an important part of their lives. Hundreds of people have lost their jobs. This time next year, there may be even fewer soaps left.