Deep Soap: ‘Days of Our Lives’ Flounders While ‘General Hospital’ Thrives

by | March 23, 2012 at 10:18 AM | Deep Soap

Two soaps reboot themselves. One goes from so unwatchable that longtime fans were grumbling that it SHOULD have been canceled instead of “All My Children,” and “One Life to Live” to must watch and live Tweet in the space of a month, thanks to the return of veteran stars, and the addition of a couple new to the show characters played by some of daytime’s most popular stars. The other brings  back a slew of veteran stars and adds a couple of new characters played by some of daytime’s most popular stars and the general verdict is that it is really boring. It’s not bad, just really, really dull.

So why is “General Hospital”: version 17.4 so far thriving creatively while “Days of Our Lives” 23.9 is floundering? The answer, as always with daytime, is the writing. DOOL is once again proving that viewers no longer tune in simply to see an actor whose work they enjoy. Without a compelling story, nobody cares.  In the past couple of weeks, both Bryan Datillo  (Lucas) and Lisa Rinna (Billie) have returned. In both cases, they simply showed up in town. The impact of their arrival on the other characters – which, in my opinion, should be a major consideration about whether it is worthwhile to bring a character back. Don’t get me wrong. There should be plenty of reasons to bring back Lucas and Billie. Lucas’s son, Will (Chandler Massey}, is being blackmailed because he shot E.J. (James Scott)when he was a minor and Lucas took the fall for it. Plus, Will is slowly coming out of the closet. If Lucas came back because he was, say, being forced to testify in a grand jury investigation about the shooting, and he had to decide whether he was going to continue lying to protect his son and risk being charged with perjury, I’d care. If E.J.’s corruption of Will – a fascinating storyline which has fizzled out with E.J. yet to push Will to do anything truly evil – involved something that had stakes for Lucas, I would care. But, Lucas is spending most of his time bantering with Sami (Alison Sweeney) – who, for some reason with her marriage imploding and her son consorting with her worst enemy – seems very focused on a no stakes corporate storyline.

Similarly, Billie just showed up one day and announced she was no running Princess Wilhemina cosmetics again. Then she started flirting with Daniel (Shawn Christian). There’s no drama to her return. It’s just Billie hanging out in Salem again. It’s a waste of one of the show’s best known actresses. I would think they were just easing her back onto the canvas, but Marlena’s(Deidre Hall) been on the show since September, and the character that drove so much story in the 1990s is now someone who reacts to other people’s dramas, rather than being the center of it. She’s a supportive grandmother to Will, a concerned spouse to John (Drake Hogestyn) and a judgmental mother to Sami, but she has no storyline of her own.

In contrast, every character who has returned to GH has done so because they had an important role to play in an unfolding storyline. In my opinion, the short term nature of some of these returns is putting the story first. If Robert had not returned when Robin (Kimberly McCullough)died, the storyline of her death would have felt incomplete. While I hate, hate, hate that he left before her funeral,  having him be the impetus for Ethan leaving Port Charles worked as an exit storyline. If the show did not have a longterm storyline planned for Robert (and I sure hope that he will get one in a few months), it would be a waste of such a powerful character to have him around solely for the purpose of having Tristan Rogers  back on GH.  I hope that DOOL will start crafting its storylines to maximize the drama of its plots – it’s potentially there but it’s not being written —  and make the most of all of the actors who have returned to Salem.

Soap Opera Weekly Folds

Daytime Confidential reports that Soap Opera Weekly is shutting down, a casualty of both the demise of the soap genre and the demise of print journalism.  When it was launched in the 1990s, SPW was different than the other soap publications. It was not just a fan magazine, focused on the actors with a few show-approved spoilers. Under then editor-in-chief Mimi Torchin, it took soaps, and their fans seriously. The shows were subjected to the same sort of critiques as primetime show and movies. There were analytical pieces, interviews with the producers and crew that taught viewers about the business of daytime. SPW made the argument that soaps were important enough to merit the same consideration as other forms of entertainment, and that soap viewers were intelligent enough to be interested in a thoughtful consideration of the genre. It paved the way for the way soaps are written about on the internet, including in this column.

Unfortunately, after Torchin left the magazine, it lost its point-of-view and became indistinguishable from its sister publication, Soap Opera Digest.  It’s unfortunate that it did not embrace the internet. It, and SOD, have a bare bones website with little content. Has soap magazines built up a significant on-line presence, sites like Daytime Confidential might not have usurped them as the go-to source for soap news and commentary. RIP, SPW. I hope that the many talented people who work there will not be unemployed for long.