In not many TV shows will you see a villain mock-kill her enemy, bury her alive, then wire her coffin up so she can continue to torture her when she wakes up in her new plushly appointed, low-on-air hell. For weeks on end.
In not many TV shows will you see a heroine be inhabited by the devil, and—when possessed by said evil—levitate. For weeks on end.
And in not many TV shows will a whole year elapse between episodes (!), as happened this very week. Jennifer was, like fans, surprised to discover from Jack she had been asleep for 365 days. Jack had bought an hourglass to demonstrate the passing of time itself, which was one nod and a wink to viewers too far.
But then not every TV show is Days of Our Lives, whose future is reportedly in jeopardy as executives at NBC decide if they want to continue paying for a daytime soap, and the company that makes it decides how little they can get away with paying its actors. As sands through the hourglass, say it ain't so.
TVLine reported Tuesday that the entire cast of the show—55 years young next year!—have been released from their contracts, with the show itself going on indefinite production hiatus at the end of the month. It’s not a cancellation, but—if this were Days of Our Lives—the screen would fade to black on a sea of very concerned faces.
Nobody from Corday Productions, NBC, or Sony Television Pictures would tell TVLine what was going on. It is conceivable that Days of our Lives may survive. The producers have a reported eight months of episodes to broadcast, so its hiatus may be just that—a breathing space for all parties to firm up a plan going forward. Phew. Princess Gina, do your worst.
“It’s actually a shrewd—if cynical—business move,” one “insider” told TVLine. “If Days gets picked up, [Corday] can offer the actors new contacts at a reduced rate and with a ‘take-it-or-leave’ it attitude. Worst case scenario, they lose half their cast. Best case scenario [for Corday], everyone agrees to return at a lower salary.”
But the way Days is being treated, and the way its cast is being treated, says everything about the precarious position of the daytime soap. Long gone is the heyday of the “stories,” when kids would come home from school to watch General Hospital with friends or a parent. Gone are the days where whole stretches of morning and afternoon television were hour-long exotically planted forests of storytelling. RIP: All My Children, Guiding Light, One Life To Live, As the World Turns, Sunset Beach, Passions, and Another World—to name but a few.
In place now: there’s Days, the last remaining holdout on NBC, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful keeping on at CBS, and General Hospital on ABC. Daytime is now—this viewer thinks for the worse—tundras of talk shows, with little desire for furnishing the bigger budgets that soaps demand. Instead, the shows are being starved to death in front of fans' eyes.
And yet the audience for the remaining soaps remains strong; some of their ratings out-perform the daytime talk shows around them. Viewers would far rather see evil twins returning to cause havoc on a soap than they would have one celebrity discuss the hardships of being a celebrity with another celebrity.
If TV companies followed the ratings, and invested in what they saw, there would be more soap operas in daytime, not the paltry few that fans have left. We would not have to sit through quizzes and multiple daytime talk shows like The View and The Talk, all chewing over the same cud from that day's news and pop culture cycle.
We wouldn’t be expected to suspend our intelligence, and play make-believe that the presenters of these shows are in any way like ordinary people—and not highly paid celebrities and media professionals with retinues of assistants and agents, and a lot of money.
It is TV networks that have fallen out of love with soap opera, not viewers—and that is because viewers, like humans generally, like storytelling. Fans of soap operas invest, loyally, with the characters and stars of the shows, and their sometimes infuriatingly paced and written storylines, precisely because they are of another world.
They are blissfully—for one hour or half-hour—not Trump or Kardashian. They are not Dancing with the Stars, and they are not low-carb cooking plans for the week. They do what writers—from Shakespeare to Jane Austen to Charles Dickens to Edgar Allan Poe to Alice Munro and Armistead Maupin—have popularized for centuries: they feed us, handsomely every day, with the nourishment of fiction.
You may feel that the much-mocked daytime soap opera is no cousin to such celebrated works of art, but every storyline follows classical arcs of fiction; and the pain and pleasure of watching the shows is the same as following the serpentine adventures, defeats, victories, vengeances, and redemptions of your favorite novels.
You can snark about the acting, the cheesiness, the implausibility, the absurdity of daytime soaps, but right now they are the only thing standing in the way of networks’ daytime schedules transforming entirely into deserts of hyperbolic opinion, celebrity self-congratulation, and endless parenting advice.
And so, no, NBC should not kill Days of our Lives, and CBS should not kill The Young and the Restless or The Bold and the Beautiful, and ABC should keep giving regular blood transfusions to General Hospital. Indeed, these shows should be given the TV elixir of continued life: money, and lots of it. Treasure them like the unusual, solitary jewels that they are.
Days should not pay its actors less, it should pay them more and show them maximum love and gratitude for entertaining generations of audiences since 1965. Indeed, this goes for all networks and their surviving soap operas. Invest in these now-exotic, isolated islands of fiction. Let us keep Salem, Genoa City, Port Charles, and Forrester Creations special—or may the ghost of Katherine Chancellor haunt network chiefs forever.