NBC's longest-running drama, Days of Our Lives, turns 50 this year and the network is pulling out all the stops to keep cast in the public's eye. After all, when you've got a killer on screen, it's important to show up at public events.
November 8, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of NBC’s daytime drama Days of Our Lives. Social media's celebrated the event all year long with the hashtag #Days50. Days cast members Deidre Hall and Kristen Alfonso opened the New York Stock Exchange on October 30, 2015. Oh, and a brand new 50th anniversary book is being promoted by the cast right now, too.
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In the past decade, soap operas have faced serious opposition. The once-staple of American television fell from over ten dramas to just four. And two, Days and Young and the Restless, are owned by Sony Television. That leaves The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital owned by Bell-Phillip Television Productions Inc and ABC respectively.
'Like sands through the hourglass...'
While General Hospital owns the longest running drama title, Days of Our Lives has a varied and colorful history. From the Salem Stalker and Slasher to Satan’s arrival to the immortal Stefano DiMera (Joseph Mascolo); you name it and it’s happened. Earlier this year, Alison Sweeney left the role of Samantha Brady, a role she shaped since her own teenage years. Ever the villain, Sami definitely fit as a central antagonist.
And that’s not mentioning the many Hortons. Heck, even some of Sami’s kids are Hortons and DiMeras. Then again, it’s Sami. So who knows who’s really the daddy?
Alice Horton, played by the superb and greatly missed Francis Reid, was the epitome of a show matriarch. Every soap has to have the wise woman who teaches lessons, has a grand love affair, and has a pet project or two.
When MacDonald Carey (Tom Horton) passed away, the show chose to allow Alice and Tom to live as a great love story and not push for another love story. The relationship wasn’t always perfect, but somehow, viewers knew everything would be all right. A concept that was mirrored when Anna Lee passed away. General Hospital honored Lila Quartermaine, the mainstay of the show, with a dignity that made people cry.
'Salem witches in a huddle'
As daytime dramas disappear and networks switch to cost-efficient daytime talk shows and reality television, there’s something lost in translation. During O.J. Simpson’s trial, networks noticed nine months of ratings didn’t decline in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it was hard for the dramas to pick back up with a nine-month break and a lost plotline. The downward spiral had begun.
But’s Days isn’t just a torrid drama.
There’s a lot of family history. Case in point: Hope (Alfonso) and Bo Brady’s adventures. In the 1980s, Bo (Peter Reckell) and ‘Fancy Face’ would hit the deck running on their boat, taking trips to faraway places with son Shawn Douglas. Or the many faces of Calliope Jones (Arleen Sorkin); the misfit who managed to be more than a little strange but always had a heart of gold. Most comic fans know Sorkin for her voice role as Harley Quinn in DC Comics multimedia productions.
Just don’t try and count the number of death row or possible murders. The headache will be long-lasting. And that doesn’t mention the actual murders that aren’t even long-term. Please see Stefano. Not to mention the Greek (Kiriakis) and Italian (DiMera) family rumbles against the hot-headed Irish Bradys—all the while marrying and creating a confusing family line.
'Madam, where should I begin'
But what’s up with the show killing legacy characters? Is it following the ill-fated and often-discussed actions of GH? Not exactly the best way to keep an audience. Also, well, why kill a character that’s been around since birth, too? Did the producers ignore the GH backlash to the Quartermaines?
Or the death of Jake, a Quartermaine-Hardy legacy toddler that ties the show completely together?
To survive, the characters have to be important enough to move an audience. Outside the third…fourth…or fifteenth serial killer plotline that may be a little overused at this point. Vulture noted that the lack of LGBT characters doesn’t offer diversity.
After all, it was thanks to Will Horton (Sami’s son with former flame Lucas Horton) that the show earned a GLAAD award. But limiting diversity isn’t exactly helpful for the network.
Hopefully the show will be around for another couple of years. And at least this killer’s got a thing for neckties instead of doughnuts.
'Any kind of criticism from our remedial reading public'
It’s hard to talk about NBC’s Emmy-winning hit without discussing the characters like Abe Carver (James Reynolds) and Lexie Carver (Renée Jones). Abe’s strong ethics created a well-regarded police detective with just a few smudges on record but generally a good family man.
And even with a DiMera father, Lexie was still a former cop turned surgeon and Abe’s wife second. Though her actions were a little less honorable sometimes. The two were one of a handful characters of color on the show and often the only consistent non-white actors in the main cast.
Abe’s son Brandon Walker (Matt Cedeño), brother to troublemaker Nicole Walker (Arianne Zucker) and ex-husband of Sami, provided a nice balance to the show when allowed to be front and center. But fans notice a lack of representation when a cast photo looks a little bit too much like Dynasty.
The few characters of color are often relegated to unstable love interests (Tek Kramer, Arianna Hernandez) or repeatedly rewritten off canvas—even with a fairly long history on the show like Celeste (Lexie’s mother and Stefano’s former associate). If production wants to stay on air, it’s time to make a more representative view of the audience’s world.
'widows to fleece, mortgages to foreclose on, and heroines to tie to the track'
While many of the actors have moved on, and even started their own Emmy-winning, viewer-paid web series, a variety of stars have their start on the show. Jensen Ackles, known as Dean Winchester for Supernatural fans, started off as Sami’s twin Eric. And when Smokey Robinson guests stars on a show, it’s probably going to be a memorable moment. Being caught by Robinson had to be a highlight for Deidre Hall (Marlena Black).
Even original Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards earned a cameo. When Eileen Davidson (Kristen DiMera) and Lisa Rinna (Billie Reed) are your costars and Bravo’s parent company is NBC Universal, there’s a little room for negotiation. Of course LeAnn Rimes guest starred as Madison, a runaway teen, in 1998. Rimes played against Ackles’ Eric. Eric counseled the young teen and sent her home on a bus after a few days.
Reality television and Days seem to go hand in hand.
'...so are the Days of Our Lives'
Days of Our Lives’ history shows a wild ride from surviving a sarcophagus burial (Vivan Alamain) to an older sister becoming a stepmom (Julie Williams and little sister Hope). Any natural disaster can happen in Salem, from a random snowstorm to an earthquake. And how many characters can Davidson play in one go? Last count: all of them.
In a dying format on network television, keeping the classics on air is a blessing. And another 50 years of programming wouldn’t be amiss. After all, if primetime dramas like Grey’s Anatomy and The Good Wife can survive, surely a good plotline could save Days of Our Lives for another few years. But if the paternity tests keep up, Maury really should have a guest star role or three.
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Happy 50th, Days of Our Lives. You look great for surviving a cutthroat medium. Just don’t hang around any knives. Slashers are everywhere these Days.