Days of Our Lives

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Days of Our Lives

Developed by Ted Corday, Irna Phillips, and Alan Chase, the daytime drama Days of Our Lives premiered on NBC in 1965. With Phillips' creation for Procter & Gamble, As the World Turns serving as a model, Days proceeded to put increasingly outrageous twists on established formulae for the next three decades. By the mid-1990s, its flights into the postmodern and the macabre had themselves become models for a struggling genre.

"Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives," proclaims the show's opening narration, voiced by former film actor MacDonald Carey over the appropriate image. Carey portrayed patriarch Tom Horton, all-purpose physician in Days' midwestern hamlet of Salem, from the program's inception until the passing of both actor and character in 1994. Accompanied by dutiful wife Alice (Frances Reid), the elder Hortons are two of a handful of veterans who evolved over the years as virtual figureheads on a conspicuously youth-oriented program.

After Ted Corday's passing in 1966, and under the stewardship of his widow, Betty, and headwriter Bill Bell, Days began, in the words of author Gerard Waggett, "playing around with the incest taboo." Young Marie Horton (Marie Cheatham) first married and divorced the father of her ex-fiance and then fell for a man later discovered to be her prodigal brother. Marie was off to a nunnery, and the "incest scare" was to pop up on other soaps, including Young and the Restless, Bell's future creation for CBS.

The incest theme carried the show into the early 1970s with the triangle of Mickey Horton (John Clarke), wife Laura Spencer (Susan Flannery), and her true desire, Mickey's brother Bill (Edward Mallory)—a story which inspired imitation on Guiding Light. Bill's rape of Laura, whom he would later wed, muddied the issue of whether "no" always means "no." Co-writer Pat Falken Smith later penned the similarly controversial "rape seduction" of General Hospital' s Laura by her eventual husband, Luke. Days soon featured another familial entanglement in which saloon singer Doug Williams (Bill Hayes) romanced young Julie Olson (Susan Seaforth), only to marry and father a child by her mother before being, predictably, widowed and returning to Julie's side.

Bell's departure in 1973 provided Smith with interrupted stints as headwriter, as the show's flirtations with lesbian and interracial couplings were short-circuited due to network fears of a viewer backlash. The introduction of popular heroine Dr. Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall) late in the decade was a highlight, but the "Salem Strangler" serial killer storyline spelled the end for many cast members by the early 1980s. Marlena's romance with cop Roman Brady (Wayne Northrop) created a new "super couple" and established the Bradys as a working-class family playing off the bourgeois Hortons.

General Hospital's Luke and Laura, along with their fantasy storylines—which were attractive to younger viewers in the early 1980s—were emulated, and thensome, by Days. Marlena and Roman were followed by Bo and Hope (Peter Reckell and Kristian Alfonso), Kimberly and Shane (Patsy Pease and Charles Shaughnessy), and Kayla and Steve (Mary Beth Evans and Stephen Nichols), who anchored Salem's supercouple era, and whose tragic heroines are profiled in Martha Nochimson's book, No End to Her. Their Gothic adventures involved nefarious supervillains such as Victor Kiriakis (John Aniston) and, later, Stefano DiMera (Joseph Mascolo), whose multiple resurrections defied any remaining logic. Kayla and Steve's saga revived the program's sibling triangle and rape redemption scenarios. Identities also became tangled, with Roman returning as the enigmatic John Black, portrayed by another actor (Drake Hogestyn), and brainwashed to temporarily forget his "true" identity. When Wayne Northrop was available to reclaim the role, however, Black's identity became a mystery once again.

In the 1990s, with the next generation, Ken Corday was at the producer's helm, and with innovative new headwriter James Reilly, Days crossed a horizon into pure fantasy. Vivian Alamain (Louise Sorel) had one rival buried prematurely and purloined another's embryo. Marlena, possessed by demons, morphed into animals and levitated. Later, she was exorcised by John Black, now found to have been a priest, and imprisoned in a cage by Stefano. Super triangles supplanted supercouples, as insecure and typically female third parties schemed to keep lovers apart. The most notorious of these was teen Sami Brady (Alison Sweeney), whose obsession with Austin Reed (Patrick Muldoon, later Austin Peck), produced machinations plaguing his romance with Sami's sister, Carrie (Christie Clark), and led Internet fans to nickname her "Scami." While many longtime fans lamented the program's new tone, younger viewers adored it. By 1996, the program had risen to second in ratings and first in all-important demographics.

To the chagrin of their fans, other soaps soon found themselves subject to various degrees of "daysification," even as General Hospital was devoting itself to sober, socially relevant topics. But overall viewership of the genre had diminished, and when Days' ratings dipped in the late 1990s, its creators seemed not to consider that postmodern escapism might work to lure very young fans but not to hold them. NBC hired Reilly to develop a new soap and threatened its other soaps with cancellation if they did not get up to pace. Its stories were risky, but in eschewing the socially relevant and truly bold, Days of Our Lives might have succeeded in further narrowing the genre's purview and, with it, its pool of potential viewers for the new millennium.

—Christine Scodari

Further Reading:

Nochimson, Martha. No End to Her: Soap Opera and the Female Subject. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1992.

Russell, Maureen. Days of Our Lives: A Complete History of the Long-Running Soap Opera. New York, McFarland Publishing, 1996.

Scodari, Christine. "'No Politics Here': Age and Gender in Soap Opera 'Cyberfandom."' Women's Studies in Communication. Fall 1998, 168-87.

Waggett, Gerard. Soap Opera Encyclopedia. New York, Harper Paperbacks, 1997.

Zenka, Lorraine. Days of Our Lives: The Complete Family Album. New York, Harper Collins, 1996.