While soap operas and daily serial formats might be foreign to younger TV watchers, soaps are more influential than they get credit for. Hit shows like Gossip Girl and Riverdale, and even Game of Thrones are just soaps with better production value and scenery, more sex and violence. The “stories” your mom grew up with may have had their cheesy moments, but they had and still have an addictive appeal, weaving love and lust, crush-worthy heroes and back-stabbing villains into often preposterously fun and outlandish storylines. We recall many Summers watching All My Children (Erica Kane!) and General Hospital (Luke and Laura! Dr. Noah Drake!) on ABC, Young and the Restless (Victor Newman!) on CBS and later, Passions (Timmy!) and Days of Our Lives (Sammy! John Black!) on NBC, with our own mother.
These shows –and their Latin counterparts called novelas— were melodramatic, but they were also surprisingly nuanced and complex in their portrayals of human nature. For better or worse, they shaped our views on relationships and for the most part they weren’t too off base.
We don’t watch daytime soaps much anymore, now we just tune in from time to time to visit our favorite characters like family members. It’s nice to see they’re still there (many have been for decades), even when their storylines are harrowing or full of mischief. A few weeks ago we actually got to meet some of our favorite soap stars in real life. We visited the set of Days in Burbank to chat with the elusive Mr. Black (Drake Hogestyn) alongside his TV sweetheart and the indisputable queen of everything Deidre Hall (Dr. Marlena Evans), the venerable Mayor Abe Carver (James Reynolds) and more. The occasion was a discussion about DOOL’s big move from its long-held daily afternoon slot on NBC to Peacock, the network’s streaming service. The weight of this big change wasn’t lost on the cast nor this longtime former fan. Now, only The Bold and the Beautiful, Restless and GH remain on network daytime, and who knows how long that will last?
Two months since the move, the show is hosting one of its biggest fan events ever this weekend. The annual “Day of Days” meet and greet takes place Saturday, November 12 at Xbox Plaza, inside L.A. Live, with autograph signings, Q&As and more. It’s sure to be a celebration, even if the feedback from fans about the streaming move might be mixed. LA Times just did a story last month about some fans’ distaste for the streaming shift.
Drake tells us that he felt some of this apprehension from older audiences in the beginning, but he’s still confident about it, because it’s “the same compelling story and the same engaging actors, plus better production because there’s more money involved in it. It’s the same show you’ve loved. We’re excited.”
“I’m from the old school,” admits the actor, whose character is known for his suitably dark attire, a cool, contemplative delivery and catchphrases like that’s a fact! “I don’t have Netflix, I don’t have Apple TV. And I very seldom use social media. But change is inevitable and change is gonna happen. Even I embrace it. “
“I certainly hope that the audience continues to follow us to Peacock,” adds Reynolds about the move. “They’re going to see the same show they’ve seen for years. Things will change in incremental ways as far as the way the stories are structured, perhaps, but it’s the same exciting romance and adventure.”
Hall, who Gen-X pop culture junkies might also recall played Electro Woman in the Krofft Superstars Saturday morning show Electro Woman and Dyna-Girl, is truly a soap opera legend, rivaling AMC’s Susan Lucci as an iconic figure. Her character, Dr. Evans, mother to bad seed daughter Sami Brady and wife of John (who she initially thought was her first husband Roman… if you don’t watch it’s too involved to explain), has been through it all, including an actual demonic possession. It was the best storyline ever and a precursor to what would be our favorite supernatural soap theme on Passions (Juliet Mills played a witch with a talking doll, the aforementioned Timmy).
“I feel strongly about the fans we’ve had for so many years,” Hall reflects. “And they have seen us through some extraordinary storylines, and some hard days. They’ve hung in there. And I feel a deep sense of loyalty to them to produce what they’re looking for and what they’ve come to love and rely on. We’ve tried very hard to let them know how to find us there [on Peacock]. You know, we’re still in semi COVID and we were like the family in their house when they couldn’t go anywhere. For one hour a day we were there for them and we still are.”
Our interviews on the set in “Salem,” the town where the show takes place, happened on the town square set just a few feet away from the Horton family plaque (the show’s two main two families are the Bradys and Hortons, which even casual DOOL’s followers should know were long repped by the romantic coupling of “Bo and Hope”- both no longer on the show). This is a backdrop that we’ve seen so many times on screen, and a surreal place to do interviews. It brought home Hall’s point. For many Americans, this show is home and moving it is a risk. The show is not one of Peacock’s free offerings, but part of its premium subscription service ($4.99 a month with commercials or $9.99 ad-free).
While the elders at Days have been thinking about seasoned fans’ comfort with change, their younger castmates are focused on the new opportunities that streaming can open up. So what can old and new viewers alike expect from Days now that it’s on Peacock? Eric Martsolf, who plays John’s son Brady Black, tells us there’s a lot to look forward to. His co-stars Robert Scott Wilson (Ben Weston) and Camila Banus (Gabi Hernandez) agreed when we chatted with all three. One thing they all seem excited about: with the show on streaming now, it can get a bit sexier and edgier, with (potentially) even a little nudity and curse words they weren’t allowed to do before.
“I mean the integrity of the show, and the history, of course, we’re keeping all that intact, but streaming gives us more of an opportunity across the board from a creative standpoint, not just showing more skin,” Wilson explains. “Seeing where it can go without straying from the through line of what Days is all about, it allows us to really take the charge and now we’re the pioneers of this kind of move, so we’ll see.”
All three actors have done their share of love scenes and it will be interesting to see if the familiar soap opera bedroom trysts do indeed evolve from tousled sheets, unidentifiable body parts and dramatic faces in the throws of passion, to something more revealing. So far, it doesn’t seem to have changed much.
“It’s a really well-oiled machine,” says Martsolf. “And it works. I think from producers to the higher ups, they believe that if it ain’t broken, don’t try to fix it. The changes will be subtle.”
“I think it’s a formula,” Banus adds. “I think it’s about those core relationships, friendships, romance, angst, all of these things are the core values of our show. And it’s what other shows copy. It gets people to come back to the next episode. It’s about the cliffhangers that we deliver daily. And I think that’s what’s most admirable about what we do. And that’s what primetime continues to copy– nobody really talks about that.”
Banus is right of course, but without the big-budget, daytime TV rarely gets looked upon in the same way that evening entertainment does. Streaming shows, especially the ones on HBO and Netflix, have an even glossier look that elevates the storylines. If Peacock really wants to compete, it’d do well to put more time, attention and money into this enduring form of programming and one of NBC’s longest running and most beloved shows ever. Streaming after all, means that now we don’t have to wait too long after a cliffhanger to see what happens next; we can binge watch our favorite characters and our “stories” however we may choose, whether that all at once on the weekend or old school, savoring it daily or even more slowly, like sand through the hour glass.
Days of our Lives is on Peacock streaming network now. A Day of Days 2022 meet and greet fan event with Hall, Hogestyn, Reynolds, Martsolf, Banus, and Wilson (alongside castmates Jackée Harry, Mary Beth Evans, Stephen Nichols, Thaao Penghlis, Leann Hunley, George DelHoyo, Wally Kurth, Judi Evans, Martha Madison, Nadia Bjorlin, Galen Gering, Ari Zucker, Greg Vaughan, Bryan Dattilo, Victoria Konefal, Kyle Lowder, Billy Flynn, Patrika Darbo, Brandon Barash, Brandon Beemer, Dan Feuerriegel, Stacy Haiduk, Paul Telfer, Linsey Godfrey, Zach Tinker, Greg Rikaart, Tina Huang, Carson Boatman, Raven Bowens, Elia Cantu, Remington Hoffman, Victoria Grace, and Abigail Klein) is at Xbox Plaza, inside L.A. Live, 800 Olympic Blvd, Downtown L.A.; Saturday, November 12. More info here.
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