Let's Talk Soap Operas! I've Been Watching "Days of Our Lives" Since I Was Six Years Old
I mean, I basically had to. My mom watched it, my grandma watched it, my aunts watched it and even an uncle of mine taped it every day to watch when he got home from work. (That was in the bygone era of VHS; he now has the convenience of DVR.) It was practically a family tradition!
I have a vivid memory of sitting around our lunch table in 1995, talking to my fellow first-grade friend about Dr. Marlena Evans' Satanic possession and being shushed by a teacher who clearly didn't think two little girls should be watching a soap opera. Tough shit, cause I'm still watching it almost twenty years later, albeit much more infrequently. But when I tune in on a day off and I'm super lost, I can always call my grandma Louann for a refresher.
The magic of a soap like "Days" is that you can quit for awhile, take a sick day and immediately catch up on what's happened in Salem since you last tuned in. I strongly believe about 80% of the population has at least dipped their toes into the soap opera world. Maybe you watched one in high school or college. They’ve been on for decades, dudes!
The only currently-airing soap I claim to be well-versed in is "Days," though I was totally knowledgeable about "Passions" and watched that shit from day one. I had signed photos of the entire original "Passions" cast, except for Jesse Metcalfe, AKA Miguel Lopez-Fitzgerald. Sadly, they disappeared. The only two I have left are Ben Masters (Julian Crane) and Josh Ryan (Timmy the doll), which is pretty legit considering Ryan died during filming and the rich, scheming and dirty Julian Crane was clearly the best character.
Before we dive in, let’s quickly discuss “Passions.” Was it the greatest show ever to air? I kind of think so. I mean: a doll who comes to life and drinks martinis, a hermaphrodite villian, a Princess Diana storyline, a Bollywood parody … that show had it all. RIP, Passions. Nine seasons was not enough. You truly are my passion for life.
But back to "Days." "Days" is my soap. I know all about the main families: the Hortons and the Bradys. (My mom's family has a group Christmas tree and we all hang our ornaments on it on Christmas Day, Horton-style.) I remember watching Vivian bury Carly alive, the aforementioned possession, the Princess Gina storyline where Hope Brady was brainwashed by the dastardly Stefano diMera into thinking she's an art thief. I can recite the "supercouples" at a moment's notice: Bo and Hope, Marlena and John, Jennifer and Jack, Austin and Carrie, Lexi and Abe (gone, but not forgotten), Vivian and Ivan (well, not quite) …
My entire family mourned when Frances Reid, who played original character the beloved Grandma Alice Horton, died.
“Days” is so iconic that Joey from “Friends” joined the cast as Dr. Drake Ramoray. E! did a short-lived reality show about soap stars called “Dirty Soap.”
I've seen "Days" actors like Jensen Ackles (Eric Brady), Lisa Rinna (Billie Reed), Alison Sweeney (still playing the infamous Sami Brady) go on to other careers in TV and film. I've watched actors leave, get replaced by someone who bears a very vague resemblance to them, and return as if nothing had happened. Actors from other soaps (Theresa and Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald from "Passions" come to mind) show up on "Days" in new roles, but I always refer to them as their former selves.
Did you know John Aniston, who plays media titan Victor Kiriakis, is Jennifer Aniston's dad?
While many soaps have sadly gone off the air, there are still a few alive and kicking. (“Days,” “Bold and the Beautiful,” “Young and the Restless” and “General Hospital.”) James Franco even did a short stint on "General Hospital" to learn the ropes and conquer the rapid filming pace of a soap opera. "Soap Opera Digest" is still in print on newsstands. Fans were outraged when "All my Children" bit the bullet and it made an attempt to broadcast online, but I guess it was just canceled again.
Though soaps are notoriously full of rape, abuse, incest, murder and the like, they're also some of the first TV shows to discuss interracial romance, disease, homosexuality and even PTSD. "All my Children" aired the first lesbian wedding on daytime TV back in 2009.
Why do soap operas endure? For me, it's the familiarity of the storyline; at heart, it's about a small town and the people who inhabit it. Sometimes they die and are miraculously brought back to life, or a hurricane hits, or maybe the witch next door has Hell in her basement. For those of us who enjoy soap operas, the characters become iconic. We know the diMeras are a bad, bad clan. We've watched Sami Brady go from scheming teen (she drugs who she thinks is her sister's boyfriend, rapes him and gets pregnant, only to find it wasn't Austin at all but Lucas!) to is-she-good-or-bad mother who changes boyfriends a lot. (I think she's married to EJ diMera right now.) Soap opera stars are a special kind of famous; they might not get pages devoted to them in Us Weekly, but they sure as hell can't shop unnoticed in a Midwestern mall.
We've seen a resurgence in the nighttime soap opera too: "Scandal" is a good example, and damned if "Grey's Anatomy" isn't soapy as shit. Even teen dramas like "Gossip Girl" have taken more than a few cues from soaps. We wouldn't have had a "Beverly Hills, 90210" without soap operas.
Can we talk about soap opera actresses for a minute? Not only are most of them heart-stoppingly beautiful (Nadja Bjorlin, formerly of "Days," comes to mind) but they NEVER AGE. Deirdre Hall, who plays Marlena (or Doc, if you're her husband John Black), looks almost exactly as she did in the '90s and she is 66 years old! Susan Lucci is flawless too, and Joan Collins is still a megababe even at 80. What is their secret? I need to know for future reference.
I know my family will be insanely disappointed when "Days" goes off the air. It's bound to happen. But we'll always have the memories of Salem … and our faux-Horton Christmas tree.
What are your favorite soap operas? Which storylines were your favorites? I really, really want to know. Are soaps a family tradition for you too? Let’s reminisce.