The State of the LGBT Storyline & Characters on Days of Our Lives

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Christopher Sean, Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson played “the gays of Salem” on Days of our Lives. They are seen here at the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2015.

The cut below is from a good article by Jim Halterman regarding the loss of the big LGBT storyline on NBC’s Days of our Lives.

While I understand new writers coming in with their own objectives and vision for the show as well as the preoccupation with celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the show, the fact that the LGBT presence (which has brought the show accolades over the past few years) is dwindling is definitely disconcerting.

Source: The State of the LGBT Storyline & Characters on ‘Days of Our Lives.’ | XFINITY TV Blog by Comcast

Like many people, I was extremely invested in the so-called WilSon story over the last four years and DAYS’ blockheaded move — certainly in my estimation — to take this story off the table led me to say good riddance to the show and stop watching.

Here again is my take to augment Halterman’s.

The Hourglass is Empty – Why Killing Will Horton Ends ‘Days’ for Me

I had heard the rumors, but decided that I wouldn’t believe them. Surely the powers-that-be over at the venerable NBC daytime drama Days of our Lives wouldn’t be so stupid as to kill off the character of Will Horton. But I suppose I was the one left with egg on his face; they were that stupid.

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Freddie Smith as Sonny Kiriakis and Guy Wilson as Will Horton on the characters’ wedding day in 2014. The ‘WilSon’ story was a powerful example of LGBT inclusion and that loss is the most poignant of all.

And let me tell you why…

There are a couple of things you need to know if you are working on a serial. First, people get attached to characters and families and pairings in different ways than they do in shows that only air once a week for half the year. Second, mess with the show’s “bible” and tent poles at your peril. Third, trying to recreate the “thrilling days of yesteryear,” as the old radio announcers encouraged, never, ever works.

Personally, I loved Will and Sonny. It was such a great, forward-looking, innovative pairing. It was very contemporary, yet very much rooted in the history of the show. Since he was born on-screen to Sami and Lucas (Allison Sweeney and Bryan Datillo, a storied DAYS supercouple themselves), Will always figured prominently in the show’s plotting — outrageous though it could be sometimes — and his slow, torturous coming out process was incredibly nuanced, garnering three Daytime Emmys in a row for then-portrayer Chandler Massey.

Meanwhile, Sonny, the never-seen-on-screen-before SORASed son of Justin and Adrienne (Wally Kurth and Judi Evans, another storied DAYS pairing) and nephew of Victor (the peerless John Aniston), came back to town as a happy, out young man with an entrepreneurial spirit and an eye for young Mr. Horton. Sonny was Salem’s “white knight” and actor Freddie Smith played him perfectly.

DAYS made headlines in 2014 when they pulled out all the stops and threw daytime’s first same-sex wedding when Will and Sonny got married. In all my soap-watching years I’ve never seen a better contemporary story or more emotional episode or anything approaching the meticulous plotting that came together in that show. It was first class all the way.

And then it all went to hell.

Of course, that’s really American serial drama’s M.O., but DAYS took idiocy to a new level when its new writers killed off Will last week and basically drove the gays from Salem. I’m furious about them lessening the presence of LGBT people on television and that’s enough to make me turn the damn thing off for good, but to also mess with the show’s core legacy? As a writer, I may even find that even more offensive — because it’s lazy storytelling.

You see, when you tell a long-term scripted story, you have to have central characters — often called “tent-poles” — to anchor the drama. Will Horton was a tent-pole character for the entire generation of young people on the canvas. Without him, you only have no direct named link to the original center of the family at the heart of the show, so that part of the tent just collapses and severely limits your storytelling ability.

There’s an old rubric out there for writers that says you shouldn’t be afraid to “kill your darlings.” In other words, if you can advance the story in a positive and compelling way, you shouldn’t be afraid to get rid of a character, even if it’s a shock exit. And while I believe that wholeheartedly, I also know that it’s a knife-edge. You can’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

The last time I remember some daytime writer/producer doing something this egregious (there have probably been others, God knows) was in 1993 when Guiding Light killed off Maureen Reardon Bauer and left an entire part of the core canvas floating around aimlessly. Honestly, there were some good storylines in the decade and a half the show had left, but it never really recovered completely.

And Days of our Lives doesn’t have 15 years. There are fewer and fewer people watching daytime television and as the ratings fall off a cliff, DAYS’ great idea has been to bring back some of the fabled supercouples of yore: Patch and Kayla, Bo and Hope, John and Marlena. And a few DiMera villains have been dusted off, too.

But, here’s the thing: it will bump up ratings a bit for the 50th anniversary next month, but it won’t sustain viewership. You may have been in love with Patch and Kayla when you were a teenager, but, you know what? You’re middle-aged now. You’ve got responsibilities. A job. Kids. You’re not sitting around reliving the 1980s every afternoon for the 60 minutes it takes to tell a 37-minute story.

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The late Frances Reid and MacDonald Carey as Alice and Tom Horton were the center of Days of our Lives when the serial began its run in 1965.

Besides, a bunch of heroes and heroines in their 50s and 60s is not going to play out very long. You can’t hang the entire canvas on that.

The next Tom and Alice could easily have been Will and Sonny. You could have created a new, inclusive contemporary Salem dealing with contemporary problems and situations and you could have still had Julie Williams popping in to be a nuisance a couple of times a year and you could still hang the ornaments on the Horton Christmas tree and make Alice’s damn doughnuts.

Well, you won’t, though. And you won’t have me watching. When Will died, so did my interest. I simply loved the Will and Sonny storyline and I loved Freddie Smith and Chandler Massey and Guy Wilson and I loved how it all reflected the real world and I loved that it was a touchstone for people who had no other way into LGBT issues. Nothing carves those pathways as well as continuing drama. It’s sad we won’t have that any longer.

And, I suspect, we won’t have Days of our Lives much longer, either. Everything they are doing now smacks of desperation. I’m actually glad I won’t be around to see the end of DAYS. I suspect that it will be terribly painful. And completely unnecessary.


Previous
I Do: The WilSon Wedding, Playing the Long Game and Celebrating the Zeitgeist
Congrats, Freddie Smith, DOOL on Emmy Win, Inclusion
‘Sonny’ Skies or Clouds on the Horizon? The New Normal Comes to Salem

More Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Revisiting and Revising

Hasta Luego, Mr. Smith

(Aug. 18, 2015) — With today’s program, Freddie Smith aired his last contract scenes after a four-year run as Sonny Kiriakis on the venerable daytime drama Days of our Lives. Smith, 27, was this year’s recipient of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Younger Actor for his work in the role.

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Christopher Sean (Paul), Freddie Smith (Sonny) and Guy Wilson (Will) attend the GLAAD Media Awards earlier this year. The three were part of a particularly soapy love triangle that drove much of Smith’s last months on the show.

Sonny, one half of the WilSon supercouple, was a good guy; a rarity in the world of soap. As an out, well-adjusted young man, he helped Will Horton (Chandler Massey, then Guy Wilson) come out, fell in love with him and, in a daytime first, married him in a nearly-weeklong event in April 2014 that harkened back to the “good old days” of soap extravaganzas when audiences were large and budgets were larger.

And the plotting that led up to the wedding was some of the best I’d ever seen on American soaps, but I haven’t thought it was that great since. Oh, there’s been plenty of drama, but a lot of it has been kind of absurd and typical of American serial writers. Still, in spite of the ham-fisted plotting of Sonny’s exit, Smith has never disappointed, always playing true to the character.

Rumor has it that Smith will return to Salem briefly for the show’s 50th anniversary event in November.

Freddie Smith left an indelible mark on the canvas of Days of our Lives, but serials keep going; that’s just what they do by their very nature. Like, you know, sands through the hourglass….

Thanks, Freddie for the hours of entertainment. You’ll be well and truly missed.


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Some Other DAYS/WilSon-Related Posts
I, Do: The WilSon Wedding, Playing the Long Game, and Celebrating the Zeitgeist
More Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Revisiting and Revising
Like Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Ticked-Off at American Dramas. Again.
WilSon, Love & Thanks – Thoughts for Valentine’s Day
‘Sonny’ Skies or Clouds on the Horizon? The New Normal Comes to Salem
Christopher Sean and Seeing More Asian Men On Television

Congrats, Freddie Smith, DOOL on Emmy Wins, Inclusion

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Freddie Smith (l) as Sonny Kiriakis, opposite Guy Wilson as Will Horton, picked up a 2015 Daytime Emmy Award for his portrayal of “one of the good guys” on NBC’s venerable drama, Days of our Lives.

Kudos to Freddie Smith, who won a richly deserved Daytime Emmy Award yesterday for his role as Sonny Kiriakis on NBC’s Days of our Lives. Smith, whom I have long-called the best actor on soaps, was overshadowed in awards seasons past by three wins in a row by then-scene partner Chandler Massey. Smith has had many more Emmy-worthy scenes than this year’s reel showed. I’m glad his quiet, subtle, earnest acting did get the respect it deserves.

Smith has already wrapped filming, and the show will suffer for it, but continuing dramas are just that — continuing. Like sands through the hourglass, baby; you just keep keeping on!

One thing, though, Smith embraced Sonny from the jump and he made this young gay man more than just a poster child. DAYS integrated him into the canvas, involved him with tentpole characters — some of my favorite of his scenes were two-handers with the great John Aniston — and made him a three-dimensional person, a good guy, and someone to root for. The fact that the character was gay was completely immaterial. Sonny and Will had daytime’s first same-sex wedding and DAYS pulled out all the stops and wrapped up the best-long arc plotting I’ve ever seen on soaps. The show, deservingly, tied for Outstanding Drama last night as well.

I have sentimental favorites in the pantheon of American daytime dramas, but the continued inclusion of LGBT characters into the narrative in challenging, meaningful ways will always mean that DAYS comes first in my book. Also, Peggy McKay; I mean, come on!

Freddie dedicated his Emmy to the LGBT community. He’s a class act, that one.

DAYS/Freddie/WilSon-Related Recent-ish Posts Include:

I Do: The WilSon Wedding, Playing the Long Game, and Celebrating the Zeitgeist
‘Sonny’ Skies or Clouds on the Horizon? The New Normal Comes to Salem
More Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Revisiting and Revising


H/T Ron, aka 477mrfixit, for the cut

Can Telenovelas Put an End to Homophobia? | Roberto Perez

This is an excellent thinkpiece on HuffPo Gay Voices from early in August. I would have referenced it earlier, but I’ve been busy recovering from some surgery by not writing! Perdóname.

Perez references the telenovela (soap opera, in English) Que Pobres Tan Ricos, a Mexican drama broadcast in the US on the cable channel Univision. His thesis is that these types of programs tackling gay relationships and homophobia is helping the Latino community better understand LGBT people.

He is absolutely correct, of that I am positive. Alert readers will surely know by now how often I have beat the drum for serial drama and its power to impact the culture. I am reminded of Freddie Smith, the actor who plays a young, gay character on Days of our Lives, relating the story that a fan had written him telling Smith that he had come out to his grandmother by telling her that he was “like Sonny.” It was a perfect way for that young man to relate to his grandmother, who did not have the life experience to process, “I’m gay” in a way that would make sense to her. However by using a character that she understood — and liked — as the analogy, he was setting himself up for success and acceptance.

Anytime we can use powerful storytelling to make others understand how very much alike we all are, the better off we’ll be.

Here’s a link to Perez’s post. Can Telenovelas Put an End to Homophobia? I wouldn’t bother trying to check it out on Univision, though. Que Pobres was cancelled at the end of August. No se puede siempre ganarlo todo … or something like that.

WilSon, Love & Thanks – Thoughts for Valentine’s Day

This is a “Thank You Letter” of sorts.

On Valentine’s Day, after an elongated mulling-it-over period, the character of Will Horton on Days of our Lives is going to accept the marriage proposal of his longtime love, Sonny Kiriakis.

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Guy Wilson (l) and Freddie Smith play Will and Sonny, a young gay couple set to be married on NBC’s Days of our Lives.

I thank the DAYS producers and writers and NBC for that. For making a same-sex couple a part of the landscape. For treating that couple no different than any other young lovers. For weaving them into the fabric of the core families and for understanding the importance of allowing this relationship to play out over time. They should definitely be thanked.

I also want to thank the young men who portray these characters — Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson. They are doing yeoman’s work and they’re excited about doing it, which is even nicer.

“Will said no when Sonny popped the question last month because it’s a soap and it has to be dramatic,” said Smith in an interview with The Advocate that was published online on Feb. 13. “But when I found out they were finally getting engaged, I was thrilled.”

Also last month, when I wrote about the significance of Sonny asking Will to marry him, I got this:

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I was really quite shocked, I have to say, even though I had already heard through the grapevine that he’s a genuinely nice guy. No one, least of all me, expected him to (A) read what I had to say, (B) care that I was saying it, or (C) think it was important to let me know. That’s rare.

So, thanks, Guy. Not only was it nice, but he turned me from someone who was a fan of the character to a fan of the actor. In my loooong tenure in the theatre, I learned that while the business is full of prima donnas, the nice folks who persevere always finish first.

(Also, in my other life, part of what I do is explain branding and marketing and relationship-building to people. That tweet? That’s marketing.)

In the Advocate article, Smith also said that he’s received many letters from fans telling him of the impact of this story.

“In fact, one of those letters that touched me the most was from a young man who told me he was able to come out to his grandmother by saying, ‘Grandma, I want you to know that I’m just like Sonny.’ That really tugged at my heart because without this storyline he may have continued to keep his feelings to himself, but he was able to be comfortable enough to be honest instead. That’s why I’m so happy DAYS is showing this, because it’s part of life and people need to see themselves reflected on TV.”

So, thanks Freddie, for understanding the broad reach and importance that can come from telling bold, yet distinctly human stories over the long term and telling them well.

I’ve said it forever — and often loudly in defense of the importance of the continuing drama — but we humans only exist by storytelling, by sharing our experiences with one another, by finding out what we have in common with others and what sets us apart.

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Will said no to Sonny, when he proposed last month. How he could resist that face is beyond me!

I am so excited, as a gay man, that we are seeing so much more inclusion and diversity in society and having it being reflected back by touchstones of cultural significance, like DAYS; it’s such a positive step forward. We have to press on and not let this fall by the wayside.

As I write this, I do wonder how it would have been if, when I was in my early 20s and coming out, I had been able to say to my own grandmother, “I want you to know that I’m just like Sonny.” That’s probably how I would have done it, too. Grandmother did love her ‘stories!’ Guess that’s where I get it from.

Anyhow, thanks world, for changing and for welcoming our “tribe” more and more into the rich polyglot of society.

My own husband is upstairs in bed. I’ll join him in a bit. He said he wanted a nice dinner for Valentine’s Day, so, not being the roses and chocolates type, I took him at his word and I will cook something a little fancy for dinner. Maybe we’ll uncork a bottle of wine.

The rest of the day, we’ll both do a lot of “gay things” that are so foreign to the rest of the world: work, run errands, walk the dogs through the infernal never-to-melt snowbanks that surround us. I may even do what I’ve been threatening and look for work in the warm part of California! We’ll end the day talking about our future, how happy we are, and how we met more than a decade ago because, even though it’s OUR story, it’s a good and funny one. Maybe we’ll put on a movie. Or maybe we’ll watch Will say yes to Sonny all over again. After all, it’s good to warm your heart before turning in.

Thanks, finally, to those who read these scratchings. Your thoughts, comments, shares and likes are well and truly appreciated.

Go love somebody. Happy Valentine’s Day.

‘Sonny’ Skies or Clouds on the Horizon? The New Normal Comes to Salem

Who could resist this face?

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Sonny Kiriakis (Freddie Smith) proposes to a headless Will Horton (Guy Wilson) on the NBC drama Days of our Lives.

Evidently, the new incarnation of Will Horton on Days of our Lives; that’s who.

Will said “no” to Sonny — actually, he first said “Wow!” — and then explained himself and the couple ended up in the sack anyway at the end of a rather sweet scene that had a few subtle comedy bits thrown in for good measure.

The most interesting thing about this scene to me was the fact that a network television show actually showed a man proposing marriage to another man. A first for daytime; a first since the DOMA and Windsor decisions last summer; and a first not to make a distinction between same-sex and opposite sex couples. It’s a powerful step in the right direction and I have to applaud DAYS for it.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I was no fan of how Will ended up becoming a father, but the soapy aftermath — including Freddie Smith’s bravura comedic performances delivering the baby and his beautiful monologues at Will’s bedside after he was shot — has cemented my love for this couple.

I desperately want DAYS to keep them together because they can be significant role models for gay youth; a powerful arrow in the quiver of hope for young people who believe they cannot find a solid relationship. I really don’t care if they make them a crime-fighting duo (might be fun) or have Sonny and Will take over the sketchy Kiriakis empire from Uncle Vic and do battle with a new generation of DiMeras or maybe Sonny, Will and T could roll the Brady pub into a burgeoning Salem nightspot conglomerate. Whatever. But I would like them to do it together and not fall into the old, old soap opera trope that finds only old people happy together.

When Will and Sonny began seeing each other, Sonny’s mother, Adrienne, sort of “poked the bear” in the guise of Will’s father, Lucas, telling him that the way the world was changing, who knows, they could end up as in-laws. Evidently, a lot has happened since then because Salem, according to Sonny’s proposal, is now in an Equality State. That made me laugh, I have to admit, but it’s also another gold star in DAYS’s column. Historically, soaps have been far, far behind the curve of social change — let us not forget that the very first same-sex male kiss in daytime was Luke and Noah on As The World Turns in 2007!! — so it’s nice to see a daytime serial in touch with the zeitgeist.

Read all about the episode in the fantastic (as always) blow-by-blow liveblog courtesy of “snicks” on The Backlot: Liveblogging “Days Of Our Lives” A Decent Proposal – thebacklot.com.

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Three episodes in and Guy Wilson has already been proposed to! Must be something in the water in Salem — and I don’t mean Nick Fallon!

The New Guy
I’m kinda tired of the nonsense in the comments on articles about Guy Wilson and whether or not he’s going to be as effective in assaying the character of Will Horton as two-time Emmy winner Chandler Massey.

Soap fans can be just downright nasty sometimes, forgetting that recasting is a part of life for a continuing drama. It was assumed, once upon a time, that nearly every role would be recast at some point. When there were two dozen soaps on the networks, it was always an interesting day when the announcer would say, “The role of Nola Reardon will be played today by….” It was like having a substitute teacher. The actor could be sick, but the story never stopped.

And pre-Internet spoilers when you didn’t know everything in advance, “The role of Nola Reardon will be played today by” was how you knew that it was a temporary recast. But when Dan Region intoned, “The role of Tom Hughes will now be played by”  that meant a new contract player.

What I’m saying is, suck it up, folks. Recasts happen. Guy might be the best thing that’s ever happened to this character. You don’t know. Or, he could just suck. You don’t know that either. Just give him a chance to settle into the role. Ultimately, the character is more important than the actor in the broad scheme of continuing drama.

You should just be happy that DAYS decided that the character and the couple were important enough to the landscape to invest in a new actor.