What Soap Operas Can Teach Newspapers About Survival

Like soap operas, the newspaper industry has been slow to innovate and adapt to the digital age. Instead of embracing new ways to tell stories, and new platforms to tell them on, soap operas — like newspapers — resisted. That is, until now. This week Bloomberg TV interviewed veteran soap actress Deidre Hall and co-executive producer Greg Meng from the daytime serial Days of Our Lives, which has seen a four percent resurgence in ratings since the show revamped itself in 2011 (and it’s not even the most popular afternoon soap on air). The Bloomberg segment reveals several interesting points that I believe are applicable to the news industry in its report, ”You thought soap operas were dead…. They’re Not.” The same holds true for newspapers.

via What Soap Operas Can Teach Newspapers About Survival | allDigitocracy.

A good piece. The Bloomberg segment (linked in the cut above) is good, but it would have been better if the empty-headed anchors knew a scintilla about what they were talking about. Well, not like we’ve never seen THAT before!

Will and Sonny Scare the Mormons

Days of our Lives - Season 46

Days of our Lives’ ongoing front-burner gay storyline featuring Will and Sonny (Chandler Massey and Freddie Smith, far right couple) is the reason that some have alleged that KSL-TV in Utah has moved the program to an overnight timeslot.

from Huffington Post Gay Voices

“Days Of Our Lives” fans in the Salt Lake City area won’t be able to watch their daytime soap during the day anymore. KSL, NBC’s Salt Lake City affiliate, has announced it will move the long-running soap from 2 p.m. to 1:05 a.m.

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, KSL won’t say why it’s moved “Days” to late night — or why it airs “Dr. Phil” twice — but it could be because of the show’s ongoing gay storyline.

KSL is owned by the Mormon Church. In the past, they’ve refused to air many network shows.

Will and Sonny: A Love Story In Pictures (with Funny Captions)

Will & Sonny: A Love Story In Pictures – thebacklot.com.

You just have to click around on this if you are a WilSon fan. Not only is it well put together, but the snark is off-the-charts — and dead on it to boot. I’ve certainly said several of these things or thought several of these thoughts!

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“I understand now, Will, and I accept the fact that … it’s not about me. Oh, and that you’re gay. That, too. But mostly the me thing.”
— “Sami,” on The Backlot’s slide deck featuring images and hilarious commentary on the WilSon storyline on “Days of our Lives.” Chandler Massey, the two-time Emmy winner, was dismissed on Aug. 23.

Recent DAYS news and other posts

DAYS Shocker — Massey Abruptly Fired from Top Role in Drama

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Chandler Massey as Will Horton. The two-time Emmy winner was let go last week.

Well, this is interesting. Not good interesting, but interesting nonetheless. This is why I hate the networks….

Two-time Emmy winner Chandler Massey filmed his final scenes as Days of Our Lives’ gay heartthrob Will Horton on Friday, Aug. 23 — only he didn’t know they were his last until he was summoned at the end of his work day to the office of Greg Meng, the soap’s co-executive producer. During this meeting, Meng informed Massey, who had been planning to depart the NBC soap when his contract expired in December, that he would have to leave immediately because a replacement had already been hired. Massey exited the studio sans fanfare — no farewell party, no goodbyes, no nothing — and sources close to the young actor say he was devastated and in tears. His last episode will air on or around Dec. 31. Days has yet to announce the name of Massey’s replacement, who won’t begin work until after the soap returns from a two-week production hiatus in September.

via TV Guide

Recent Post: Massey Leaves Iconic Role as Will Horton

Massey Leaves Iconic Gay Role as Will Horton

Outlets covering gay entertainment news and those covering soap operas had plenty to write about Fri., Aug. 23, when, in a surprise move, two-time Emmy winner Chandler Massey announced that he had filmed his last scenes as Will Horton on the venerable NBC sudser Days of our Lives.

The story of Will Horton (Emmy winner Chandler Massey, left) discovering himself and his love story with Sonny Kiriakis (Freddie Smith) has been achingly slow, but powerful performances by the duo have overshadowed the typically tepid plotting.

AFTERGLOW. Sonny Kiriakis (Emmy nominee Freddie Smith, right) will find a strange new bedfellow in the new year when an as yet unannounced new actor takes over the role of partner Will Horton (double Emmy winner Chandler Massey, left) on the NBC daytime drama Days of Our Lives.

The 22-year-old Massey had announced his intentions to leave the role earlier this year when he won his second consecutive Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actor. He has said that he intends to finish college, which was interrupted during his freshman year when he won the role of Will Horton on DOOL.

“I’m done. It’s bittersweet, Massey is quoted as saying on The Backlot. “These four years have been so amazing I’ve built a family here. I’m so grateful to NBC and everyone for these amazing four years. It’s been my privilege and honor to work there.”

Massey was let out of his contract several months early for a variety or reasons. While originally saying that they would not recast the role, producers have now indicated that storylines have dictated a recast.

While many current fans of the show have taken to social media decrying the decision to recast, Massey — the fifth actor to play the role — has been vocal in his support of a recast for some time.

“I think it’s a good move [to recast],” Massey said in The Backlot piece. “I’m biased because I fell in love with Will and Sonny and I want Will and Sonny to be together.”

I agree with him. I fell in love with them, too. But, recasts have always been a part of the life of a continuing drama. After all, excluding babies, 12 actors assayed the part of Tom Hughes on As The World Turns from 1960 until Scott Holmes became “lucky 13” in 1987, staying with the role until the series ended in 2010. There’s hardly a role on a soap that has not been played by another actor at one time or another.

There’s no doubt about it: I will miss Massey, but I do believe that it’s more important that DOOL continue to tell this story and I hope a recast indicates that they tend to do just that.

There are plenty of young people, struggling with their sexuality that need to see other young gay people in a committed relationship to show them that it can be done — insane gunmen, unintended pregnancies, annoying and sometime borderline psychotic parents, drug dealing cousins, perjury, hot architects and Stefano DiMera aside — and that you can come home each night to the loving embrace of Sonny Kiriakis and his fabulous hair.

Thanks, Mr. Massey, for sharing your gifts with us. Your impact on the landscape has been indelible.

Because of DAYS’ shooting schedule, Massey will likely be seen as Will through December.

Other Recent Posts:
More Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Revisiting and Revising
Like Sands Through the Gay Hourglass: Ticked Off at American Dramas. Again.
Charm of DAYS’ Gay Supercouple “Cannot be Denied”
Chandler Massey Takes Home Second Emmy
Daytime Emmy Q and A: Freddie Smith

Charm of DAYS’ Gay Supercouple “Cannot be Denied”

Whether or not the sand runs out on Will and Sonny is up to the writers and others involved. There is word (though not officially confirmed by the actor) that Massey doesn’t plan on returning to Salem after his contract runs out this December. Still, fans can currently enjoy the ups-and-downs of one of (if not the biggest) daytime television power couple. Even if you are not a fan of Days of our Lives or soaps in general, the presence, power, and charm of the couple cannot be denied.

via Andrew Benkovic: The Daytime TV Power Couple That May (or May Not) Surprise You.

I agree. Benkovic’s piece on HuffPo is good, especially given that he’s very upfront about not being a longtime Days of Our Lives fan — or soap fan in general.

GAYTASTIC — Will Horton (Chandler Massey, left) and Sonny Kiriakis (Freddie Smith, right) have emerged as one of the most popular couples on the NBC daytime serial “Days of Our Lives.” Powerful and immensely likable performers, Massey has received three Emmy nominations and Smith was nominated in 2013. Massey won in 2012 and 2013.

The latest machinations with Adrienne talking trash and Will doubting himself and doubting Sonny’s commitment to Will and the baby have served to derail the post-partem/post-gunshot euphoria the duo has been experiencing of late, but I think it’s a good little ripple — even though I want to backhand Will sometimes — and it serves to reinforce the idea that Will’s self-confidence is only about an inch deep. I mean, if Sami Brady was your mother, how confident would you be?

Lots of drama on the boards right now about Chandler Massey leaving after his contract expires. I’ll take that with a grain of salt right now. NBC and Ted Corday would be damn fools to let him walk away when he’s one of the most popular characters on the show right now and soaps are no longer a dime a dozen. Given taping schedules, we’re likely to see him full time until next March or April. Smart producers would throw money at him and work around his college schedule by back-burnering his story for six months at a time. Plus, you keep Freddie Smith in the forefront and, other than making ME happy, it reminds the audience of the importance of the couple to the Salem landscape. And besides, we’ve never had a long-term gay couple on soaps — and no, Noah and Luke don’t really count as long-term, as much as I loved them — and we need one.

Also, Freddie alluded to something in an interview a while back and I’m interested to see what transpires. Watch this space in October. We’ll see if I’m right!

(Click around here, if you’re interested in this; it’s been one of my favorite subjects of late.)

Cady McClain, the Decline of American TV Soaps, and Other Stuff

Here’s a link to a great article by All My Children’s Cady McClain about the decline of soap operas on American television. Alert readers will know that this is a topic that I broach with some frequency because, in all incarnations of my life, I have been and continue to be a storyteller. And one of the best ways to connect with your audience and tell important stories is using the serial format.

I have a lot to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for another day. Read Cady’s piece. She’s bang on; absolutely bang on.

As for the haters that are drawn to comment on her piece (which she tweeted about), I offer up this great piece on the subject courtesy of Mashable. I originally posted it a few months back.

Finally, below I am reposting a piece I did for Salon back in 2010 when As The World Turns was going off the air. It touches on some similar themes and also Cady and I quote from one of the same sources, Robert Allen, who wrote the terrific book, Speaking of Soap Operas, back in the 80s! All great minds…..?

P.S. In re-reading the piece below, it occurs to me that I’ve used the Schemering quote in more recent pieces. I should research more deeply. Still — it’s a great quote!

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LOSING OUR STORIES
On Friday, September 17, 2010, the soap opera As The World Turns goes off the air after a run of 54 years. A significant event? Yes, I think it is.

“We are a narrative species,” wrote Roger Rosenblatt in Time a decade ago. “We exist by storytelling — by relating our situations — and the test of our evolution may lie in getting the story right.”

I have always found true profundity in that quote and I have gone back to it hundreds of times because all of us relate to students, to colleagues, to friends, acquaintances and strangers, by telling our stories. And I often wonder if a generation gap is not widening because our outlets for teaching young people how to develop, expand and express their own stories have severely diminished in recent decades.

By way of example, we seem to be reaching the bitter end of serialized storytelling, something which can be dated back more than 500 years to Persian storytellers. Serial fiction became wildly popular in the 19th century with Charles Dickens, most famously, and other authors who published stories in magazines by installment. In the U.S., serialized stories began to be broadcast daily on radio in the 1930s. Derisively called soap operas, as most were sponsored by household products manufacturers and featured overly dramatic plots, they fast became the chief escapist fare for an audience of millions; most of whom were women.

If not the originator of the idea, certainly the most prolific purveyor of soap opera was Irna Phillips, an iron-willed, opinionated genius who acted-out her stories for a secretary to transcribe in lieu of literally putting pen to paper.

Character First
When Phillips created As The World Turns in 1956, it fast became the number one drama in America and stayed at that top spot for more than two decades. In writing about the program, Robert LaGuardia called Phillips “ahead of her time. … Irna saw daytime drama in terms of time and character, rather than story. She understood something that only loyal soap fans truly know: that people want to become involved with the lives of other people. … Story to Irna was simply a vehicle; it was from the moment-to-moment emotions of her characters, expressed to each other in quiet scenes, that viewers derived true vicarious pleasure.”

Soap operas exploded thanks to the advent of television and at the height of their reach some 30 years ago, daytime dramas reached a staggering 50 million viewers a week and raked in more than $700 million in profit annually. The size of the soap audience, argued essayist Robert C. Allen, made the programs “a significant cultural phenomenon.”

In the often laconic pacing of daily serials, audiences get to know characters on a level more intimate than in episodic storytelling and their emotional investment in those characters intensifies. The late Christopher Schemering, a journalist devoted to daytime drama, once noted that “as characterizations grow and the narrative stretches out over months and years and becomes more complex and ambiguous, one’s involvement deepens, forcing one to come to terms with the quirks of human nature, the darker sides of fundamentally good people. And thus there is the possibility of the viewer experiencing something new or complex or feeling some way he has never felt before.”

Theatre practitioners often say that the purpose of the art form is to illuminate the human condition and, arguably, soap opera’s true calling may be exactly the same.

Old-Fashioned Relevance
While many soaps have been derided over the years for outlandish plots, poor writing and occasional injections of science fiction or utter madness, As The World Turns remained relevant, said Schemering, because it told “powerful stories slowly and surely. The show was old-fashioned in the best sense of the word.” LaGuardia called it the “most historically important soap opera in modern times.”

In its early years, the show introduced what is believed to be the first illegitimate child on television and though the show was never considered cutting-edge like the early days of All My Children — where a young Erica Kane had television’s first legal abortion — the show did not shirk from the exploration of social issues. Over the years, alcoholism, cancer, adoption, racism, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other issues have been mined for stories.

Margo’s Rape
In the early 1990s on As The World Turns, the rape of police detective Margo Hughes was allowed to play out in real time. The character, who had to wait six months before she could take a test to determine if she had contracted HIV/AIDS from her rapist, was allowed to explore her own emotions, those of her husband, family and colleagues, and the impact her rape had on everyone in her life in a way that mirrored what happens in the real world. Nearly 20 years after this story first aired, actress Ellen Dolan says that it remains a touchstone for long-time viewers.

Luke’s Coming Out
The show has also, in recent years, been lauded for its long-term treatment of Luke Snyder’s homosexuality and its sensitive portrayal of young gay men. When the teenager came out to friends and family, he was met with both acceptance and derision, often from surprising or unexpected sources, but the character was allowed to hold to his own truth and the story showed the long-term positive effects of that truth-telling on members of the community.

And while soaps can be innovative and forward thinking, they can also be prudish. When the character of Luke fell in love with Noah Mayer, a young man with a completely different, harsher and occasionally frightening coming out story, the two finally shared daytime’s first gay male kiss — nearly a decade into the 21st century.

A gripping story such as Margo’s rape showed millions of women how one woman, married with children, reacted to such an unspeakable act and how it impacted her life. Luke and Noah’s story was written with intense courage and deep feeling and showed how one town accepted and embraced people who may have been different. Both stories allowed viewers, some of whom may not have had other avenues in which to explore them, new and potentially empowering ways to confront difference and prejudice and violence in their own lives.

A Real American Drama
Nearly 50 years ago, playwright William Inge said that while people may sneer at soap operas, they have “a basis for a truer, more meaningful drama. … I feel that in soap opera we have the roots for a native American drama.” Inge may have been right, but he could not have foretold the societal shifts that have occurred over the last three decades that has pushed the soap opera onto a cultural endangered species list.

Soap opera viewership is down a staggering 30 million weekly viewers since the mid-1980s and the number of dramas on the air has shrunk by more than half as well. The news from the Nielsen ratings continue to show a continuing sharp decline across all daytime dramatic programs in women viewers 18-49, the bread and butter demographic for soaps. In an era when working outside of the home is the norm rather than the exception for both genders, when DVR’s have released viewing from time constraints and online video has even freed it from TV sets, the soap audience has dwindled and is increasingly split between older viewers and teenagers; neither is a group that excites daytime’s traditional advertisers.

“There are two universal human needs or motives,” a colleague of mine wrote recently, “the need to know and the need to belong.”

That’s as important, I believe, as Rosenblatt’s assertion that “[w]e exist by storytelling.”

If Rosenblatt is correct, what becomes of a society that loses its stories? What happens to people who forget who they are or where they came from or who their ancestors were or how they deal with fellow citizens in a crisis? How do we write our history if we have no stories to tell? If there is a primal need for knowledge and belonging — and I fervently believe that there is — how can we satisfy that need if no one tells us our own story? How do we move forward if we cannot add to the narrative? How do we entertain each other without a collective act of imagining? How do we continue to educate future generations if we have no stories to bind us together?

You may be thinking this is all well and good, but when you get right down to it, it’s just a soap opera; it’s just a television show. Does it really matter? I think it does. And I think that any story that can be told without a break for more than 50 years, such as As The World Turns, deserves to be celebrated and its passing deserves to be mourned.

There are still people who need experiential outlets and serial drama may be an important and overlooked one to help people deal with their personal issues and to teach them to tell their own stories in a meaningful way.

What happens to those folks when we can no longer “tune in tomorrow?”

Chandler Massey Takes Home Second Emmy

Days of our Lives star Chandler Massey took home his second consecutive Emmy award for this portrayal of Will Horton, whose coming out storyline was one of the most talked about plots on daytime. Massey is one of several marvelous young actors plying their trade in fictional Salem these days, perhaps one of the reasons that the venerable NBC drama picked up only its second Outstanding Drama Series statue in its 45-year run on Sunday night.

In the clip below, Massey thanks his on-screen love interest and fellow nominee in the same category, Freddie Smith.

By all accounts, the awards show itself was a train wreck. No surprise. I mean, if you don’t have NPH, you don’t have an awards show!

Out — In Finland!

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Petteri Paavola (left) is out teen Elias and Ronny Roslöf is closeted hockey player Lari in the Finnish series Salatut Elämät.

I first wrote about the Finnish soap Salatut Elämät  back at the beginning of January. Since that time, my original post has been read hundreds and hundreds of times (thanks, btw) and is rarely not one of the most viewed pages of the week here on my little cranky corner of the Web.

YouTube user missfinlandia88, who has been captioning the storyline of Elias and Lari that has caught on with English speakers from around the world, informs us that today’s episode — a good soapy cliffhanger — ends the series until it comes back from its annual hiatus in September. For all you “Larias” fans today’s cut from what I call “Lots of Umlauts” will have to tide you over for the summer!

More Sands Through the Gay Hourglass — Revisiting and Revising

[Jan. 17, 2014 — Follow-up and update: ‘Sonny Skies’ ...]

In the U.K., “to revise” means “to study” and in the U.S., “to revise” means “to reconsider or change.” In revising this post, I kept BOTH definitions in mind.

Plow through. You need to read the next couple of paragraphs before I get to the point.

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Chandler Massey, Blake Berris and Freddie Smith in a scene from “Days of our Lives,” May 2013.

THE PLOT — In a nutshell, here’s a front burner plotline from the NBC serial drama, Days of our Lives: Sonny Kiriakis and Will Horton meet and fall in love. Right before they get together, Will sleeps with his high school girlfriend, Gabi, and she becomes pregnant. Will and Sonny break up, then they get back together. Gabi meets and marries ex-con Nick Fallon. Nick conspires to blackmail Will into giving up his parental rights to Gabi’s baby. Nick is blatantly hostile to Will and Sonny and uses extremely homophobic language around them.

Will and Sonny follow Nick and Gabi and a suspicious third person to an island (off of the mythical shoreline of Salem?) and realize that they are being kidnapped. Creating a ruse, Sonny draws their kidnapper, Jensen, from a shack. Sonny and Will come back and Sonny leaves with a very pregnant Gabi. Will tries to untie Nick, fails, and is shot by the returning Jensen.

Sonny delivers Gabi’s baby (during scenes both poignant and hilarious — Smith is a gifted comedian). Hope Brady, a cop, bursts into the shack and kills Jensen. Gabi and Will are airlifted to the hospital in separate choppers. Will’s life is saved. Gabi’s baby lives. We learn that Jensen repeatedly beat up and raped Nick in prison. Nick is sorry for everything he did to Sonny and Will and makes the hospital put Will’s name on the birth certificate. Will meets his daughter. May sweeps ends.

How’s that  for typical soap opera plotting?

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Chandler Massey as Will Horton and Freddie Smith as Will’s boyfriend Sonny Kiriakis at Will’s bedside after surgery on “Days of our Lives,” May 2013. In the background, Alison Sweeney and Bryan Dattilo as Will’s parents, Sami and Lucas, look on.

THE POINT — But, here’s the thing: I have watched these scenes over and over again. Why? Because I think Chandler Massey (Will), Freddie Smith (Sonny) and Blake Berris (Nick) may just be the finest trio of young actors on television.

They are all powerhouse performers. Berris, who plays the often malevolent, borderline sociopathic and ultra-intelligent Nick Fallon, and Massey, who plays the tortured Will Horton, forever trying to overcome his upbringing at the hands of his manipulative and inept parents, get the majority of the attention, but for my two cents, it’s been Smith who has shone the brightest recently.

Massey, who won an Emmy for this role last year is a favorite to take it again this year, but two things may work to thwart him. One, the television Academy tends not to award the same performer in the same role in sequential years and two, this year Smith is nominated opposite him. It may be Smith’s time to shine, even though I do think Massey had the stronger reel.  Still I’m rooting for Smith. If he doesn’t walk away with the statue this year, he certainly has the reel to submit for next season’s Emmys based on his recent performances.

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Freddie Smith as good guy Sonny Kiriakis on NBC’s “Days of our Lives.” Smith’s performance is devoid of artifice, making Sonny a relatable and likable hero.

It’s hard to play the “White Knight,” but Smith is astonishingly good at it. Since the character was SORASed and reintroduced in June 2011, Sonny has emerged as a genuine good guy. He’s intelligent, confident, loyal, has a conscious and just a touch of a swagger. He is also completely in love with the flawed Will Horton, whom he never doubted was the right choice, in spite of plenty of doubt seeded by his own mother, among others.

The thing that I find so refreshing about Smith’s characterization is that Sonny could very easily be portrayed as someone who is unbelievably too good, but Smith adds the right amount of self-deprication into his performance that it works.

Last week, as Will recovered from gunshot wounds, Smith delivered a series of soliloquies at Will’s bedside that were masterstrokes of both writing and acting. There’s a refreshing realism to Smith’s performance. He makes you believe that Sonny Kiriakis really exists. You can’t watch those scenes and not understand how much he loves Will Horton. That’s not only a breath of fresh air, it’s pretty much the definition of superlative acting.

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Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis — fans use the portmanteau WilSon — the cutest couple in Salem.

In November, TV Guide  noted, “While it took 45 years for the show [DOOL] to introduce it first openly gay character (Sonny) and another year and a half to find him a male partner (Will) the wait was well worth it. This steamy, star-crossed saga has had its drama to spare (Paranoia, Blackmail, Impossible Parents!), but its success lies in the fresh easy charm of these young men.”

I agree with that. I also stand by my original thesis, that this is a hackneyed plot, but the aftermath, with Nick, Gabi, Will and Sonny dealing with the aftereffects of Nick’s prison rape, may prove an interesting twist. I only hope the writing remains excellent for the duo and that Will and Sonny have plenty of screen time in the future.

[Update: This show surprised me. Bravo. See I Do…]