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

Christopher Sean and Seeing More Asian Men On Television

Excellent interview with Christopher Sean on BuzzFeed:

The Actor Who Is Changing How We See Asian Men On Television.

Sean has been making waves on daytime television as a spanner thrown in the works for Will Horton and Sonny Kiriakis, the first gay married couple on NBC’s Days of our Lives. Sean is a terrific actor and has terrific chemistry with both Freddie Smith and Guy Wilson, who play Will and Sonny. I think the introduction of Sean has reinvigorated the Will and Sonny storyline and has created an additional cheering section rooting for Sean and either of the guys, but especially Sonny.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis' Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver's death was central to the plot of the show's finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Eric Sheffer Stevens (l) joined As The World Turns in its last year on the air as Dr. Reid Oliver. His pairing with Van Hansis’ Luke divided audiences between those who wanted to see the electric pairing of Stevens and Hansis and those wanting a happy ending for Luke and his former love, Noah, played by Jake Silbermann. Reid Oliver’s death was central to the plot of the show’s finale, though it did not satisfy many viewers.

Something similar happened in the now-iconic Luke/Noah pairing on As The World Turns. When the writers introduced Eric Sheffer Stevens as Dr. Reid Oliver, his chemistry with Van Hansis as Luke Snyder was palpable and it upset the fandom applecart in quite unexpected ways. In fact, ATWT’s headwriter at the time, Jean Passanante, noted that if the show had not already been cancelled that the actors’ chemistry could have easily led the writers to create a longterm romantic triangle. By the time the show came to an end — in qintessential soapy fashion when Reid was killed by a train but lived long enough to make sure his heart was donated to save the life of Chris Hughes (don’t ya love it! LOL) — the Nuke (Noah and Luke) and the LuRe (Luke and Reid) camps were already being drawn up.

Christopher Sean as Paul Norita on Days of our Lives. Sean plays a former professional baseball player who is wreaking good-looking havoc in the relationship of iconic couple Will and Sonny. |Image: Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

Christopher Sean as Paul Norita on Days of our Lives. Sean plays a former professional baseball player who is wreaking good-looking havoc in the relationship of iconic couple Will and Sonny. When Paul came out to his Japanese grandfather on air, he spoke to him only in Japanese.|Image: Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

On Days, Sean’s recently out ex-pro baseball player Paul Norita, has already slept with Will, saved Sonny’s life and it looks like he’s about to be exposed as Will’s grandmother’s stepson! Oh, did I forget to mention he’s Sonny’s ex as well? It’s a lot of soapy froth and I get a kick out of it. Sean’s chemistry with Smith was noticeable from their first scenes and Team WilSon (Will and Sonny) and Team PaulSon (Paul and Sonny) are already getting their standards made.

I am a hardcore member of Team WilSon, but I do love what Sean brings to the table. He’s a great addition to the cast and I love that he’s moving the needle on bringing more hues to a too-white canvas. And, dammit all, he is NOT hard to look at either!

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.

Saying Goodbye to the First WilSon Incarnation with a Bit of Snark

(Jan. 7, 2014) — Chandler Massey walked along a fake riverbank with Freddie Smith a few months ago and then was “handed his cards,” as they used to say in vaudeville, before being shown the door at the venerable NBC soap Days of our Lives.

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Sonny Kiriakis (Freddie Smith, right) will have to start rubbing noses with a different Will Horton when Guy Wilson takes over the plum role from Chandler Massey (left).

Tomorrow, the angsty blonde half of DAYS’ preeminent (and only) same-sex couple will come back from their journey to that fake riverbank looking a bit different than when he left. That’s because Guy Wilson debuts in the role that won Massey two consecutive Daytime Emmy Awards: Will Horton.

It could be a painful transition, except that, thanks to The Backlot’s pop culture maven, known only as “snicks,” we have “Will & Sonny: A Love Story in Pictures, Part Two” to bring Wilson up to speed on WilSon. Make sure to click on Part I and Will’s California Adventure, too.

This is just about the best way to watch, I think!