Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What I Learned From Days of Our Lives and Santa Barbara (Soaps Blog Hop)

I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and by the mid-Eighties these were the only two soaps on our NBC affiliate. (When the CBS and NBCs stations swapped in the Nineties I finally got to see what Another World was all about, but that's another story). In the Eighties, the good money was on Santa Barbara even if their ratings were worse than Days of Our Lives'. And yet...

Days of Our Lives

When I started watching this in the Eighties, this was a tough show to get into. The writing was very quick paced and while the show focused on the dramatic love lives of certain couples, the direction seemed to be changing constantly. Most of the time I couldn't tell who to root for and I only watched sporadically.

That all changed in the Nineties when longtime Executive Producer hired writer James E. Reilly. He's remembered by many for his controversial possession story, but he also invigorated existing families by fleshing out new generations (particularly the conniving and tormented Sami Brady) and brought in new
families by establishing ties to others in the show. He also doubled down on his villains, particularly the ruthless DiMera clan.

Alison Sweeney as Sami Brady (2013).png
Alison Sweeney as Samantha "Sami" Brady, one of the most complicated characters on daytime television
While they've had their share of super couples (Bo and Hope, Jack and Jennifer and Marlena and John) and sell romance like no other show on television, they are arguably just as well known for their rivalries, whether it's families or romantic adversaries. The prize, however, should probably go to Sami Brady and the grandmother of her children, Kate Roberts.

The lesson: strong family ties and intense relationships will keep an audience glued even when they have to suspend disbelief.

Santa Barbara

This show lasted less than fifteen years, but it had a loyal fan following. It started out focusing on four families, but by the end of the second year the action was firmly focused on the patrician Capwells, with some attention on the fallen Lockridges. The show opened with the question "who killed Channing Capwell?" years before, but the resolution of that mystery gave birth to more characters and more story lines, most famously the continuing romantic adventures of Eden Capwell and Cruz Castillo.

Almost every character was compelling (and casting Dame Judith Anderson as matriarch Minx Lockridge didn't hurt), but the story revolved around the Capwells: controlling patriarch CC, ne'er do well Mason, adventurous Eden, sweet and vulnerable Kelly and trusting Ted. The large family and the challenging dynamics were rich enough to ground the show, but even from the beginning it had trouble reining in all of its ideas. At times it seemed to suffer from an embarrassment of riches, both in cast and storylines.

Lionel and Augusta Lockridge: best dysfunctional couple ever
What kept them from achieving the ratings they deserved was a constant change at the helm, which finally affected some of the characterizations. Still, the way many fans mourn the loss of this show, that might not have been fatal if the choice had been left to them.

The lesson: taking chances on storylines can work- but only if it's seen all the way through.