I read an article this morning about how soap actress Eileen Davidson was leaving her role as Ashley on The Young and the Restless and going back to Days of Our Lives where she had played the character(s) Kristen/Susan (one being the evil doppelganger, of course) back in the 1990s. And while this may not be huge news to anyone, it reminded me of how much I used to love The Soap Opera.
My first exposure to soap operas was back when I was kid and I would hang out my friend’s house during the summer. Her mom would come home for lunch every day at noon and watch All My Children. This was back in the day when Kelly Ripa was on the show (circa 1990) as Hayley, the troubled party girl. Yes, I realize that was a long time ago. Shut up.
But I didn’t really start getting into soaps until two years later when the same friend and I began watching The Young and the Restless. It was on earlier than the other soaps – 11:00am – and fit perfectly into our slightly obsessive TV-watching schedule: The Price is Right at 10am, Y &R at 11am.
I loved Y & R because it had cute guys on it (I was 13 years old and this stuff was important to me). It had Michael Damien as Danny Romalotti (who had a hit song “Rock On” from the movie Dream a Little Dream two years earlier, which I realize no one probably knows but me). He was my favorite, and my friend’s favorite guy was Ryan McNeil, played by Scott Reeves (married to other soapie Melissa Reeves, who played Carrie on Days of Our Lives).
Danny was married to Cricket, and Ryan McNeil was married to 16-year-old Victoria Newman, who was at the time played by Heather Tom. She bugged the hell out of me with her whining (but it’s a soap, so I guess they have to whine), and all I wanted was Ryan to realize that he loved Nina, who was slightly overweight, but way more normal than Victoria.
I watched Y & R that whole summer of 1992, and then recorded it (on videotape!) as often as I could. And then as I got older (15) and started writing more stories, I started watching more soaps as inspiration for my own writing. I went back to watching All My Children (even though everyone else at the time was watching Days of Our Lives because of Austin, Carrie, and Sammy) and General Hospital. When I started watching GH Ricky Martin was on as Miguel, and he had super long hair. Like down-to-his-butt long hair. Don’t believe me?
Once I got to college, though, I stopped watching GH – not only because I didn’t have to time to anymore, but because the storylines got boring for me. I watched Y & R when I could, and because I had a break every day from 12-1, I could still watch AMC.
But when I moved into a house with three of my friends, I slowly switched from AMC to Days of Our Lives. Days was a soap I had purposely not watched before simply because it was the one that everyone else watched (I was a soap hipster). But one of my roommates was an avid Days watcher, so I found myself jumping on the Days soap wagon.
I found myself loving Days – not because it was good, but because it was HILARIOUS. Y & R had always been on the more realistic side when it came to soaps (re: no one returning from the dead), so I saw Days as a nice change. I knew they weren’t going to deal with any serious, depressing topics. It was like watching a sitcom without a laugh track. Possessed Marlena? Ridiculous. John’s facial expressions? Priceless. Hope and Bo and their flashbacks? Nauseating.
But I couldn’t stop watching, that’s how bad it was. And it was the perfect lead-in to the brand new soap that came on in the summer of 1999, Passions.
I could write a whole post on how crazy Passions was – I actually wrote an article about it in my college paper at the time – but I’ll just throw out some words that sort of describe the show: witches, talking dolls, Mexican stereotypes, Princess Diana’s best friend, Martin Fitzgerald, Martimmies.
The show was ten times worse than Days but ten times more fun. It unfortunately came to an end in 2008 after only nine seasons, thus ending all the “I Killed Martin Fitzgerald” drinking games that I’m sure took place around college campuses everywhere.
Which brings me to a depressing topic: The Unfortunate Demise of the Soap Opera.
In the past five years, at least five soaps have ceased to exist: Passions, One Life to Live, All My Children, As the World Turns, and Guiding Light, which was the longest running anything in media history, starting way back in 1937 on the radio and then switching to TV in 1952.
Now only four soaps remain on daytime television: Young and the Restless, General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, and The Bold and the Beautiful, though only time will tell on those.
It’s sad, really, given the fact that most of these shows started before I was even born (B & B is the only exception, starting in 1987). These shows have history. Some of the writers and actors have worked on the show since its first episode. Jeanne Cooper, for example, has played Katherine Chancellor on Y & R since 1973. But because of ratings, the changing dynamics of television, and the economy – it’s a lot cheaper to produce a daytime talk show than an hour-long scripted show – their demise is inevitable.
There’s even a theory that blames their demise on O.J. Simpson – that their shows were preempted so much because of his trial that soaps fell off the radar and never recovered.
So until that day comes when not a single bubble remains and kids don’t know the meaning of the words “soap opera” (actually I’m sure a lot of people don’t know why they’re called soaps – it’s because when they used to be on the radio they were sponsored by soap companies), we can only enjoy what we’ve got.
I don’t watch them nearly as much as I used to – I used to have time to TiVo Y & R and watch it after work, but then my DVR got too full and Y & R didn’t make the cut – but I still appreciate their place in this world. When I moved to LA in 2001, I suddenly found myself having random run-ins with soap actors, which was slightly bizarre to me. I ran into Heather Tom (first Victoria) at Trader Joes, and she looked slightly homely compared to her character on the show. When I worked at The Coffee Bean I made a drink for Sharon Case (who plays Sharon Newman on Y & R, and she remains the only “celebrity” I ever said something to in all my years in LA (I said “I really love your work on Y & R”, and she seemed genuinely happy about it).
And also made a drink for some young 20-something guy on Days of Our Lives, but he was super cocky. I wanted to say, “Dude, you’re on a soap opera. Get over it.” But I didn’t. Because I didn’t want him to think that I thought he was someone. Ha ha.
Despite all this, soaps are an important part of television history, and hey, you never know…we just may see a resurgence of soaps one of these days, where they’ll continue to entertain the women and men (come on…you know there are some men out there who watch them) who need them to get them through their lunch hour.
And maybe they’ll bring Passions back. The aggressive letter-writing campaign begins now…