Some shocking news came out of Hollywood yesterday: the entire cast of the daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives were released from their contracts, and the show is going on an “indefinite hiatus.” Things are not looking good for fans who avidly follow the comings and goings of people in the mythical town of Salem, located somewhere in the Midwest.
But that’s the problem: are there really any DOOL fans out there? In fact, it’s a fair question to ask what was more shocking: the producers’ decision to give the entire cast of the show the old heave-ho, or the fact that Days of Our Lives, which debuted on broadcast TV in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was President, was still on the air 54 years later during the Trump administration. I, for one, had no idea that, in this day and age, daytime soap operas have been carrying on to tantalize the homebound with sordid stories and dramatic pauses and egregious overacting.
There was a time, during the heyday of soaps in the ’60s and ’70s, when a kid coming home from school was likely to find his or her Mom seated in front of the TV, watching Days of Our Lives or All My Children or Guiding Light or General Hospital, waiting for the day’s routine episode-ending cliffhanger that would entice them to tune in the next day to see what happened. Soaps dominated the afternoon TV screen, and were so popular that odd efforts like Dark Shadows — which combined soap operas storylines and horror characters, with the star being a vampire — were popular for a time. It was all pretty irritating for a kid who just wanted to come home, get control of the Philco, and watch a Three Stooges rerun on channel 43.
Soap operas seem absurdly out of touch with the modern TV world, where reality shows and talk shows and other shows can regularly deal explicitly with the cheating, scandals, and tragedies that were the grist of the mill for daytime soaps. And, of course, the dramatic shows that are available on HBO, Netflix, Amazon, and many other content outlets are a lot more direct and graphic and ground-breaking in their treatment of murder, rape, and other shocking and controversial topics. Soap operas seem pretty staid and conventional and old-fashioned by comparison.
TV is an ever-changing medium, and the trends are moving decidedly away from ongoing shows that plumb the depths of the ever-intertwined lives of a few families in a Midwestern town. In fact, to paraphrase the familiar introduction to DOOL, you might say that, for the soap opera genre, the sands in the hourglass have just about run out.