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Deep Soap: Days of Our Lives Thrives By Ignoring Conventional Wisdom
by Sara Bibel

The soap opera panel discussion I attended last week got me thinking about how counterintuitive Days of Our Lives success is. DOOL has ignored the conventional wisdom about what soaps need to do to succeed in the 21st century. The show has not switched to shooting in HD. I do not think they have done a remote since John’s car accident in 2007. There are no new sets or edgy camera work. There are few attempts to be hip or trendy in either plotting or dialogue. The wittiest lines regularly come from senior citizen Victor Kiriakis. Other than the contemporary wardrobe, the show looks virtually the same as it did in the 1970s. Though throughout the 1990s DOOL was the teen and young adult soap of choice, the show is currently building its audience by appealing to the allegedly undesirable 55+ age group. Every good decision that DOOL has made flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that daytime needs to reinvent itself.

Having struck gold by bringing back the 1990s with the returns of Carly (Crystal Chappell) and Vivian (Louise Sorel), the show is now kicking it even older school. This week late 80s supercouple Justin (Wally Kurth) and Adrienne (the outstanding Judi Evans) had an unhappy reunion. Soon, one of the shows most popular characters from the mid-80s Shane Donovan (Charles Shaughnessy) will be appearing for what is described as ten episodes with the possibility of more. Kurth’s initial return was similarly open ended. Last season, Shaughnessy had a recurring role on television’s most prestigious primetime soap Mad Men, so his career is going quite well. His decision to return to DOOL speaks volumes about the show’s current energy.

I suspect that, in addition to co-Executive Producer Gary Tomlin’s leadership, DOOL is zigging when the rest of daytime is zagging because it is not micromanaged by the network. While CBS and ABC’s daytime executives go over every breakdown, weekly story thrust, and longterm document with an electron microscope, NBC does not even have a dedicated daytime executive. Instead Bruce Evans, NBC’s Senior Vice President of Drama, oversees DOOL along with multiple primetime shows. Given his busy schedule, and NBC’s struggles, I assume he allows the show a much greater degree of autonomy, trusting the writers and producers to do their jobs. NBC’s neglect of daytime has ironically led to DOOL’s creative renaissance. Perhaps CBS and ABC will take note and give their writing staffs a similar amount of freedom.

Source: Fancast
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