In Part One of a revealing chat with Days of Our Lives executive producer Ken Corday, We Love Soaps' Damon Jacobs gets the show runner to discuss NBC's interference and his struggles with the late James E. Reilly. Once again, Corday, who is promoting his new memoir, seems to throw Reilly under the bus for most of DAYS problems in recent years.
We Love Soaps: That is one of my questions. I appreciate how much love and commitment you have for the show. Yet there are times things have appeared on screen that appear disparate from that. Some of the “strange” elements you discussed seem disparate.
Ken Corday: I’ll be direct and honest with you. There was a time when I took criticism from the soap press as the “overlord” of the show for letting that happen. Specifically, when Jim Reilly returned, his mass murder of 10 beloved characters. And before that, his pushing the envelope on what we can and cannot get away with as far as the phantasmagoric. That was in a period when MTV was the thing to watch and people’s attention spans were getting shorter and shorter. I locked horns with Jim on that.
Unfortunately, the second time around, I was given no alternative. They said, “Do it this way or we will take the show off.” They were overpowering at NBC. They had it wrong. That was the real rubicon for me to cross. How do I get through this period of time with a person who is writing another show, incapable of writing two, and is recycling stories from 4-5 years ago? That is where I feel I have made my greatest mistake, but in a way was forced into making it. The audience picked up on it real quickly.
I don't think it's any secret that I was a huge fan of the late Reilly's first stint head writing DAYS—and yes, I watched in the 80's and loved that era too. As much as I was a fan of the romance novel come to life version of DAYS in the 80s, the early 90's was a boring and bland time for the serial, complete with Michael Easton attempting to fill Peter Reckell's leather jacket and tight jeans. They may have gotten the look right, but the style was lost. Tanner and Molly were no Bo and Hope, sorry. The show had lost it's mojo big time, and IMO it was one James E. Reilly who gave it back to them. If you don't believe me, ask the trades. Everyone was talking about DAYS under Reilly, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and this was back when both magazines were successful!
I firmly believe Days of Our Lives would have been cancelled right along with Another World in the late 90's without the juggernaut ratings brought on by Reilly storylines like Buried Alive, Marlena's Possession, Sami's Numerous Schemes, Bo and Billie's romance, Hope's Return from the Dead, Vivian and Kate's feud and the Saga of Kristen Blake and Her Wacky Lookalikes. It's no wonder NBC demanded Reilly be brought back. His stories helped DAYS shoot up to Number 2 in the ratings, where they remained for much of the 90's, and almost resulted in DAYS dethroning Y&R at one point.
That being said, Reilly's second stint did almost tank the serial, I can admit that. Although I don't think it was the serial killings. I was just as riveted by that storyline as Reilly's previous ones, and the ratings were initally good. The fatal mistake was bringing the characters all back from the dead—that's what DAYS almost didn't recover from, and several sources have said for years that this was Corday's panicked, last minute response, after allegedly having not known what was happening on his own show for months prior, which Corday denies.
Sure, I could have personally done without the deaths of Gran (the late Frances Reid) and my beloved Jack (Matt Ashford), but the rest of those Salemites could have stayed dead, driving red-hot story for years. I also wouldn't have made Marlena (Deidre Hall) the killer. Having it turn out to have been Doc's long-lost sister Samantha would have salvaged the story, and provided DAYS with a fresh canvas for Reilly to play with.
As enjoyable as DAYS has been in the last six months, it is most assuredly because of the late Reilly's influence on current showrunner Gary Tomlin, and I have to admit it bugs me that Corday, who I readily applaud for reportedly taking a more active role of late, seems to refuse to acknowledge what this man brought to his show. Vivian, Carly, Kate, Sami, we love these characters because of what Reilly wrote for them.
Did Reilly cause DAYS to allegedly run afoul of the Writers Guild of America? No, that was allegedly Dena Higley, who although she vehemently denies scabbing, was reportedly investigated for it. Was it Reilly who then had the audacity to allegedly go to the same Guild he didn't stand by during the Writers Strike, with his tail between his legs to complain that Ed Scott and actors were allegedly hijacking his crappy scripts, causing DAYS to have to fire Scott, a man who helped keep Y&R atop the the Nielsens for decades and could have possibly done the same for DAYS? Nope, again that was reportedly Dena.
Was it Reilly who made Bo a psychic and threw an Autistic child off a pier, down a flight of stairs and shot him out of a canon? No allegedly needed here, because that was all Dena, dead to rights, okay, not the canon part, but I am sure she wanted to. On a sidenote, I must say, I am really, really surprised Higley Wiggly has the brass ones to come out of hiding and start dredging all of that up again, just to take credit for some lame story, but I digress. This isn't about a Lifetime Achievement Hack like Higley, it's about a writer who actually made Corday a butt load of $$$ and whose legacy I am tired of seeing trampled all over. If you want to hate on Reilly, fine. Hate on him for having someone sew a man's penis on backwards on that other show he wrote, but please, stop dissing his show-saving tenure at DAYS.
Whether you think Reilly was a hack or not, he brought NBC Daytime their best ratings since the 80's and as his fan I am quite tired of seeing him constantly thrown under the bus as the Great and Defining Evil of Days of Our Lives and soaps in general. While he might be remembered for ghosts, goblins and devils, Reilly also understood that the best soap stories were rooted in history and the concept of true love. So, he liked to mix the supernatural with the soap opera? That seems to have worked out okay for Stephanie Meyer. If anything, Reilly was before his time.
I'm sure when network execs start ordering stinky, Glee ripoffs, people will no doubt start pontificating on how it was Ryan Murphy who "killed primetime soaps", but I beg your pardon, Reilly never promised Another World a rose garden or a ratings surge if they turned Latino hunk Tomas into a vampire, nor did Reily pull out a prop gun, before heading to Brookyln to force Chris Goutman and Hogan Sheffer to send three antiheroines off to an aging clinic on As The World Turns.
Contrary to selective memory, Reilly didn't just bring plagues of locusts to Salem, he dug into the Horton family mythos to make Kate Roberts ( first Deborah Adair, now Lauren Koslow) the very same Kate that Bill Horton cheated on Laura with in the 70's, tying a new villain to the fabric of a classic storyline and making Lucas (Bryan Datillo) a Horton in an organic way. I wish he had still be around to write the "Melanie is Carly's daughter reveal". He also understood that what soap fans want most is all-consuming, against-all-odds romance, complete with popular music montages, much like his predecessors Thom Racina, Leah Laiman and Sheri Anderson had in the 80's.
No, Reilly's DAYS would have never won an award for dialogue, and when he went over the top, he went way over the top (the Army of Marlenas, Sami dressing as a man and helping the Taliban) but find me a current story on DAYS as romantic as Bo and Billie's (Robert Kelker Kelly and Lisa Rinna) initial courtship, or one as steamily-erotic as Peter Blake's (Jason Brooks) seduction of good girl, divorcee Jennifer Rose Horton Deveraux (Melissa Reeves). Sorry, Dr. Hairy McCrotch banging the townsfolk doesn't even come close. See, all this Reilly bashing does is make me cross with DAYS all over again, when I was starting to be willing to let bygones be bygones. I could go on, but I'll save it for my memoirs, The Boy Who Watched Soaps.