I spend a lot of time on the blog, the podcast and on Twitter bemoaning the lack of 80's style glitz and glamor on our modern daytime soaps. While I miss the pageantry, elegance and larger-than-life tales of the soap operas I came of age watching, I also find the dearth of powerful, socially-relevant storytelling troubling.
When you check Twitter or Facebook these days, you're inundated with yet another instance of injustice, terrorism, rape, pillaging and/or war. From Ferguson, Missouri to New York City, protests have sprung up in opposition to police brutality.
A beloved TV icon has been accused by two dozen women of rape. A terrorist group is making videos of the be-headings of U.S. and British citizens. Yet when you tune in to the four remaining daytime soaps operas, you will find no mention of any of these atrocities. Why is that?
Disregarding the topical stories of the day is a relatively modern phenomenon for soaps. Soap opera legends like the late Bill Bell, the late Douglas Marland, Pete Lemay and Agnes Nixon all managed to infuse storylines ripped from the headlines into their soap opera tapestries.
Nixon especially tackled many hot button issues during her storied career writing for daytime dramas. She wrote the first-ever TV arc on uterine cancer for CBS Daytime's The Guiding Light.
At a time when female body parts couldn't even be mentioned on television, Nixon penned a story which found the soap's central heroine, Bert Bauer (the late Charita Bauer), suffering a potentially deadly medical crisis. Nixon's groundbreaking tale reportedly led to thousands of women getting their first pap smears. Why aren't today's sudsers exploring similar topics, like HPV infection among teenage girls?
With Nixon's own serials, One Life to Live and All My Children, she plunged right into issues of racism, class distinction and the Vietnam War. If Nixon was still writing soaps today, I predict a young black male character would be the victim of violence, dividing the soap opera's fictional town along race lines.
General Hospital has a talented, charismatic, young black actor on their canvas in Tequan Richmond who plays TJ. While I certainly wouldn't want to see the character killed off, TJ being beaten or almost killed by a cop—or one of his white girlfriend's neighbors for being on the wrong side of town—would provide timely drama for the ABC soap. Perhaps TJ would be targeted because his surrogate father is an enforcer for the mob, while his mother (secretly a DEA agent) is believed to be a drug dealer?
Like that other Bill currently in the news for shocking allegations, Bill Spencer, Jr. (Don Diamont) on CBS Daytime's The Bold and the Beautiful is a powerful alpha male, obsessed with his image and legacy. He also has an insatiable appetite for women.
Dollar Bill has already been revealed to be the father of two illegitimate sons by two different women. It wouldn't be a stretch for a former Eye on Fashion model to accuse the publishing magnate of drugging her during a wild Fashion Week party back in the 80's.
Being that Bill is a protagonist, we wouldn't want to sully his viability by making him a rapist. B&B could introduce a new character, a longtime pal of Bill's — another power player who was at the party that night and was known for dropping a little "Spanish Fly" into the drinks of unsuspecting women. Maybe the predator targets Bill's beloved niece Caroline (Linsey Godfrey), as a parallel to Bill being accused?
A Gloria Allred-esque attorney could be introduced. Her mission: to bring the wrongfully-accused Bill to his knees.
Meanwhile, Bill's best friend and attorney Justin Barber (Aaron D. Spears) would be working overtime to prove his friend's innocence. Maybe Justin and the ruthless female attorney share a past?
Bill Spencer being tried in both the courtroom and court of public opinion could provide a powerful arc for B&B. It would cause the Stallion to reflect on his callous treatment of the women in his life.
The popular character's sordid past (Bedding two sisters; almost taking 20-something Steffy as a mistress; the kinky games with Quinn) could be called into question, as lover Brooke Logan (Katherine Kelly Lang), ex-wife Katie Spencer (Heather Tom) and unstable baby mama Quinn Fuller (Rena Sofer) are all called to testify.
The same story template could be used for Victor Newman (Eric Braeden) on The Young and the Restless, or Stefano DiMera (Joe Mascolo) on Days of Our Lives — both megalomaniac, seemingly-untouchable alphas.
I can definitely see why soap scribes shy away from topical stories. When the ratings take a dip, these types of tales are always the first ones network execs point fingers at. Remember when the gay rights story on One Life to Live was blamed for bad ratings, even as the soap told a ludicrous tale about a religious cult leader trying to rape his believed daughter to sire an heir?
The Bold and the Beautiful had matriarch Stephanie Forrester (Susan Flannery) announce to a group of black homeless people that they were "her people" — then she gave them a coffee shop. On Y&R, Avery Bailey Clark (Jessica Collins) fights for truth, justice and for Dylan McAvoy (Steve Burton) to always get his way as part of the Innocence Foundation. However, I want something a bit more substantive in terms of soaps addressing what's going on in the world.
Y&R, which I generally deride for its lack of glamor and style, is currently embarking on a story which finds sexual predator-turned-upstanding citizen Michael Baldwin (Christian LeBlanc) being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Daytime Emmy-winners LeBlanc and Greg Rikaart—who plays Michael's brother Kevin—are doing some of their best work in years, as Michael wrestles with is mortality. Maybe there's hope for topical storytelling in daytime yet?