Can Killing Off Core Characters Rejuvenate Days of Our Lives?

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Guy Wilson

Guy Wilson

My print journalism advisor in college always said to wait 24 hours before writing about something you're extremely passionate about. His logic was it will give emotion time to make way for reason.  

I've totally disregarded that advice for most of my time blogging about daytime, instead rushing to log in and rage at the latest soap injustice. These days the injustices are happening at such an alarming rate, I'd give myself carpal tunnel trying to keep up.

Last week on NBC's Days of Our Lives, legacy character Will Horton (Guy Wilson) was killed off by one of the lamest soap serial killers ever. I don't know if it is because I've become jaded with a good 60 percent of what's going on with the remaining daytime soaps, or if I was drawing on my former mentor's advice, but I waited a few days to write about Will's gruesome demise on DAYS. Okay, I cheated by ranting on Twitter. Social media didn't exist when I was in college, so I still get an "A" for effort, right?

Will Horton was one of those characters who came to embody my experience watching DAYS during the past 35 or so years. Much like his mother Sami (Alison Sweeney), their aunt Hope (Kristian Alfonso) and his grandmothers Dr. Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall) and Kate Roberts (Lauren Koslow), Will felt like a part of my own extended family.

Will's paternity drove story for DAYS in the 90's the same way his uncle Mike Horton's did during the 60's and 70's.  The character provided a living crucible for the twisted love quadrangle of Sami, Austin (Patrick Muldoon, Austin Peck), Carrie (Christie Clark) and Lucas (Bryan Datillo). Will was also a central factor in the delicious, decades-long war Kate and Sami waged against one another. 

Over the past five years, Will came of age and out as gay. He fell hopelessly in love with more experienced homosexual Jackson "Sonny" Kiriakis (Freddie Smith), got married and became a father (though not quite in that order).  

Chandler Massey

Chandler Massey

Will's journey as a young gay man earned DAYS much-coveted recognition from GLAAD and the gay press. It also helped net actor Chandler Massey three Daytime Emmys. 

In 2013, Massey announced in the press room at the Daytime Emmys he planned to vacate the role once his contract was up to go back to school. Shortly after giving an interview saying the role wouldn't be recast, DAYS co-owner Ken Corday, infamous for his knee-jerk reactions, fired Massey before his contract was done. That'll show him, right Ken? 

The spiteful, impetuous move found green newcomer Guy Wilson doing his best to recreate the role. As if stepping into a popular character wasn't hard enough, former head writers Gary Tomlin and Chris Whitesell proceeded to give Will a full-on personality transplant. 

The sweet, doe-eyed boy, who mooned at Sonny (and stepdaddy EJ before him) in a state of perpetual adoration during Massey's tenure, transformed into a scheming, ambitious, downright nasty boy bitch. Many of the same fans and critics who adored Will's prior incarnation began to despise the character.  That explains why a lot of gay soap fans on Twitter were actually cheering when The Sculpted Eyebrow Killer strangled young William to death with a red necktie last week.

Writing shifts and inadequate recasts be damned, I cannot champion this move. It reeks of desperately trying to garner momentary shock value, as opposed to being concerned about the soap's long term viability. At a time when LGBT issues are at the forefront of the national conversation, DAYS snuffs out Will a year after his historic wedding. 

Did anyone even bother to look at a calendar and realize Will's death would fall the same week as National Coming Out Day? So much for soaps being used to both entertain and educate. 

Every year Corday gives the exact same interview to Soap Opera Digest promising a return to "tradition, family and core", yet he allowed head writers Josh Griffith and Dena Higley to murder one of the best examples of the soap opera's tradition, family and core ahead of its 50th anniversary.

Will Horton was the son of Lucas Horton, the grandson of Bill Horton and great-grandson of Dr. Tom Horton (MacDonald Carey). Granted, he isn't the first Horton to bite it. Tom and Alice's (Frances Reid) eldest daughter Addie was mowed down while pushing Baby Hope out of the way of an automobile after all. 

DAYS wasn't constantly having to "reboot" itself back then. Plus, according to Corday, "Dead means dead" now in fictional Salem U.S.A. Sorry, Will. Princess Greta can't be retconned to take your place in that laundry bag, the way she did for Hope in the acid pit.

How exactly does killing Hortons and Bradys honor the soap opera's 50th anniversary? Any lapsed viewers curious enough to tune in will find every beloved heroine prostrate with grief in the town square at the bicentennial. Big fun.

Corday and Co. seem to think bringing on 17 rapidly SORASed teens, and a few vets for viewer bait (Most aren't sticking around), will save DAYS.  Yeah, because that always works in this medium.

Instead of recasting Will, or sending the character off screen to battle for his crumbled married to Sonny, DAYS chose to brutalize fans by having them watch a character we saw grow up from infancy die in a fashion more vile and ugly than poor Guy Wilson's DAYS wardrobe. I hope it pays off.