Last week, ABC’s GENERAL HOSPITAL marked the 25th wedding anniversary of daytime’s most infamous couple — Luke and Laura Spencer — by having the pair walk down the aisle again. But anyone who witnessed both the original ceremony back in 1982 and the one staged last Thursday can attest to just how much the medium has changed.
While the 1982 episode centered entirely around the festivities and featured an appearance by Elizabeth Taylor as Helena, the curse-wielding, mad matriarch of the Cassadine clan, in 2006 the ceremony was shoe-horned into an hour filled with the violence which has become GH’s mainstay over the past decade. As Luke and Laura shared a romantic, post-wedding dance to their theme song (Fascination, the notes of which still remind viewers of the night the supercouple spent in Wyndham’s department store), three other characters were nearly killed by a car bomb.
Ah, feel the love.
And while Luke and Laura’s famous love affair began as they were trying to prevent a madman from freezing the world (starting, of course, with their tiny-little home town of Port Charles), at the heart of the attention-grabbing sci-fi story was an unforgettable love story filled with passion, betrayal and tenderness. There’s little actual romance to be found these days in the mob-centric world of the soap with the distinct honor of having the most misleading title, seeing as very little of the storyline revolves around the hospital which once was the show’s hub.
Daytime execs have made much noise over the past few years about how O.J. killed not only his wife and her pal but, thanks to the trial which pre-empted soaps for months on end, soaps as well. These same execs seem hellbent on ignoring fans who cry out for storylines they can relate to and romances to make them swoon. You know, the former staples of the genre.
Even THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS, which has been the number-one rated soap for over 900 consecutive weeks, seems to have hit a major rough patch under the guidance of new executive producer/headwriter Lynn Marie Latham. Since her tenure began, the traditionally slower-paced soap has not only become a speedier endeavor, but it has also delved into storylines revolving around a much-discussed reliquary (think Raiders Of The Lost Arc). A main character recently broke a bad guy’s neck… with his thighs.
Obviously, the networks are all struggling to both hold onto their ever-dwindling audience and lure new viewers into the fold. But their desperation is starting to show. The wedding of GH’s Luke and Laura came off as little more than an elaborate publicity stunt (with Geary and Francis even doing a one-night-only gig in Broadway’s musical version of The Wedding Singer). Before the rice could be swept up, Francis — who’d left the show years earlier and was wooed back for the nuptials — was gone, with her alter ego back in the mental institution to which she’d been packed to explain her absence.
There are bright spots around the daytime dial. DAYS OF OUR LIVES recently hired Emmy-award winning writer Hogan Sheffer, who, only a few weeks into his tenure, has already brought more emotional punch to the drama than it has had in years. Characters have started talking to one another as opposed to themselves, which was so often the case under previous headwriter James E. Reilly (who still helms the oddball soap PASSIONS, which features two witches and, until recently, a mermaid). And despite it’s unusually small cast and tendency to focus on one story at a time, THE BOLD & THE BEAUTIFUL can be wildly entertaining (especially during any episode featuring Susan Flannery’s Stephanie, who makes Medea look like June Cleaver).
But more and more, daytime is failing the audience on two levels: Not only does the medium fail to deliver the romance its audience so desperately craves, but executives are making the unforgiveable mistake of taking any and all relateability away from their shows. GUIDING LIGHT’s Reva spent months fighting cancer, actually flatlined… and then a few days later, was pronounced “cancer free.” Is this really the message daytime should be sending to the millions of viewers who either have or know someone who has cancer?
There are currently nine soaps on the airwaves, including GL, which has been airing since 1937 (first on radio and then on television), making it the longest-running show in broadcast history. But if the medium is to survive — let alone thrive — major changes will need to be made behind the scenes, beginning with executives realizing that while they can pass the buck from now until Luke and Laura’s 75th anniversary, if viewers ain’t feelin’ the love, they’re going to look for it elsewhere.