As NBC today announced the demise of its ratings-plagued daytime drama PASSIONS, more than a few fans lashed out at the network via message boards. Most indicated that they would not watch TODAY – the expansion of which was widely blamed for the soap’s death – and others vowing to shun all of the network’s programming.
But in truth, the blame for the sudser’s end can be placed squarely on the shoulders of NBC execs and creator/executive producer/headwriter James E. Reilly. Rumors of PASSIONS’ axing have been floating around for years, as has a general dissatisfaction on the part of fans who complained that the show moved at a snail’s pace and refused to have storylines pay-off. Case in point: tortured lovers Luis and Sheridan (as played by Galen Gering and McKenzie Westmore), who spent more time apart than together thanks to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. (And it doesn’t get much more outrageous than the fact that each was mistakenly declared dead numerous times.) Popular pairing Ethan and Theresa (portrayed by Eric Martsolf and Lindsay Hartley) didn’t have much better luck: Despite the heroine’s insistence that the fates wanted them together, Reilly and company kept the pair from ever coming together. Of course, every soap tries to balance what the audience wants (a happy ending) with what the medium requires (happy = boring in the world of daytime), but PASSIONS pushed viewer patience to the limits. The show had an incredibly small number of weddings (the soap equivalent of hitting the jackpot) over the course of eight years, but had no shortage of outrageous plots which left more traditional viewers cold. And therein lies the problem: At any point, the folks at NBC could and should have taken the show in a different direction. Instead, they allowed Reilly to continue stringing an increasingly shrinking and dissatisfied audience along. Rare is the soap that doesn’t, in a time of crisis, at least attempt to salvage things by bringing in a new headwriter to shake things up. Rather than pulling the plug outright, NBC should have allowed a new creative team to come in and try to save what worked.
And there were many things that worked. No soap in recent memory has done humor better than PASSIONS, thanks in large part to such talented actors as the inimitable Ben Masters (Julian) and his alter ego’s wicked bedmate Rebecca, as played by sizzling sexpot Andrea Evans. And while her character — a 300-year-old witch who tended to serve as a one-woman greek choir — may have been a bit on the campy side, there’s no denying the pleasure in watching Juliet Mills (Tabitha) work her magic. In addition, while some of the more outlandish plots failed, PASSIONS often went where few soaps dare to tread, including having two young characters fall into bed despite believing themselves to be brother and sister.
In the meantime, PASSIONS is expected to continue unspooling until the fall, meaning that while we may be eulogizing the soap, it is not completely dead. Instead, it will continue limping along like a brain-dead patient waiting for someone to pull the plug. The good news is that with months to go before the final episode, Reilly has plenty of time to script happy endings for the couples of Harmony, meaning Theresa just might land Ethan yet.