I pulled the latest Soap Opera Digest out of the mailbox last week to find the news that Days of Our Lives has let another popular veteran couple go. This time it's Steve and Kayla, played by Stephen Nichols and Mary Beth Evans. Adding insult to injury, instead of a send-off into the sunset of happy soap-couple land, the characters are going to simply stop appearing. In fact, their last scenes have already aired.
I can only imagine the outrage on the soap internet over this. (I have to imagine it, as going to soap sites and boards scares me even more than going to the comics internet. Some of those people are looney!) But as far as I'm concerned, it's not a bad move.
Most soaps have spent the last couple of years bringing back favorite characters from the past in desperate attempts to boost ratings. It's a problematic approach. For one thing, it's not cheap, and most shows are pretty cash-strapped these days. For another, once you bring someone back, you need to write for them and use them. Unfortunately, most shows only have the idea for the initial story to bring the characters back (and usually it's a 'big event' kind of thing), but very little idea how to fit them into the existing canvas afterward, resulting in very expensive supporting characters and fans who feel like they've been deceived by the promise of old characters who rarely appear.
As far as I'm concerned, bringing back Steve and Kayla a couple of years ago was an ill-advised move made during James Reilly's last disastrous turn as head writer. As the ratings continued to plummet, the show started going crazy bringing back old faves, only to sideline them in some of the lamest stories, doing nothing but rehashing things they did on their original runs.
Look! Frankie Brady's back! What's he doing? Well, he's kind of trapped in a really dumb story that's trying to recreate his teenage love story with Jennifer Horton! Oh, and there's Carrie and Austin! Doing what? Recreating their endless romantic rivalry with Lucas and Sami. Yay! Just what we wanted to see! And so on and so forth.
Even though Steve and Kayla's recent run was mostly handled by other writers, thus avoiding the Reilley re-run run around, it pretty quickly became obvious that no one knew what to do with them. Once Steve the mind-controlled killer suddenly became Steve the loving husband again, there went their story. Everything else fell way flat. Kayla preggers? Please! At her age? Ava, the mobster moll from Steve's amnesiac past? Yeesh!
Where they seemed to work best was as supporting characters--parents to Stephanie, siblings and friends to Bo and Hope. I do think the show will be poorer for cutting out yet another bit of connective tissue that binds the families together, but these are characters with too much history and too much potential to be reduced to that role alone. It's better that Days cut its losses and move on.
According to SOD, Executive Producer Ted Corday has said that the cast-cutting is over. The show is now in its lean, mean fighting shape for its fight for survival on NBC. I'm not sure that Days really has a fighting chance here. NBC over the past decade or so has demonstrated that it is more than willing to give soaps the ax, even shows with 40+ year histories like Days. And fan confidence in the show is pretty low right now, largely due to the firings of Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn. For too many people, John and Marlena are Days of Our Lives, and those people are pretty pissed off right now. All in all, it's going to be an uphill battle.
NEXT: Some thoughts about what the show needs to do now.