Days of Our Lives


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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About

Days of Our Lives is one of the longest-running programs on American television, begun in 1965 and carrying through to the present day. Of all the continuing daytime TV soap operas, Days of Our Lives most emblematizes a bridge between the origins of daytime drama and developments in the form over its multiple decades of existence. Days of Our Lives is both traditional and innovative, rooted in the foundation of soap opera but branching out into some of its most novel shifts. This balance between the conventional and the disruptive is one of this program’s most distinguishing features, one that might help to account for its continuing survival.

In 1965, Days was created by married couple Ted and Betty Corday, produced by Hollywood production company Screen Gems, and aired on NBC. Ted Corday had been working as a director and producer in both radio and television, most notably serving as a director for the pioneering Procter & Gamble-owned, CBS soap opera, As the World Turns, for most of its first decade. In that capacity, he worked closely with Irna Phillips, who created As the World Turns for television in 1956 but who had also pioneered the very form of daytime soap opera in radio before transitioning to TV. Phillips consulted with Ted and Betty, who had been working as an actress and casting director, as they created their own, new soap, Days of Our Lives. With Ted’s death soon after the program’s launch, Betty took charge, producing the soap until their son, Ken Corday, took over in the 1980s. The family control of the program for its entire history is a practice found only in the world of daytime soap opera, and one the Cordays have mastered longer than any other.

The program’s roots in soap opera history come not only from the Cordays and Phillips but also from the soap’s long-time head writer, William Bell, a protégé of Phillips’ who guided the writing of Days of Our Lives for most of its first decade, even as he created his own, new soap, The Young & the Restless (with Lee Phillip Bell), in 1973. The Cordays, Phillips, and Bell shaped Days of Our Lives around a central, white, middle-class, middle-American family, the Hortons, a practice as old as the soaps’ radio origins. By the 1970s, however, Days of Our Lives' storytelling began to take more chances, to venture into newer and riskier realms. At first, this meant more attention to social issues, most notably an inter-racial romance between the black Valerie Grant and the white David Banning, son of Horton granddaughter Julie. Their story received a lot of popular attention in the late 1970s, but the soap handled their relationship with extreme tentativeness. While audience responses to the pairing were mixed, eventually the couple parted ways, a development motivated in part by another social issue-related plot, abortion, as (white character) Trish Clayton seriously considered terminating her pregnancy by David. Trish decided to have the baby, and Valerie decided to leave town. Then and since, the soap was criticized for backing away from the inter-racial relationship due to fears of negative responses.

Like the rest of daytime, in the 1980s, Days of Our Lives turned away from social issues and toward fantasy romance, featuring a slate of “supercouples” who pursued exciting adventures and married in “fairy tale” ceremonies. While this trend of supercouples facing danger amid developing romances was pioneered by ABC’s General HospitalDays had been one of the first to pursue more overtly sexual relationships amongst its characters as early as the 1970s, and became most expert at generating sensational and popular pairings across the 1980s, featuring more supercouples than any other soap. On Days of Our Lives the attraction of opposites—typically privileged young women and rougher-edged, yet heroic, young men—perfected the supercouple formula. Fans were deeply invested in pairings such as Bo and Hope or Steve/“Patch” and Kayla.

In the 1990s, Days of Our Lives sought new directions for its storytelling. The arrival of head writer James E. Reilly led to some particularly outrageous plots, from characters buried alive to the devil possession of longtime heroine and pillar of the community Dr. Marlena Evans. While some viewers saw these developments as campy fun, others disliked their difference from the traditional family orientation of this program, and of soap opera as a whole. Such stories made permissible a wider array of storytelling and generic devices within daytime, particularly those of a supernatural bent, as in Reilly’s next project, the new soap for NBC, Passions, which took these campy excesses even further. 

While Days’ storytelling has bridged traditional and new directions since at least the 1970s, its status within the TV industry has always been that of innovator. Days of Our Lives was the first successful soap opera to be owned by a Hollywood studio (with a small ownership stake by Corday Productions) rather than a sponsor or (as in the case of its immediate predecessor, General Hospital) a network. Following the path of the media business as a whole, that studio, Screen Gems, was gradually absorbed by larger and larger corporations over the years, eventually making Days a product of global conglomerate Sony in 2002. While this ownership model has been relatively successful and was copied for the launch of The Young & the Restless in 1973, Days of Our Lives has faced particular struggles due to this structure, especially as the soaps have become less profitable in the 21stcentury. Because NBC licenses the program from Sony, the conglomerate has to re-negotiate its deal with the network at the end of each contract period. As NBC has taken in fewer ad dollars for daytime, it has shrunk its license fee. Meanwhile, Corday Productions alleges that Sony has neglected the secondary distribution of Days of Our Lives, failing to sell it internationally. The results of these struggles have been extensive budget contraction and belt-tightening for Days, wherein the soap produces episodes months in advance of airing at a production schedule of eight episodes per week in order to shut down the studio for at least fifteen weeks per year. These “dark weeks” are a way to cut expenses in order to make the production financially viable.

While Days of Our Lives' status in the 21stcentury TV industry can seem precarious, the program has long found ways to balance its standing between tradition and risk. Whether in its business dealings or its storytelling, Days of Our Lives has combined the conventional and the unusual across its history, continuing the legacies of the both the fictional Horton and real-world Corday families across more than half a century.

- Elana Levine, September 2019

SOURCES

Corday, Ken. The Days of Our Lives: The True Story of One Family’s Dream and the Untold History of Days of Our Lives. Sourcebooks, 2010.

Levine, Elana. Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020.

Levine, Elana. “Love in the Afternoon: The Supercouples of 1980s Daytime Soap Opera.” Critical Studies in Television 9:2 (Summer 2014), 20-38.

Russell, Maureen. Days of Our Lives: A Complete History of the Long-Running Soap Opera. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 1995. 

Highlights
H. Wesley Kenney on working with Days of Our Lives' writers William Bell and Ann Marcus
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
Genie Francis on joining the cast of Days of Our Lives in 1987
Ken Corday on the Days of Our Lives legacy
John Aniston on his Days of Our Lives character, "Victor Kiriakis," and on his early storylines
Ann Marcus on writing for Days of Our Lives
Who talked about this show

John Aniston

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John Aniston on playing "Dr. Eric Richards" on Days of Our Lives
John Aniston on doing publicity for Days of Our Lives, and on his big fan base
John Aniston on getting the role of "Victor Kiriakis" on Days of Our Lives
John Aniston on his Days of Our Lives character, "Victor Kiriakis," and on his early storylines
John Aniston on his popularity playing "Victor Kiriakis" on Days of Our Lives
John Aniston on "Victor Kiriakis" being a villain on Days of Our Lives, and on having input into his character
John Aniston on going on location for Days of Our Lives, and on the budget and production of the show
John Aniston on the storylines of his Days of Our Lives character, "Victor Kiriakis," and on dealing with recasting on the show
John Aniston on "Victor Kiriakis" being "killed" in 2004 on Days of Our Lives, and on other characters, including "Stefano DiMera"
John Aniston on being nominated for an Emmy Award for his role of "Victor Kiriakis" on Days of Our Lives, and on what he hopes happens to the character
John Aniston on the longevity of Days of Our Lives
John Aniston on watching Days of Our Lives
John Aniston on his Days of Our Lives character, "Victor Kiriakis," and on his early storylines

Joe Behar

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Joe Behar on directing the Days of Our Lives pilot
Joe Behar on the premise of Days of Our Lives and working with star Macdonald Carey
Joe Behar on working with the producers of Days of Our Lives
Joe Behar on working with the cast of Days of Our Lives
Joe Behar on a typical production week on Days of Our Lives
Joe Behar on significant storylines on Days of Our Lives while he was directing the show
Joe Behar on directing Days of Our Lives and Let's Make a Deal during the same period

William Bell

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William Bell on taking over Days of Our Lives from Ted Corday and changes he brought to the show
William Bell on production on Days of Our Lives
William Bell on writing scripts and hiring writers for Days of Our Lives
William Bell on a memorable storyline involving "Laura Horton" on Days of Our Lives
William Bell on incorporating events of the Vietnam War into the storylines of Days of Our Lives
William Bell on famous feuds on Days of Our Lives
William Bell on not attending cast parties for Days of Our Lives
William Bell on Days of Our Lives transitioning from half-hour to an hour-long show (after he left); on leaving the show to start The Young and the Restless

Robert Clary

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Robert Clary on singing on Hogan's Heroes, and on Days of Our Lives
Robert Clary on being cast as "Robert LeClair" on Days of Our Lives, and on the character
Robert Clary on adjusting to the production schedule of Days of Our Lives, and on the cast of the show
Robert Clary on his character's storylines on Days of Our Lives

Ken Corday

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Ken Corday on the Days of Our Lives legacy
Ken Corday on visiting the set of Days of Our Lives , a show created by his parents, long before he began working on the show as a producer
Ken Corday on how his parents got involved with Days of Our Lives
Ken Corday on the creation of and early days of Days of Our Lives
Ken Corday on how Days of Our Lives is different from other soap operas
Ken Corday on how he joined Days of Our Lives as a musical composer
Ken Corday on the Days of Our Lives cast
Ken Corday on Days of Our Lives storylines and supercouples 
Ken Corday on storylines and production of Days of Our Lives
Ken Corday on the Days of Our Lives legacy

Elinor Donahue

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Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her as "Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives
Elinor Donahue on her role as "Evil Nurse Hunnicut" on Days of Our Lives

Kevin Eubanks

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Kevin Eubanks on appearing on Days of Our Lives

Genie Francis

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Genie Francis on joining the cast of Days of Our Lives in 1987
Genie Francis on joining the cast of Days of Our Lives in 1987

H. Wesley Kenney

View Interview
H. Wesley Kenney on working with Betty Corday producing Days of Our Lives
H. Wesley Kenney on producing The Doctors and Days of Our Lives
H. Wesley Kenney on producing Days of Our Lives and working with creator/writer Irna Phillips and writer William Bell
H. Wesley Kenney on the ensemble cast of Days of Our Lives and casting the show
H. Wesley Kenney on a typical work week producing Days of Our Lives
H. Wesley Kenney on dealing with the budget as a producer of Days of Our Lives
H. Wesley Kenney on working with Days of Our Lives' writers William Bell and Ann Marcus
H. Wesley Kenney on the shift in the kinds of stories told on Days of Our Lives as time went on
H. Wesley Kenney on controversial Days of Our Lives storylines and dealing with Standards and Practices
H. Wesley Kenney on meeting his wife, Heather North, who appeared on Days of Our Lives while he was the producer
H. Wesley Kenney on Days of Our Lives and The Young and The Restless going from a half-hour to an hour-long format
H. Wesley Kenney on editing various shows he produced and the differences between them
H. Wesley Kenney on working with Days of Our Lives' writers William Bell and Ann Marcus

Ann Marcus

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Ann Marcus on quitting Days of Our Lives over a controversial storyline
Ann Marcus on writing for Days of Our Lives

Burt Metcalfe

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Burt Metcalfe on casting Days of Our Lives

Robert Mott

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Robert Mott on recording his own sound effects for shows like Days of Our Lives  and various other shows

Frances Reid

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Frances Reid on the production schedule of Days of Our Lives
Frances Reid on appearing on Days of Our Lives
Frances Reid on her Days of Our Lives character "Alice Horton"
Frances Reid on her Days of Our Lives costar Macdonald Carey
Frances Reid on working with Days of Our Lives' Betty and Ken Corday and Irna Phillips
Frances Reid on the writers of Days of Our Lives
Frances Reid on working with the cast of Days of Our Lives
Frances Reid on the storylines of Days of Our Lives
Frances Reid on the death of Macdonald Carey during the run of Days of Our Lives, and on how her character "Alice Horton" changed over the years
Frances Reid on the legacy of her Days of Our Lives character "Alice Horton" and on the success of the show

Hank Rieger

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Hank Rieger on publicity for Days of Our Lives

Doris Singleton

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Doris Singleton on her role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives

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