Thursday, December 3, 2015

When Should a Soap Opera Kill Off a Character?

Deidre Hall as Marlena
Thaao Penghlis as Andre DiMera
 Soap opera writers should be very careful about killing off a soap opera character.  Why?  Often times they want the character back on the show.  

The soap opera, Days of Our Lives has been notorious for bringing characters back from the dead.  The most notable time was when many of that show’s main characters were supposedly “killed off” by the Salem Stalker, only to be found alive on the island of Melaswen (New Salem spelled backwards), being victims of a diabolical plot of the DiMera family!  This story, although a little farfetched, was made to be “believable” only because the victims were never really dead, but placed in a coma like state that feigned death.  So their “returns from the dead” even in soap opera fiction was “understandable”.

Another way characters have “returned from the dead” is in a case of mistaken identity.  In the 1980s, the character of Marlena was mistakenly identified as dead by the hand of the Salem Strangler.  The truth was that it was her twin sister who had fallen victim to the strangler.  Good thing too, because when Days of Our Lives fans learned of the supposed death of Marlena, they staged a protest at the NBC studios that had never been seen before or since.  I too am glad it was a case of mistaken identity. 

A case that may or may not play out at Days of Our Lives is that of Kristen DiMera, who when last seen, fell out of the window of an Italian villa located on a cliff.  Her body was never recovered and was thought washed out to sea.  I am also glad Kristen’s body was not found.  That way she could “return from the dead” any time the writers are ready and stir up more trouble in Salem.

The case of Andre DiMera (played by Thaao Penghlis) on Days of Our Lives has yet to be explained.  But fans of Mr. Penghlis in the role of Andre are glad he is back and are “going along for the ride” in this somewhat farfetched turn of events.  Suspending common sense is part of the fun and sometimes a requirement of being a devoted soap fan, because it allows you to recover items lost, such as favorite actors in their respective signature soap opera roles.  There are also numerous instances of “returns from the dead” for characters such as Roman Brady, Hope Brady, Jack Devereaux and of course The Pheonix himself, Stefano Dimera.

So when is it okay for soap writers to kill off a character – and the character stays dead? 
One obvious case is the real life death of the actor playing a favorite soap character.  There are some soap roles that should not be recast upon the demise of the actor who played the role.  Instances on Days of Our Lives include MacDonald Carey, Frances Reid, and Brenda Benet.  There have been other real life deaths of actors on other soaps and the role was not (and should not have been) recast:  Ruth Warwick on All My Children and Jeanne Cooper on The Young and the Restless.

Another appropriate time to kill off a character is the voluntary retirement of an actor playing a favorite character.  Two instances come to mind regarding Days of Our Lives:  Renee Jones (as Dr. Lexie Carver) and John Clarke (as Mickey Horton).   Renee decided to retire and was confident and sure of her decision.  There was nothing for the show and fans to do but accept her decision.  I don't think anyone wanted Lexie recast (the show or the fans). So they wrote a good (albeit hate to see her go) story and took Lexie out in a very nice way.  John Clarke (Mickey) had been gone a while and the part had been recast twice before Mickey was laid to rest.  I don't think anyone could really replace John as Mickey.  There were too many good memories of this original cast member.  So there are instances when it is okay to kill off a character, but I would certainly use it sparingly...and give them a nice send off. 

Kill off a character when a story is being discontinued.  Some stories are not meant to be long running.  One case that comes to mind is the story involvng Jennifer Horton Devereaux and Liam Frasier.  Liam was a deranged stalker who dated Jennifer.  He was ultimately killed, saving Jennifer from disaster and putting an end to that story.  Or when a story has proven to be unsuccessful or unpopular with the viewers, a clean break via the death of one or more characters will put an end to it.  Just be sure you won't want to bring the character back later!

Recently I read an article that lead me to believe that  James Scott ( former EJ DiMera on Days of Our Lives) would not be interested in playing EJ again but might consent to play a different character on a soap.  For some actors, playing the character for a long time gets old and they don't want to play that role anymore.  In such instances what should be done?  Kill ‘em and let ‘em stay dead!  If they want to return, bring them back as a new character!   #Days50th #Days 

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