James E. Reilly: The JERk who almost killed Salem

These are interesting times for Days of Our Lives viewers. As many of us know, a new headwriter, Mr. Hogan Sheffer, has been writing the show since the beginning of October. The former headwriter, Mr. James E. Reilly, or JER, or JERk, as he is called on the discussion boards, was fired after two separate stints as headwriter, spanning much of the 90s, then from 2003-6.

JER will probably be remembered most for the Marlena demon-possession storyline, and for the Salem serial killer (Marlena again–well, sortof) storyline. Much as I would love to comment on these, I must admit I wasn’t watching during most of JER’s reign of terror. I did read a summary of the demon-possession storyline in a Days history, which detailed John’s suddenly retconned past as a priest, and the battle for Salem’s souls. “God and John won,” it concluded. As for the Salem serial killer, suffice it to say that no one was dead after all, even Jack who had his organs donated, and everyone turned up on an island called Melaswen and it was Tony Dimera who had arranged all the deaths and Marlena’s supposed guilt and there was something about him riding a coffin to hell … anyway. No one goes to soaps for realism, but I think we can all agree that this is a bit over the top.

I actually started watching again during what I found out later was the all-time nadir in ratings, deservedly so, I might add. Marlena (who by the way looked exactly the same as the last time I had seen her in 1987) had recently lost her memory and she gathered John, Roman, and Alex North in her penthouse in order to announce “with whom I am going to spend my life.” This scene, with Marlena in a white bathrobe, lasted all week and more. I knew this was the same guy who wrote the Salem Serial Killer storyline. Surely the guy who killed off half of Salem would be exciting if nothing else. But no.

I have heard a lot of charges levelled at Mr. Reilly, most of them deserved: the female characters either whiny or witchy, the men passive; the out-there storylines; the dependence on love triangles. But to me the most maddening things about his writing are the lack of character consistency, and the lack of a story arc. I’ll use a minor example to illustrate my point.

Carrie comes back to town, and announces that she is divorced from the man she left Salem with (Mike) and, almost immediately after, that she’s still in love with Austin. She hasn’t seen him in years, but no matter. Similarly, it is revealed that Austin is in fact still in love with Carrie too, although we’ve seen no buildup for that either. But they have a past, so fine. They reconnect, and everything is going swimmingly, when they are separated by two schemes so laughably transparent that I won’t even dignify them by typing them out. Carrie then turns to Lucas, Austin’s brother, and marries him in about two seconds. Austin has no choice then but to turn to Sami, Carrie’s sister (to complete the symmetry, apparently) and they also make plans to wed. All this happens in about a month of viewing time (Salem time: a minute and a half).

Then JER decides that his work is done, and nothing further happens. I mean nothing. Everyone talks about how surprising it is that Carrie is marrying Lucas. They talk about how much Carrie and Austin were “meant to be.” They corner Carrie and Austin separately and interrogate them: “But don’t you really love Austin, huh, Carrie? Dontcha? Dontcha?” And so it would be going on to this day if JER hadn’t been fired and the new headwriter hadn’t dispatched this incestuous quad.

6 thoughts on “James E. Reilly: The JERk who almost killed Salem

  1. “But to me the most maddening things about his writing are the lack of character consistency, and the lack of a story arc.” Mine too, especially character consistency. I call them headless chicken plots and headless chicken character development. They just sort of run around all over the place with no brain.

  2. Good analogy, billyjill. I also really liked the comment you made once at SOC, that in order to have character-driven plots you have to first have characters.

    Thanks for checking out my blog!

  3. Has JER been rehired as Head Writer?
    I saw him listed as such on soapcentrsl.com.
    Personally, I liked him as Head Writer. His stories at least were interesting and are still remembered today!!

  4. Hell no,

    I wrote this long ago, long before James Reilly died. In that last line, I was only referring to the fact that he had just been fired from the show — not his death. I have taken it out now, of course.

    I apologize if anyone found this post after his death, and was offended.

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