Master Plotter

Sheri Anderson, headwriter or co-headwriter for Days from 1982-86, enjoys a sterling reputation on message boards, bordering on deification. All would be right with Days, if only Sheri Anderson would come back. This always gives the contrary desire to say be careful what you wish for, but tonight I will join the congregation and worship at the altar of Anderson.

I am in awe of her ability to put together tight, intricate, interweaving, suspenseful plots that touch on interesting character issues. I have been reviewing my Steve and Kayla DVDs from June and July 1986, and I was struck by how well she put together the plot of Andrew’s kidnapping. Keep in mind this isn’t sweeps month, so this is just business as usual for Ms. Anderson:

Emma, Shane’s ex-wife, is determined to ruin his happiness with Kim and their new baby. She finds a doctor in Cleveland who deals in illegal adoptions. One wrinkle: the doctor’s nurse is Kayla, Kim’s sister. So Emma hires Victor’s former henchman, Steve, to scare Kayla out of Cleveland so Emma can drop off the baby.

In the meantime, Bo just found out Victor is his natural father. He decides to get close to Victor with the goal of bringing him down. He tells no one in his family, not even Hope, what his plan is. The family is in an uproar. Kim decides to call the one person who could always get through to Bo: his sister Kayla. Steve has succeeded in scaring her, and she jumps at the chance to leave Cleveland and come to Salem.

Shane and Kim eventually make contact with the Cleveland doctor as a source for illegal adoptions (they don’t know he is Kayla’s boss). The trade-off, money for baby, is fouled up when the doctor’s assistant sees Kayla talking to Kim, and recognizes her.

Kayla meanwhile, not knowing that Steve is the one who stalked her in Cleveland, is a little scared and a little curious about this tough guy, especially after he saves Bo’s life at the plant where they both work for Victor. Victor is paying Steve to keep an eye on this sister who is supposedly so close to Bo. When Steve has a change of heart and tells Victor he won’t follow Kayla anymore, Victor orders him beaten up.

Upset that she fouled up the baby transfer (she doesn’t know how thoroughly), Kayla is out walking on the pier when she finds Steve badly hurt. She takes him back to his place and stays with him. Steve, half-delirious, hears her talking about the kidnapping and puts the pieces together about what Emma was up to. Kayla’s kindness inspires him to want to help, and the next day he leaves her an anonymous note that her former boss has Andrew.

Kayla knows who sent her the note and is furious that Steve might have been involved in the kidnapping. She tells Shane and Kim about the note, and they go to Cleveland to follow the lead. After a few days they haven’t returned, and Kayla, worried, goes to Steve. He says he can’t help, so she goes to Bo and Hope. Bo, Hope, and Kayla go to Cleveland to search for Shane and Kim.

Steve calls Emma and threatens her with exposure until she tells him where the doctor might be. He goes there and finds Shane and Kim locked up inside the house, and the doctor just leaving. Steve is about to follow when Bo, Hope, and Kayla arrive and assume Steve is the criminal. In the ensuing melee they all lose their chance to follow the doctor, and Steve is arrested (Steve is dragged off by the cops screaming, “Kayla! Tell them I didn’t do it!” as the camera zooms in on Kayla’s troubled face. Yowza!). There isn’t enough evidence to charge him, however, and he is freed.

In terms of plot points, nothing much happens: Andrew is kidnapped. Nowadays this would be accomplished by having Emma waltz in, take the baby, and leave. But there’s a wonderful swirl of motivations at work here: Steve blames Bo for his girlfriend Britta leaving town, and that makes him jump at the chance to torment another Brady. Victor’s distrust of his newfound son makes him hire Steve to follow Bo’s favorite sister around. Bo and Hope set aside their conflict over Victor in order to help Kim and Shane when they are in trouble. Kayla’s kindness to Steve makes him want to help, but his past behavior to the Bradys means that no one believes him when he is found at the scene.

This story seamlessly introduces Kayla, newly recast after two years off the canvas. During the stalking scenes we don’t know who she is, but the pieces are there for those who want to figure it out. We have two very popular established couples who are the main focus of the storyline, with a very new potential couple playing a supporting role. In fact, while Shane and Kim are the focus, this story is most transformative for Steve and Kayla. She sees some good in him, so he tries to help. It blows up in his face, and he ends up looking worse than ever. And yet, for Kayla there’s a little core of belief in him that is planted. Step forward, step back.

Anderson also uses this story to wrap up one that’s been percolating for awhile, when Hope uses Victor’s desire to please Bo in order to make him lay off Pete Jannings who he has been forcing to launder money. There are several other stories going on at the same time, also intersecting. There’s the love triangle of Melissa, Pete, and Lars, the teen story with Jen and Glenn, an interfaith love story with Mike and Robin, Savannah scheming to steal Neil Curtis away from Liz, and Marlena in a coma. At the same time, Anderson is laying seeds for the big fall story, as Roman searches for answers about a poster from Stockholm which is connected to a mystery from his past …

Pondering all this made me realize how important it should be for soap headwriters not to drop plots and characters at the drop of a hat. They shouldn’t be afraid to change direction, but do it gradually so there is time to stitch up any plot holes created by the changes. I’m just speculating here, but I think the Steve/Britta relationship is a good example. Steve was a character who had been on the canvas for a year and they felt he was ready for his own love story. Anderson brought on his former girlfriend Britta but then thought Steve could be the star of his own supercouple story. Rather than shuttling Britta off and never mentioning her again, the show used Steve’s pain at her departure to provide his motivation for stalking Kayla, used her return to disrupt Steve and Kayla, used her death to disrupt them even more, but then used the aftermath of her death to bring them closer.

Since I’m always frustrated these days at how no one has jobs, I was very struck by all the job discussion in these scenes! Bo goes to work for Victor at Allied, leaving Hope to run the detective agency by herself. Kayla is offered a job running the new Emergency Center (in a rough part of town) and takes it partly because Steve taunts her that it’s too dangerous for her. The men at Allied resent Bo, the boss’s son, so they arrange the forklift accident that goes too far. This leads to Steve saving Bo’s life and taking him to the Emergency Center, where they are both treated by Kayla. Shane, being an ISA agent, wants to get Andrew back AND nail the kidnappers, which Kim is afraid will jeopardize their chances of a smooth transfer.

Oh, and one more thing. For all those fans of “the vets” who keep clamoring for Sheri’s return, I can’t resist adding this little tidbit: all the characters involved in the Andrew kidnapping are under age 35 except for Victor, and they were all introduced within the last three years.

8 thoughts on “Master Plotter

  1. Thank you for that wonderful recap of Sheri Anderson’s skillful writing. The characters and story lines developed by Sheri remain fan favorites 25 years later. So don’t be so harshly critical of those fans of the “vets” that love her so much. She’s the reason those vets are so beloved all these years later and not just footnotes in Days history. Sheri knows how to introduce new characters and create interest in their story by weaving them into those of the established characters. Character driven drama is her mantra; not a series of plot points. Days would do well by hiring Sheri Anderson and returning to the roots that made them so successful.

  2. Oh, I’m not criticizing anyone, Michele. Sheri Anderson was indeed an excellent headwriter. I’m just not sure that, if she were to come back, she would write for the vets. She didn’t last time.

    But I’d love to see what she could do with our crop of young people.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Nice analysis maryp, I really did like the way that story came together when I rewatched it last year.

    And the job thing is entirely noticeable watching all the stuff from 80s Days. The jobs weren’t a distraction to be forgotten about, they were used to drive stories or at least impacted on them and I still think it made a huge difference.

  4. Yea, Anderson wrote of young people, and actually I dont think 80s Days was anything special, just standard soap. I admit I started to watch in 2000s, so this worshipping of 80s Days is a bit what-are-they-talking-about stuff to me. Nothing wrong with standard soap, but when I watch 80s stuff from YouTube, I dont get it: Why this is Holy Period of Days, some kind of Holy Days Of Our Lives? So sue me, but I even dont care supercouples – Kim was an ex-whore who did not know difference of mental illness and being evil in Emma´s trial, and Julie.. Well, lets say Julie was propped by Bonnie (in 2000s) so vigorously I dont care if she is Beloved Vet of Holy Days. Julie to me is always Trash Williams aka Scum, because thats how she behaved.

  5. Heh heh, Christine, it must be annoying for people who didn’t watch in the 80’s to hear people talking about it all the time. I agree that the types of plots back then were pretty much your standard soap, WTD stories, kidnappings, makeups and breakups, people back from the dead, etc. It was very well executed, though. Plot points weren’t dropped, the ramifications of things were explored, and plots wove together in satisfying ways.

    What was new was the ISA/adventure stuff and the centering of the show around supercouples. Though I love Steve and Kayla, I have mixed feelings about the whole formula because I’m not sure it could be sustained for years and years and years—but that’s the subject of another post.

    Julie and Doug were happening when I was watching on my mother’s knee at age 4 or 5, and I remember really wanting them to get together … for whatever the opinion of a preschooler is worth, hee.

    Zara, I find the unwillingness to use jobs and job settings mystifying, because it adds realism, and can give reasons for people to interact. esp pointed out that if Belle was working at a new hospital facility that Titan was bankrolling, it would give them a reason to interact beyond Phillip stalking her. And it would point up the financial difference between Shawn and Phillip in a very real way. (That’s if they insist on doing this triangle, which I am not in favor of!)

  6. I worship the soapy brilliance of Sheri Anderson as much as anyone, but she was always a part of a co-headwriting team. Margaret dePriest, Thom Racina and Leah Laiman deserve just as much acclaim as Anderson. Early 80’s GH and Days had a trademark pattern that these writers developed with their collaborations in the design and break-down of plot, character and day-to-day script writing. With only the addition of a couple other writers, they managed to work together to weave sophisticated, character-driven and showy plots which drove the shows for years…and are still being felt today. The supercouple phenomenon was a heavily marketed byproduct of the skilled storytelling these writers produced; it wasn’t the catalyst.

    There were also equally important factors contributing to the fabulosity of great 80’s soap, like the producing, casting and actors. It was the unit of these creatives that made the magic. Take one element from that team and it suffers.

  7. ElDays, you’re certainly right that soaps are a collaborative medium, and it’s very difficult, looking at it from the outside as I always am, to give proper credit where credit is due.

    I use “Anderson” as shorthand for the Anderson team. I’m no expert on the ins and outs of all the different headwriters, but the time of Days I know best is the last year Sheri Anderson was any kind of \headwriter, and when Leah Laiman was headwriter without her. There is a difference. I love Leah Laiman and feel she (and her team) were masters of the long, unspooling story, with awesome payoff (among other things) but the plots of Anderson and team were IMO tighter, more interlocking, and more densely woven.

    At least, that’s my impression.

    Thanks for your comment—it’s a good reality check for the fact that Anderson’s return might not be the second coming, not without the same team, or another good team, behind her.

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