Supercouple Fatigue

In January of 1990, there was a headwriter change on Days. Anne Howard Bailey was fired, after being there for less than a year, and replaced with the team of Anne Schoettle and Richard J. Allen.

Bailey was fired due to a ratings decline, and executive producer Al Rabin had this to say about her when she left:

“[Bailey is] a wonderful writer before she got here. She was a wonderful writer here and she will be a wonderful writer in her next project. It’s just that the emphasis shifted slightly from romance to adventure. Since we preferred the audience that we had, we will be shifting back.”

Knowing future events, that in just a few short years the show drastically veers away from the supercouple formula, this quote is very interesting. It shows that Al Rabin was himself a true believer in the formula, not surprising considering he was an executive producer of Days throughout the 80’s. (He left in 1992, replaced by Tom “the era of the supercouple is over” Langan.)

But more crucially, I think Al Rabin, and whoever else made the decision for a headwriter change, was very aware of one drawback of the supercouple formula, perhaps the major drawback: without a constant supply of new couples, after awhile you run out of stories. (I’m not saying it is impossible to write dynamic stories for established couples, only that Days has never been able to do so.) This is what was happening to Days in 1989. And even though Days had been following the supercouple formula since roughly 1983, it really was the first time the show faced this problem. Because Roman “died” and then Marlena “died,” Pete and Melissa were permanently broken up, and Bo and Hope left town, there was never a significant bunch of established couples crowding out air time, and new couples could come along in their turn.

But in the fall of 1989, Steve and Kayla are broken up, Justin and Adrienne are broken up, and Shane and Kim are broken up. Steve and Kayla have the “back from the dead” spouse story plus a pregnancy story, Justin and Adrienne have the “scheming third party” story (with fertility problems thrown in), and Shane and Kim have the “presumed dead so the surviving spouse moves on” story. These stories have been decently well-executed, but they lack freshness and originality. It’s clear that none of these breakups is permanent, and eventually all the couples will reconcile—okay, then what? Start the whole dance over again? What’s left?

How about new couples? A new character had been brought on for Roman, Yvette, but it wasn’t clicking. Nick and Eve seemed to have run their course, Mike was gone (sob, Michael T. Weiss), and Nick and April weren’t catching on fire. The show hadn’t committed to either Jack or Emilio for Jennifer, and their stories were mostly going around in circles. The show needed fresh blood if the supercouple formula were to continue, or they needed to find a new formula.

The quote above shows clearly that from 1990-1992 they decided to stick with their formula, and toward that end they got rid of their headwriter, and directed the new headwriter to find some new couples, quickly. I’ve already discussed how in December 1989 and January 1990 there is a significant shift toward Jack and Jennifer. Isabella is brought on and eventually she and Roman/John have a successful love story. Bo and Hope come back and Hope just as quickly dies, so Bo is free to move on with Carly. (The whole “Cruise of Deception” story seems an attempt to recapture the magic of Stockholm with the new generation of couples.) Marlena returns in 1991 and is torn between Roman (and Supercouple) v.1 and v.2—which I have to admit, is pretty clever. Justin and Adrienne leave with a happy ending in 1991, Stephen Nichols leaves in 1990. And though poor Shane, Kayla, and Kim are then given the dreaded “Shayla” story, this era really does represent the last gasp of the supercouple concept.

I always wonder what Sheri Anderson and her team, the originators of the formula, would have done with the “established couples” problem. Would she have been better at writing for longer term couples? Maybe so. I actually think that she also might have been more ruthless about breaking couples up after the stories weren’t there anymore. She did it to Pete and Melissa, after all—and though in retrospect perhaps they were a second tier couple, at the time I didn’t perceive a difference between them and Bo and Hope. Ironically, Sheri Anderson did come back in June of 1992. But Al Rabin left in the same month, and his replacement Tom Langan and Ken Corday hired James E. Reilly in December of 1992. The era between June and December of 1992 would probably be very interesting to watch, to see what Sheri Anderson’s writing was like without Al Rabin and the rest of team she had behind her in 1983-86—but my DVDs don’t go that far, so I won’t be able to find out.

Before leaving in April of ’93, Sheri Anderson actually worked as co-headwriter with Reilly—a fact that always makes my head explode.


21 thoughts on “Supercouple Fatigue

  1. Did you do research on this or do just have a good memory? Back then I didn’t pay attention to behind the scenes at all. I think I started to when JER came along, there was a definate shift in the writing of the characters. I remember the hoopla stirred up about burying Carly alive (which I thought was a decent story, if not out there). Of course, I loathed what he wound up doing to Days which I think never recovered.

  2. Sigh. I love Al Rabin just because of his devotion to the supercouples. He’s the one that ordered the coffin switch at Steve’s funeral just to make sure that door was left open. Maybe the supercouple era was done by the early 1990s regardless of who was writing or producing, but I still wish Al and Sheri had had another chance to see what they could do together.

    I tend to think that Sheri would have been fairly ruthless about breaking up couples, permanently, if she felt the better story was in that break up. But, I also think she’d have been much more careful about protecting the characters. She wouldn’t have committed character destruction for the sake of a story. Of course, nobody knows for sure.

    In any case late winter and spring of 1990 is a time when you feel a definite changing of the guard. Steve and Kayla still have a story to finish up, but all the energy seems to be with Jack and Jennifer, Isabella, Roman, and even Justin and Adrienne getting back together for the umpteenth time. And it’s clear that the new headwriter is focusing on the new couples and characters and doesn’t give much thought to Steve and Kayla or Kim and Shane.

    • Very good summary of the end of the supercouple formula. I do think Sheri Anderson would have found better storylines for some of the established supercouples, even if it meant breaking some of them up permanently.
      As discussed previously, the splitting up of Pete and Melissa (who were HUGE in their day) made a lot of sense given their youth and personalities. Other than the Lars factor, it was handled very well. Although Melissa never really clicked with another leading man [I ignore faux Melissa and Emilio], she did develop into an important supporting character, especially for Jack’s storyline.

      It was too bad Sheri wasn’t in charge for the end of the Kim/Shane storyline. Even if they never got back together, I think she would have written a more satisfying ending for them than the Cal/Shayla/Philip sequence of events. Charles and Patsy had so much chemistry together that you just KNEW the couple still belonged together, no matter how poorly the writers treated them.

      I also agree that Marlena’s choice between superpartner #1 and #2 was quite inspired (and of course, fueled much of the storytelling for the 1990s). Say what you will about DH, she partners well in the supercouple formula. Viewers who signed on the 1980s may not realize that she and Don were also a major supercouple in the 1970s (not quite as big as Doug and Julie, but almost). I recently watched their storyline on another website, from the birth of DJ through their divorce and the introduction of Roman. I must say, theirs was one of the most realistic and heartbreaking break-ups I have ever seen on a soap. I’m sure at the time most fans expected them to get back together, but TPTB chose to go a different route by pairing her with a new man and ushering in a whole new era.

      Somewhere along the way, it wasn’t just the supercouple formula that bit the dust, but also emotionally daring storytelling that kept viewers riveted and on their toes because you truly could not predict where things were going. We may never see those Days again.

  3. Tripp, I did some research, mostly on the dates of comings and goings of head writers and producers, and drawing conclusions based on what I’ve heard about them. It’s very interesting to think about what what going on backstage in the 1990-93 era. I think, from my perspective as a Steve and Kayla fan first, I always thought of Leah Laiman’s departure as the “end” of the days of the supercouple. But that was more based on what happened to S&K, not what was going on in the show in general. Even though the show cycled through a bunch of headwriters between 1989 and 1992, I think the show was remaining fairly close to the 80’s formula, and created some great couples and great adventure stories. It makes me wonder if Al Rabin isn’t given quite enough credit, compared to Sheri Anderson, because he was the constant during this time when the writers were changing so often. And esp, I will always love him too for the way he left the door open for Steve to return, when some of the other PTB were a bit ticked off with SN for leaving.

    Melaraus, I give DH credit for having more popular couplings than almost anyone else on Days. I remember watching Marlena and Don as a kid. I remember my mom telling me at the time—and this is hazy so I don’t know if I’m remembering it correctly—that the show did a phone-in poll where you could call and vote for who you wanted Marlena to be with, Don or Roman. Roman won, but it was a very narrow victory. So the show did cater to the fans then too. 🙂 But the important thing is that the show did it right, when they did make the change. Marlena and Don were given a true breakup, and Marlena and Roman were given a real love story.

    That’s what I think Sheri Anderson might have been better at, had she stuck around to write for these supercouples she created. Like esp says, she might have broken some of them up, but she probably would have been truer to their characters.

    Anyway, I know the supercouple formula has limitations and problems and it’s not the only way to write a good soap, but I have to admit it’s the way that clicked most for me.

    • Interesting about the phone-in poll, though in looking back at the episodes recently, I can’t help but wonder if TPTB kind of stacked the deck on that one. Roman came on the scene after D and M were divorced. SO much turmoil had already happened during their break-up that it may have seemed refreshing to some viewers have Marlena start anew with someone else. In fact, during the break-up, the writers set the stage for Marlena to find a new mate by showing how much she grew emotionally from the turmoil, emerging as a much for confident person. I’d be curious to know if the introduction of a new man was pre-planned, or an afterthought once TPTB realized the extent to which M. was emerging as a new woman.

      Pre-planned or not, this transition in Marlena’s character illustrates your point about how well the writers handled the break-up and new relationship (and allowed characters to grow and change). I also liked how the memory of the D&M relationship was not forgotten [that is, until Don disappeared going to the mailbox in the mid-80s]. There was always a wistful, bittersweet edge to their interactions after their split. Don seemed a broken man who would always love M., but realized she was better off moving on without him. That kind of care by the writers did not seem present by 1990.

      Just my observations. Anyone interested in checking out the Don and Marlena storyline can view clips at:

  4. Maybe Sheri Anderson would have broken up Steve and Kayla? I’m not sure I would have liked that. Do you feel like the Marina storyline was a success or failure as a supercouple story?

    I know no one agrees with me, but I still think they softened up Kayla too much. She used to have more steel inside. And she is the victim too often — her marriage is threatened, she’s kidnapped, she’s charged with murder, she’s in prison, her baby is kidnapped. Maybe they were trying to reverse the story — it was always Steve who was in trouble, wounded, chased by the police, etc. But he was always angry — she’s heartbroken. Maybe it just seems to standard soap for me, I don’t know.

    • Hi Flaco!

      I agree with you that they softened Kayla too much and that she came across as too much of a victim during the Marina storyline. I blame part of that on the writers’ fatigue that MP describes.

      By this time you can see the lack of imagination affecting the writers, as every storyline seemed a rehash of previous stories that worked much better the first time around. Marina was a redo of Britta. New mom Kayla’s murder conviction and the kidnapping of Stephanie was a redo of Kim’s murder trial and Andrew’s kidnapping. They even foisted another WTD plot on poor Kim and Shane!

      I’m not saying that Sheri would have necessarily broken up S&K. I think there was still room to offer exciting storyline options for established couples. It just seems that by 1990 TPTB seemed to be running out of creative steam and couldn’t think of any. I think the dreaded Shayla storyline was an example of such lack of creativity. TPTB thought they could just throw together two halves of established supercouples and make lightning strike again. They seemed to lack an understanding of what made the supercouples “super” (good writing, chemistry between actors, etc.).

  5. Hello, Flaco!

    I don’t know if Sheri Anderson would have broken up Steve and Kayla or not, and of course all we can do is speculate at this point. I certainly don’t like the idea, either. But if I had a choice between A) Steve and Kayla breaking up permanently with a realistic story like the one Melaraus describes for Marlena and Don, or B) Steve and Kayla staying together but getting the cartoonish stories the other supercouples got in the 90’s—Jack’s multiple deaths, Marlena’s devil possession, people committing adultery because they are being controlled with computer chips in their teeth (or whatever) … I know what I would choose.

    The other thing about Sheri is that she would likely have done better with the new couples that came along, so they could pull their weight with the existing supercouples. That was her strength, creating characters and writing love stories, so even if the show had moved away from the true supercouple formula, the new love stories would still have been dynamic and interesting. That would have taken the pressure off of J&M and Jack and Jennifer and the rest, as the 90s went on. Maybe they all would have gotten less airtime, but the show overall would have been better (from a romance standpoint). Maybe.

    To answer your other question, I do think the Marina story was good. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much, much better than I remembered it from the first time around. Steve and Kayla were each given their reasons for their actions, and those reasons broke them up believably without destroying their relationship “rootability.” It even allowed for some delving into character-based stuff like Steve’s tendency to shield Kayla from his past, and Kayla’s unquestioning faith in Steve—what happens when that is no longer unquestioning? And then I love the way the roles get reversed from their early story, with Steve finding his faith and pursuing Kayla for a change.

    But, Melaurus is right that all of the stories the supercouples had during this phase were retreads of familiar storylines. I think Kim and Shane got the worst of it. A second WTD story just a few years after the first one? And then the way it was left, with not only an unhappy ending for them, but a sloppy one. Sad.

  6. I actually disagree that they weakened Kayla’s character too much during the Marina storyline. I think she was very strong, just in a different way. She didn’t show that strength by fighting for Steve or playing Marina’s games. She’d showed that strength by being willing to let him go to figure things out. By not using the baby to hold him if that’s not what he wanted.

    Then when the marriage was revealed and Steve returned, Kayla showed her strength by not just instantly forgiving him for everything. She held her ground, expressed her doubts and her anger, and made Steve do the heavy lifting.

    The Marina storyline isn’t perfect, but I do think it’s pretty good and while not exactly original, provided a lot of good emotional and character growing material, not just for Steve and Kayla, but also for Jack.

    But, the question is where would they have gone from there? Is there anything else that could have realistically been thrown at them that wouldn’t have started feeling repetative and cartoonish? That’s the unknowable question.

  7. Put me down for preferring a break up to ridiculousness. I had checked out of Days long before the possession and multiple death storylines came along.

    I used to love Santa Barbara and they certainly had some very campy, strange elements at times. But it worked in that context. Santa Barbara always had a slightly snarky side to it(or maybe that was just Mason — my favorite character). Days was different. It was at its best when it was telling real, character-based stories. When it got too far from reality, it just got stupid.

  8. I occurs to me that one way of maintaining a favorite supercouple while building up new couples is in shifting the older supercouple to supporting, but still important, status. This has been yet another missed opportunity with the S&K reunion—their lack of active involvement in grown-up Stephanie’s storylines. For the past few months, Steph has been front and center on the show in her romance with Philip, her kidnapping as the result of the Kiriakis/Dimera feud, and her growing dependence on pills to cope with the stress. Her parents, if ever mentioned, are always “out of town.” ARRGH! This would be a perfect outlet for S&K. It was clearly established that Stephanie and Kayla had a very close relationship and she was building one with Steve. Now she is about to marry into the Kiriakis clan, gets kidnapped by the Dimeras and hooked on pills, yet her loving parents are nowhere to be found. With all of S&Ks history with the Kiriakis/Dimera clan, as well as Dr. Kayla’s experience and Steve’s, well, Stevishness, Stephanie’s stories could provide a wealth of material for her parents. But NOOOO. . . What a waste of seasoned talent.

    Just a thought. 🙂

  9. I gave up watching current Days because the stress was just too great, but from what I’ve picked up here and there, yes — it is ridiculous. All these things happening to Stephanie and her parents are where? And apparently, the solution is to bring back Carley and Justin. Why? It’s these kinds of things that make me glad I took Days off my Tivo.

  10. Adding to the frustration: the rumor mill implies that when Justin returns, he will announce that he and Adrienne have split. This is after he was never seen during Adrienne’s return two years ago, though the writers made it clear he was around and they were still very much the happy couple. More ARGH!

    I’m sure there’s a plan to pair him with Carly. Once again, such a pairing could be acceptable to old fans IF the writers had taken the time to create a believable break-up for A&J. Instead, it seems that since TPTB can’t get Judi Evans and Wally Kurth at the same time, they are going to screw over long-time fans for expediency.

    Personally, in my fantasy world if they create a Justin/Carly pairing, Adrienne will arrive unexpectedly to kick Carly to the curb, Johnson-style, and reclaim her man. THAT would recreate some middle-aged supercouple action for ya! 🙂

  11. Thanks for the news on the rumors, Melaraus. I haven’t been keeping up so I hadn’t heard that.

    I do have a certain amount of sympathy for the show in this regard. When they give a couple a happy sendoff, if ever one of the actors wants to come back without the other, they basically have three choices: pretend the other partner is in the background of Salem (which limits storytelling possibilites), say they split up offscreen (which is damaging to fans of that couple), or kill one offscreen (even worse I think) or bring the other one back and just as quickly kill them off, like with Hope in the 90’s.

    I think all of these choices are bad, and the offscreen split is probably the best of the worst. I think they did this in the 80’s a few times, though I’m not remembering a specific example. Maybe when they brought Bill back in 1987? That was a different actor, but if I recall there was some talk about him and Laura having problems and that’s part of why he was in Salem. Or was she put back in the mental institution or something?

    But, it is nice if the offscreen split is handled with some dignity and the returning character has some time to grieve and get over it—that gives the fans some consideration. I don’t have a lot of confidence that Justin’s offscreen split with Adrienne will be handled very well. But, who knows, maybe Days could prove me wrong.

    And going back to your earlier comment, Melaraus, I agree that one solution to the supercouple problem is moving established couples to a slightly more supporting role, with less focus on romance stories and more on family stories. I too would have loved to see that for Steve and Kayla when they came back (of course, after a meaningful reconnection story had played out). But, that means, as I said above, that viable newer couples need to be around, to provide the romantic stories a show needs.

    RileyKay, hee, still ditter indeed.

    • Good points, MP.

      To help revive your memory: They actually did the “split” return rather well in the 1980s and early 1990s with the original supercouple, Doug and Julie. After moving to Europe, Doug returned alone during the Stockholm storyline saying that he and Julie had “separated.” I don’t recall if it was ever explained thoroughly, but the implication was that tensions had continued since his heart attack and each needed some “space.” During this stay Doug mainly served as a supporting player helping daughter Hope during her struggles with Bo after he discovered Victor was his dad. Doug left after B&H exited. They never tried to fix Doug up with a new leading lady.
      Julie returned alone in 1990, split from Doug, and engaged in a flirtation with Victor, adding new dimensions to his character. Julie flirted with other men, but no serious romances until Doug returned and they remarried.

      This separate return worked for several reasons: First, as with everything else that works, it was well-written and executed. Also, since TPTB never tried to re-pair either actor with a a new permanent partner (and since the Hayeses were married in real life), viewers probably had a good idea that they would not remain permanently split. Yet in their separate returns, each character played important roles for new plotlines and new couples.

      BTW: If you haven’t seen it, check out this great scene of Julie giving out relationship advice to Sami and Lucas after Doug’s “murder.” It sums up the key to an effective supercouple:

  12. Also: re Laura and Bill. Yes, when Bill returned in the 80s, he confessed that Laura was back in a mental institution after years of struggling with her mental illness. He divorced her so that he could move on with his life. At least it was a believable scenario given the history of both characters.

    • ITA, offscreen breakups can be believable. I’m not completely behind the Justin and Adrienne split, because it feels like we just saw her. But for me, any disappointment is mostly about not getting Judi Evans back. 😉

      The offscreen reunion bothers me more than most offscreen breakups, to be honest. I think both Doug and Julie (post 1990) and Laura and Bill reunited out of Salem. Laura and Bill, against all common sense and never to be seen again. Reunion-by-default plays strongly into the established couple issue that Corday has been trying to shake for fifteen years. At least Shane and Kim are presumably still broken up.

      • Good point, Iska. Given how important the payoff of reconciliation is for supercouple fans, just saying “oh yeah, they got back together while they were gone” is a bit of a rip-off. I wonder if hardcore Doug and Julie fans were disappointed when they reappeared at the end of 1993 and just announced they had remarried in Europe. As much as I love to imagine a happy ending for Kim and Shane, it would be much more satisfying to see it play out on screen than for them to just reappear all happy and content. At LEAST we got to witness the reunion of Steve and Kayla, flawed as it was in many ways.

  13. and boy was the Steve and Kayla reunion flawed.

    If only they hadn’t gotten rid of Steve and Kayla, they could play out an “Adrienne’s missing” scenario to introduce Justin back to canvas. It could have started with Steve expecting Adrienne to show up in town, getting a call from her from the airport–and then she never shows up. Steve and Kayla go searching and finally have to call Justin to see if he’s heard from her. Justin (who’s been having problems with Adrienne, exacerbating the guilt and worry) arrives in Salem to help track down what happened to her. He’s trying to keep the news from the boys, except Alexander, the eldest, who shows up all sexy hot to tempt Nicole or Sami or Arianna or pretty much anyone but Stephanie or Melanie.

    You’ve got Steve and Kayla in a storyline that doesn’t involve an interloper, you introduce Justin in a sympathetic but also mysterious way, and eventually, Carly gets in on the story somehow–maybe she saw Adrienne at the airport when she arrived as well. As it becomes more and more clear that something very bad has happened to Adrienne, Justin and Carly could get closer. All kinds of messy emotions ensue–guilt, desire, fear, despair.

    They just don’t write soaps like they used to. ::sigh::

  14. Very intriguing scenario, Paula. I always love your scenarios for the show. It would explain Adrienne’s absence, lay the seeds for their split, and set up the romance with Carly very neatly.


    I just realized I meant to weigh in the idea of whether Kayla was “softened” too much during the Marina story. I actually think she showed a lot of strength. It wasn’t the kind of spunky, feisty strength we saw when she was pursuing Steve, which was so much fun to watch. It was much quieter, and it was so tied up with her hurt that it’s painful to watch.

    I do, however, think that the show overdomesticated both Steve AND Kayla after they got married. Days always had a problem with this, which is part of their trouble of writing for established couples. Some of that was inevitable, because it just makes sense for them to settle down a little bit. Especially when Kayla gets pregnant, her concerns are naturally going to be more domestic, that only makes sense. But, the show didn’t take its opportunities to keep Steve’s edge and to keep those aspects of Kayla’s character that went against the “good girl” exterior—her sexual aggressiveness, for example. And I always wanted them to stay at the loft. 🙂

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