Do You Love or Hate it When Soaps Repeat Their Histories?

Thinking Fans Comment Update July 31:  How to repeat soap histories? Melanie counts the ways … James cheers the Reva/Josh movie wedding … while esther is generally unimpressed by retreads … and more. See Comments below.  

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By Patrick Erwin  

Each of the eight daytime soaps on American network TV these days has a substantial history. The Bold and the Beautiful is the youngest at 21, Guiding Light the eldest at 71. Collectively, this is a rich history. And I’m all for calling on the past to inform current storylines.

But there’s a curious trend emerging this summer, and I’m not sure what to make of it. A few shows have gone beyond revisiting history — they actually seem to be reliving the stories in a way we haven’t really seen before. The stories we’re seeing are often note-for-note reproductions of earlier storylines:

One Life To Live is closely revisiting two plot twists — Tina going over the falls and Viki “dying” and going to heaven. This revisiting of past plot is directly connected to OLTL‘s 40th anniversary.

Guiding Light  offers a similar “deja vu” story. A few months ago, Reva’s father Hawk announced he had sold the story of Reva’s life to a film producer. In the process of watching the movie as it’s being made, we’ve been seeing Josh and Reva’s “story” unfold again in front of our eyes. 

The Young and the Restless has revisited its history on several occasions. They mined Katherine and Jill’s past, first to reveal Jill is Katherine’s daughter, and then to spin the Phillip/Cane story. More recently, Y&R revisited Katherine’s life through flashbacks to set up a teaser for the possibility of Kay writing a book about her life. (Note to Y&R: We’re waiting!)  

General Hospital has also delved into its history in several instances as well, usually in reference to the iconic supercoupling of Luke and Laura. In the late 1990s, the show revisited Luke’s rape of Laura. In 2006, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original wedding for L&L, the show remarried the couple and had them recall several of their romantic moments.

The unusual thing about the current OLTL and GL stories is just how closely the shows are repeating their past triumphs. These shows aren’t merely using their past as a touchstone; they’re repeating those twists and turns almost word for word!

It strikes me as very, very odd. It also doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out why they’re doing it: they hope to evoke our fond, nostalgic memories of those days. (Not to mention goose the ratings closer to their 1980s levels!) With OLTL, the show at least has some clear motivation for doing it — the 40th anniversary of OLTL

It all sounded like a mess on paper. But … guess what? Most of this worked wonderfully on the screen.

On GL, the Josh/Reva scenes were incredibly moving. It was odd in the extreme to watch actors play out scenes I’d watched the first time around, but as our own Marlena said, “It was ridiculous but sweet at the same time!” To me, watching Reva and Josh’s reactions to the movie and to their past was very touching. 

As for OLTL, the jury is still out on the Bo/Rex story (still playing out as we speak), and I wasn’t a big fan of the Mendorra story. Most of that story has played away from Llanview; I suspect the payoff will come when those involved return home. But Viki’s second visit to Heaven struck all of the right notes. Viki seeing Ben and Asa, as well as Jessica — I mean, Megan Victoria — was perfect. And the best part was seeing Agnes Nixon as “the creator.” (The shout-out to the fans at the end was really cute, too.) Aside from familiarity and nostalgia, there is one other VERY important reason why these scenes worked. The shows honored their history instead of doing what they usually do these days — changing it. 

For an example, you need only look at Agnes Nixon’s other creation, All My Children. AMC revisited its history several years ago only to undo Erica’s history-making abortion. And it wasn’t even the first time AMC had muddied the waters (hello, Kendall!) with Erica, a character fans have seen on the show since Day One.

We fans (especially Thinking Fans!) remember the rich history and tapestry of the shows we watch. We’re protective of it, and we HATE when people change it. It’s a lesson that all of the shows would be wise to learn.

Which stories have you seen on soaps that you would like repeated?  Which soaps that have revised changed their histories have you hated the most?

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Patrick Erwin has launched his own blog,  A Thousand Other Worlds …

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Comments

  1. Fabobug says:

    I just wish DAYS would repeat that story about Roman dying in 1984, only to turn up alive after being kidnapped by Stefano DiMera. I don’t understand why they never revisit that one.

  2. James says:

    Patrick,

    I think revising these stories is a wonderful reward for the loyalty the fans have shown. Honoring the history and revisiting it has brought up such wonderful memories for me. Daytime needs to be doing everythign it can to keep viewers around and rewarding the fans is something shows need to do more often.

    I especially enjoyed the Reva/Josh movie wedding — someone on the show did their research and got even the small things right. They produced some of the most memorable shows on GL has aired in a LONG time. BRAVO!

    Similar cheers to OLTL for bringing back faves and honoring history for the grand 40th!! Such wonderful shows. I cried seeing Erin Torpey again. And Mel with Dorian again, ahhh, what great memories.

    Contrast that with how insulting it is when shows fail to honor their history. It’s like a giant slap in the face to the fans saying their loyalty doesn’t matter to them. It always feels like a giant F U from the shows. And I usually tune out once I realize the story doesn’t honor history.

    A few cases in point — GH bringing back Heather Webber in 2004 but rewritting her backstory so that she’d always been hung up on Luke. Or bringing back Rick Webber in 2002 but making him into a villain only to kill him off.

    Or Days bringing back Wayne Northrop as a new character, Dr. Alex North, and then using old Roman/Marlena flashbacks to say Alex and Marlena were married eons ago.

    Patrick says: James, I agree it’s a big treat and a thank you to the fans. And I enjoyed re-visiting these stories.

    I just wish the shows would actually SHOW the previous episodes rather than re-make them.

    GL did this wonderfully back in 1987 when it celebrated its 50th anniversary. For a week, at the end of the day’s show, they had past and current actors introduce a clip they were in. One day it was the confrontation between Nola and Kelly, another Roger falling to his “death.” And of course, Reva in the fountain.

  3. Melanie says:

    Great post! I’d say the question of “repeating histories” is complex because there are different ways of doing it. There’s Repetitive Storytelling which is just repeating storylines and/or dialogue. Like GH: Carly’s recent Who’s the Daddy s/l (been there, done that), or “good girl” Lulu and her not-so bad boy mobster boyfriend Johnny. Can you say Luke and Laura II? Plus you’ve got Lulu going “crazy” like her mother. And Jason has had the same dang conversations with all of his “soulmates.” Another example would be B&B Brooke & Ridge 20 year on and off again relationship – same conflicts, same dialogue, same results. Or DAYS’s John’s current amnesia s/l mirroring Patch’s recent amnesia s/l.

    That’s very different from an Homage to past storylines like OLTL Sara going over the falls like her mother so many years ago, or Vicki “dying” and going to Heaven. These storylines are a tribute to the past and a nod to longtime fans and are so enjoyable.

    Then of course there’s rewriting history. Examples are, as you mentioned, Y&R’s Katherine & Jill being mother and daughter (UGH!!!), undo-ing Erica’s abortion on AMC. Other examples are DAYS Bo and Billie’s stillborn baby that they buried in a swamp, suddenly popping up years later, as a very much alive Chelsea. I usually hate these kinds of storylines, especially when they’re undoing things that we actually saw happen onscreen. It’s lazy storytelling and it insults the intelligence of viewers.

    Revised histories that I’ve hated most: Erica’s un-abortion, & Katherine and Jill as mother & daughter (hearing Jill call Katherine “mother” makes me cringe!! I am SO hoping they rewrite this rewrite)

    But ultimately, I’ve always felt that it’s all in the writing. If the writing is great, I’ll buy into anything.

    Patrick says: Melanie, you make a very important point — if the story is written well, we’re more apt to buy into it.

    I think it also depends on the intent and where the story is going. Douglas Marland did several “rewrites” on ATWT, but they were all drawing on history to make a new story or propel it forward. He did change history to a degree, but he USED the past instead of ignoring it. I think it was more “filling in the blanks”, and we got a few great stories out of it (Sabrina/Frannie and Scott Eldredge).

  4. horselover says:

    I love it when soaps revisit stories and I absolutely adore it when they use flashbacks! This means the writers have done their homework. Longtime viewers are rewarded with nostaglia while it clues in newer viewers to history. Revisiting history is so much better than REWRITING history. I can’t stand it when the writers think their viewers are stupid.

    GH could go back and rewrite all the horrible vet returns: Rick, Heather, Robert, Holly, Anna, Felicia and Scotty. I HATE it when I don’t even recognize the characters anymore. Flashbacks and a nod to the correct history would have kept GH fans from leaving this show. Instead, long time viewers tuned out GH in droves.

  5. Fabobug says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Seriously, this time, I thought DAYS did a great job last year with the Tony & Anna reunion, utilizing history and clips from 1984 to build tension in the present. They also referred to the fact that Tony was abducted on that foggy pier in 1985, a fact that everyone until 2007 had ignored.

    Another great re-write was Labine’s take on GH’s Edward Quartermaine. In 1994, we learned of Edward’s past forbidden love with Mary Mae Ward from WWII, and the resulting offspring. It added layers and texture that had not been there before for this well known character.

    ITA with the posters above about the worst: Erica’s un-abortion and Marlena’s supposed marriage to Alex are the most insulting pieces of tripe I’ve seen played out. A close third: the latest rewrite of John’s parentage on DAYS (he’s only 8 years younger than Shawn and Stefano? Gimme a break!) And OLTL’s temptation to play fast and loose with Victor Lord’s murder AGAIN by having Dorian blurt out she killed him after Asa’s funeral? No, do NOT go there!

    Patrick says: Fabobug — I agree about Tony and Anna on DAYS and Edward on GH. Tony and Anna used flashbacks well, and the Mary Mae story was great. Neither one of those were the “Xerox” versions of stories — the trend we are seeing emerge now.

    Marlena says: But Fabs, I was a witness that 70s day when OLTL’s Dorian actually smothered Victor to death with a pillow while he was in a hospital bed!!! She did it! It was totally undone by Michael Malone in the early 90s and changed so that Viki killed him while in one of her DID personalities. To me, this was the biggest betrayal of fans in soap history! Ms. Slezak has also noted the change and commented on it!

  6. Gigi says:

    I love it when soaps revisit their histories–when it is done well. Soaps are a uniquely suited medium for dipping into the past; what other medium can claim the same characters, and even the same actors, in the same roles for decades? My best example of a soap revisiting its history is one that you cited, the late 90′s revisit of Luke and Laura’s rape. Having the controversial storyline revisited through the eyes of the son, Lucky, was a masterful stroke. Lucky, as an avenging angel type, also served as a surrogate for the audience in his disbelief and horror that his parents’ romance started with a rape. And when Tony Geary told Jonathan Jackson about the rape in a ten minute monologue, GH wisely flashed back to the scenes in question. Really, what other medium can flash back to the same actor like that?

    That being said, I hate it when soaps merely repeat a storyline that adds nothing. While the 1990s revisit of the rape added new layers to Luke, Lucky, and Laura, the show got lazy and repeated the same “child finds out about sins of the parents” in a poorly reconstructed storyline last year. GH had Lulu find out about the rape–and then the storyline was quickly dropped. The whole thing reeked of a ratings stunt, or worse, a grab for an Emmy episode to submit. THAT I resented, because it added nothing new and seemed terribly manipulative of the audience.

  7. esther says:

    I was pretty pissed when James Stenbeck came back to life after Paul had killed him. It added so many layers to Paul’s angst and just took it away. Stupid.

    I always thought bringing Hart onto GL was a horrible move, because it diluted Blake’s importance; his obsession with her as a child/adult was because she was the only child he could ever have. But alas…

    Frankly, there are too many to list. I’d be here all day.

    As for shows repeating story, I never have a problem if it’s with different characters because then it’s new to them, even if we’ve seen something similar. It’s when the same story happens for the same character that I’m totally bored.

    These homages haven’t worked for me. I’d like to think it’s honoring, but to me it just smells of lazy writing.

  8. Carl says:

    I think soaps’ histories are one of their greatest strengths. Revisiting history is important. (Maybe I’m biased as I study toward my history M.A.!) It both provides helpful times to reminisce for long-time fans and, equally important!, helps new viewers get a feel for the show.

    As someone who didn’t start watching ATWT or GL, for example, until after Santa Barbara’s murder., I really enjoy finding out more about their histories. I think soap execs and writers sometimes think that having a rich canvas and rich backstory makes it harder for new viewers. I find it just the opposite; the richer and deeper the material the easier it is to get in and the easier it is to stay.

    On the other hand, I have no patience for soap revisionism. It ruins the experience for me. The only revision I think I’ve ever supported was when Eden traveled through time to stop Lionel and Sophia from having a recent affair. It didn’t destroy any long-standing history, and it gave the writers a way out of what was (mistakenly to me, accurately to many) viewed as a mistake. It was a bit over the top, but well in keeping with SB’s winks to the audience and anything goes mentality.

    I do think soaps run a real danger with too much history, though–especially if they show old scenes. Enough of it, and it will become even clearer how much better, richer, deeper, better written, better acted soaps used to be!

  9. Levi says:

    Reva and Josh’s wedding remake was an episode that I admit was very moving. How could I not be a little teary-eyed to see them recite their vows with flashbacks no less right on cue. And Jeva’s background music was back or a variation of it at least. I was really impressed with the movie version of Sarah Shayne–very impressive!

    GL produced a wonderful episode—-the first in many months.

    I thought it was a Jeva reunion but I guess we will wait and see until the inevitable happens that Jeva reunites. They have “ALWAYS” been my favorite soap couple.

  10. Julien says:

    Marlena, I thought that Dorian withheld his medication? So it really was a death by smothering. Wow.

    I wish AMC would go back and fix the error of the un-abortion, especially since Josh is about to leave the show. Well, he’s recurring and we know that means.

  11. renee says:

    I’m torn. Today’s soaps are so patheticly written in so many ways i crave watching old storylines in flashbacks, or seeing old couples comeback with their rich histories intact. But I despise revisioned histories, as much as insulting storylines – Emily falling for Casey so her baby’s daddy can be her father in law. I agree with Esther, lazy writing is the worst sin of all.

  12. Cindy says:

    I like it when soaps revisit their history if there is a reason to revisit their history. I disagree with popular theory, however. I think OLTL is not revisiting history, it is totally copying previous storylines. The trip to heaven was good because it allowed us to see actors and characters that we miss. However, Mendohrrah and the Bo, Rex thing is just rehash. To me, it’s obvious that those two stories are not celebrations of the 40th anniversary. They are simply recycled stories.

    Ron is going beyond just copying to celebrate the 40th anniversary. It appears the Jess/Tess story is a total copy of a previous story utilizing Niki and Dorian. So yeah, I like revisiting history. I do not like recycled storylines.

    I also agree with posters who say the integrity of the show should be retained when they revisit history. I admit, I’m a fan of certain characters. It does not bother me that they bring them back from the dead because I want the character back. I think they could be more subtle about other rewrites of history. For example, I think the recast Noah on Y&R is returning a little bit too old to have spent the summer at camp. LOL.

  13. Matthew J Cormier says:

    I don’t mind when a show honors it’s history, in fact I love it but I do agree that sometimes soaps have a tendancy to re-write their history so much that we never know what to believe.

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