Lawsuits and court cases are a staple of soap opera storytelling. But every once in a while, legal matters such as these can ensnare your favorite daytime performers and the writers who delicately craft your favorite afternoon programs. Even a beloved sudser like Days of Our Lives has found itself involved in some serious litigation.
The Case: Corday Productions vs. William J. Bell
Plaintiff: Corday Productions
The Defendant: William J. Bell, head writer of Days of Our Lives
The Brief: Days of Our Lives (DAYS) debuted on November 8, 1965, but the youngest NBC soap opera wasn’t exactly a hit. It ranked 10th out of 17 other daytime dramas with only a 5.3 rating.
One year later, producers hired co-creator Irna Phillips’ protégé, William J. Bell, as the series new head writer, hoping he could boost the sagging ratings. Bell restructured DAYS into a psychosexual melodrama replete with love triangles; one involving teenagers and two involving members of the same family competing for the affection of another.
Bell also injected the show with heretofore unmentionable taboo subjects including the near-incestuous affair between Marie Horton and her plastic surgery-altered brother. By its fourth anniversary, DAYS tied for fifth place (out of 14 shows) and held a very healthy 9.3 rating.
In 1972, Bell was offered the opportunity to create a brand new soap for the CBS network but when he made plans to do so, Corday Productions slapped him with a lawsuit that would bar him from leaving DAYS and becoming a competitor.
The Verdict: This particular case was settled out of court. Corday Productions would retain a small percentage of Bell’s new series as well as the writer’s services. Bell would continue to provide DAYS with long-term story projections while the day-to-day head writing duties were handed over to Pat Falken Smith.
This deal was honored until 1975 when DAYS expanded to a full hour, and Bell was finally free to concentrate solely on his new baby: The Young and the Restless.
Though Bell was no longer forced to work at his old NBC haunt, Corday Productions still continues to reap the rewards of having a stake in the number-one-rated daytime drama. Days of Our Lives airs weekdays on NBC. Check your local listings for airtimes.