In a world where few get to grow up with their grandparents in the house helping to raise them or even living nearby, soaps have served as a surrogate. A viewer could look to the older generation for guidance that perhaps was missing at home. But over the last few years, each soap has killed off characters from that age group, even when actors were still viable and available — and it’s a mystery as to why.
Soaps — Killing The Greatest Generation
The latest casualty is Laura Horton, played by daytime legend Jaime Lyn Bauer (ex-Lorie, The Young and the Restless) — a character who made her first appearance in Salem back in 1966. Considering that Peggy McCay (ex-Caroline) and Frances Reid (ex-Alice) are both gone, that generation Laura represented should have inherited the mantel. Laura has a daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren currently on the canvas who could have used her wisdom. Instead, she was killed for what? A plot point for a new character? Really?!
But DAYS isn’t the only show doing this. General Hospital and The Young and the Restless recently had stories in which they took two characters — Mike (Max Gail) and Dina (Marla Adams) respectively — and then played out poignant stories that could only have one ending — their demise. The characters also had actors who were happy to be working and added so much richness to the canvas.
While the stories created great drama for the short-term, the longer ramifications may not be worth it. Isn’t there another story besides Alzeheimer’s Disease that older characters are capable of doing — and surviving? It would have been nice to have seen Joss (Eden McCoy) having that sweet moment with Mike organically, not as recreated flashback to show their close bond that we were never privy to because the show didn’t spend the time developing it.
But GH was on to something — those types of scenes on soaps do provide the moments many soap fans crave. There was a time on As the World Turns when a young Tommy Hughes got a stern talking-to from Grandpa Hughes, who felt his recent actions (talking about money, looking at mail that wasn’t his) weren’t the actions of a ‘big guy’ — which was how Tommy saw himself. Those types of intergenerational morality lessons were what soaps did so well.
A show like The Bold and the Beautiful was never really known for multigenerational drama, as their oldest characters, from the beginning, were more middle-aged but they eventually grew into that role as kids were rapidly aged over its first three decades. Sadly for the show, Susan Flannery, who played matriarch Stephanie Forrester, retired — which has left a Grand Canyon-sized hole in the canvas. Luckily, John McCook’s Eric is still around to help guide the younger generation.
Life and soaps have certainly changed over the decades but that doesn’t mean people don’t still crave having an older generation on soaps and watching them interact with the younger, newer characters. Hopefully, moving forward, soap writers will realize this and bolster their older characters’ roles rather than kill them off.
It reminds this writer of the time she met Mary Stuart (ex-Jo, Search for Tomorrow; ex-Meta, Guiding Light). The grand dame of soaps had a huge smile on her face and asked, “Did I raise you too?” She understood the impact she had — here’s hoping today’s shows figure it out too before it’s too late.