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Daytime Dramas Rely on Returning Faves to Draw New Audiences, Emmys

Soaps have always drawn on their rich histories for story ideas, but serials seem to be doing this to an even greater degree as competition for eyeballs is at an all-time high. And such storytelling strategy has led to Daytime Emmy nomination success.

When Bradley Bell, head writer and executive producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful” (nominated for 18 awards at the 45th annual ceremony this year), wanted viewers to sympathize with resident rogue Quinn Forrester (Rena Sofer), he knew he needed a formidable force.

“We thought what better way to do that than to bring [back] the ultimate baddie — Sheila,” Bell says of the character played by Kimberlin Brown.

The show’s breakaway vase budget took a hit, but after some classic battles, viewer sympathy for Quinn grew.

“Instead of looking outside your family structure, it’s better to draw from within to keep your characters engaged,” says Bell. “The shows that have survived are the ones that have placed great emphasis and respect on their histories.”

Days of Our Lives’” top scribe Ron Carlivati rejuvenated the last soap he worked on (“General Hospital”) by re-introducing past fan favorites. He’s been working that same magic in Salem with the re-introduction of beloved characters, including Alison Sweeney’s Sami.

“When I heard the storyline, it was one I wanted to be a part of, and I was happy to make it work with my other commitments,” Sweeney says. “The fan response was overwhelming.”

Days of our Lives” scored 25 noms this year.

Meanwhile, today’s “General Hospital” (with the most noms at 26) struck creative gold and scored a ratings bump in key demos by combining the return of Steve Burton’s Jason and solid storytelling by the show’s scribes Shelly Altman and Chris Van Etten. Fans got a big payoff when Jason, who returned last September, and Sam (Kelly Monaco) shared a kiss on New Year’s Eve.

“The pace of the storytelling in daytime drama over the last few years has definitely accelerated with the appetites that audiences have for story,” says “General Hospital” executive producer Frank Valentini. “But at the same time, for a story to have resonance and pop it needs to be played out in the real time that exists within the show and town.”

“General Hospital” has addressed returning favorites in a variety of ways, some of which have only proven to be short term — such as when Michael Sutton returned as Stone’s ghost, as well as when Denise Alexander reprised her role of Dr. Lesley Webber just for daughter Laura’s (Genie Francis) wedding.

“It is always wise to go to the well and bring back fan favorites,” says Michael Bruno, a talent manager who specializes in actors on daytime. “It’s great for story and it also tells fans, ‘We hear you.’”

“The shows that have survived are the ones that have placed great emphasis and respect on their histories.”
Bradley Bell

Mal Young, showrunner of “The Young and the Restless,” drew on the show’s 45-year history by returning Abbott matriarch Dina (Marla Adams) and former ladies’ man JT (Thad Luckinbill) to the canvas. “Y&R” scored 25 nominations this year.

Since leaving the soap in 2010, Luckinbill has become a successful film producer (“La La Land,” “12 Strong”), but he agreed to return to daytime for a lengthy stint after hearing Young’s story pitch. “I said, ‘I’m not asking you to come back for 10 years, but let’s tell the next chapter of JT’s story,’” Young says.

This practice of mining the past isn’t limited to soaps, Young notes.

“Look at ‘Star Wars,’” he says. “In ‘The Force Awakens’ the last shot was of Luke Skywalker, which left us on the edge of our seats waiting for ‘The Last Jedi.’”

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