If only doctors, lawyers, cops and crime bosses spring to mind when you think about daytime dramas, you haven’t been tuning in lately. From 20-somethings mesmerized by a charismatic cult leader, to a wannabe influencer using social media to sabotage her boyfriend’s marriage-of-convenience, to an undocumented immigrant, the offspring of some of the most popular character of the ’80s and ’90s are breathing new life into an aging genre and attracting new viewers along the way.
“If you look at our demographics, we’ve actually grown in the 18-25,” says Heather Tom, actress on “The Bold and the Beautiful” and five-time Emmy winner who landed her first daytime gig at age 15. “There’s a lot that daytime can speak to a younger generation with.”
That is, after all, why the Daytime Emmys include categories honoring “younger” actors and actresses, in addition to the more traditional lead and supporting categories.
Fifteen-year-old Eden McCoy, who plays Josslyn Jacks on “General Hospital,” just earned her first Daytime Emmy nomination in such a category. Recently she has been involved in a story about first love, in which her on-screen boyfriend has a terminal illness. That actor, Garren Stitt, also received a nom this year.
“In general, we write stories and simply assume our actors will be up to the challenge,” says “General Hospital” head writer Shelly Altman.
McCoy credits advice from co-star, and actress nominee, Laura Wright, who plays her on-screen mother, as well as Steve Burton, with helping her rise to the challenge of such a “heartbreakingly beautiful story.”
“They explained to me how, during a time of pain and grief, some days you aren’t going to have the tears and the breakdown and the yelling, and that’s normal and that’s real. Some days you’re numb, some days you’re sad. Some days you’re angry,” she says.
Victoria Konefal’s “Days of our Lives” character, Ciara, is the daughter of super couple Bo (Peter Reckell) and Hope (Kristian Alfonso) and the step-granddaughter/half-niece of Salem’s original troubled teen Julie (Susan Seaforth Hayes). Being able to connect with characters that have been on the show for decades is something Konefal calls “really special.”
“Julie and Ciara have a beautiful relationship. Julie wants to protect Ciara and make sure she doesn’t make the same mistakes. She wants Ciara to grow up to be a smart woman who makes good decisions,” she says.
That intergenerational connection appeals to audiences of all ages.
“There’s a complexity to having the past come up against the future, and it reminds us of the family dynamic, which is a very important part of soap operas,” Altman says.
Bradley Bell, head writer of “The Bold and the Beautiful,” says it is “critical to the life of these shows that we keep refreshing them with the next generation of characters.” While some characters may be children now, the longevity of the series means that soon enough they will be “the new cornerstone of the show.”
Importantly, it also “keeps us targeting the key demo, which we all have in mind — anyone in show business who says they don’t is lying,” Bell continues. “It’s part of the business, getting these 18-49 and 25-54 viewers.”
“The Young and the Restless” star and supporting actor nominee Bryton James is proof that a multi-generational approach helps expand daytime dramas’ demographics.
“When I was growing up my mom watched ‘General Hospital,’ and some of the younger actors — in their 20s at the time — piqued my interest in the storylines. Maurice Benard, who plays Sonny, was such a cool character and it struck a chord,” says James, who landed his current role at age 17.
Younger actors also bring new energy to long-running productions and longtime cast members. “One of the great things about young people is their enthusiasm. They’re honest and almost naive in their excitement,” says Beth Maitland, “The Young and the Restless” star and supporting actress nominee, who is entering her 38th year on the show. “It’s a gigantic bonus and a great pleasure to watch those people develop and bloom.”
“Days of Our Lives” star and actor nominee Billy Flynn admits he has learned a lot about acting and professionalism by working alongside such stalwarts as John Aniston, Thaao Penghlis, Lauren Koslow and the late Joseph Mascolo. Now he tries to pass that knowledge on to newer actors.
“What keeps these soaps going is that they pay such homage to veterans, and that’s how it should be,” says Flynn. “You’re in a scene with them, but you’re watching them because you know whatever they’re going to do is going to be great.”
Younger characters also help keep the shows current with trends and technology, something that has become more crucial as times have changed quickly since the start of this century.
“Some of our new actors are leading the charge with social media. They’ve grown up with it. They know the ins and outs. They know how to cultivate followers and create great exposure,” Bell says. “There’s no question that’s a huge plus.”