×

How Daytime Dramas Tackled Timely Social Issues This Emmy Season

In 1962, legendary soap scribe Agnes Nixon wrote a uterine cancer storyline involving beloved Bert Bauer (Charita Bauer) on “Guiding Light,” prompting many women to visit their doctors and get Pap smears. There were no Daytime Emmys back then to acknowledge Nixon’s tale, but since 1973, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) has been handing out gold statuettes to producers, writers, actors and other creative personnel for their outstanding work in social-issue stories similar to Nixon’s.

The late Nixon recounted in her 2017 memoir, “My Life to Live,” that she had to battle network execs to tell Bert’s uterine cancer story, but today’s writers appear to be able to tackle pretty much anything and everything.

Last year, “General Hospital,” for example, told tales of gender identity, cults, #MeToo and Alzheimer’s.

“The stories arise from the characters who are primed to be involved in very contemporary conflicts,” says “General Hospital” head writer Shelly Altman.

When it comes to the #MeToo movement, medical student Lauren “KiKi” Jerome (Hayley Erin) was mentored by an older doctor, David Bensch (James DePaiva), who began harassing her; she took him to court. For the Alzheimer’s storyline, notorious mob kingpin Sonny Corinthos’ father, Mike Corbin (Max Gail), was diagnosed with the condition.

“We were intrigued by the idea of a strong and powerful character like Sonny Corinthos having to deal with the diminishing mental capacity of his once vibrant and vital father,” says Altman. “Life is lived daily, not weekly, and in the case of Alzheimer’s, a patient’s condition can change radically from day to day. Having the ability to explore our stories on a truly day-to-day basis helps the audience experience what the characters are going through in as close to real time as we can get.”

“The Young and the Restless” had Victoria Newman (Amelia Heinle) renewing her connection with ex-husband J.T. Hellstrom (Thad Luckinbill), who slowly began mentally and physically abusing his former wife. By the time, Victoria realized she was in too deep, she didn’t know how to get out.

The show also introduced multiple sclerosis into its storytelling, diagnosing series staple Nikki Newman (Melody Thomas Scott) with the condition.

“We knew Melody would knock it out of the park,” says “Y&R” co-executive producer and head writer Josh Griffith. “The impact is always stronger with a character the audience knows and loves. It’s much richer and more fulfilling for them to take the journey with someone they already consider a friend.”

Days of Our Lives” shined a light on a person’s legal right to die after heroine Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall) was shot and hovered between life and death. Marlena being on life support pitted family members against one another. Her groom, John Black (Drake Hogestyn), refused to let her go, but their daughter, Belle Black (Martha Madison), an attorney, was charged with enforcing her mom’s do not resuscitate order. The tale touched close to home for Madison.

“My own mother has been living with frontotemporal dementia for 16 years and was diagnosed with MS 20 years before that,” Madison says. “Recurring debilitation and imminent death are issues my sisters and I have always had to consider regarding our mother since childhood.”

Many actors involved in these storylines, including Erin, Hogestyn and Madison, have received pre-nominations for this year’s awards, some for the first time. They’ll find out on March 20 if they advance to the final round. Winners will be announced on May 5 at the 46th annual Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony.

Along with entertaining and educating viewers, Madison says social-issue stories get people talking.

“The feedback was enormous,” she says, noting one viewer wrote to her that their grandmother had put together a living will after seeing the “Days” story.

If these and other social issue storylines do well at the Daytime Emmys, it’ll increase the chance of seeing more of them on daytime dramas.

Bradley Bell, executive producer and head writer of “The Bold and the Beautiful,” who has told successful tales involving a love story involving a transgender character, homelessness and death with dignity, says he’d like to tackle next the topic of mental health.

“It’s significant and far-reaching,” says Bell. “Society and humanity are only as strong as its weakest links. When we have people who are homeless, jobless, depressed and ridden with anxieties, it’s something that we need to deal with. There are good people who fall upon hard times and they have no safety net. We, as a society, need to do more.”

More TV

  • La Casa De Papel

    Guy Bisson Göteborg Masterclass: Global Rights the God Particle of TV Production

    In physics the God Particle is an elementary particle whose existence physicists use to describes why all particles have mass. In a Wednesday masterclass at the Göteborg Film Festival, Ampere Analysis’ Guy Bisson’s God Particle is the push into acquiring global rights, the phenomenon whose existence is the driving factor behind many if nt most [...]

  • Kjartan Thordarson and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson

    Sagafilm, Sky Studios, NBCU, NENT, SÍminn Join Forces on “Sisterhood” (EXCLUSIVE)

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden — Established Nordic prodco Sagafilm (“Stella Blómkvist”, “Case”) is producing Icelandic crime series “Sisterhood,” in association with Sky Studios, for commissioners NENT Group’s Nordic streamer Viaplay and Iceland’s OTT service Síminn. The six-part series will premiere simultaneously on Viaplay and Síminn in 2021, with the latter retaining domestic first window rights. NBCUniversal Global [...]

  • "Jojo Rabbit" and "Schitts Creek" Win

    'Jojo Rabbit,' 'Masked Singer' and 'Maleficent' Win Top Honors at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The Costume Designers Guild handed out its trophies for the 22nd annual CDG Awards with “Jojo Rabbit” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” receiving top honors among the costumers. In the TV category, the hit “The Masked Singer” and designer Marina Toybina beat out reigning designer Zaldy (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”) for excellence in variety, reality-competition, live [...]

  • Arrow -- "Fadeout" -- Image Number:

    How The 'Arrow' Series Finale Honors 'The Completion of Oliver's Mission'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the “Arrow” series finale. In the aftermath of Oliver Queen’s (Stephen Amell) death, the CW’s “Arrow” ended with a relatively happy ending. The post-“Crisis” world revealed that Oliver’s death had indeed been a spark that saved his city, which was now crime-free. Additionally, nearly [...]

  • Co-winners of the MVP award Phoenix

    Shaquille O'Neal Remembers Kobe Bryant in Tearful Tribute

    A tearful Shaquille O’Neal spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about the death of his former teammate, Kobe Bryant. “I think a lot of times we take stuff for granted,” O’Neal said during a special edition of TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” Turning to his co-hosts with tears running down his face, O’Neal added, “Like [...]

  • Netflix new building Sunset

    Netflix to Lay Off Roughly 15 in Marketing Department Shift

    Netflix is poised to let go of roughly 15 marketing staffers from its Los Angeles office in the wake of last year’s shift in marketing leadership, Variety has learned. The layoffs represent a small percentage of the greater marketing division, according to a source, and follows the hiring last July of Jackie Lee-Joe as chief marketing [...]

  • Riverdale -- "Chapter Twenty-Six: The Tell-Tale

    TV News Roundup: ‘Riverdale’ Sets ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ Musical Episode

    In today’s TV News Roundup, the CW revealed this year’s musical episode of “Riverdale” will feature numbers from “Hedwig & the Angry Inch,” and Amazon announced the premiere date for “Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse.” DATES This Season 4 musical episode of “Riverdale” will air on Apr. 8 at 8:00 pm on the CW, and this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content