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Coma, coma, coma chameleon: The real truth about soap opera comas

On The Young & the Restless, Phyllis is starting to come out of her coma—just in time for her fiancé, Jack, to fall for Kelly (ain’t that always the way?). On Days of Our Lives, John continues to linger in his coma, despite wife Marlena’s medically innovative technique of spraying his hospital room with her perfume to wake him up—trust her, she’s a doctor. (BTW: This isn’t even John’s first coma. The last time was in 2007, after he was shot by EJ.)

Comas are so widespread on soap operas that an international, peer-reviewed medical journal, The BMJ, actually published a scholarly article about them: Epidemiology and prognosis of coma in daytime television dramas.

WebMD then summarized their findings as follows. Casarett’s team studied the depiction of comas on U.S. television soap operas from 1995 to 2005. During that time, 64 soap opera characters had what appeared to be comas.

Here’s how those characters fared:

  • Nearly nine out of 10 fully recovered
  • 8 percent (five “patients”) died
  • 3 percent (two “patients”) remained in a vegetative state

Those results are “unrealistically optimistic,” write the researchers.

Perhaps the researchers would feel better if they knew that while in the “real” world, comas are caused by trauma, on soaps, trauma is only a small contributing factor to a character’s comatose state.

The true causes include:

Recast Coma

As we’ve written before, soap fans are no strangers to recasts. Sometimes, though, the show thinks fans need a bit of a respite in between one actor leaving a role and another assuming it. That’s the reason behind Y&R’s Phyllis’ coma. Michelle Stafford last played Phyllis in 2013. Emmy-winner Gina Tognoni stepped into the part (well, while lying down) a full year later. (Fun fact: Stafford is currently appearing on General Hospital as Nina, a woman who spent the past 20 years of her life … in a coma.)

Comas can also age a person way beyond their years. GH’s Michael went in a redheaded tween, and came out a year later a sandy-haired teen. On All My Children, JR aged a full five years. Then again, so did the rest of Pine Valley, when the show switched from ABC to online.

Moonlighting Actor Coma

What do you do when an actor chooses to exercise an out in their contract, but you still intend to bring them back someday? Put ’em in a coma! In 1986, actress Deidre Hall booked the primetime show Our House, alongside pre-Beverly Hills 90210 Shannen Doherty and oatmeal pitchman Wilford Brimley. At first, Hall shot Our House during the week, and taped her DOOL scenes on Saturdays. But when that schedule got to be too much, the actress quit the soap—and Marlena entered a four-year coma, during which other characters visited her and poured out their hearts, while Dr. Evans remained discreetly off-camera.

Actress Pregnancy Coma

You can hide an actress’ swiftly blooming belly with giant bags and assorted pieces of furniture, then cover her maternity leave by sending her out of town. Or you can put her in a nice, comfy coma (what pregnant woman doesn’t enjoy a job where she gets to wear a loose gown and lie in bed all day?). As the World Turns did it with Martha Byrne and Lesli Kay (the latter even had someone fall in love with her during the coma; what man doesn’t enjoy a woman who just lies there and never says a word?). All My Children did it with Alicia Minshew (though the actress still came in to the studio to record Kendall’s voiceovers), and Y&R did it with Amelia Heinle.

Ostensibly the reasons for all those comas were, respectively, Lily getting pushed down the stairs by her son after he learned she wanted to send him to a gay reprogramming camp, Molly falling down the stairs while trying to explain to her daughter about having slept with her boyfriend, Kendall having construction materials fall on her head in a murder attempt meant for someone else, and Victoria getting caught in an explosion.

But the real culprit? Gestating babies.

Fantasy Coma

Need a character to experience an epiphany or work through a particularly thorny problem? Bop them on the head and see what happens.

While comatose, Another World’s Jake dreamed of all the women who had a good reason for shooting and putting him in one. Later, one of Jake’s suspects, Vicky, would, while comatose, see her long-lost love, Ryan, in heaven and marry him there. (What she did when she and Jake, whom she later married on Earth, both died and also ended up in heaven is a question for another time.)

Finally, once again on GH, Carly went into a coma after the love of her life, Sonny, shot her in the head while she was giving birth to their son (this is why you should always have a doctor present in the delivery room; you never know what could happen). At that point she dreamed of how different life might have been like had she chosen Alcazar over Sonny. (Considering that Alcazar was also a gun-happy mobster, the answer would seem to be … not very different.)

So what’s your favorite soap opera coma? And what was the real reason for it?

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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