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Soap operas and the 'happily ever after' problem

When non-soap-opera fans want to disparage the television genre, they call it a romance novel. When non-romance-novel fans feel obliged to dismiss the best-selling book category, they call it a soap opera.

Both are wrong. (And not just because they erroneously believe either term is an insult.) They’re wrong because of one key difference between soap operas and romance novels.

Robert Newman, who played Josh on Guiding Light, explains: “A romance novel is finite, while we have 16,000 episodes’ worth of shows that people who have been watching their entire lives are drawing on. A romance novel happens. It comes and it goes. A soap is more complex than that.”

And Susan Dansby, an Emmy Award–winning writer currently working on The Young and the Restless, thinks that’s a good thing:

A romance novel is the story of a hero and heroine who are leading separate lives, who find each other and decide to join their lives together. On a soap opera, you have one couple that’s falling in love, you have one couple that’s dealing with the challenges of new love (i.e. the “we’ve declared our love, now what?” stage), and then you have a couple that’s been in love for a while, but they have challenges like kidnapping or illness that they’re dealing with. Because once you’ve told the story of their love, you’ve got to do something to keep the story going. You’ve got to break them up. Would we, as writers, prefer that they live happily ever after? Yes! Is it interesting to watch? No!

(Read more here.)

And there’s your key difference: Soap operas rarely have a happily ever after. They can’t.

Last week, Anthony Geary, who’s played the role of Luke on General Hospital on and off since the late 1970s, announced that he would be exiting the show this summer for the (presumably) final time.

The news came hot on the heels of Genie Francis’ (Laura) scheduled return to Port Charles. But if those fans who’ve rooted for the couple for over 30 years think that means their beloved L&L will be riding off into the sunset together, Geary is quick to squash that hope.

He pronounced, “Genie and I agreed several years ago that the love of Luke and Laura had run its course. They have children together and a very storied history, and there’s definitely still love there, but I think they’re toxic to each other at this point.”

This would never happen in a romance novel.

Neither would the other story currently playing out on GH, wherein federal agent Anna (Finola Hughes), after battling to free the love of her life, Duke (Ian Buchanan), from the mob—only to believe him killed in 1989, see him return with a new face (plastic surgery, natch), and have him die again a year later—was reunited with her not-quite-dead husband in 2012. After three years of conflict, Anna and Duke have finally decided to forget their respective stances on organized crime: (Her: Bad. Him: Eh, it’s okay.) and run off together to begin a new life.

Last week, Duke was shot. On Monday, Anna discovered him bleeding on the docks, and begged him to stay alive as the ambulance sirens howled in the distance. He was rushed into surgery and …

No happily ever after here, either. (Well, not unless Duke isn’t really dead again. But who’s got another 20 years to wait?)

Meanwhile, on a somewhat less gruesome scale, Days of Our Lives‘ Justin (Wally Kurth) and Adrianne (Judi Evans), whom fans watched struggle through obstacle after obstacle to stay together in the late 1980s before they happily left town with their children in 1991, returned to the show in 2007, and again in 2010, facing marital problems. Currently, Justin has admitted to cheating on Adrianne while out of town, while Adrianne slept with Lucas (Bryan Datillo).

Obviously, when it comes to soaps, the only way fans can expect a happily ever after is if it comes alongside the saddest news of all: cancellation.

Thanks to cancellation, GL fans can believe that Josh and Reva will finally—finally!—make it work this time (so her presumed-dead husband is still out there; big deal, they’ve dealt with worse). As the World Turns viewers can relax and presume both Holden and Lily, and Jack and Carly, are together for good. So are Ryan’s Hope‘s Frank and Jill, and Jack and Leigh.

But even cancellation happily ever afters aren’t sticking these days as well as they used to. In 2009, P&G launched an official continuation to Another World, meaning the story continued and breakups were inevitable. And in 2013, All My Children and One Life to Live were briefly revived on the web.

Did you think AMC‘s Tad and Dixie, and Kendall and Zach, would never be parted again? That OLTL‘s Clint and Viki, and Blair and Todd, were solid? The online revivals gave fans cause for doubt.

And then they were promptly canceled again. Definitely no happily ever afters here.

Do you think that’s a problem with daytime? Tell us!

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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