Thursday, October 10, 2013


I wrote this about GH's Jake, but it pertains just as much to Y&R's doomed little Delia and others....


By Alina Adams

How's that for a cheery title first thing in the morning?

With little Jake poised to shuffle off his mortal coil on General Hospital, it got me thinking about other soap children who have been killed off in the name of "entertainment."

There was poor Zach on Days of Our Lives (and after all the trouble Bo and Hope went through to un-switch him and change the tyke's name, to boot), the victim of a hit and run, like All My Children's Laura.

One Life to Live's Jessica lost two children at birth (and, for a while there, Starr believed she'd lost hers). Bold & Beautiful's Amber's son was stillborn. Young & Restless' Lauren mourned Dylan, who she thought was her biological child. There was Gwen's Billy on As The World Turns (though, initially, Jennifer believed it to be Johnny; two grieving mothers for the price of one!). And little Johnny was named after the baby Jen's mother, Barbara, lost with John Dixon years earlier. John held the preemie in his arms as he died, same way All My Children's Gloria held Anna Claire, while singing You Are My Sunshine.

(Obviously, there are many more examples, but even cyberspace is finite.)

This is entertainment?

Mary Stuart (Jo), Search for Tomorrow star from the first to last episode, didn't think so.

When Jo gave birth to her second child in 1956, it was due to Mary's real-life pregnancy. SFT filmed on location with Mary in the hospital, and her newborn son, Jeffrey, played little Duncan Erik.

When the storyline called for the toddler to run out into the street and get hit by a car, Mary balked, threatening to quit.

She told Afternoon TV Magazine, "It was my own child. It had been a complicated pregnancy for me, and playing the death of the child was just too horrible to even consider. The show's ratings had been dropping, and I knew they were killing the child just to have something dramatic to boost the ratings. I played those scenes all right, but I made them so horrifying that nobody could watch. Not even the make-up girl. She wouldn't even look at the monitor to see whether my make-up was right, it was too awful to watch. And nobody out in television-land watched either. In my own mind, I was remembering the morning my own father died. My mother just could never accept it. She'd walk around with a hopeful smile, in a daze, saying, "He's going to get better..." That's the way I played it. I destroyed them. It didn't help the ratings."

And that is the key issue.

Dead baby stories win Emmys. They do not help ratings.

Arguably, the best tale of its kind was GH's BJ/Maxie heart-transplant tale (obviously, ABC thinks so too, or else why go back to that well yet again?). It was heart-wrenching and dramatic, gorgeously acted and phenomenally written.

But, it did not raise the ratings.

I loved the GH story. Because it aired in 1994. I didn't have any kids in 1994.

In 2003, when my husband told me I should watch All My Children's David and Anna deal with the loss of their daughter, Leora, because, "It's really, really good," I had a four year old son and another on the way. I couldn't even think about the story, much less turn on the TV.

My husband said, "Okay, I'll save it, and you can see it later."

I still haven't been able to.

Granted, soaps are no longer the exclusive domain of stay-at-home moms grabbing an hour or two of Me Time before the kids get home from school.

But, surely, they must still make up some fraction of the audience.

And if they tune out every time there's a dead baby story, you've got to wonder why the soaps keep on playing them. Don't you?

For behind the scenes from writer Claire Labine on BJ's heart transplant story, click here.  To read what Julia Barr thought about AMC killing off Laura, click here.


C. said...

I think kids dying makes for drama... but I don't like it either.

teddymac said...

I hate dead-baby storylines too. I've completely avoided episodes of As The World Turns and Coronation Street that featured those stories.

I did watch the stillborn-birth of Amber's baby on Bold and the Beautiful. And it was a well done storyline with great acting but I don't wish to watch anything like that again.

soapwikijohn said...

Okay I agree that the stories are heartwrenching, but I feel that SOAPS are the best place for this type of storyline to play out. Itsd realistic anad heartbreaking drama and thats what Daytime does best...most of the time.

Anyways amaznig post with wonderful insight! Thank you for posting!

cksargent said...

I agree, with a reservation-- it was a dead baby storyline that got me into soaps to begin with, in 1966.
Days of Our Lives-- Susan (played by Denise Alexander, heartwrenchingly) & David's baby. David was Julie Olsen's boyfriend (yes, Julie of Doug & Julie)who'd had a fling with Julie's friend Susan, who of course got pregnant. The baby died in a playground accident and Susan basically lost her mind with guilt and sorrow.
My mom & I watched the story together every day after school, and before long, we branched out into ALL the NBC soaps.

Unknown said...

It looks like they are going to be doing a dead child story on Young and the Restless later this week. If they don't raise the ratings then why do they do these stories? For Emmys?