Opinions Soaps

Rethinking the Soap Opera Super Couple

Luke-and-Laura-Wedding-general-hospital-80s-26326422-500-375

In a genre based in romance, unfortunately there is a lack of love on soaps these days. The life or death like desire and struggles of the super couple has been replaced by a much more expendable variation. Much like General Hospital‘s Tracy Quartermaine, fans are looking for true love but only getting breadcrumbs.

The “super couple” started vanishing in the early 2000s, around the same time the genre itself began it’s next phase of deterioration. While there have been popular couples, I don’t think there’s been a couple created in the 00s that rival the power of those from yesteryear. To me, a “super couple” is not only popular but able to completely captivate the audience while tapping into our inherent romantic desires. The decline of soaps can’t be blamed on the decline in super couples. The lack of power pairings are simply a symptom of the genre’s creative decline. One could say it’s another example of how the genre lost touch with its audience.

Many shows still have their super couples from the ’80s and ’90s on a cycle of rinse and repeat, The Young and the Restless’ Nick and Sharon for instance, yet neglect establishing new and/or potential pairings in the process. Not only does this devalue new talent, but it’s lazy story telling. It’s as if there’s no time to allow for the buildup, the wave of popularity to usher the pairings to the next level. As a result, the beloved super couple is in danger of becoming extinct. One can list many reasons for the genre staple’s dwindling population, but when it comes right down to it, shows simply stopped producing them. So the question is why?

One cannot simply argue that the decline in super couples is due to the lack of necessity. It’s quite the contrary. If this were true, primetime shows would stop producing super couples too. Current hit series such as Castle, Bones, Scandal, Sleepy Hollow, The Good Wife, Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Reign all have some form of a super couple. Even reality television shows such as Big Brother have their own versions. The super couple never left primetime the way it did daytime. Then again, it’s a lot easier to structure the journey of a pairing over 13-22 episodes over the course of eight months than it is 200 episodes over 12 months.

In the September 29, 2014 issue of Soap Opera Digest, columnist Carolyn Hinsey wrote “Great supercouples are 2/3 writing, 1/3 chemistry.” I think Hinsey’s hit the nail on the head. The two ingredients to creating the perfect super couple are writing and chemistry. Both must be present in order for it to work. For example, General Hospital’s Carly (Laura Wright) and Franco (Roger Howarth) have buckets of chemistry, but have suffered in-part due to inconsistent writing. Alternatively, Silas (Michael Easton) and Nina (Michelle Stafford) have an interesting storyline, but their chemistry is in the negatives, through no fault of The Stafford, who excels at everything she’s ever done.

Cady McClain, Peter Bergman "The Young and the Restless" Set  CBS television City Los Angeles 03/20/14 © Howard Wise/jpistudios.com 310-657-9661 Episode # 10391 U.S. Airdate 04/16/14
Cady McClain, Peter Bergman – “The Young and the Restless” Set. CBS television City
Los Angeles 03/20/14/ © Howard Wise/jpistudios.com; Episode # 10391/ U.S. Airdate 04/16/14

The same can be said for The Young and the Restless’ Jack (Peter Bergman) and Kelly (Cady McClain). On paper, these two should work. Instead, the two have anti-chemistry. It didn’t help matters that the Kelly character underwent a radical personality makeover once McClain assumed the role from Cynthia Watros. This underscores the importance of the synergy that should be in place between the story creators, and the performers involved. Actors cannot bring to life what isn’t written for them, no matter how hard they may try. Creating that magic is dependent upon all involved.

Today’s soaps still have popular pairings but they aren’t in the same league as the super couples of yore. Days of Our Lives’s Will (Guy Wilson) and Sonny (Freddie Smith) for example have a fan base but I wouldn’t say they have earned the title of super couple. While Will has had past personal struggles with his sexuality and family, their romance has had very little obstacles. Will and Sonny seem to be together simply because they are the only homosexuals in Salem. Seeing a couple meet, date, and get married is pretty meaningless if they have not had to work together to overcome challenges.

The decisions characters make as a result of the obstacles is what develops them not only as a couple but as two individual characters. This could mean that sometimes a character will make the wrong choice or a couple may split up. Being able to find their way back to each other is what solidifies them. The viewers should be made to root for love to prevail in the end. Many couples aren’t given the attention they need to create a deep yearning from the audience.

It seems nowadays that characters are brought on with the purpose of being part of a pairing. This isn’t always a bad thing. Some great couples have been created this way but if things don’t go as planned it can be a recipe for disaster. When everyone is in such a rush to make instant pairings work, the slow build and other romantic options along the way often get missed. Too often characters end up underdeveloped and isolated, making them obsolete outside of their predetermined pairing.

Perhaps the most extreme example of the instant couple is when General Hospital brought back three of their actors as brand new characters (due to a lawsuit between ABC and Prospect Park over character rights) and placed them back in the exact same pairings as before. Michael (Chad Duell) and Kiki (Kristen Alderson) may look a lot like Michael and Starr but they don’t have the same history. Quickly pairing Michael and Kiki together and saying they were in love was jarring because we never actually got their love story.

While writing is a big issue, the actors play a big part as well. Soap blogger Wubsnet recently commented that “Super couples are made by the people who play them, NOT by the ‘characters’ [in my opinion].” Chemistry can be a tricky thing. I think the concept of “instant chemistry” is a bit of myth. Chemistry is something that takes some work. Actors have to build trust with each other as well as have an understanding of their character’s attraction. Sometimes this happens quickly and other times it takes a bit of time. Either way it requires talent and dedication.

On General Hospital, when Silas’s (Michel Easton) wife Nina (Michelle Stafford) returned to him after 20 years in a coma, was she supposed to be his long lost love or some woman he forgot to divorce? Michael Easton was quoted in the September 15, 2014 issue of Soaps In Depth expressing some of his confusion regarding his character and his past. “Silas explained that he and his wife had grown significantly apart [before she became a coma patient]. He was spending long hours at the hospital, and she was doing her own thing. He got into a relationship [with Ava] because they were separated. I read now that we were in love [when the fit hit the shan]. But that’s not what we originally said, so I don’t know what’s the truth.” Since Silas ended up deciding to work on his marriage and now has a sexual relationship with Nina, I think it’s safe to say that Silas is supposed to love Nina but did anyone tell the actor that? Did he know what kind of chemistry he was supposed to have with his new co-star? From what I’ve seen on my screen, I think the answer to that is “no.”

days-ej-samiWhile writing and acting has had the most significant impact on the super couple, I think that the different ways audiences watch and respond has also had an influence. Instead of skipping work to glue oneself to the television to watch a favorite pairing’s first kiss, fans now watch via DVR after a long day of work while typing thoughts online. And people ship and demand and form little online communities to support fictional pairings. It can be fun but also a bit overwhelming. It becomes less about anticipation and more of a supply and demand.

I know fan input does play a role in what we see on soaps though I don’t know to what extent. I believe fan input is import but can also be misinterpreted by networks. Has a network ever told a show to drop a story and rush a pairing together to make fans happy? Yes. In the documentary SoapLife, Emmy winning former soap scribe Tom Casiello shared one instance . “On As The World Turns where we had split up the major couple of the show Holden and Lily and Procter and Gamble had done a focus group and they came in and killed the story because of the focus group,” Casiello recalled. “They said ‘the fans, they want Holden and Lily back together again. You have to kill the story and put them back together again’. All the writers kind of sat there and thought well of course that’s what they want that’s the whole point of the story.”

These sort of misinterpretations of fan desire by those who aren’t writers or who don’t understand the genre really does more harm than good. Couples can’t be happy and together all the time. Fans are suppose to want them to be happy and together but they need the challenging relationship moments to fuel that want. When outside sources who don’t understand that have story control, we lose a lot of the aspects of what makes a super couple. The show ends up with something boring.

Is the super couple dead? No. I don’t think the soap opera super couple is a lost cause. But I do think shows need to make more of an effort to find them within the stories they produce. While plot driven story lines are exciting and entertaining for viewers, the romantic stories should be nurtured. And it does feel like shows are starting to make better efforts to bring new super couples to their audiences. A lot of recent pairings have the potential to reach the status of those that came before them. Days of Our Lives’s EJ (James Scott) and Sami (Alison Sweeney), arguably the series’ last super couple, is preparing to leave Salem, leaving a major hole in the canvas. Is there anyone on the show to fill the void? Possibly, but for that to happen, DAYS needs to work on further developing the next generation before that’s even a possibility. Any pairing involving Daniel Jonas isn’t going to cut it.

The Bold and the Beautiful is no longer centered around its famous Brooke (Katherine Kelly Lang), Ridge (then-Ron Moss), and Taylor (Hunter Tylo) triangle anymore, but has successfully (to the point of annoyance for some) transitioned the focus to Liam (Scott Clifton), Hope (Kim Matula) and Wyatt (Darin Brooks). General Hospital hasn’t depended on Frisco (Jack Wagner) and Felicia (Kristina Wagner) or Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis) in ages, but their daughters have kept up their adventurous legacy within their own pairings. It may seem like the super couple has gone the way of the dinosaurs, but I think with some TLC it can come off the endangered species list.

What do you think about the state of the super couple? Which new pairings do you think could make the leap to super couple status? Please hit the comments to share your thoughts! Look for an upcoming article on which current and potential pairings the TVSource Magazine staff believes would make good super couples. We’ll also share your picks and reasons for choosing who you did!

About the author

Jenn Bishop

Jenn Bishop is TVSource Magazine's Soap Editor. She's a thirty-something fan girl of soapy television and anything involving Joss Whedon. She began sharing her views on daytime soaps in 2012 with her blog Save Our Suds. A former philosophy major, she loves discussing different view points with fellow TV addicts and aficionados. When not watching television, she enjoys art, live music, exploring the Midwest food scene, and drinking too many lattes. Follow her on Twitter at @SourceJenn.

  • Guest

    Wow.. what a good read! I’ve been saying that the super couple has been gone for ages on Daytime TV. I remember when I was little and would watch soaps with my mom or grandma and then years later there were still those same couples that we were rooting for, now I don’t see that. Even when I want to root for a couple I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop and for it to be ruined. It may not be a very popular opinion because of how the characters have been written but after JJ left GH and Lucky was thought to be dead, Jason and Elizabeth developed a beautiful friendship, slowly that friendship very obviously started growing into something more with neither able to act on it. That’s worth rooting for, you want them to get together and be together, and then I have no idea what happened, but years later when they were actually given half the chance it didn’t make as much sense anymore because TOO much had happened, they hadn’t even really been in each others’ sphere for the longest time, they didn’t keep the momentum. The reason why I stuck around with Days so long was because of the soaps that I did watch I felt like this one was the one where I could count on for super couples, couples I wanted to root for, but like you said, even they’re being lost there. I’ve actually given up hope on Soaps if I’m honest, but I keep coming back every so often, hoping I’ll find the magic again, the stories I used to see in the time of my youth, but nothing yet.

  • Guest

    I will have to see them on screen first, but I think Chadam 2.0 has great potential with Justin Hartley and Melissa Claire Egan playing Adam and Chelsea Newman. Both are talented actors with great looks who I think could really do well with quality writing.

  • SaveOurSuds

    Thanks for letting us know Ben! Sorry for the inconvenience.

  • Ben

    I’m not sure if anyone else is finding this, but when I’m trying to read the article, the page keeps moving up and down. It’s very annoying and it means I keep losing my place on the article. At first I thought it was just the page loading, but after a quick investigation, I realised it was because of the “NOT TO MISS” section near the top, that keeps changing. It’s because some of the articles make the section require two lines and not just one – and it keeps moving the page. Please consider fixing this otherwise I find it impossible to read large bodies of text here. It’s probably because I have a 13″ screen, but even when I put it at full viewing capacity, it’s still not long enough to keep the text from going over to another line and pushing the whole page down. Thank-you

  • KCanfield

    Nice points– especially about the writing of the super couple BEFORE chem testing the actors. You never know when lighting is going to strike. Back in the day, I LOVED Laura with Scotty. They were the “forbidden love” because she was just so young. They had good chem. “Bobbie” was thrown in as the rival/bitch. Then came Geary. WHO KNEW that a sleezy disco manager would turn into the romantic lead of the century on soaps? It was his spark with Genie that lit up the screen, and then of course, the awesome writing that dovetailed off of that. This is one reason characters need to move around a lot on canvas and interact with many as possible.

  • WrecklessLove

    Sounds like ur tired of being blocked by them. thats ur cross to bear, not mine lol

  • WrecklessLove

    yet u keep making hundreds of twitter accounts and following me lol the fact that u still dont realize how pathetic that is is laughable. i refuse to give a single solitary f**k to the opinion of a troll. im not going to argue with someone with a mental health diagnosis. Have a good day

  • kramernycole88

    Also, you are a kissa** to every soap website.

  • kramernycole88

    On Twitter you always talk about Hevon not anybody else and making everybody like Hevon selfish.

  • Amanda HDX

    Very good article. I’m only watching GH, and I fully agree with what you said. There is zero built up for any couple, they get meshed together as fast as possible and afterwards either get disrupted quickly or taking the back seat. I’d say the best built up in the last 3 years got Todd and Carly, of course in this particular case it’s not the writers fault.

    All the other pairings came more or less out of the blue, no substance at all. For example, Julian & Alexis… Julian came from arrogance and sort of playing with Alexis to this guy who is all about family and suffers now from being rejected, swearing up and down Alexis is the one and only. When did that happen? I liked Liz and Rick, but it only lasted for a hot second.

    I liked Carly and Franco, their chemistry is beyond awesome but the story was poorly written. At least I get the impression that the writers take more time and efforts to write something good for the maybe next couple to be, Nina and Franco.

    I’m curious what they do with new Jason, Liz or Sam or somebody entirely else? Liz seems to be in the cards for now… we’ll see. I’m not watching soaps for only a couple, it’s about the characters and the story. I enjoy some characters more than others, that depends on how the character is written and how the actor nails it. Ava is one of my favorite characters and she doesn’t have a pairing. Her character is simply one of the best on GH right now and the actress brings it home.

    I don’t think daytime viewers watch for action, even though it’s fun. I think the majority is watching for heart breaking stories about falling in love, loss, suffering and fighting to get back together and I still don’t think that this has changed since the time soaps were so incredibly successful.

  • WrecklessLove

    u cared enough to not only forgo everything else I said, but to actually comment. So… theres goes that theory. U tried tho ;)

  • Janet

    Nobody give an eff about Hilary and Devon!!!!

  • nycolen101

    I hate when soaps break up my favorite couples for example
    B&B: Hope and Liam & Brooke and Ridge
    DAYS: Hope and Bo & Maggie and Victor (shortly)
    Y&R: Nikki and Paul (several times) and much more
    sometimes I want to stop watching B&B or DAYS or Y&R because of it but soaps are my favorite I can’t resist to watch them.

  • Teachgirl11

    About GH, I agree with lovesam22. Every time I get invested in a couple that shows chemistry and promise (Elizabeth and AJ, for example), they either drop the storyline for months or, in that case, kill off one half of the couple. Although I’m a major Scrubs fan, it was obvious for months even to me that Jason Thompson and Kelly Monaco had major chemistry, and they are only now exploring it, and the whole thing will probably go away with the whole Jason return. I also think Brad/Lucas would have great potential if they were ever given adequate air time. I enjoy a lot of what what’s going on on GH right now, particularly the often smartly written and witty dialogue, but I am longing for a slow-build, angsty storyline for a couple I love.

    As for Will and Sonny on Days, the writers have wasted and continue to waste so much potential there. Their storylines are always secondary to someone else’s, and all their arguments are made up two episodes later — it’s Soap 101 that the longer and more serious the separation/tempatation/danger, the sweeter and more exciting the reunion is for fans.

  • WrecklessLove

    i dunno why this posted my comment twice lol sorry about that

  • WrecklessLove

    Good read. Some great points listed. I dunno if the decline in soaps is because of the decline in super couples. It seems to be a lot more than just that. Its more a lack of genuine thought provoking writing in all aspects. But as someone who has been watching soaps since I was 2yo (my mothers doing lol) I have to say that the genre for me is no longer about romance or “love in the afternoon” as it once was. Its now about, what shocking plot can we come up with to pacify the Twitter population? It’s slightly infuriating for me, because that’s not why I fell in love with soaps. I get that times and demographics change, but that shouldn’t mean you have to completely ignore the heart and soul of the genre. Now I watch these shows and have become downright cynical of every potential pairing. I can’t really ship anyone without the disclaimer “but watch the writers muck it up.” For that reason, i’m more likely to agree with Wubs that super couples, or just couples in general, are sold more by the actors/chemistry than the characters/writing. My favorite daytime noncouple at the moment, Hilary and Devon, are a prime example of this. Everything that Josh seemed to be building for them was completely gutted and switched by the next regime of writers literally within 1 episode (Fashion show) Why? I don’t really know. The general idea is that they thought throwing Neil into the mix would be cause for more drama. But for me, i think it had more to do with catering to the lead actor above all else. But with all the inconsistent, lazy, 1 step forward/5 steps back writing, the one thing that has remained constant is the undeniable chemistry between Bryton and Mishael. As nerve wrecking as the SL is, they are the reason I continue to hope for the best. Same can be said with most of the couples on B&B as well. I believe in the chemistry between Hope/Wyatt, Katie/Ridge and Deacon/Quinn, but excluding the latter, the writing for these couples have turned plot driven and annoying as well. Then there’s GH… I have nothing positive to say about the state of GH when it comes to anything romantic in nature. There is no show more plot driven than this one. Every single couple that has been formed in the past 2 years has either been recycled, forced, neglected or blown up within the next 1-3 episodes. This isn’t me bashing the show. There are still things that I enjoy. But under no circumstance is GH the show I go to for love in the afternoon. Bullets in the afternoon, maybe.

  • WrecklessLove

    Good read. Some great points listed. I dunno if the decline in soaps is because of the decline in super couples. It seems to be a lot more than just that. Its more a lack of genuine thought provoking writing in all aspects. But as someone who has been watching soaps since I was 2yo (my mothers doing lol) I have to say that the genre for me is no longer about romance or “love in the afternoon” as it once was. Its now about, what shocking plot can we come up with to pacify the Twitter population? It’s slightly infuriating for me, because that’s not why I fell in love with soaps. I get that times and demographics change, but that shouldn’t mean you have to completely ignore the heart and soul of the genre. Now I watch these shows and have become downright cynical of every potential pairing. I can’t really ship anyone without the disclaimer “but watch the writers muck it up.” For that reason, i’m more likely to agree with Wubs that super couples, or just couples in general, are sold more by the actors/chemistry than the characters/writing. My favorite daytime noncouple at the moment, Hilary and Devon, are a prime example of this. Everything that Josh seemed to be building for them was completely gutted and switched by the next regime of writers literally within 1 episode (Fashion show.) Why? I don’t really know. The idea is that they thought throwing Neil into the mix would be cause for more drama. But for me, i think it had more to do with catering to the lead actor above all else. That fact that Mishael herself said that she had to suggest to the writers to go with Hilary and Devon to begin with (ad TVS interview) proved that for me.

  • Anon

    I totally disagree with this article. Soaps are declining for a number of reasons but I don’t think lack of supercouples is one of them. I think supercouples actually severely limit the writing of a show. No matter what happens, they’re always going to end up back together so what is the point in investing in their storylines? It’s boring and repetitive IMO. I think where soaps have dropped the ball is in developing individual characters (at least the soap I watch has done that which is what ultimately drove me to stop watching it.) Everything is plot-driven, and characters change so dramatically from one storyline to the next that they’re not even recognizable. Some soaps also suffer from an annoying tendency to rewrite the past which is a total slap in the face to longtime viewers. These are bigger problems to me than a general lack of “supercouples” and the predictable soapy angst that inevitably comes with them. There are many couples I like and a few I love, but at the end of the day, I watch for the CHARACTERS, not the couples.

    Also, I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan and GoT absolutely positively does NOT have supercouples. GRRM rather delights in that too lol

  • TeikiconnSob

    I agree with LoveSam1122 like one of the most famous super couple in soap opera history Laura and Luke. GH made Laura be with Stefan and Scotty and Luke with Holly, Skye and Tracy.

  • LoveSam1122

    Article had some good points but very poor examples. GH for example does not leave anyone together long enough to build a super couple. As soon as they say “I love you”, then they blow them up. Ric/Liz spent one night together and in walked the cops before the evening was even over (stupid writing), same with Sam/Silas, no sooner had they declared there love and we had Nina ruining Danny’s party (ridiculous writing). There are many others because they don’t seem to know how to write stories that give a couple angst without inserting a 3rd party (boring). I am enjoying the show right now but not because of any couple, they just don’t know how to write for them.