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 The life or death like desire and struggles of the super couple has been replaced by a much more expendable variation.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.
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.”
While 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!