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Tv Commentary : Soaps Slipping Away From Socially Relevant Topics

September 07, 1987|NANCY M. REICHARDT

NEW YORK — Over the years, daytime television has gained a reputation for delving into socially relevant true-life drama and trauma with storylines that deal with such subjects as rape, incest and terminal illnesses. But recently, it seems daytime soaps are sloughing off such stories.

"Days of Our Lives" is guilty of recently dropping a relevant story: the Mike Horton (played by Michael Weiss) and Robin Jacobs (played by Derya Ruggles) interfaith story.

Early last spring when "Days" decided to embark on an interfaith romance between Mike, who was Christian, and Robin, who was Jewish, the writers and producers of the show were clamoring for publicity on the storyline, which they insisted was a daytime soap opera first. Although other soaps had touched on the problems of an interfaith romance, "Days" was going to tell the whole story--including the pitfalls of such an alliance, they claimed.

What "Days" in fact did was get the story off the ground, explain a few of the traditions of the Jewish faith and then abandon the story. The writers sent Robin away to accept a job at an out-of-town hospital after she made Mike realize that their love problems were insurmountable.

Interracial romance is another subject that always meets an untimely demise before the stories are completed.

"Days of Our Lives" (again) had one of the hottest interracial romance stories going way back in 1976 when David Banning (Richard Guthrie) and Valerie Grant (Tina Andrews) fell in love. The story ended abruptly after several months, during which it was reported that the show received a lot of negative viewer mail over that storyline.

More recently, "Ryan's Hope" started an interesting interracial romance story between longtime show regular Frank Ryan (John Sanderford) and Diana Douglas (Tracey Ross). Both talked positively about the prospective story to the press, but alas, it bit the dust before it got into full swing.

Drug and alcohol addiction stories have become a mainstay for many soaps. But "All My Children" should receive kudos for a recent drug addiction story that involved Mark Dalton (Mark LaMura). This story was handled with realism and went on in detail for several months before it was brought to a realistic conclusion.

Terminal illness is another daytime plot that doesn't usually come to a satisfactory end. In nearly all cases, such as the ongoing saga of Nikki Newman's (Melody Thomas Scott) battle with a terminal illness on "The Young and the Restless," the patient nearly always goes into remission, as Nikki did, when the character is portrayed by a well-liked or longtime regular actor. Consistent happy endings are a cop-out, since real life victims don't always win their battle for survival.

Two soaps, "Another World" and "All My Children," are preparing storylines on AIDS. Since "Children" is an old hand at bringing realism and sensitivity to controversial stories, it's a good bet that the show's writers (headed by Agnes Nixon) will use that show's AIDS story to educate and inform viewers about the disease.

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