An In-Depth Look at DAYS' Serial Killer
and Its Impact On All The Soaps

by Dan J Kroll
Posted Wednesday, November 12, 2003 2:09:57 PM
An In-Depth Look at DAYS' Serial Killer and Its Impact On All The Soaps

Days of our Lives' serial killer storyline seems to have everyone talking. Even viewers who don't normally tune into DAYS are discussing the show's latest front burner storyline. But the storyline left viewers with a lot of questions. Why are main characters being killed off left and right? Who decides who's going to get the axe? How many characters are going to be killed? The answers aren't always cut and dry, but Soap Opera Central has been following the saga and we've filed this special report as a courtesy to our readers.

Head writer James E Reilly is said to have pitched the idea of a serial killer storyline to Days of our Lives executive producer Ken Corday as a way to accomplish two distinct goals - to devise an intriguing storyline to generate interest in the show and raise the ratings and to help trim the cast in an attempt to cut the show's operating budget.

The idea of having a serial killer off townspeople isn't something new in the world of soaps. Traditionally, however, the killings usually involve minor characters that won't be missed by viewers. But that's not always the case. ABC's Loving used a serial killer storyline to help end the show's run. Many of the show's core characters were killed off as a way to help transition the show into a new format - The City.

According to a show insider, Corday was adamant in his belief that the serial killer had to kill off some high-profile DAYS characters - even if it meant losing some beloved stars and upsetting some fans in the process.

Soap Opera Central has been on the case, following every firing related to the serial killer storyline. Below is a listing of which cast members have been affected by the slayings, accompanied by links to full Soap Opera Central news coverage of their dismissals.

1. James Reynolds. James joined the show as Abraham Washington Carver in the early 1980s, and was on contract from 1981 through 1989. For a brief period of time in 1989 and 1990, Reynolds was taken off contract, but he returned to the show with a contract from 1990 through 2003. Reynolds' Abe was the longest running African-American character on a television program in history. Abe, however, was the first victim of the serial killer... shot dead on the day of his son's christening.

2. Matthew Ashford. Matthew originally joined the show as Jack Harcourt Deveraux in 1987. After six tumultuous years as Jack (which included his marriage to Jennifer and the birth of their daughter, Abby), he was released by NBC. He was brought back in 2001, and while he started out recurring, he was soon signed to a contract. Jack met his demise when the serial killer clobbered him on the head with a brick.

3. Suzanne Rogers. Suzanne's release was perhaps the most shocking of all. She joined the show as Maggie Simmons (she later married Mickey Horton) in 1974, and with the exception of small periods of time in the eighties, has been on contract ever since. She is one of DAYS senior veterans, and her firing came as a shock to everyone. Maggie was bludgeoned with a bottle in her home -- and stabbed.

4. Peggy McCay. Peggy came to Days of our Lives in 1983, left, and came back again. As Caroline Brady, over the years she has been involved in everything from revelations about her past with Victor to near fatalities concerning her husband Shawn. Caroline met her demise when she was poisoned by the serial killer.

5. Alexis Thorpe. The news of Alexis' firing was first posted on a message board connected to her official website. Alexis joined the show in July of 2002. Under head writers Cwikly and Brash, she was an alien who later turned out to be Tony and Marlena's daughter. When Dena Higley was named head writer, it was revealed that she was actually Roman and Kate's daughter. Thorpe angered DAYS execs by leaking the news of her death. Cassie's lifeless body fell out of a pinata on Thanksgiving.

6. Josh Taylor. Although there is no official confirmation and no guarantee that he's actually a murder victim, Josh Taylor posted a statement on his official website stating that he would be finished filming in early December. The statement was subsequently removed from the web site, but Soap Opera Central has confirmed that the actor is still leaving the show. Taylor joined the cast as Roman in 1997. He'd had a previously engagement in from 1977 to 1987 as Chris Kositchek. Taylor's character will be killed on New Year's Eve.

7. Thaao Penghlis. As Antony DiMera, Penghlis has aired off and on throughout the years, His return - usually rising from the "dead" - seems to come around whenever the storylines call for his presence. When head writer Reilly came back, it was feared by Penghlis' fans that Tony would once again be killed off; Reilly had originally penned the character's first "death" in 1995. A note attributed to Penghlis surfaced and announced his departure from the show. While the content of the note was correct, the actual author of the note turned out to be Penghlis' assistant. While attending the circus in January, Tony will be attacked by a tiger. However, it isn't the savage beast that does in Tony -- the killer will poison Tony's IV at the hospital.

Critics of the serial killer storyline assert that the characters selected for killing weren't merely as random as it might appear. The majority of the characters slated for the chopping block are portrayed by actors over the age of 40.

Of the aforementioned victims, only one performer isn't over the age of 40. James Reynolds is 53, Matthew Ashford is 43, Suzanne Rogers is 59, Peggy McCay is the most senior dismissal at age 73, Alexis Thorpe is the youngest at 23, Thaao Penghlis is 57 and Josh Taylor is 60.

"I think there's a bit of age discrimination," Penghlis said. "It's almost like telling the youth that to get older is not worthy."

McCay agrees with her co-stars assessment. "The mature [day players] say they seldom work anymore," McCay said. "They're having a very hard time."

Rogers echoed McCay and Penghlis, asking, "How's a soap going to look with only 40-year-olds and younger?"

Industry insiders seem to confirm that being "old" is no loner en vogue for daytime television. For each over-40 cast member dismissed, DAYS is rumored to be bringing on a 20-or-30-something character to replace them.

If the firings ring of blatant ageism, that's not an entirely untrue assessment. Advertisers covet a younger viewing audience and as ratings for daytime television continue to dwindle, it is becoming harder and harder for advertisers to find that target audience. Network execs believe - whether right or wrong - that bringing in younger performers will equate to more younger viewers tuning in. In the process, however, many long-time viewers, who are often well outside the so-called younger demographic, are tuning out.

ABC's One Life to Live launched a serial killer storyline of its own last month, but the head of ABC Daytime insists that the show's killings will not be motivated by the age of performers.

ABC Daytime president Brian Frons said the storyline "is not a story about elder-cide. In fact, most of the people that will be killed are [women] between the ages of 20 and 40."

A recent Los Angeles Times report stated that there would be ten victims in all. Naturally, a spokesperson for Days of our Lives declined to comment on how many victims there would be or which actors would be receiving pink slips.

The serial killer storyline is expected to continue for several more months before wrapping up in the spring of 2004.

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