Soap operas have been a part of my daily routine since I was 15. They’ve shaped the beginning of my career as an editor, as I landed my first job at Soap Opera Digest and have been a huge part of my life. And I still continue to watch all four that remain on ABC, NBC and CBS. Soap operas are some of the longest-running TV shows that still air today and most recently, NBC’s Days of Our Lives joined the “50 and Over” club when it celebrated its 50th anniversary on November 8. In honor of the celebration, DAYS’ Co-Executive Producer Greg Meng published Days of Our Lives 50 Years (Sourcebooks, October 2015), a photo book of memories detailing the show’s history, hit storylines and important themes.
Meng was gracious enough to take the time to talk one-on-one with BookTrib. He let us in on what went into creating this special piece of memorabilia and why, thanks to this book, the DAYS cast and crew is ready to usher in the next 50 years of the show.
BookTrib: As you began prepping for the book, what were some of the themes you knew had to be included in Days of Our Lives 50 Years?
Greg Meng: Well, since the show was based on Midwestern traditional family values, definitely a family theme had to be incorporated in the book because that establishes everything. And since the show is successful because of its characters — characters that you love or you hate, or you love to hate, and characters that you hopefully want to route for, I wanted to incorporate those important characters through the 50 years.
Tradition [has been] such a big theme on the show from the very beginning. Specifically, the hanging of the Christmas ornaments, which means a lot (I since found out in my tours around the country) to a lot of people. Just the names on the ornaments that come out every year from the first families; those people, even if they are no longer here, they are still part of our memories. And actually, speaking of the ornaments, we were able to launch Days of Our Lives 50 Years at the Smithsonian in Washington and we donated four of the original Christmas ornaments. Those are now in the permanent Smithsonian collection, including Tom and Alice Horton’s and Mickey’s and Addie’s, so that was great. And I had to get donuts in. So there are subtle things through the book with donuts because donuts from Alice Horton represent love and that was a big thing.
For this show, and well a lot of soaps in the 80s, the supercouple became the thing and there was an editor at Soap Digest who actually in the mid 80s, defined the term “supercouple” and we became quite famous for supercouples from the early [days of] Doug and Julie to obviously John and Marlana, Bo and Hope, Patrick and Kayla. Supercouples had to be a very big part [of this book].
Love is the overall theme of the show as well. Love comes in all shapes and sizes and so love would include all of the weddings we are famous for. I purposely didn’t include a wedding section, but I incorporated weddings under different sections: Young Love, Supercouples, and…a section called Wedding Interruptus, because so many of our weddings have been interrupted for one reason or another.
Triangles is a very important theme of the show and even from early on I’m told that the Laura-Mickey-Bill triangle actually at one point saved Days of Our Lives because it was at the point of being on a cliff where things weren’t [going] so well and then that triangle happened and basically saved the show. Then there are other kinds of triangles, like Tantalizing Triangles, that had two brothers [yearning] for the same woman and then early on we were famous also for the Doug-Addie-Julie triangle, which was a mother and daughter pegging for the same man. So, I did have specific themes in mind and those are some of them.
BT: What was the process like choosing all of the photos? With 50 years of memories, it could not have been easy!
GM: That was the big, million-dollar challenge. A lot of the artwork I had to go dig and find. So it was a multi-faceted process because in a perfect world I could have come up with an outline and grabbed the artwork to fit in with that outline, but I had to find artwork first sometimes and then back into it that way. A lot of artwork was not available, a lot of artwork was missing, and there were just things that didn’t exist. For example, when Roman fell off the cliff, I was dying for some artwork and I couldn’t find any artwork anywhere on that so it was a long arduous process.
There was the storyline with Tom and Alice where he was a poet secretly and she thought he was having an affair, but he was really slipping off and reciting poetry. I thought that was an incredibly perfect love story and literally we could find no artwork on that. So I literally listed scenes from clips of that show, which were not usable, and then had a graphic artist paint the scene and make it into art to tell the story. It actually is one of my favorite things because I think it told it very simply and beautifully.
BT: You end the book with a letter by DAYS‘ #1 fan, Billy Vick. How did you ultimately decide this was how you would close out this anniversary edition?
GM: The show is family and it’s based on family values. This has been validated for me on different book tours where I’ve been out meeting with the fans; that’s why I decided to use this. I try to talk to all of them and get their input. This show is more than just a show and they’re more than just viewers. We are literally a family to them and they, of course, are family to us. I thought this [letter] was a tremendous, terrific example to close this [book] and to show Bill’s story is one example of what is really a reflection of our viewers. There is a bond that is indescribable between us and our extremely loyal family of fans.
BT: Out of the 50 years, what have been some of your favorite storylines?
GM: Probably the most famous storyline around the world, which is the Possession story when Marlena was possessed. The Salem Stalker storyline, I think, was the longest. It was a year and three months or so. Also, Gretta’s Coronation I thought was important to tell because it was literally an opera in a way. It was really a major production process and we had great passion with that, too. Our current costume designer actually designed those costumes so many years ago and it was just a beautiful layout. I thought that was a very powerful thing, too.
BT: With 50 years of memories and the show going in a new, exciting direction, what can you say to the fans to make sure they continue to tune in for years to come?
GM: I have shared this book and gone over this book with our current writers and writing team. They have looked at this collection of the last 50 years and they feel compelled to honor the integrity of this show moving forward. All of this research has been incredibly inspiring. We all know from time to time we get a little off track, but I think this has been very inspiring for everyone in our group right now to really honor the integrity of this show. At the Smithsonian I was able to speak and something I said was. “We endure, not only because of everything we have just talked about, but we endure because we are constantly creating storylines that are evolving with the times.”