As daytime dramas head into the fall, look for another seismic “soapy” shift for the LGBT audience. We will say goodbye to legacy character Bianca Montgomery, who meant so much to many, as All My Children finishes its network television run on ABC on Sept. 23. Like canceled soaps before it, Guiding Light and As the World Turns, fans were left devastated seeing beloved characters such as Olivia Spencer and Luke Snyder gone from their screens and their fight and search for love and equality. But all is not lost! It’s time for the 45-year-old, longest-running scripted TV show in NBC history, Days of Our Lives, to carry the torch! Finally, the powers-that-be have introduced its first gay character in Sonny Kiriakis—and as they tell us, there are big plans afoot!
Days Co-Executive Producer Greg Meng said the decision to move forward with the integration of a gay character to the Salem canvas took careful execution. “This has been discussed for a long time with a lot of thought. And yes, there were concerns, but it’s like, ‘Wow. Who are we? What are we thinking? It is time!’ We didn’t want to do some gay love story, or just go off on some extreme ripped-from-the-headlines political story, just to be telling a ‘gay story.’ We are looking at a long-term, longtime beloved characters type of situation for Sonny. It is about a character who is now on the show, and who by the way, is gay!”
As with any gay storyline in soaps, it has not come without some resistance, but Meng assures it will not deter Days from their plans. “There have been rumors that certain affiliates might pull out if we pursue this. We feel strongly about including a gay character or more on our show. It is part of life. We have the full support of the storyline all the way to the top at NBC, and all the way to the top at Sony. They know the challenges and obstacles we have, but they are extremely supportive, and in fact the comment has been, ‘Well, it’s about time.’”
Days is keeping tight-lipped as to the romantic future for Sonny (played by the adorable Freddie Smith). There were rumors that Will, Sami Brady’s son, would turn out to be gay and be paired with him—but not so fast! As Smith reveals, he is waiting to find out too. “I am excited to see who my love interest is going to be because that has been all the hype for the last four months. We’ve got Chad, Will and “T” as possibilities, unless I am going to go with an older man! [Laughs] You never know. If they picked an older character that would really mix it up. I legitimately don’t know who it’s going to be. I did for a minute, now it’s gone! They have to just go for it. Having Sonny have a love interest and another story going on for him, and mixing that together, makes him a three-dimensional character. Everyone on the show has a boy or a girl, and I am like the fifth wheel!” [Laughs] As for Smith, if he would be willing to do a same-sex love scene, he proclaims, “Yes, I would be up for it, absolutely. It would be fun!”
However, Meng did give a hint what to watch for in the fall. “There is going to be a big surprise! It’s going to be entertaining, wonderful and dramatic. I can say Sonny will not be the sole gay character. I don’t think there is only one gay person living in our city.” Since Sonny is the grandson of ruthless business mogul Victor Kiriakis, might the story also include that Sonny becomes a powerhouse in the boardroom? “Good thought. I will tell you this—the plan is for Sonny to be very responsible,” Meng says.
Of all the actors in Hollywood, why was Smith chosen for Sonny? Meng was crucial to the casting decision. “We were honestly not looking for anything else except someone who grabbed us like we wanted him to be the guy next door, but yet has strength, vulnerability and charm. Freddie also has experience with a gay role before. He is a straight guy doing a gay role. [Laughs] But that is not why he got the role. To get started here is tricky, but we are taking this carefully and slowly. We welcome the LGBT community and want them to be part of this. Days of Our Lives is about family, and gay people are part of family, and that is actually one of the bigger things we are trying to promote.”
Speaking of family, Judi Evans plays Sonny’s mom, Adrienne, and the Emmy-winning actress was over the moon with the news that she would now have a gay son onscreen. “Wally Kurth [Justin] and I were standing next to each other, and our former co-exec producer pulled us aside and said, ‘You know, we are bringing on your son? And he is gay!’ And we went, ‘Woo-hoo!’ Then we high-fived each other! And when the story started evolving we got even more excited, because it was so different than anything else we had seen played out like this on the soaps. To Adrienne and Justin it is not a big deal. You love your son, no matter what.”
Over in Pine Valley, as Bianca and her newly found partner, Marissa (yes, she was formerly “straight”), look for their happy ending, viewers are hoping that the long-suffering daughter of Erica Kane will finally have true happiness before the September conclusion of All My Children. But, with the news that Prospect Park is looking to bring AMC online come January, it is hard to know how the series will wrap, and which actors will stay with the series when it moves to the web. Right now, Christina Bennett Lind (Bianca) is just trying to get through her final tape dates. “I have been so honored to be part of the rich history of Bianca, started by Eden Riegel before me. I do think it is starting to hit in waves that it is actually going to end, both personally and for people in society that are attached to seeing a lesbian character portrayed on daytime television. I am totally unprepared for taping my last scenes. I think I won’t be able to speak to anyone for a week or so after it’s over!”
Sarah Glendening (Marissa) has her view on how the duo should go off the air. “If Bianca and Marissa end up together then I think, ‘How can Marissa be unhappy with that?’ It’s perfect. Their kids, Miranda and AJ, were born on the same day and they already have a sibling relationship going on anyway. It would be great to turn this into a new kind of ‘family.’ I think in the end, Bianca should be surrounded by everyone she loves. She deserves it!”
As we head into the final quarter of 2011, the outlook for soaps, while in recent years has looked very bleak, may have a chance at revitalization on the web, thanks to Crystal Chappell’s lesbian-themed Venice, and AMC and One Life to Live heading to a computer screen near you soon. As for daytime television, the LGBT community must leave their hopes with Days of Our Lives as the only series left willing to stand up and let us know that our drama matters, too!
For more on the soaps, visit MichaelFairmanSoaps.com. And be sure to check out our Q&A with Days' new cutie, Freddie Smith, under our 'Exclusive Interviews'!