LAST DAYS?

If A Gay Character Enters A Daytime Soap And No One Is Watching, Does It Make A Sound?

On Thursday, June 23, Freddie Smith joins the cast of Days Of Our Lives as the show’s first gay character. Before that he played a short-lived love interest to 90210‘s now-downsized/departing gay character Teddy (played by Trevor Donovan).

That’s good. It’s always nice when a series decides to expand its worldview and acknowledge that gay people exist. And yes, it’s a little late–okay, a lot late–for Days of Our Lives to catch this bus; especially when you consider that the first gay characters began appearing on other American daytime dramas in fits and starts back in the 1970s. Since then there’ve been way too many gay characters for anyone but the devout to keep up with since.

Occasionally they’d make news, like when The Young and The Restless got itself a gentle lesbian stalker in 1977 or when All My Children recruited Saturday Night Fever/Angie star Donna Pescow in 1982 to play a lesbian doctor.

Later, Ryan Phillippe took an early career role as a gay teenager on One Life to Live (thrill to his awesome coming-out clip above). And most recently, Olivia and Natalia and Luke and Noah were Guiding Light‘s and As The World Turns’ hottest ratings-grabbing couples, respectively.

So yeah, it’s been done, but that doesn’t make it any less welcome. Now if only the welcoming committee weren’t disbanding. Consider this: In the 1960s there were 19 daytime dramas on television. Today there are four not currently scheduled for execution: Days, General Hospital, The Young and The Restless and The Bold and The Beautiful (All My Children and One Life To Live, both still airing, are due to end in the coming months). And  that’s it. As late as the 1990s about six million people were still tuning in. Now? About one million. Neither Olivia, Natalia, Luke or Noah saved their shows from the discard pile, so  it seems unlikely that finally leveling the playing field for gay romance on another show is going to turn the situation around.

If you’ve clicked on this post and read this far, you probably have at least some interest in the endgame being played out here. Maybe you’re just morbidly fascinated by the death of a cultural institution and want to witness the slow decline. Maybe the first gay anything on a show is enough of a novelty to get you to watch Days this week. Maybe you’re a longtime viewer and you have strong opinions about all this. Maybe you think it’s too little, too late and that even suburban grandmothers who watch are used to gay guys by now and won’t bat an eyelash.

Or maybe you just think Freddie Smith is hot and you’re going to tune in to a soap for the very first time. The networks won’t mind if you do that.