Supercouples: A Relic From the '80s or Still Alive and Kissing?
— By Janet Di Lauro
Passionate pairs like ANOTHER WORLD's Steve and Alice, GENERAL HOSPITAL's Luke and Laura, GUIDING LIGHT's Josh and Reva, and DAYS OF OUR LIVES' Bo and Hope have inspired viewers' loyalty and devotion for over three decades and motivated soap scribes from East Coast to West to constantly be masterminding their next miracle match.
But do the up-and-coming duos of today -- GENERAL HOSPITAL's Jason and Courtney, PASSIONS' Sheridan and Luis, and AS THE WORLD TURNS' Jack and Carly -- have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors? And, more importantly, do they have to? Has the supercouple phenomenon run its course or does it remain integral to the success of daytime?
"It is still a vital component whenever possible," asserts ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE creator, Agnes Nixon, stressing the importance of creating "young love [stories], the Romeo and Juliet" of tomorrow.
"What's key to the success of a show is passionate, romantic storytelling and pairings, and that's what creates a supercouple," adds ONE LIFE TO LIVE co-head writer Josh Griffith. "What's key to the genre is love and passion, and supercouples embody that.
"It's not just soap opera. That was the key to CHEERS," points out OLTL's co-head writer Michael Malone.
"All great stories are love stories," sums up Griffith.
While DAYS OF OUR LIVES' executive producer Ken Corday agrees that it's all about love in the afternoon, he takes exception with the word "supercouple." "It disappeared from my vocabulary when Al Rabin left the show," contends Corday, referring to his former supervising producer, who continually credited the word as the secret to DAYS' success. "By definition, supercouple excludes others on the show. Every time they walk into a room, every other character, no matter how important, becomes window dressing, I've never believed in it. Either people are involved in a good story or they're not. They're an interesting couple or they're not."
Call it what he may, but Corday can't deny that DAYS has had an unprecedented run on dynamic duos: Doug and Julie, Roman and Marlena, Bo and Hope, Patch and Kayla, Shane and Kimberly, John and Marlena, Jack and Jennifer. "We've been lucky in finding good actors and putting them with good story," Corday clarifies.
Although the match of good actor to good story is essential to the supercouple equation, veteran soap writer Barbara Estensen (most recently co-head writer of PORT CHARLES) contends that that's not always enough to create a sensation. The missing ingredient? "Magic," proclaims Estensen. "You can take the most fabulous beautiful actress and handsome actor, who you can't wait to do a story with, and when you do it's okay, but it's not magic. Magic is something that just happens, and when it happens, you capture it and play the hell out of it."
Case in point: PC's Rafe and Alison. The minute actors Brian Gaskill and Erin Hershey Presley crossed paths on screen, the show's scribes knew they'd struck gold. "He looked at her and we said, 'Oh man, this is it!'" recalls Estensen. "Whenever we put them in a scene together, between those big, watery eyes of hers and the way he smiles at her ... I wish we could bottle it."
Sheraton Kalouria, NBC's Vice President of Daytime Programming, is a firm believer in that "it" factor. "It's hard to imagine Bo and Hope as a supercouple and divorce that from the magnetic chemistry of Peter Reckell and Kristian Alfonso," Kalouria stresses. "Or Cruz and Eden from SANTA BARBARA days and A Martinez and Marcy Walker. Or McKenzie Westmore as Sheridan and Galen Gering as Luis, if I might be so bold as to dub them a supercouple. Actors bring a huge excitement to [their pairing]."
"It's not something you can predict, explain, ask for, or turn on or off. It's either there or it's not," maintains THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL's Ronn Moss (Ridge), who realized he shared a special spark with Katherine Kelly Lang (Brooke) "the first time I worked with her."
PASSIONS' Galen Gering (Luis) feels the same way about leading lady, McKenzie Westmore (Sheridan) "Our relationship onset always naturally clicked," maintains Gering. "Obviously, two people sometimes have chemistry. It's like love. There might be someone who on paper is your ideal mate, but when you're together, you're like, 'There's something missing.' When Mac and I are in a scene together, it works."
Certainly, the same can be said about DAYS' Reckell and Alfonso, who have endured as a supercouple some two decades after they were initially paired. Alfonso believes the years work to their advantage. "There is an ease and a trust [between us]," she says, as well as a shared desire to keep Bo and Hope's relationship alive. "We're always thinking about what we can do to keep it fun, to make it different, and to make it more entertaining for ourselves, which might relay to the audience. Peter and I try to discover new things about Bo and Hope, things that the audience wouldn't expect and might make them giggle."
Sometimes sparks will ignite between actors that a show's writers never envisioned as a pair. "Two people cross and you'll go, 'Whoa! Look at that,'" declares Griffith. "You can see it. They don't have to say a word to each other, and it's there -- the connection, the passion."
When that passion smolders, a soap scribe's job is "to start writing to that. You're trying to catch up to the actors," explains ATWT's co-head writer Jean Passanante, citing ATWT's Katie and Simon, a surprise pairing that happened before she joined the show's writing team. "They fiddled around with a lot of different possibilities for Paul Leyden," notes Passante, pointing out that Terri Colombino wasn't originally a romantic contender. "She was the troublemaker. Then, suddenly it happened, it worked, and it was nice."
Martha Byrne (Lily, AS THE WORLD TURNS) was in the exact same place, when she began sharing scenes with Jon Hensley (Holden) back in 1985. "I wasn't supposed to be with Jon long-term," chuckles Byrne, about the leading man she still works opposite today. "It was only supposed to be for the summer. Holden was only going to be introduced [on the canvas] through Lily, but he was not going to be her love interest. It was not supposed to be a romantic thing. But Doug Marland [the show's late head writer] changed the whole storyline, because he liked us together. We had chemistry, and that is what soap opera is about. The other stuff is gravy, but the actual chemistry between two actors is what draws viewers to the screen."
Hence, teaming up two actors who can make that electrifying connection is always on the minds of soap scribes. "No matter what other stuff that we do -- vampires, going back in time, and pushing the envelope in all directions -- you need that supercouple," professes Esensten. "You need that comfort level for the audience to know that, 'It's alright. Alison and Rafe will get out of this.' You need that on every show. [Viewers] count on it."
Corday concedes that the DAYS' writing team is always on the lookout for their next successful coupling. "That never stops. You want to find an interesting pairing," Corday contends. "If it lasts for 20 years, great. Then, you have Bo and Hope, John and Marlena, or Alice and Tom. If it lasts for 20 months, then you move on."
Supercoupling, no doubt, will always remain "an important part of daytime," believes Byrne. "The Luke and Lauras, the Bo and Hopes, the Lily and Holdens, the Josh and Revas ... That is what people remember about soaps, the love stories. Even with all the different groundbreaking stories that have been told, the first thing people talk about are the supercouples, following them on their journey over the years. It's a huge part in daytime."
And it will always continue to be. "It's a tradition," affirms Passanante. "Supercouples are a staple of soaps, because soaps go on and on. If you have a long-term investment in a couple, it's something you keep coming back for."
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