Fans were on the edge of their seats waiting in anticipation of what would happen next. Would their favorite characters live to see another day? Would their favorite couple get back together in time? No, this wasn’t an on-air storyline twist that’s been years in the making. It was actually a real-life nail-biter that gripped worried fans as they waited to find out if their favorite daytime soap opera would continue beyond its current 56th season. Turns out, they never had anything to worry about. Renewed for a 57th and 58th season earlier this month by NBC, “Days of our Lives” will continue on as the network’s longest-running scripted series for years to come and executive producer Ken Corday wouldn’t have it any other way.
After a long day’s work, Mr. Corday is heading home. His connection is spotty at times because of the mountainous area he must pass through in order to reach the freeway. On a few occasions, he loses connection but he’s determined to keep in contact. No question is off the table.
What started out as a show created by his parents, Ted and Betty, has become a cultural phenom. The show’s theme has remained the same for nearly its entire run thus far and its iconic phrase, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the ‘Days of our Lives,'” is synonymous with one’s thinking of what a daytime soap opera is. As the show’s owner, he is proud to see its legacy continue.
“It was everything I wished for,” Corday tells Soap Opera Network when we asked him if he was surprised when the network came back with a two-year renewal offer. “I asked for it for Christmas back in November when I spoke to the people at Comcast/NBCUniversal the first time. I said, ‘Please, can we have more than a one-year term?’ It took a while because they’ve had some changes at NBC, but, yeah, I was happily surprised.”
The two season renewal marks the first time since 2014 that the show will be able to function without worrying where things stand in terms of production at the end of the current television season, and that makes planning things out for the show that much easier.
Promising no major changes following the show’s renewal, Corday says things will be business as usual while noting, “Now that we have this commitment, and the luxury of planning for our distant future and being able to massage our production budget, I think that the viewers will see a little bit more of an ambitious, somewhat aggressive and adventurous storytelling mode on the show.” He further stated, “We’re able to flex our muscle, so to speak, with production and can do a little bit more of an ambitious approach to storytelling day-to-day and make the viewers a little more apprehensive about what’s coming.”
A conversation could not be had with Mr. Corday without bringing up the coronavirus pandemic. As “Days of our Lives” was the only American scripted program still airing original episodes every weekday several months after production shutdown in March 2020, the question of whether or not the show would address the topic when production resumed in September was quickly squashed when you consider that episodes airing in the United States often don’t appear on-screen for international markets until years later. This is just one of the reasons why “DAYS,” and likewise the three other daytime soaps, did not bring it up in their storylines.
“When the pandemic was set upon us, we chose not to portray COVID as a natural part of Salem only because these shows might not air for another two or three years in foreign markets, and hopefully two or three years from now this won’t be something people want to talk about or even see,” says Corday.
As for how the show has managed to work under tight COVID protocols, Corday shares they’ve been doing it very carefully. “It’s very expensive but I can’t have cast, crew and staff coming onto a stage they feel is in any way, shape or form, precarious or hazardous. We want to make sure it’s a very, very safe place. We want them to feel safer on the set than they might even feel at home. Knock wood, we’ve been pretty good at it for the last eight, eight and a half months.”
With ratings down across the board for television, and with streaming services popping up almost every month as studios and networks compete for viewers with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, among others, NBCUniversal launched its own streaming service last year. Named after NBC’s iconic mascot, Peacock launched in mid-2020 with specific content available based on the different pricing options the service offered, including a free+commercials option. This plan provides all episodes of “Days of our Lives” from the show’s current 56th season.
So, how much of an impact, if any, did streaming have on the “DAYS” renewal? According to Corday, it was a factor. “Network television reaches a certain audience but not necessarily the same audience that streaming platforms reach, and I think Peacock is doing quite well. It’s flourishing at a time when network television may not be flourishing,” he says. He further notes, “The show is doing very well on Peacock and I see the future of ‘Days of our Lives’ in the decades that will come, from now into the 20s, will be more of a streaming appointment than a network appointment. However, it’s important that people watch network television. It’s less expensive to subscribe to and advertisers need network viewers.”
When you consider the full libraries of the original “Law & Order,” “The Office” and even “House, M.D.,” among a plethora of others, are readily available on Peacock right now, one would think that classic episodes of daytime soaps could make a seamless transition to streaming as well. Sadly, it’s not in the cards. At least not right now.
To be able to retransmit older episodes of the soap, negotiations would have to be made with the various unions over residuals for episodes that weren’t previously covered by current contracts, explains Corday, who says that eventually there will be older episodes of the show available to view on streaming. “There are a lot of implications in starting to air what is more than 14,000 shows going back to ’65. You are dealing with residuals and an enormous amount of residual payments that have to be figured out for actors, directors, and writers from those episodes. It’s not just going back into this season where everyone’s rates are set for a repeat. Therein lies the crust of the problem…not that it’s a problem, but it will work itself out. We’ll get to it.”
Speaking of going back to 1965 when the show debuted, Corday attributes the show’s success to family. “This show is successful due to the fact that we tell stories about romance, adventure, and intrigue,” he explains. “We’ve never gotten away from that formula that my dad knew when he created the show, and my mother followed for the next 15 years, and I have done as well. You just [think] ‘Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ You can polish it up or add spokes but basically, it’s stories of family in Salem that have driven the show for five decades.”
“Days of our Lives” is the only American daytime soap opera that films multiple months ahead of airdate. They’ve been following this production model for several years and they’re been pretty good at it. It actually worked to the show’s benefit during the production shutdown last year, which Corday points out kept the show in originals without having to air a single repeat.
“I’m so grateful that I stuck to my guns and we kept our production schedule so that we were getting ahead and ahead, so by the time the pandemic hit in March of last year we were seven-plus months ahead, which means we didn’t have to air repeats,” reveals Corday before explaining that the show will likely continue with the production model. “I think the same will hold true now,” he says. “Without being egotistical, I think I know what works and doesn’t, and so what if we’re producing shows that air in four or six months? Our viewers are going to come to it as long as we don’t fudge around and start second-guessing ourselves and pulling punches and not telling the story because we don’t know if it’s going to work or not,” Corday states as he shares a famous quote from the Roman poet, Virgil. “Fortune sides with him who dares.”
“I would be kidding if I said we just decided one day to get ahead,” he elaborates. “It had to do with budget consideration…how we’d produce in three weeks the same amount of shows we produce in four, four and a half weeks so that the cast and crew can get rested for a week, and I don’t have to pay for that fourth week of production which saves us quite a bit of money.”
Even with a guaranteed 57th and 58th season to look forward to, Corday wants to see the show get to the big 6-0. “Hopefully, we reach 60. That will be one hell of a milestone. For a television show to be on the air for 60 years is quite the apparition from the norm.”
On the day the show’s renewal was announced, a small group consisting of veteran cast and crew were on hand as executives from NBC came to support Corday and the show with the wonderful news. A compilation video from that day can be watched below. Besides Corday’s prolific words, a statement by Cherise Masukawa, Manager, Current Programming, NBCUniversal, stands out. In it, she said, “This year has not been easy by any stretch of the imagination but just the fact that we have aired originals seamlessly throughout the entire pandemic is incredible, and it’s just a testament to the hard work you put into this, and also just knowing that this is a family and your fans around the world see Salem as their family. And during one of the most difficult years of anybody’s life, this was a family when they couldn’t see their own family, and you brought love and light and joy and tears and laughter into their lives and we are just so excited we can do this for so many more years to come.”
Congratulations, “Days of our Lives” on your two-year renewal. You truly are like family and we’re glad to still have you around for a multitude of days in our lives.