General Hospital fans are well aware of the impact the heterosexual AIDS storyline had on daytime television. It won actress Kimberly McCullough her second Daytime Emmy, and it reinforced the importance of safe sex practices.
This isn’t the only social issue that has been brought up by soaps. In fact, the shows were often pioneers in breaking stories that the prime-time shows wouldn’t even touch. Take a look at some of the most groundbreaking storylines in daytime television history.
In 2015, The Bold and the Beautiful decided to reveal that character Maya Avant had been hiding a big secret — she’s a transgender woman.
Actress Karla Mosley consulted with GLAAD to understand how she could promote mainstream acceptance and understanding while playing the role.
Thanks to All My Children creator Agnes Nixon, the ABC soap tackled controversial topics that no one was touching in prime-time television.
In 2012, Erica Kane — played by Susan Lucci — was the first TV character to have a legal abortion. The character was married but chose to put her career first, ahead of starting a family.
This uterine cancer storyline is also a big part of the Agnes Nixon legacy on Guiding Light. Nixon wrote a uterine cancer storyline for Bert Bauer, played by Charita Bauer. While that might seem to be a common tale in 2016, it wasn’t in 1962.
This was the first time soap opera fans saw a character on daytime television tackle a real-life medical issue. The story helped women realize the importance of regular checkups and Pap smear screenings. Bauer also received a massive amount of fan mail from viewers who related to the cancer tale.
While mental illness has been covered many times on daytime television, Maurice Benard took his real-life battle with bipolar disorder to his job at General Hospital. His character, Sonny Corinthos, and his character’s son, Morgan, both suffer from the illness.
He shared his personal story with Dr. Oz in June 2016.
“It feels like being in a nightmare and not being able to wake up. I see it as God and the devil fighting, and most of the time God wins,” he explained to Dr. Oz. “Sometimes God doesn’t win, and that’s what it feels like… You can’t get out of the nightmare.”
Chandler Massey’s Will Horton and Freddie Smith’s Sonny Kiriakis played a huge part in daytime television history. Thanks to the DOOL writers, they became the first same-sex supercouple for a soap opera, and fans gave them the cute nickname of “WilSon.”
Massey left the role and was replaced by Guy Wilson in 2014. The show took an even bigger leap with the storyline with the first gay-male wedding in soap opera history.
Even though the role of Dr. Valerie Grant was originally played by Tina Andrews, Days of Our Lives is bringing this iconic character back into the fold with actress Vanessa Williams in October 2016. The character was a part of daytime television’s first interracial couple along with David Banning, played by Richard Guthrie.
That storyline proved to be so controversial at the time that the writers backed off the intended marriage plot due to hate mail and racism even though they insisted a breakup was intended all along for the couple. Andrews was written off the show in 1977.
Michael Sutton played Stone Cates on General Hospital from 1993-1995. His character unknowingly infected his girlfriend, Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough), with HIV. Stone developed AIDS and succumbed to the illness in one of soap’s most tragic love stories.
The storyline was important because it featured the disease being passed between heterosexual partners. It created awareness about safe-sex practices and the understanding that the illness can affect anyone.
Susan Flannery played fan-favorite Stephanie Douglas Forrester on The Bold and the Beautiful. Flannery decided to retire in 2012, so the writers had her character lose her battle with lung cancer.
What the storyline taught viewers was how to live out those last precious days when you have a terminal illness. The character refused treatment and instead celebrated with an Irish-themed party in her honor.
First African-American series regulars
Billy Dee Williams and Cicely Tyson starred on Guiding Light as Dr. Jim and Martha Frazier. The soap was one of the first shows to feature African-American actors as series regulars.
They stayed only about a year on the show, but the also-impressive team of James Earl Jones and Ruby Dee took over their roles.
This All My Children lesbian relationship was truly groundbreaking in the daytime TV space. Bianca Montgomery, portrayed by Eden Riegel, and Reese Williams, portrayed by Tamara Braun, had the first same-sex marriage proposal and legal same-sex wedding on a soap opera.
What makes this even more extraordinary is that the duo played the first on-screen family with same-sex parents in the history of American daytime television. AMC producers also allowed real intimacy and kissing not normally seen with same-sex characters.
It’s sad that a 2011 One Life to Live storyline about online bullying is being played out in real life on a daily basis in 2016. The show had Jack Manning, played by Andrew Trischitta, anonymously harass high schooler Shane Morasco, portrayed by Austin Williams.
The online threats became physical in nature, and Shane considered suicide by jumping off the roof of his school. Even though he was talked out of it by his friends, he goes to therapy to learn to cope with the bullying.
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