The Cordays and Bell combined the "soaps taking place in a hospital" idea with the tradition of centering a series around a family, by making the show about a family of doctors, including one who worked in a mental hospital. Storylines in the show follow the lives of middle and upper-class professionals in Salem, a middle-America town, with the usual threads of love, marriage, divorce, and family life, plus the medical storylines and character studies of individuals with psychological problems. Former executive producer Al Rabin took pride in the characters' passion, saying that the characters were not shy about "sharing what's in their gut."
Critics originally praised the show for its non-reliance on nostalgia (in contrast to shows such as As the World Turns) and its portrayal of "real American contemporary families. By the 1970s, critics deemed Days to be the most daring daytime drama, leading the way in using themes other shows of the period would not dare touch, such as artificial insemination and interracial romance. In the 1990s, the show branched out into supernatural storylines, which critics immediately panned, as it was seen as a departure from more realistic storylines for which the show had originally become known. In 2006, when asked about his character, Jack Deveraux, "coming back from the dead" — for the third time — actor Matthew Ashford responded, "It is hard to play that because at a certain point it becomes too unreal...actors look at that and think, 'What is this — the Cartoon Network'?"
Days, in addition to receiving critical acclaim in print journalism, has won a number of awards, including a Daytime Emmy for Best Drama in 1978 and a Writers Guild of America, East Award for Best Drama in 2000. Days actors have also won awards: Macdonald Carey (Dr. Tom Horton) won Best Actor in 1974 and 1975, Susan Flannery (Laura Horton) won Best Actress in 1975, Suzanne Rogers (Maggie Horton) and Leann Hunley (Anna DiMera) won Best Supporting Actress for respectively 1979 and 1986, and Billy Warlock (Frankie Brady) won Best Younger Actor for 1988.
As with other soap operas, Days ratings have declined since the 1990s. In January 2007 it was suggested by NBC that the show called Days of our Lives "is unlikely to continue [on NBC] past 2009."
When Days of our Lives premiered in 1965, the show revolved around the tragedies and triumphs of the suburban Horton family. Over time, additional families were brought to the show to interact with the Hortons and serve as springboards for more dramatic storylines. Originally led by patriarch Dr. Tom Horton and his wife, homemaker Alice, the Hortons remain a prominent fixture in current continuity.
One of the longest-running storylines involved the rape of Mickey Horton's wife Laura by Mickey's brother Bill. Laura confides in her father-in-law Dr. Tom, and the two agree that her husband Mickey should never know. The secret, involving the true parentage of Michael Horton (a product of the rape) and Mickey's subsequent health issues as a result of the revelation, spanned episodes from 1968 to 1975. The storyline was the first to bring the show to prominence, and put it near the top of the Nielsen daytime ratings. Another love triangle, between lounge singer Doug Williams, Tom and Alice's daughter Addie, and Addie's own daughter, Julie, proved to be very popular around the same time. The storyline culminated in the death of Addie in 1974 and the marriage of Doug and Julie in 1976.
In the 1980s, the Brady and DiMera families were introduced, and their rivalry quickly cemented their places as core families in Salem beside the Hortons. Around the same time, with the help of head writers Sheri Anderson, Thom Racina and Leah Laiman, action/adventure storylines and supercouplings such as Bo and Hope, Shane and Kimberly and Patch and Kayla reinvigorated the show, previously focused primarily on the domestic troubles of the Hortons.
Since the 1990s, with the introduction of writer James E. Reilly, Days of our Lives has moved from traditional plots to supernatural and science-fiction-themed stories, in conjunction with the rivalry of good vs. evil, in a Hatfield/McCoy feud style the Bradys verses the DiMeras. Under the tenure of Reilly, ratings first rose and then fell dramatically. Despite the introduction of new head writer Hogan Sheffer in 2006, ratings failed to revive, which led the show's producers to hire a few past fan favorites to stop the ratings hemorrhage. While penned by James E. Reilly, Days began to flounder but remained steadily in the 2.5 range (consistently second to last among all soaps at the time. The other show for which he was head writer, Passions, held the position of dead last in the ratings until it was moved to DirecTV in 2007.). Since the head writing job was appointed to Hogan Sheffer the ratings have dropped to a consistent 2.0 rating, continuing to leave Days in the bottom three overall.
When Days of Our Lives debuted the cast consisted of 11 actors, nine of whom were permanent fixtures in the storyline. In April 1975, the cast increased to 27 actors in different storylines. By the 25th anniversary in 1990, 40 actors appeared on the show in contract or recurring roles, which is the approximate number of actors the show has used since then. Of all the current cast members, only Frances Reid, who plays Alice Horton, has been on contract with Days of our Lives since it began, appearing since the very first episode in 1965. Original cast member John Clarke, who played Mickey Horton, left the series in 2004. Suzanne Rogers, who plays Maggie Horton, and Deidre Hall, who plays Marlena Evans, have been appearing on the show for over 30 years.
In recent years, Days has hired back many former cast members. In fact, twenty of the current contract cast members have been with the show, off-and-on, since at least 1999. Since 2006, cast members from the 1980s, such as Stephen Nichols (Steve Johnson), Mary Beth Evans (Kayla Brady), Joseph Mascolo (Stefano DiMera), and Thaao Penghlis (Tony DiMera) have been brought back to Days, in an attempt to reach viewers who may have quit watching the series. More recent additions to the show include the returns of Nadia Bjorlin (Chloe Lane) and Arianne Zuker (Nicole Walker) as well as long-time soap veterans Shawn Christian (Daniel Jonas), Roscoe Born (Trent Robbins) and Kevin Dobson as a recasted Mickey Horton. These additions came around the same time as many cast exits, including Brandon Beemer (Shawn-Douglas Brady), Martha Madison (Belle Black), Julie Pinson (Billie Reed) and Frank Parker (Shawn Brady).
The co-creator and original executive producer, Ted Corday, was only at the helm for eight months before dying of cancer in 1966. His widow, Betty, was named executive producer upon his death. She continued in that role, with the help of H. Wesley Kenney and Al Rabin as supervising producers, before she semi-retired in 1985. When Mrs. Corday semi-retired in 1985, and later died in 1987, her son, Ken, became executive producer and took over the full-time, day-to-day running of the show , a title he still holds today. The series' current co-executive producer is Edward J. Scott, who was hired after longtime producer Stephen Wyman left the program in 2007.
The first well-known head writer, William J. Bell, started writing for Days in 1966 and continued until 1975, well after he had spun off his own successful soap, The Young and the Restless. He stayed with the show as a storyline consultant until 1978. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, high writer turnover was commonplace. In the early 1980s, Margaret DePriest helped stabilize the show and kill off dead wood in the cast via a serial killer storyline. Later head writers, like Sheri Anderson, Thom Racina and Leah Laiman, built on that stability and crafted storylines of their own, temporarily bringing up ratings. Writing changes occurred after Laiman left the series in 1989, and would not become stable again until James E. Reilly started with the show in 1993. His tenure, which lasted for four-and-a-half years, was credited with bringing ratings up to the second-place spot in the Nielsens. Other writers who succeeded him, such as Sally Sussman Morina and Tom Langan, failed to keep the ratings success, and another writer turnover continued until Reilly returned to the series in 2003.
Five-time Daytime Emmy winner Hogan Sheffer was named head writer with great fanfare in October 2006, but lasted less than 16 months with the show, with his last episode airing in January 2008. His co-head writer was Meg Kelly. Dena Higley was named as the show's newest head writer in March 2008, and she was first credited with writing the April 23, 2008 episode. Her co-head writer is Victor Gialanella.
During its first three years on the air, Days of our Lives was near the bottom of the daytime Nielsen ratings, and close to cancellation. However, its ascent was rapid; as the 1969 TV season ended, Days became a successful part of NBC's attempt to dethrone CBS. By 1973 the show, pitted against CBS' Guiding Light and ABC's The Newlywed Game at 2 p.m.(EST)/1 p.m.(CST), had matched the first-place ratings of As The World Turns and sister NBC serial Another World. NBC capitalized on this success with the decision to expand to one hour on April 21, 1975. This expansion had followed the lead of AW, which became TV's first-ever hour-long soap on January 6, three-and-a-half months earlier. Further, Days' new starting time of 1:30/12:30 finally solved a scheduling problem that began in 1968 when NBC lost the game Let's Make a Deal to ABC, and in its wake, eight different shows were placed into the slot, with only one, Three on a Match, lasting more than nine months.
However, this first golden period for NBC daytime proved to be short-lived, as Days' ratings began to decline in 1977. Much of the decline was due to ABC's expansion of its popular soap All My Children to a full hour, the last half of which overlapped with the first half of Days. By January 1979, the network, in a mode of desperation more than anything else, decided to jump headlong against AMC and moved the show ahead to the same 1 p.m./12 Noon time slot. In exchange to its affiliates for taking away the old half-hour access slot at 1/Noon, NBC gave them the 4 p.m./3 slot, which many (if not most) stations had been preempting for years anyway. By 1986, ABC and CBS followed suit, under the intense pressure of lucrative (and cheap) syndicated programming offered to affiliates.
By the early 1980s, Days had displaced Another World as NBC's highest-rated soap. However, the entire NBC soap lineup was in ratings trouble. In fact, by 1982, all of its shows were rated above only one ABC soap (The Edge of Night) and below all four CBS soaps. The "supercouple" era of the 1980s, however, helped bring about a ratings revival, and the 1983–1984 season saw Days experience a surge in ratings. It held onto its strong numbers for most of the 80s, only to decline again by 1990, eventually falling back into eighth place. In the mid-1990s, however, the show experienced a resurgence in popularity and the show reached number two in the ratings, where it remained for several years before experiencing another ratings decline beginning in 1999, the year that Days became NBC's longest-running daytime program (upon the cancellation of AW). Throughout the 2000s, Days and all the other remaining network daytime serials have witnessed a steady erosion of viewers, mainly due to vastly altered viewing habits induced by cable networks and alternative genres such as reality and talk shows on minor network affiliates.
On January 17, 2007, NBC Universal Television president Jeff Zucker remarked that Days of our Lives would not be renewed and would most likely not "continue past 2009." With the move of Passions from NBC to DirecTV in September 2007, Days is now NBC's last remaining traditional daytime program (excepting The Today Show, which received a fourth weekday hour in exchange for Passions' cancellation) on its mid-day schedule. After the January announcement, the Nielsen ratings for Days dropped to 1.9 million households before stabilizing in June near 2.4 million households. In an April 2007 interview with Soap Opera Digest, executive producer Ken Corday remarked of the ratings decline of the previous months, "If I don't pay attention to the ratings and what the viewers are saying, I'm an ostrich. I have not seen a decline in the ratings on the show this precipitous — ever. I've never seen this much of a percentage decline." But Days has not been able to recover the viewers it has lost.
On September 10, 2007, as a result of Passions' cancellation by NBC and subsequent move to DirecTV, along with the expansion of The Today Show to four hours, in some areas Days moved to 2 p.m. weekdays, taking over the former timeslot of Passions. Affiliates have a choice of what timeslot to air Days in, but most affiliates continue to broadcast the show at its 1 p.m. hour.
According to Variety, Days is the most widely-distributed soap opera in the United States, with episodes not just broadcast via NBC, but also via cable (SOAPnet), and as of June 2007, episodes are offered via iTunes.
Days also has an international audience. It started broadcasting locally in Australia in 1968, later moving to the Nine Network. Over time, Days ended up airing at a delay of nearly five years behind the United States due to cricket pre-emptions in the summer, so in 2004, Nine aired a special titled Days of our Lives: A New Day, which summarized four years of storyline in one hour, in an attempt to catch up to more current telecasts. This speed-up caused mixed feelings as viewers missed many vital storylines and it landed right in the middle of the Melaswen storyline. Now, episodes are ten months behind the United States. New Zealand has aired Days nearly as long, debuting on Television New Zealand by 1975 at the latest, and currently running approximately five years and 3 months behind the United States on the TV ONE channel.
Days also airs in a number of countries across Europe, premiering in Turkey on October 8, 1990, France on July 29, 1991 and since July 1998 after the end of Loving diffusion on France 2 , Germany on September 6, 1993, Sweden in September 1997 (currently four years behind USA), Finland on August 11, 2003, and Hungary on June 14, 2004. Channel 5 aired episodes of Days in the United Kingdom from March 2000 until April 2001, eventually pulling it off the air; network executives deemed its audience of 200,000 viewers as too low a figure. Days had previously aired in the UK and Ireland on the Sky Soap channel between 1994 and 1999; episodes were three years behind U.S. telecasts. From September 3, 2007, UK viewers will be able to watch Days on the female-skewed entertainment channel Zone Romantica. In Italy Days aired for only three months in 1985 on Rete A; in 1992 Italia 7 started to air new episodes, five years behind U.S. telecasts. In 1993, after 260 episodes, the show was cancelled.
From 1966 to 1994, the voice would also intone, "This is Macdonald Carey, and these are the days of our lives." After Carey's passing, the producers -- out of respect for Carey's family -- decided not to use the second part of the opening tagline.
November 8, 1965 - March 31, 1972
|Almost completely unmodified since the show's debut in 1965, the titles show an hourglass, as sand slowly trickles to the bottom against the backdrop of a partly cloudy black and blue sky. In 1966, the focus moved from the entire hourglass to the bottom, with the sand trickling away as the theme played.|
April 3, 1972 - September 28, 1984
|In 1972, the current title lettering was introduced, a condensed version of the Times New Roman typeface in yellow coloring (before then, the show's title was in Latin Bold font). The title card would also say "Copyright 1972 by Corday Productions, Inc." While the copyright was only for the title sequence, viewers would become confused in later years, as the 1972 copyright notice stayed on the title sequence until 1984.|
October 1, 1984 - June 18, 1993
|No marked difference came in 1984's titles revision, save for the removal of the copyright notice from the bottom of the screen.|
June 21, 1993 - present
|In 1993, a computerized version of the visual was made, with completely redone sound effects and rearranged music. In this version the hourglass, now slowly spinning clockwise, starts focus at the bottom-half, overlooking the dawn. As the sun rises, the focus is zoomed out, and the audience sees the entire hourglass and the show's title "flourishes" onto the screen as the music flourishes. While the entire hourglass is revealed, the clouds in the sky change formations. The current version of this theme is about 30 seconds in length, however the full version lasts around 3½ minutes. A version of this opening exists that does not include MacDonald Carey's voiceover.|
A shortened version of this open debuted in 1995, when the show's time period was shortened due to news coverage on NBC of O.J. Simpson trial (and later for the Martha Stewart trial in 2004). The shortened version is still used when episodes run over the allotted time, usually during sweeps periods.
The theme that regularly accompanies each sequence was composed by Charles Albertine, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. The theme has only been modified twice since Days premiered: in 1993, when the opening titles were changed to computerized visuals, and in 2004, with an orchestral arrangement that was only used in eight episodes, at which time the theme was reverted back to the 1993 arrangement, and is the one currently used.
From its debut in 1965 until March 1966, announcer Ed Prentiss spoke the words now made famous by Macdonald Carey. Since April 1966, Macdonald Carey has intoned the epigram "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." From 1966 to 1994, he would add "This is Macdonald Carey, and these are the days of our lives." After Carey's death in 1994, the decision was made to remove the second part of the opening, out of respect for Carey and his family.
Days was satirized on the hit sitcom Friends when one of the principals, Joey Tribbiani (played by Matt LeBlanc), got a job as Dr. Drake Ramoray on the show, despite the fact that Joey lived in New York and Days of our Lives is shot in California. All storylines shown on Friends (with guest shots by actual Days of our Lives stars) were fictional and did not represent what was really going on in the soap opera itself. Joey's fictional stint on the show ended when he angered its writers and his character was killed after falling down an elevator shaft. Later, his character was brought back to life in a further spoof on the show (no fewer than thirty-six characters have been "brought back" from the dead on Days). Joey was brought back as a man with a brain transplant. His new brain was from the character Jessica Lockhart, played by Susan Sarandon. Lockhart died from a horseback riding injury. The Lockharts are also the last names of Bonnie, Mimi and Patrick on Days, but the Jessica character is not a relation to any of the three. Alison Sweeney, who plays Sami Brady, appeared on Friends as Jessica Ashley who stars with Joey on his version of Days. Additional Friends episodes feature Kristian Alfonso as Hope Brady and Roark Critchlow as Mike Horton. In an episode where Joey hosts a soap opera party on the roof, Matthew Ashford and Kyle Lowder each make an appearance, Ashford even giving Rachel his number. In the spin-off sitcom Joey, Joey was nominated for "best death scene" in which his character was stabbed while performing surgery.
In an additional link between Days of our Lives and Friends, John Aniston, the actor who portrays the character Victor Kiriakis on Days is the real life father of Jennifer Aniston, who portrayed Rachel on Friends.
The show has also been referenced on The Simpsons episode, Pygmoelian, when Moe Szyslak gets plastic surgery on his face becoming a very handsome man. He then gets a part playing Dr. Tad Winslow, on a show called "It never ends", a parody of Days of our Lives. "It never ends" plays on the show's title sequence; "like the cleaning of a house, it never ends". The eye patch worn by Dr. Tad Winslow refers to the character Steve Johnson or "Patch" from Days of our Lives.
The Show is also referenced in The American Sitcom "Scrubs" as being the favorite show of Dr Cox.
The Show is also referenced in the American sitcom "The Nanny" in the episode "Take Back Your Mink" . The Nanny watches "Days" and her employer Mr Sheffield (played by Charles Shaughnessy who also played the character of "Shane" on "Days") joins her and makes fun of Shane's British accent.
The show has had many high-profile fans. In 1976, TIME magazine reported that then-Justice of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, would call a recess around the 1 p.m. hour to watch Days of our Lives. Actress Julia Roberts admitted at the 2002 People's Choice Awards that she was a fan of Days, and asked to be seated near the cast at that event as well as other award shows. In 2004, during the show's Melaswen storyline, Roberts' interest was considered notable enough that Entertainment Weekly quoted her saying that "[the show has] gotten a little wacko." A 1998 TIME article mentioned that Monica Lewinsky, the former White House aide who admitted to having an "inappropriate relationship" with then-president Bill Clinton, was a passionate fan of Days of our Lives, so much so that she wrote a poem about the series in her high school yearbook. The article compared her whirlwind experiences in the White House to a story on Days. Best-selling horror novelist Brian Keene has said in interviews with The New York Times, Rue Morgue Magazine and elsewhere that he has been a fan since the early Eighties and never misses an episode.