James E. Reilly is a writer of American soap operas.
He created the NBC soap Passions in 1999 and is still head writer. Before that, he was the head writer of Sunset Beach in 1998, Days of Our Lives from 1993 to 1997, and Guiding Light from 1990 to 1992. He also worked as a staff writer for other soaps prior to that, including The Young and the Restless. It was his work at Days of Our Lives, however, that garnered him the most fame and acclaim.
In the summer of 2003, he returned to Days of Our Lives and currently head writes for both shows. He is known for his outrageous and/or supernatural plotting.
Examples of departure from traditional story
When Reilly started writing for Days of Our Lives in 1993, one of his first story choices was to have one of the show's heroines, Dr. Carly Manning (played by Crystal Chappell), buried alive. The culprit was villainess Vivian Alamain (Louise Sorel). Critics of the show panned Reilly for the uneven storytelling. For example, even though Vivian allowed Carly to have water, she stayed in the coffin for weeks of episodes. Also, Vivian had the forethought to program the coffin with speakers so Carly could hear Vivian taunt her. Finally, after Carly was freed from the coffin, she returned to normal, and did not have any traces of claustrophobia or schizophrenia. Carly was written out shortly after.
In 1995, Reilly would start what would arguably be his most infamous storyline when he wrote another heroine, Dr. Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall) as being possessed by the devil. The storyline continued for a year, and involved her lover (who was a priest in his past life) exorcising the demon from Marlena's person. This story was interrupted many times due to the O.J. Simpson trial, but the show's ratings rose during this time mainly due to the possession storyline.
In 1997, Marlena's ex-lover, John Black (Drake Hogestyn) was set to marry Kristen Blake (Eileen Davidson). However, unbeknownst to him, Kristen's surrogate, lookalike Susan Banks, married him instead, in an Elvis-themed wedding that she planned. John thought he was marrying Kristen, but Laura Horton (Jaime Lyn Bauer) accidentally hit Susan, causing her false teeth to fly out of her mouth, landing in Vivian Alamain's champagne. Since Kristen did not have false teeth and Susan did, the secret was out.
He left Days in 1997 and started writing the show Passions in 1999. Examples of storytelling on that show include a centuries-old witch named Tabitha Lenox (played by Juliet Mills), who wreaks havoc on citizens in the small hamlet of Harmony. Charity Standish (Molly Stanton ), a teenage girl from the hamlet, became a zombie. Other characters have been sent to Hell.
He has a mysterious, reclusive persona in the soap press -- rarely or never photographed. He has also gained a reputation as hardly, if at all, meeting the actors who play his characters. If he perceives them as ungrateful, or not liking the storylines he has written, he usually writes the actors out in a usually unconventional fashion. He parodied this reputation in an episode of Friends, when he wrote Joey Tribbiani's character, Dr. Drake Ramoray, as falling down an elevator shaft after Joey bragged that he wrote his own lines.