EDITORIAL: Why Soaps Are NOT Dying?
Posted by Roger Newcomb
With all due respect to Lynette Rice from Entertainment Weekly and all the other mainstream journalists who write about the demise of the soap opera genre, you have missed the point. The Nielsen ratings for all broadcast television have eroded over the years and daytime soap operas are no different. The daytime soaps are not as profitable as they once were. That is a fact. But it seems like the overarching theme of many of these stories is that fans are abandoning the medium, as if it is the fan's fault for the decline. Don't blame the fans!
Viewership has declined for the remaining seven daytime soaps throughout this decade and long before. But what happened exactly? Yes, I can accept that some people are busier, more may be working, fewer people may be at home during the day (although with the population increasing, a smaller percentage of at home people could still equal the same number of people). There is the natural erosion of the daytime audience as with all broadcast television attributed to those factors, cable television, the internet, and more. But if anyone is to blame for a daytime decline other than the natural erosion of viewers, it is the network heads, the executive producers and the writing teams.
What gets produced on a regular basis these days does not compare to twenty years ago, not even ten years ago. Only ONE LIFE TO LIVE and DAYS OF OUR LIVES are consistently putting out an entertaining show. The rest are hit and miss. It's frustrating as a lifelong fan to see these mainstream articles and wonder what things might be like if all seven of these shows were actually good on a regular basis.
But are fans really abandoning soaps at all? In judging the first round of the Indie Soap Awards last week, I watched dozens of new web soap operas that aired in 2009. Dozens! So far on television this week I have watched DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, UGLY BETTY, MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and NIP/TUCK, all soaps. I dare say there are more soap fans now than before. They are just getting their soap fix on the web, on broadcast primetime and on cable. Those shows are just telling better stories more consistently.
Fans can also now watch their daytime soaps online and, in case of five of them, on SOAPnet. ONE LIFE TO LIFE and ALL MY CHILDREN ratings have been hailed in consecutive quarterly press releases from the cable network. Clips from every show are also put on YouTube daily which doesn't help the network's and producer's bottom lines. But it is a sign of fan interest that could be monetized.
Most definitely the budgets for the daytime soaps need to be slashed even more to cut the fat, but it can be done. It needs to be done. Perhaps millions of fans won't tune back into daytime soaps, although DAYS has been on an upswing over the past year, but maybe some would if they knew they could trust the entertainment value would be there. I love soaps of all kinds, but the daytime soaps are extra special to me and I don't want to see any more get canceled. But if they do, with budgets mismanaged, networks heads having no foresight, and writers not respecting their show's histories, don't blame the fans!