Saturday, January 19, 2008

Evening News

Newsweek: With writers crafting picket signs instead of dialogue since they went on strike in November, most, if not all, of the eight daytime soaps currently on the air will have run out of WGA-member-written scripts by February. That prospect might not be devastating to a prime-time show like "Lost," but it could mean lost audiences for daytime soaps. With their serialized plots and dependence on cliffhangers, soap operas don't have much wiggle room. If storylines are interrupted, audiences have been known to tune out for good. Which is why many producers in the past month have stealthily turned to using scab writers who aren't members of the Writers Guild of America. "When the lights go out, the lights go out," says one network head of daytime programming, who confirmed the use of nonunion writers and requested anonymity talking about the issue. "History has shown us that when we suffer long pre-emption there's an erosion that's very hard to recover from." Network execs saw it happen during the writers' strike in 1988, and again in the mid-1990s, when the O. J. Simpson trial offered the promise of more riveting drama than anything on ONE LIFE TO LIVE.

Even if the strike is settled soon (there was hope of that after the Directors Guild agreed to a new contract last week), that won't cure the soaps' ills. Thanks to competition from cable TV and the Internet, and the fact that fewer women stay home, audiences have been defecting faster than the patients at GENERAL HOSPITAL (which has never had as big a hit as when 30 million viewers tuned in to watch Luke and Laura wed in 1981). In the soapy heyday of the mid-1980s, some 50 million people—mostly women—were following at least one show, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Today the average soap gets fewer than 1 million viewers a day. NBC last year announced that DAYS OF OUR LIVES, which debuted in 1965, was "unlikely" to continue past 2009 when its license agreement expires. It also canceled PASSIONS after an eight-year run, replacing it with an extra hour of the more profitable TODAY show.

Whenever the writers and producers make their peace, the hope is that the Internet can save the genre. NBC released its newest soap, COASTAL DREAMS (sponsored entirely by Stayfree Maxi Pads), exclusively on the Internet. That, says the WGA, is why it's critical for soap writers—and there are about 70—to support the strike and hold out for a set percentage of profits for work that airs on the Internet, something networks have resisted. "It's critical for us," says Harris. "Serialized dramas are going to be the vanguard" for Internet programming.

In the meantime, networks have been trying to revamp their shows in hopes of retaining viewers and possibly even attracting new ones. Last year ABC took a page from the Fox hit 24 for GENERAL HOSPITAL when it featured a 16-episode story, set in real time, about an explosion and hostage crisis. In late February, CBS aims to launch new versions of GUIDING LIGHT and AS THE WORLD TURNS: many more scenes will be shot outdoors or on location, in hopes that more-dynamic visuals will attract younger viewers.

The Times: Former THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL and THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS star Kimberlin Brown is the main attraction at the Women’s World Cup of Golf.

Gaming Today: Everyone likes a good soap opera, whether it be the wacky adventures of Salem’s residents as they try to “off” the ever elusive Stefano Dimera, or the male equivalent of daytime television - WWE Smackdown. Whatever your poison is in the realm of soaps, it is always much more interesting when a real-life bit of absurdity comes to fruition - especially in the gaming world.

Now Magazine Online: EASTENDERS star Joe Swash splits from girlfriend.

Earthtimes: bout 12.5 million people watched as longtime CORONATION STREET player Vera Duckworth took her last breaths on the British TV show Friday.

Canal Plus: VIDEO: The Nuke "Kiss Campaign" for AS THE WORLD TURNS' Luke and Noah was mentioned today on French television.

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