Friday, March 14, 2008

FLASHBACK: Men Are Tuning In To Watch TV Soaps Operas 1979

TV Soaps Operas: Men Are Tuning In
by Robert Lindsey
New York Times
February 21, 1979

LAGUNA MIGUEL, CALIF. Just before 12:30 every weekday afternoon, three Orange County building inspectors, Frank Wakeland, John Douglas and Bob Reese, leave their office and head for their respective homes. Then they sit down with their lunches and watch "Days of Our Lives."

Bob Lemon, manager of the New York Yankees, is addicted to "All My Children" and "General Hospital." Joe Namath is a soap opera fan, and so are Sammy Davis Jr., Richard Rodgers and Bobby Short.

Dr. Roger Jones, a Williamsburg, Va., gynecologist, goes home several days each week and eats lunch with his wife so they can watch "Ryan's Hope." Paul Thompson of Detroit scours the neighborhood near the Chrysler plant where he works for bars with a television set so he won't miss "Search for Tomorrow." And when Jeff Quezaire, a Milwaukee fireman, is off duty, he unplugs his home telephone so "The Young and the Restless" won't be interrupted.

The 13 serials with daily half-hour or hour-long episodes now broadcast by the three major netwoks constitute an American institution that is almost 50 years old and occupies a significant part of the daily lives of millions of Americans.

Although women still comprise the vast majority of the faithful who watch daytime television serials, the soap operas these days are also drawing a substantial number of male viewers, accoring to network researchers, who say the audience consists of 10 million women and two million men.

Despite the women's movement and the entry of many housewives in the labor force, interviews in 14 cities indicated that many women are continuing to schedule their housekeeping, shopping and other chores around their favorite program. Some merchants said they noticed a drop in patronage when some popular shows were involved in a crisis, and some employers said there was increasing pressure from employees to allow television sets in lunchrooms and employee recreational areas so workers could follow their favorite programs.

The increased popularity among men is not the only change affecting the soaps. As a group, today's daily serials are more sexually candid than any other segment of television; some appear to to be attempting to be "revelant" by dealing with events in the news; liberated women emerged early in the serials. But whether soaps mirror society or help shape it is in dispute.

Patricia Mellencamp, a University of Wisconsin professor who has attempted to study the changes in the daytime dramatic series, said that the subject matter, while generally more sexually explicit than in the past, nevertheless tends to lag behind changes occurring in society, and for the most part, also tends to reinforce traditional American values.

"For example," she said, "about two years ago, the soaps began moving back toward a strong family structure; they're obsessive about marriage now; the couples that used to live together are not only marrying, but marrying in church with white gowns. She said she had noticed a similar conservative trend starting among students at her university about four years ago.

Almost all of the daily serials are produced in New York - indeed, they are the only major network shows still produced regularly in New York.

A year ago, some industry officials said audience surveys had indicated daytime viewing had appeared to have declined and speculated that the large exodus of women from their homes to take paying jobs had produced a decline.

But Arnold Baker, the vice president for National Television Research for the Columbia Broadcasting System, said more analysis had indicated these conclusions were wrong and that now there were more women - and men - watching daytime serials than ever.

"In the course of an average week," he said, "63 percent of all women living in households with televisions tune into daytime television - that's slightly under 50 million - and among those who do view daytaime television, the average is about 10 hours a week - so you're talking about 500 million 'women hours' a week."

Statistical research regarding the male audience is less precise. Networks have traditionally not paid much attention to it, he said, because advertising on serials has been aimed at women. But one audience study indicated that, for example, in CBS's "Search for Tomorrow" audience last fall there were 1.2 million men among the regular viewers compared with 4.8 million women and about 800,000 teenagers and children of both sexes.

Mr. Wakeland, one of the Orange County building inspectors, said he and his friends like "Day of Our Lives" because of the inherent interest of the stories and the quality of the acting. "It's a way to relax away from the office with lunch, and I think the soap operas are very close to normal life," he said.

Steve Beebe, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Miami, who said he had been watching "All My Children" for 10 years, said the program dealt with "human relations; regardless of your sex, you reach to other people's problems by putting yourself in their place and trying to figure out how you would react."

Television market researchers say that the greatest number of male viewers of soap operas are apparently retired persons, men who work nights, and other in occupations, such as show business or athletics, that leave the day open. Interviews suggested that significant numbers of teenagers and college students also regularly watch the programs.

Robin McKinney, a 16-year-old Chicago high school student, said: "Most of my friends, boys and girls, watch the soaps. I've been watching for three years and there's definitely more sex; more teenagers are becoming pregnant. When I'm watching a story, I always put myself in the position of a teenager and figure out how I would handle some of the situations and what I'd say to my mother. I don't think my life would ever end up like the soap operas on TV, but everyone's life is a soap opera to themselves."

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