Friday, January 8, 2010

EDITORIAL: Why Soaps Are NOT Dying?

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!


  1. Well said, and so true.. terrific guys..just terrific

  2. Thank you for this! We get so sick and tired of the mainstream journalists placing the blame on in outdated ratings system and not to mention, focusing on the wrong demographics. People are definitely watching the soaps, just not in a way that the soap executives want them too. I watch my soaps at least 3 different ways in one week. 1. DVR 2. Online and 3. Live.. So there you have it. Thanks for the rebuttal on this topic.

  3. You Tell'em!!

    They need to give us Quality, like "One Life To Live" manages to do every day, and we'll be tuning back in.

  4. I totally agree. It's not the fan's fault. We just want to be entertained.

  5. Nicely stated. All the Jay Leno/Comcast/retrans talk has also foregrounded how the broadcast networks have failed to figure out new business models. Daytime soaps should absolutely be included in these conversations. Don't blame the fans indeed.

  6. Very well said, thank you! It would be a whole new game if they'd find an accurate way to count the viewers. I liked your mention of monetizing all those youtube clips, too!

  7. I couldn't have put it better Roger. If fans are not watching Soaps, it's the networks, the producers and the writers fault. AMC is a mess, and GH has been writing the same, boring mob storylines since 1996 when Sonny & Jason began to dominate the storylines to the exclusion of all else. Y&R has been the #1 rated soap for how many years? Because they use their vets, and they respect the shows history as does OLTL which is dominated by two powerful women characters who are in their 60's. Compare that to ATWT which has backburnered Susan, Kim, Margo, Bob, Lisa and Lucinda for years. Reading that EW article, I realized that the journalist who wrote it has no clue about soaps.

  8. "Don't blame the fans." I am conflicted about this statement because I believe that when you strip away all the focus groups, network interference, and revolving head writers it all comes down to one thing - the immediacy of negative fan reaction. Everyone says soaps were best in the late 70's though the early 1990's. Why did it change? In the 70's and 80's we waited with baited breath to find out what would happen next on our favorite soaps while we eagerly anticipated our monthly DaytimeTV magazine or biweekly Soap Opera Digest, even though the "breaking news" was usually a little bit behind because of when the magazines went to print. If we hated a storyline or a new character, perhaps we vented in the "letters to the editor" section of a magazine, but usually the storyline payoff was played out and the new character grew on us by the time that letter was published. With the advent of the internet, not only did we get“spoilers” that made watching five days a week no longer a necessity, but fans took to the web daily to complain about their shows. The networks listened and I'm sure many storylines were scrapped or changed drastically for fear of viewers tuning out. Does anyone remember the horrible things that were written on message boards about Tamara Braun as Carly the first day she aired on GH? Does anyone remember reading fan reactions to OLTL's “rapemance” and how it would ruin the show? Is it possible that the incredible amount of negativity on message boards CAUSED the focus groups, network interference, and revolving head writers? Or is it the other way around? It seems to be a chicken and the egg situation to me. Either way, I'm not sure if “don't blame the fans” is an accurate statement. After all, the same fans who mourned GL were the same fans who complained about what a mess it had become just months before it got the axe.

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  10. "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."

    WORD! I think a perfect example of this is the way Dutch soap GTST was able to turn the show around. About two years ago more often than not the ratings went under 1 million. The show was pretty horrible during those days with the most ridiculous storylines.

    And what did they do? They have done everything they can to avoid cancellation. And it worked. Ratings went up and average around 1.3 million. This past week it averages even around 1.5 million (last week on Friday they even had 1.6 million, the highest rated episode of the last three years).

    The first thing they did was changing the writing team. Instead of the lame storylines we now have more realistic, but still soapy, character-driven writing. And because the show doesn't hand out a lot of spoilers they are still able to surprise their viewers. They force you to watch.

    Then casting. There were too many useless characters played by weak actors that the viewers didn't care about. They wrote those characters out and replaced them with interesting characters played by good actors.

    The introduction of a new family in May 2008 (Liz Hubbard's character Sair is also part of this family) worked really great. Because the writing is so good now it's like that family has been part of the show for years.

    The show also improved the way it looks. Lighting, editing, set design... And also more scenes outside. But they're not filmed with a handheld camera like on ATWT. They look really great and blend in really well with the studio scenes.

    And last, but not least. The show listens to their fans. An example: A lot of fans wanted a real gay storyline. Not something that lasts a couple of weeks. That's why the show brought the character Lucas Sanders back at the end of June last year. Lucas is an 18 year old out and proud gay guy. No coming out drama here. No, the drama wasn't about his sexuality. The drama was character-driven. It was about how a relationship between mother and son can get really bad if you live on different sides of the world (Lucas had been living with his dad in New York). That was in the beginning of the storyline. Mother and son were able to work things out and now the drama is about unrequited love. Lucas is in love with his best friend. Something that can happen to anyone. Gay, straight, bi...

    I guess what I try to say with this long story is that soaps aren't dying. They're being killed by those running them. Soaps can be saved as long as the people running them care about them enough to do what needs to be done.

  11. Roger, you are BRILLIANT! What a well written piece that is SO right on. I wish that ever network exec would read this.

    I get really sick of hearing producers (and some actors I've interviewed) blame working women for the demise of daytime soap operas. If the shows didn't summarily alienate their over 49-year-old audience in the mid-90's, then many more young people would have been introduced.

    @Save - It is the shows themselves that release spoilers about 96% of the time, not the fans. The shows release press releases about who is coming and going and storyline twists that give away essential plot points. I agree spoilers destroy much of the viewer investment, but I hold TPTB accountable for that, not the fans.

  12. What about the Young and the Restless? That is consistantly good! I've watched faithfully for 25 years!
    And as for ATWT... put Martha Byrne back on and I guarentee the ratings will be even better! Wonderful actors on Y&R as well as ATWT!

  13. Definitely. Though our ratings here in Canada don't count towards any ratings in the US, CTV (which runs General Hospital and All My Children; One Life To Live got moved to its sister station, CityTV) online shows GH & AMC streaming on their website, and Global TV streams Days of Our Lives on their site.

    As I work nights and thus *usually* sleeping when the soaps are on, I record Days & OLTL (and up until Sept 18, 2009 GL) onto my desktop computer with USB PVR. More people are using their DVR/PVR/TiVo's to record soaps, as well as streaming from the networks and SoapNet (which we don't get). These numbers aren't taken into effect - especially if you don't watch them within the first 24 hrs of it airing.

    (I'm hoping this made some sense. Just got home after an 8hr night shift).

    Thank you for that article. Needs to be a link posted to the mainstream press with this article.

  14. If you haven't already done so, write a letter to the editor of Entertainment Weekly as well, and perhaps they'll publish it in the front of the magazine. That would be great!

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article! Thank you! Did I say thank you? Thank you!

    Right on the money!!!

  16. In looking at your list of primetime soaps, I find it odd that BROTHERS & SISTERS is not on that list! To, me, for primetime right now, it is the soapiest soap. Your thoughts?

  17. As a life long soap fan myself I am saddened by the fact that many of these entertaining programs are facing extinction based on processes as reductive as focus groups and so-called rating processes.
    I'm curious though on your thoughts on something I've noticed.
    I watch a lot of classic clips on YouTube and I've noticed among the comments on the scenes things like "I stopped watching the minute they had Luke and Laura divorce" or "I refuse to believe John could love anyone but Marlena". What place do you think attitudes like this have in the world of soap fans? I personally want to watch engrossing, interesting storylines that involve characters that intrigue me. That more often than not will involve romance, but it doesn’t need to be Patch & Kayla can be Patch & whatever/whomever an interesting tale makes.
    Look at Bo and Hope on DAYS right now...they haven’t been this interesting to watch in years. Each scene they have together captures the intimacy of a lovers quarrel intensely and uncomfortably...I don’t want to miss a moment! It has heightened their chemistry to new levels. Sure Bo and Carly have great chemistry, but it’s the Bo and Hope interactions that have me riveted.
    But if what the fans who post comments on clips really want is true...and we are only supposed to enjoy Bo and Hope when they are for each other and no one else...does that mean DAYS is losing fans because they have let go of an archaic style of storytelling (the super couple phenomenon) and went for a spellbinding tale of a couple at a crossroads? True , Nielsen says they’re doing better...but if we are declaring Nielsen ratings to be antiquated (which I believe they are)...what does all this really mean? And have the fans who write emails, sign petitions and go into focus groups screaming they’ll “never watch the show again if they dare break up their favourite couple” ruined it for the rest of us? Those who want quality daytime drama to last for as long as it can.