Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How The Soap Bubble Burst

Robert Smith is the Director of News and Promotion at Gulf-California Broadcast Company in Palm Springs, California. He’s also worked at television stations in Florida, Iowa and Arizona. Robert grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and watched soap operas from the 1960’s until AS THE WORLD TURNS was canceled in September 2010. He was looking forward to spending his retirement watching the soaps. But, that may not happen now.

How The Soap Bubble Burst
by Robert Smith
Guest Editorial

I grew up watching the soaps. My mother got me hooked on LOVE OF LIFE
and SEARCH FOR TOMORROW when I was a little boy. By the time I was a teenager, I was
glued to the tube watching all the CBS soaps. During the commercials, I switched over to watch the NBC soaps. I wasn’t just a soap fan, I was a soap fanatic. The Sterlings, the Bauers and the Ameses were more like family to me than my own family.

But, one by one, all of my favorite shows died off. But, they didn’t die a natural death. The networks killed them. At one time or another, every show had its problems. But, instead of fixing the problems, the networks (especially CBS) decided it was easier to pull the plug.

At one point in my life, I wanted to write soap operas. I wanted to be the next
William J. Bell or Douglas Marland. But, in college, I lost my nerve and chose TV News as my career. I’ve worked in the news business my entire adult life and I’ve seen more focus groups than I can count. At first, I believed every word those 10 or 12 people said.

As a News Director, I made important editorial and personnel decisions based on what
those people told us they wanted to watch. For example, when I worked in Miami,
Florida, we tested a new news program in front of a series of focus groups. Each group told us they wanted to see less hard news and more news you can use. We built the show around those focus group results and the show should have been a huge success. But, it was a huge bomb. The producers of soap operas should have learned the same lesson I did. If you give people what they want, they won’t want it.

There is nothing wrong with soap operas that can’t be fixed. If you produce a quality show with interesting characters and compelling, dramatic storylines, you’ll have a hit. And, don’t rush it. Soap operas used to move at a snail’s pace and viewers savored every plot twist and turn as the stories played out over weeks, months and years. Now, the powers-that-be are convinced viewers want instant gratification. No, they don’t. Life doesn’t move at 100 miles an hour and neither should soaps. Drag it out, drag it out, drag it out until you don’t think the viewer can stand much more, and then drag it out a little longer. And, please, someone STOP THE MUSIC! It’s hard to hear what the characters are saying.

There is hope. Everything in television is cyclical. What’s old will be new again.
Soaps will be back and I hope they will be better then ever. But, will they? We’ll have to tune in tomorrow.

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