Friday, August 21, 2015

FLASHBACK: A Complete, Concise Yearly History of TV Soap Operas - 1947 to 1977 (Part 8 of 8)

Y&R's original cast in 1973 included Tom Hallick (right) as Brad Eliot.
A Complete, Concise Yearly History of TV Soap Operas

The Soap Box
Vol. III No. 10 September 1978
by John Genovese

(continued from Part 7)

When CBS axed Where the Heart Is and Splendored Thing, it was able to premiere a project that had been in the works for a long time. On March 26, The Young and the Restless appeared to revolutionize the business with its young, beautiful cast, romantic fairytale storylines, and top-flight production values from Television City in Hollywood. Creator William J. Bell and producer John Conboy made household idols of Trish Stewart, William Gray Espy, James Houghton, Tom Hallick and Janice Lynde, all of whom have since departed. The show, still the intense and sensuous story of the middle class Brooks family and the dirt-poor Foster clan of Genoa City, Wisconsin, still claims Robert Colbert (Stuart Brooks), Julianna McCarthy (Liz Foster) and Brenda Dickson (Jill Foster) from its originals.

Fran Brill and Armand Assante in a scene from
How to Survive a Marriage.
NBC was by now willing to try anything, and as a result the hip and super-relevant How to Survive a Marriage was born with a special ninety-minute premiere on January 7, 1974. Rosemary Prinz played the swinging, "together" Dr. Julie Franklin; Jennifer Harmon was the eventual young divorcee, Chris Kirby; and Joan Copeland was Chris's liberated mama, Monica Courtland. The show, created by Anne Howard Bailey, proved too racy and modern for serial audiences. Once a schedule change occurred and it was counterprogrammed against As the World Turns, that really spelled the end. Survive closed April 17, 1975.

Ryan's Hope starred Michael Levin as Jack Fenelli
and Kate Mulgrew as Mary Ryan.
Marriage's problem lay in its lack of traditional soap elements to balance what was more contemporary. The business quickly learned its lesson, for on July 7 ABC brought forth a timeless classic: Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer's Ryan's Hope, which has won countless Emmys and Writers Guild Awards for its warm, yet brisk portrait of an Irish-Catholic family in the Riverside section of Upper Manhattan. Helen Gallagher, Bernard Barrow, Ilene Kristen, Michael Levin, Nancy Addison, Ron Hale, John Gabriel and Earl Hindman remain from the premiere cast.

With family soaps being "in" once again, Another World's famous head writer Harding ("Pete") Lemay came up with Lovers and Friends for NBC and Procter & Gamble. It revolved around the upper-crust Cushings and their struggling new neighbors, the Saxons, in a Chicago suburb known as Point Clair. When it didn't catch on, it was dropped on May 6 to be revamped into For Richer, For Poorer as of the following December 6. Remaining from the first cast are Patricia Englund, Richard Backus, Flora Plumb, Stephen Joyce, Christine Jones, Rod Arrants, David Knapp and David Abbott. Its executive producer is Another World's Paul Rauch and the current head writer is Tom King.


High Hopes starred Bruce Gray as Dr. Neal Chapman
and Nuala Fitzgerald as Paula Myles.
There have also been syndicated soaps, such as Scarlett Hill (1965); the spooky Strange Paradise (1969) from Canada; Norman Lear's Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Lear's flop, All That Glitters; and the current Canada product, High Hopes. But except for Hartman their effect has always been less than minimal.


Soap operas have certainly gone through enough trends to last a lifetime. In the 1950s, NBC flopped with its many serials which tended to center on one love story. All three networks attempted daytime anthology series but they were by no means what the audience wanted. In the 1960s, fad soaps with exotic or cosmopolitan settings fell on their Nielsen posteriors.

What, then, is the kind of serial that scores a hit?

As previously stated, a new serial that stands half a chance must have something unique about it to distinguish it from all else. But--and this is the big but--it is essential that there be plenty of standard serial earmarks to back it up. If, for example, an eager writer wanted to peddle a new serial about a blind transsexual, Ethiopian double-amputee with one lung, this loser would have to most likely reside in a comfortable suburb and fall in love with the daughter of the chief of staff at the local hospital.

Then there's the current craze: EXPANDING SERIALS TO A FULL HOUR. It took serials eleven years to fully master the half-hour route. As the World Turns and The Edge of Night were the pioneers in 1956, and the cycle was completed in 1967 when Search for Tomorrow and The Guiding Light finally went to thirty minutes. A half-hour seemed the ideal length for serials, but once the hour was tried with Another World, the networks were impressed that the ad revenue would be greater if they simply expanded their most popular shows.

An understandable notion, but it is not working. We have exhausted actors who complain about long hours, serials being shortchanged by three-way soap competition during given time slots, and an unexpected low in revenues and ratings.

The history of serials over the past few years has been rather uneventful, as evidenced by our study. But it's just the calm before the storm, folks. In the next months, we may be seeing one or two of our longest-running favorites lopped off the channels...or perhaps even a return to thirty minutes for all serials. Stay tuned--there's a rough road ahead.

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