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 Post subject: DS Tidbit #19 - A History of Soap Operas
PostPosted: Sat Jun 09, 2012 12:47 pm 
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The daytime drama series - otherwise known to many as the soap opera - has been called a dying breed. Many argue that there might not be much of a future for the entire soap opera genre. Indeed, television ratings for soaps are down as the number of people are home during the day continues to drop. (Television ratings only count the number of viewers who are home and watching when the program airs "live" and ratings do not count anyone who uses a VCR or TiVo to record a program.) Add to that new programming choices presented by dozens of new cable channels, and there is some reason to worry about the soaps. Decreased ratings have caused networks to slash budgets. Many wonder how the soaps, which at one-time had in excess of 30 million viewers tuning in regularly, have gotten into such a precarious situation. Before one can truly understand the perils facing the daytime drama format, it helps to know a little bit about how the soap opera grew into what it is today.

THE CREATION OF THE SOAP OPERA

Long before the days of television, serialized radio dramas ruled the airwaves. The radio programs were commercially sponsored by the manufacturers of household cleaning products - hence the use of the word "soap" in soap opera. The term "opera" refers to any form of elaborate dramatic entertainment, not necessarily one set to music.

By 1940, approximately 90% of all sponsored daytime radio programming fell into the soap opera genre. Even today, soap operas remain the most enduring and effective form of broadcast advertising vehicle. The advertising industry publication Advertising Age named "the birth of the daytime soap opera" as the 29th most important milestone in the history of advertising.



With the advent of television, the radio audience began to slowly dwindle. At the time, many downplayed the significance of television. In 1931, there were just 40,000 households with a television in the United States. However, advertisers embraced the new media outlet and, in time, soap operas migrated from radio to television. There was even a period of time when some soap operas aired on both radio and television. The last of the network radio soap operas went off the air in November 1960.

The first so-called television soap opera debuted way back in 1946. Faraway Hill, which aired Wednesday nights on the DuMont Network, is considered by television historians to be the first network soap opera. It took three more years before the soaps found a home in the daytime hours. In 1949, These Are My Children debuted on NBC. The 15-minute show aired live and was the first continuing daytime drama.

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Aspiring actress Irna Phillips created the radio program “Painted Dreams,” considered to be the first soap opera, for WGN in Chicago in 1930. She created and wrote many other daytime serials over the next two decades, introducing features that have become soap opera clichés, such as cliffhanger endings, dramatic organ music and white-collar professionals as central characters.
Phillips was a prolific writer, who in the early 1940s was generating about two million words a year using unorthodox methods. “Rather than face the typewriter herself, Phillips each morning sat at a card table in her Chicago living room with a predetermined story line and dictated dialogue to her secretary, changing accents or vocal styles for each character,” according to the Paley Center for Media.

Most daytime serials were sponsored by companies that sold products designed for housewives, such as cosmetic companies and manufacturers of household cleaning products (most of Phillips’ were funded by Procter & Gamble). The close association between these shows and soap products led to the name “soap opera.”

In 1949, NBC gave Phillips her first television show, airing 15-minute episodes every weekday. The show, “These Are My Children,” focused on Mrs. Henehan, an Irish widow who oversaw a boarding house with her children. It lasted just 24 days, as it was panned by critics and “apparently cancelled because AT&T could no longer supply the cable required to transmit the show,” according to Memorable TV. Phillips continued working on soap operas until 1973, the year of her death. She created or co-created such hits as “As the World Turns,” “Another World” and “Days of our Lives.”

On June 30th, 1952, soap giant Procter & Gamble introduced The Guiding Light on the CBS network. The soap opera had aired on radio since 1937. Now minus the "The" from its title, Guiding Light is the longest running serial program in television history.



Between 1940 and 1970, soap operas enjoyed a large and stable viewing audience. The core viewers of the soap opera were what advertisers came to call "housewives," a term used to describe married women who remained home to take care of children. Soaps surged in popularity in the 1980s due, in part, to heavily-publicized romances, such as Luke and Laura's wedding on ABC's General Hospital. More than 30 million viewers tuned into the Spencers' wedding, making it the most-watched show in the history of daytime television.



But by the time the 1980s started to wind down, television ratings for soap operas started to decline. Gone were the days when women were supposedly duty-bound to remain home and take care of the house and kids; it was becoming necessary in many households to have two sources of income.

Soap operas became something of an addiction for millions of television viewers. The weekend couldn't end fast enough for many fans as they waited for Monday's shows to reveal what would happen following the now-infamous Friday Cliffhangers. And while soap opera addiction many not be anything nearly as serious as an alcohol or drug dependency, the way to wean people from the addictions is very much the same: cold turkey. While it is the subject of debate among many industry experts, many credit the OJ Simpson trial for starting the steep downward slide that soaps are seeing in their ratings. For weeks on end, soap fans were unable to watch their favorite programs as the three major networks - ABC, CBS and NBC - broadcast wall-to-wall coverage of the Simpson trial. There was no longer an option for soap fans to see their missed episodes at a later date or time; they were forced to go without them for weeks and weeks... and weeks. This was the first time that many soap fans were unable to visit their "television families." Initially, fans flooded the networks with complaints, but as the separation anxiety started to lessen many fans found other things to do or other programs to watch. A real life soap opera had supplanted many loyal viewers from their second homes. And while industry experts warned the networks that taking soaps away from their loyal viewers was going to result in trouble for the networks, most networks either refused to believe that the soap fans would tune out for good... or they just didn't care. This was not the first time that the networks' opinions were misguided.

SOAPS SPAWN NEW BUSINESSES, DRAW IRE FROM NETWORK EXECS

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In November 1975, the first edition of Soap Opera Digest hit the newsstands. The magazine, though not the first soap opera publication, was part of a wave of publications that caused many sleepless nights for networks executives, who were enraged and panicked by what they saw as tabloidesque rags. The soap magazines were now giving the viewing audience spoilers and previews of what was going to happen on each program. Executives worried that days of "must see TV" would be over it viewers knew ahead of time what was going to happen. Some networks went as far as to threaten to cut off magazines' access to its stars if the magazines published anything that the networks felt crossed the line. For a while, magazines kowtowed to the networks' demands. Then, something monumental happened: the networks realized that the soap opera publications could be a very valuable promotional tool: Cover stories on any of the popular soap magazines of the day could lure new viewers and interviews with male heartthrobs could keep viewers tuning in. Sometime during the 1980s, the soap magazines and the television networks realized their symbiotic relationship and began to capitalize on it.

At one time, there were more than half-a-dozen regularly published soap opera magazines. Now, there are just a handful. With yearly sales in excess of $50 million, Soap Opera Digest retains its title as the soap publication with the largest circulation - but its sales have dropped nearly 2.0% since 2003. Sales of many other magazines and newspapers have similarly dropped in recent years - and the blame for much of the reduced sales as fallen on the shoulders of one entity: the internet.

In the late 1990s, the Internet became an easy scapegoat for everything from falling record sales to childhood obesity to dwindling television ratings. Not so long ago, Lynn Leahey, Editorial Director of Soap Opera Digest, remarked in one of her columns that the Internet was "pilfering" viewers from the soaps. With sales of Soap Opera Digest down, it may have been more accurate to assert that the Internet was pilfering readers of soap opera magazines. Web sites devoted to soap operas were never established with malicious intent; there was no secret desire to cause soap opera magazines to fold or to bring about the end of soap operas. Like their printed counterparts, soap opera web sites, such as soapcentral.com, were created first as a celebration of the soap opera format and second as a business.

Fans flocked to the Internet as a way to learn more about their favorite soaps and to interact with other soap fans. Soap operas have always carried with them a certain stigma. Few people would dare to admit publicly that they are avid daytime viewers. So, unless friends and family members were known soap fans, many soap fans never had a chance to dish the latest happenings in Pine Valley, Salem or Genoa City with other fans. The Internet opened a new portal for fans to chat and share ideas and opinions with other fans from around the world. The new technology was a welcome find for millions of soap fans.

The television networks, on the other hand, remained dubious and were very slow to embrace the "new media" partly out of fear and partly out of resentment.

THE UNTAMED WILDERNESS OF THE INTERNET

As was the case with the first wave of soap opera magazines, network execs saw the birth of Internet sites devoted to soaps as a threat to the entire daytime drama genre. Whereas public dissent on storylines had been previously limited to postal mail sent to the studios, fans had now found a public forum to vent their frustration with slacking storylines, poorly-cast characters and mismatched couples. Sadly, these forums also allowed for people to type mean-spirited remarks about performers that they would otherwise not have dared to utter during a face-to-face conversation with someone. The airing of dirty laundry made many networks executives - and even some soap stars - develop a very negative opinion about the Internet as a whole.

Due to the fact that no special materials and resources are required to create an Internet web site, pretty much anyone with a computer can set up a fan-operated web site on any topic imaginable. It would be hard, if not impossible, for the average soap fan to start their own publication to compete with Soap Opera Digest. For better or for worse, the Internet allows anyone with a computer to have their own ... soap box.

soapcentral.com was created in 1995 as an expansion of the popular All My Children web site, The AMC Pages. At the time The AMC Pages debuted, none of the three major broadcast networks had yet to set up their own home on the Internet. soapcentral.com started off as a fan site, a web site to share a love of soaps with other soap die-hards. Over the next few years, the soapcentral.com web site soon took on a life of its own and became one of the premiere destinations for news and information about soap operas. Meanwhile, the networks began making a push towards an online appearance, but focused mainly on their primetime lineups. In some cases, since they had shown up late for the party there was certain feeling of resentment towards the sites that had already been set up and become established.

The Internet, like any media outlet, can easily be used for both beneficial and malevolent purposes. With all apologies to The Wizard of Oz, it is important for a consumer to find out if an information source is a good outlet or a bad outlet. While soapcentral.com strives for 100% accuracy, it is a goal that may never be attained by any news and information source. For many web site operators, operating a web site is not about providing a fair, accurate and responsible service; it is all about personal gain and notoriety - creating a web page can tap into the need to feed one's ego. Regrettably, this need may have created a monster.

In recent years, some overzealous fans have gone to great lengths to create bogus press releases announcing the return of fan-favorite performers or the firing of a show's head writer. It is this untamed behavior that has cast doubt on the reputation of otherwise honest and decent web site operators.

NBC was recently put in an awkward position when some web site operators began disseminating storyline previews and other information prior to a release date specified by the network. The network, which had provided the preview material to web sites as a service and goodwill gesture, was wrongly exploited. A few wrongdoers prompted the network to temporarily withhold all "insider" information from all Internet-based publications. CBS, meanwhile, no longer releases long-term storyline spoilers as it has in years past for The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless. ABC, on the other hand, flatly refuses to speak with most Internet outlets that do not have a printed-version counterpart. Perhaps more than any other network, ABC has been the most resistant to maintaining a dialogue with Internet operators despite frequent and sincere overtures by web site operators. The two Procter & Gamble-produced programs, Guiding Light and As the World Turns, have offered the warmest reception to soap opera sites, providing easy access to interview stars, storyline previews and a wealth of other information.

While networks may cringe at the thought of reading some of the message board postings about its shows, these harsh words can also be seen as a positive. If viewers were not so passionate about their soaps, there would be no reason to devote endless hours to discussing a particular program and its occasional shortcomings. Of course no one wants to hear anyone talk badly about their product. That is a natural, human reaction. But what ever happened to the old saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity? It is when the fans stop talking about the shows that the networks really need to be worried.

While the networks may not have changed their approach all that much in the Internet Age, it has not meant that the average soap fan has not evolved.

SOAP AUDIENCES HAVE CHANGED

While the networks have apparently been sluggish to accept the new media that is the Internet, they have moved at breakneck speed to embrace the so-called next generation of soap opera viewers. Soap execs now actively court the under-30 crowd and view them as the group that will make or break their shows. This is due, largely in part, to the emphasis placed on the under-30 demographic by advertisers. Since it is advertisers who, in essence, pay the bills - the soaps have to do whatever they can to court an audience that these advertisers want to reach.

Efforts to lure "younger" viewers to the soaps have been met with mixed results. Network executives and soap writers have long felt that simply introducing a teenage character would result in hordes of teenage viewers flocking to their television screens. The belief is that anyone under the age of 30 has no interest whatsoever in seeing soap characters portrayed by "over the hill" actors who have reached their 40th birthday. Time after time, research conducted by soapcentral.com has disputed this notion. In fact, younger viewers are just as likely as their "senior" counterparts to want to see storylines that encompass all age brackets. It is by no means the television industry's fault that the coveted demographic group has gotten younger and younger. In actuality, it is more of a societal issue; the belief that younger is better has become more and ensconced in our every day life. Advertisers hock lotions and potions that claim to be able to take 10 to 20 years off of your appearance. Even whitening toothpastes promise to make your smile look up to 10 years younger.

In courting a younger audience, soaps have tried to develop characters that are younger and younger in age. But while the on-screen faces may have changed, the method in which the actual stories are told has not changed. The majority of fans watching soap operas no longer fall into the 1940s grouping of "housewives;" the soap opera viewer in the 2000s has become increasingly worldly.

Between a typical 9 to 5 job, raising children and trying to maintain a household, few American women have the luxury of "extra" time to just relax and unwind. If it were to come down to a choice between going to one of the kids' school plays and watching today's episode of a soap, the soap would probably lose almost every time. Simply put, there just isn't enough time in the day to do everything that one wants to do. Choices have to be made and priorities have to be set. Even if someone were to record all their favorite soaps on a VCR or TiVo, that doesn't take care of the problem of trying to find time to watch the episodes.

Disney, which owns the ABC television network, launched the 24-hour cable soap channel SOAPnet in January 2000 as a way for busy soap fans to get another chance to watch each day's episodes of All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital. SOAPnet was, at one time, the fastest growing cable network. SOAPnet had one major handicap to overcome: the network aired only three current soaps, all of which were owned by ABC. It wasn't until 2004 that the network added the NBC soap Days of our Lives to its lineup.

It was a widely-held belief that allowing soap fans to choose between two airings of their favorite soaps would further erode the daytime airing's ratings. Studies conducted by Disney showed just the opposite: the ratings of its daytime lineup actually rose. For the record, SOAPnet's ratings are not counted in the regular daytime ratings you so often see attached to your favorite soaps. SOAPnet's ratings tally is exclusive to the cable channel. To clarify, if 10 million people were to watch an airing of one of SOAPnet's soaps, those viewers would not be reflected in the soap's official ratings tally.

SOAPnet uses the tagline "The new way to watch soaps" as its slogan, but it remains uncertain if soap fans really want a new way to watch their favorite soaps.

Newspaper and television reports repeatedly make mention of America's short attention span. Knowing that today's television viewers are more apt to reach for the remote control and flip mindlessly for something to grab their attention, today's soap operas have done little to break free from the seemingly endless storylines that drag on and on for months without a payoff. The younger viewers that soaps are so actively courting often do not want to make a six-month investment in a storyline that may or may not offer the payout that they had been hoping for.

The now-cancelled Port Charles strayed from the traditional American soap opera storytelling towards the end of its six-year run. Instead of having open-ended storylines that could wind on and on, Port Charles adopted the telenovela format popular in Latin American soaps. 13-week "storyline arcs" were created with defined beginnings, middles and ends. Fans knew that in a period of time that just about equaled three months, a story would be told - and a story would end. At the end of each storyline arc, portions of the story were carried over to the next arc to provide a segue into the next story to be told. The storytelling format earned Port Charles critical praise and, in its final year on the air, a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. Port Charles was eventually cancelled in 2003, but it may have had more to do with the show's supernatural storylines and random nationwide broadcast time than anything else.

With so much attention being focused on younger viewers, many soap fans in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s have been made to feel alienated from their favorite programs. With a seemingly reckless abandon by networks to ditch characters that are old enough to be grandparents, soap opera's core families have all but been obliterated. "Older" soap fans have repeatedly expressed their wishes that soaps would tell stories about characters and families that are already established in the shows' histories. However, they've been met with resistance in many cases by writers that bring in new characters and new faces with few ties to the shows' history.

Therein lies the dilemma: soaps may be gaining younger viewers, but are these younger viewers going to remain loyal to the genre and watch for the next 10 to 20 years? Meanwhile, long-time viewers who have been watching soaps in excess of 30 years - often longer than some of the soaps' younger viewers have been alive - are now tuning out because they feel that they can no longer identify with the stories being told on today's soaps. With the ratings "hemorrhaging," as some industry folks say, it would seem that it would take a miracle to stop the bleeding. But reviving the soaps isn't such a monumental task.

STEP ONE: ACKNOWLEDGING THAT THERE'S A PROBLEM

In soap opera's golden age of the 1970s and 1980s, there was a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality applied to the genre. Obviously, if something is profitable and doing well, someone must be doing something right. Changing a format that is a proven success can upset the balance and cause things to go south very quickly.

Conversely, in recent years when things in the soap world haven't been going well, some network executives have been all too willing to make change in an effort to stop the bleeding. While it would be worse to ignore the fact that something is wrong, making too many changes too quickly can cause an already bad situation to become even worse.

Recently, fast food purveyor, KFC opted to drop its famous initials and return to its original name: Kentucky Fried Chicken. In 1991, fearing that customers would shy away from the restaurant because of the negative connotation of the word "fried," Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC. At the time, the restaurant issued a statement that the restaurant was "changing with the times." The move turned out to be detrimental to the restaurant chain as it implied that there was something wrong with fried chicken. Now, some 14 years later, Kentucky Fried Chicken has realized that their customers didn't really care whether the chicken was sold under KFC or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

While it may seem a far stretch to compare a fast food chain to the operation of a major television network, there are definitely some similarities that cannot be overlooked. In both instances the deciding factor between success and failure is the customer: the general public. For the most part, human beings don't really like change. We become accustomed to our daily routine... our pattern... and don't like when that familiarity is altered.

One of the biggest problems plaguing the soaps in recent years has been the turnover rate of writing teams. If a show's storylines were sagging, network execs were all too willing to bring in a new writing regime. While it may work as a quick fix, the problem with parading in new writer after new writer is that there is a learning curve associated with coming on board a new soap. New writers traditionally are not familiar with the show's characters or its history - and there is rarely enough time for the new scribes to become acquainted with them. In most situations, the writers are expected to hit the ground running. The lack of familiarity with a show may result in a writer having an existing character do a 180 and act very much unlike the way that character would normally act.

Similarly, because writers are often not familiar with what has been done in the past, some storylines end up ringing untrue to the show's history. Some storylines are done for pure sensationalism - serial killers, cloning and resurrection after miraculous resurrection of presumed-dead characters.

Days of our Lives struck gold in 2003 with a serial killer storyline in which many of the show's main characters were killed off. Not only did DAYS score some of its highest ratings in recent years, but the soap world was buzzing at the storyline. How could Days of our Lives kill off the venerable Frances Reid (Alice Horton)? But the NBC soap dropped the ball when it concocted a convoluted "they aren't really dead" plot device to try to undo all of the deaths. The resolve dragged on far too long for many viewers and now Days of our Lives is hovering at record low ratings levels.

At about the same time, One Life to Live devised a serial killer storyline of its own - and has recently come up with yet another serial killer plot. In One Life to Live's first at bat with the mass murderer plot, however, most of the deaths involved minor characters that most viewers didn't care about. Killing a character just for the sake of killing someone never works in the long run.

Because today's television viewers are considered to be more savvy than those of years gone by, soap operas need to address certain frequently used plot devices that are no longer plausible in a post-9/11 world. The average person cannot slip unnoticed into a hospital laboratory and switch hand-written labels on vials of blood in order to influence the results of a DNA test. Nor can the average person wander aimlessly around a prison cell block in an attempt to track down and verbally assault someone who has done them wrong. And one would hope that airport security is tough enough to prevent citizens from sneaking into the terminals with loaded firearms.

No one expects the soaps to be 100% realistic, 100% of the time. After all, audiences flock to the movie theaters to see shoot 'em up action flicks where the hero rarely gets hit by a single bullet. And with approximately 260 hours of storytelling per soap per year, there are bound to be some storylines that are "clunkers." And that comes from the mouth of three-time Daytime Emmy winner Hogan Sheffer, the former head writer for CBS's As the World Turns.

DESPITE WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HEARD, SOAPS AREN'T JUST FUN AND FANTASY

The daytime hours on The Big Three networks aren't just filled with meaningless fluff to fill the timeslots between the morning news programs and the prime time lineup. Soap operas continue to supply millions of people around the world with an escape from their every day lives.

In addition to entertaining, soap operas continue to be a forum for the discussion of topical social issues in America today. While daytime audiences tend to skew more towards more conservative views, there have been some surprisingly "progressive" plots in recent years.

In 1973, on the heels of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, All My Children aired a storyline in which Erica Kane underwent television's first legal abortion. Some 20 years later, the ABC soap revisited the issue when a character decided to terminate a pregnancy caused by a sexual assault.

In the late 1970s, Days of our Lives courted controversy when it aired daytime's first interracial romantic pairing. Even in today's soaps, networks executives still find writing for same-race couples less likely to rock the boat.

In 1992, One Life to Live injected the bitter taste of reality into its romance and fantasy by addressing the AIDS epidemic. As the culmination of a summer-long plot examining homophobia, eight sections of the Names Project AIDS Quilt were displayed in the first-of-its-kind display in a commercial/entertainment genre.

Similarly, ABC's General Hospital also tackled story that delved into the AIDS epidemic. The show earned critical praise for the love story of young lovers Robin and Stone, a story that ultimately ended with one of the show's main characters contracting HIV. For a period of several years, the show also incorporated a Nurses' Ball storyline to commemorate World AIDS Day.

Throughout parts of the 1990s and 2000s, All My Children featured numerous storylines involving gay and lesbian characters. In 1996, the show focused on the controversial practice of aversion therapy, in which homosexuals are attempted to be "cured" of their homosexuality. In 2004, the groundbreaking show featured the first lesbian kiss.

To address the changing ethnic diversity in the United States, in 2001 The Bold and the Beautiful became the first American soap opera to simulcast each broadcast in Spanish.

In 2004, The Young and the Restless invested time in a story that explored the foster care system in America. The storyline was driven by Emmy-nominated actress Victoria Rowell (Drucilla Winters), who herself had been in foster care. In 2001, Y&R began an extended look at the health issues of those afflicted with diabetes.

While some viewers lament that - such as in the case of All My Children's homosexuality storylines - others' values are being forced upon them, there are proven studies that soaps' teachings do come with a great deal of reward.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that nearly half (48%) of regular viewers of soap operas - those who watch at least twice a week - learned about a disease or how to prevent it from a soap opera in the past year. More than one-third (34%) took some action as a result, such as discussing it with others, giving advice or calling a doctor.

While some still poke fun at daytime television - for several months, late-night television host David Letterman has poked fun at NBC's Passions for a storyline that involved an orangutan by the name of BamBam - many former soap stars have come to embrace their daytime roots. Former All My Children star Kelly Ripa landed a plum role as Regis Philbin's sidekick on a morning talk show. The Young and the Restless main heartthrob Shemar Moore has appeared in numerous feature films and has never shied away from admitting that daytime television helped to launch his career. Other stars that made stops in the land of the soaps on their way to eventual stardom include Demi Moore, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, Mel Gibson, Whitney Houston and Selma Hayek.



Watching soap operas has always been a "dirty little secret" for many viewers. For years, the soaps have been viewed as a lesser form of the television medium. But that seems to be changing.

LOOKING AHEAD: WILL SOAPS LAST ANOTHER 50 YEARS?

Much noise has been made about the networks' efforts to court younger viewers. It has been mentioned repeatedly within the course of this soapcentral.com report. However, the latest television ratings appear to show that despite soaps' best efforts, younger viewers just aren't tuning in.

Nielsen Media Research has found that in the first three months of the season that began in September, CBS, ABC and NBC network soaps lost 18 percent of their female viewers ages 18 to 34. In fact, only one of the nine soaps currently on the air - All My Children - saw a rise in the coveted 18 to 34 demographic.

Procter & Gamble Co., the largest maker of household goods in the United States, is also one of the biggest advertisers on daytime television. The company also owns two soap operas, As the World Turns and Guiding Light, both of which air on CBS. It should come as no surprise that P&G is taking major steps to protect its sizeable investment in daytime television.

In October, 2005, Procter & Gamble hired the New York-based Masterson Group to develop an advertising campaign for its two soaps. It marked the first time that P&G has gone to such great lengths to promote the two programs. It may be difficult for the average television fan to understand how the soaps are losing money. Daytime dramas generated in excess of $1 billion in ad sales last year. The average 30-second commercial airing during the soaps costs about $15,138. However, the average prime time series can command more than $144,049 per 30-second ad spot. In addition to the disparity in fees that are charged for advertising, there is also a substantial difference in the amount of material that the daytime and prime time programs produce. Over the course of one year, each soap opera typically produces more than 250 different episodes. The average prime time program produces around 24 episodes per season, where the season runs from September through May. Because the volume of material produced is so much more, soap operas have a much smaller per-episode budget. And whereas prime time programs have a week or more to prepare for an episode, soaps tape new episodes every weekday.

In an effort to cut costs, The Bold and the Beautiful has shortened its work week by a day. Producing more shows in a shorter period of time cuts some of the fat from the show's budget. The move echoes one made by Port Charles during the end of the show's run. Port Charles went to a six-month work schedule, which meant the show taped a year's worth of episodes in half the time. During the show's "dark" period, the studio could be used for other purposes and even rented out.

If budgets are truly as tight as the networks say that they are it would behoove them to seek out any and all forms of promotion. The networks need to drop their erroneous stance that the Internet is out to sabotage them. Cooperating with web sites where soap fans flock can only be beneficial for the soaps - whether it be through exclusive interviews, contests, photographs or some other catchy offering, it would go a long way towards placating soap fans and web site operators whose hard work very often goes unrecognized by the networks.

As hard as it may be to believe, the money crunch is not the most serious problem facing the soaps. Until the soaps address the reasons that soap fans are tuning out, the ratings decline and revenue loss will continue. In polls conducted by soapcentral.com, soap fans have repeatedly pointed the finger at one thing for making them tune out: the writing.

Recently, soaps have begun to realize that viewers care about the show's history. Viewers do not invest day after day, week after week, year after year in programs for naught. Nearly every soap has made an effort to begin bringing back characters from its past... characters that viewers not only care about, but characters that can also further the show's current story telling.

Soap fans are notoriously loyal, but even loyal fans are enraged when they feel that they are being talked down to by network execs. In an age where reality television still rules the ratings, fans of daytime television want to see more reality infused into their soaps - and that means fewer resurrections of characters that have died years earlier. Fans no longer rave when a character is brought back from the dead. In fact, it can often turn viewers against a soap. CBS's The Bold and the Beautiful recently wrote actress Hunter Tylo, one of the most popular performers in the show's 18-year history, back into the show after a two-year absence. While fans are happy to see the actress again, many are furious by the way history has been rewritten to "un-kill" her character.

While ultimately an asset, soap opera viewers can also be a major liability to the soaps. Procter & Gamble has often found its products the target of boycotts by viewers who were dissatisfied with decisions made on its soap operas. Fanatical viewers flood studios, magazines and web sites with mail stating their disinterest in certain storylines or romantic pairings. Networks execs may then change the course of a storyline based upon this fan mail. However, this mail is often generated by a far smaller percentage of the viewing population than it would appear. As a storyline is changed to appease the minority, the viewing majority then ends up disappointed.

With some soaps having been on the air for more than 30 years, some viewers wonder if the soaps haven't told every story that there is to tell. It is often very true that storylines are rehashed over and over, just with different characters. Soaps need to remain contemporary: life and society are both constantly evolving. There will always be stories to tell. But the soap opera genre is about more than just about telling stories - and if that is a widely-held belief, it needs to be changed. More than just telling stories, soap operas need to tell those stories well. If a soap opera is a high quality program, just as surely as there is sand in Days of our Lives' famous hourglass, viewers will continue to tune in tomorrow.

No new daytime soap opera has been created since Passions in 1999, while many have been cancelled. The Young and the Restless, the highest rated soap opera, now averages less than 5 million daily viewers, a rating easily exceeded by several non-scripted programs such as Judge Judy. SOAPnet, which largely airs soap opera reruns, is expected to close in 2012 due to the general decline in the format. Since January 16, 2012, four daytime soap operas – General Hospital, Days of our Lives, The Young and the Restless, and The Bold and the Beautiful – continue to air on the three major networks, down from 12 in 1990–91 and a high of 19 in 1969–70. This is the first time since 1953 that there are only four soap operas on broadcast television.

The years 2009 to 2011 have seen the fall of America's veteran soaps. The longest-running program in television and radio history, Guiding Light, barely reached 2.1 millions daily viewers in 2009 and was ended. As the World Turns aired its final episode in 2010 after a 54 year run. As the World Turns was the last of 20 soap operas produced by Procter & Gamble, the same company that initiated the "soap opera" expression back in the 1930s. All My Children and One Life to Live, each having an over four-decade run, were both cancelled in 2011, with All My Children airing its finale on September 23, 2011 and One Life to Live last airing on January 13, 2012.

Part of the genre's decline has also been attributed to audiences switching to reality programming as a source of TV melodrama. Daytime programming alternatives like talk shows and game shows cost up to 50% less to produce than scripted dramas making those formats more profitable and attractive to networks, even if they receive the same or slightly lower ratings than soaps. As reflected by the cancellations of Sunset Beach and Port Charles, it can sometime be more beneficial for a broadcasting network to return a timeslot to its local stations than to keep on the air a soap opera with disappointing ratings. Compounding the financial pressure on scripted programming was an advertising recession resulting from the financial crisis of 2007–2010, causing shows to reduce their budgets, sometimes resulting in cast reductions.


Sources:
findingdulcinea.com
Wikipedia

Main Source:
A soapcentral.com SPECIAL REPORT
The History of Soap Operas:
The Rise of the Daytime Drama
by Dan J Kroll
Posted Saturday, May 07, 2005 5:13:15 PM
Written by Dan J Kroll



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 Post subject: Re: DS Tidbit #19 - A History of Soap Operas
PostPosted: Sat Jun 09, 2012 2:21 pm 
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Ah yes. Me mother was one of theose who followed The Guiding Light on radio and then TV. She later switched her allegiance to Another World and Days of Our Lives. I only saw the soap and the DS soap when I was on vacation and found seeing them only a few times a year very amusing over the years as storylines and characters changed over time and themes kept repeating.



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 Post subject: Re: DS Tidbit #19 - A History of Soap Operas
PostPosted: Sat Jun 09, 2012 5:34 pm 
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I started watching All My Children when it first came on and watched all the ABC soaps in the 80's. I was still hooked on AMC when it was cancelled. I felt I had lost some of my family! :lol:



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 Post subject: Re: DS Tidbit #19 - A History of Soap Operas
PostPosted: Sun Jun 10, 2012 12:27 am 
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Well, Irna showed them, didn’t she?

DITHOT, thank you for this tidbit. As a soap opera fan from way back, I find this all very fascinating, as I had never looked into the history of the genre.

I got into the soaps in high school and college, and between jobs. I started with All My Children during the summer of its very first year. I also watched The Young and the Restless from its inception (for a couple of years). General Hospital and One Life to Live were my favorites during college. The 2 I followed up until recent years were GH and AMC. I got tired of the GH storyline in recent years because of its younger cast and focused on AMC. I was very disappointed that it got canceled.

Thank you for posting Luke and Laura’s wedding. I had to miss it because I was working at a new job. And it was a year before beta max arrived….bringing with it the ability to record TV shows – which I did, faithfully. I found the time. I was so very disappointed that I had to miss that wedding, as I had been very into their storyline.

Funny, I don’t remember OJ cutting into my soaps. And it didn’t keep me from them when they returned. I wasn’t working during the OJ trial. Wonder why I don’t remember that.



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 Post subject: Re: DS Tidbit #19 - A History of Soap Operas
PostPosted: Mon Jun 11, 2012 1:48 pm 
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Ah, Luke and Laura! :truefan: Back in the day, Luke was quite a heart throb! And I recall becoming a huge fan of Judith Light's during one of those shows -- One Life to Live, I think. I used to have the shows on most every day. I can't say I remember being addicted as such, but in the 80s I would have been one of those "housewife" target audience members.


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