Friday, July 29, 2011

Daytime Dramas: "Soap Operas" Are they Dead? Can they be Fixed? Will Online Work?

Today I read that Hayley Ripa and Mark Consuelos are making a reality television series for soap stars including General Hospital's Kelly Monaco and Kirsten Storms Days of Our Lives' Nadia Bjorlin and Galen Gering, One Life To Lives' Farah Fath and JP Lavoisier.  My thoughts are that a reality show can bring popularity back or increase popularity for stars.   Can a reality show increase the popularity of an entire genre of popular culture?  If I were asking the magic eight ball for an answer the dice in the ball would read "Outlook not so good."

As a young child I remember my mom used to be home during the day (work at night); she would be cleaning and taking care of the house and at lunch time The Young and Restless would come on, and we would watch that then The Bold and the Beautiful then As the World Turns.  My first soap memory was from As the World Turns with the character Emily in the shower about to be attacked by the villainous James Stenbeck.  As I grew older I continued to follow these shows, rooting for my favorite characters (sometimes the villains), hoping couples would end up together (that some would break up), and so on. 

When my mom started to work in the daytime, my grandparents would take shifts or different days watching me.  My one set of grandparents also would watch soap operas.  At 12:30 they would start to watch The Young and the Restless, but then at 1 my grandmother would want to watch All My Children.  So my grandfather would go into the kitchen to finish his show.  I always though that this was such a cute routine.  With this routine I would stay with my grandmother, and then I was introduced to Erica Kane and her manipulative ways.  Then I started to to watch One Life to Live

My sister and I also used to watch Passions, and I always wanted to say like my grandmother that I watched a show from the beginning.  My grandmother was a huge Guiding Light fan, and she did get to watch the show from the beginning to its end.  The end of Guiding Light was the beginning of the soap opera blood bath.  When I found out that Guiding Light had been cancelled, I was not as shocked.  Their ratings were low and the demographics they had were not great, then came As the World Turns (not shocked just sad), and ABC laid down the hammer of Thor and cancelled not one but two shows All My Children and One Life to Live (and rumor has it General Hospital is not far behind).  This would leave only The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Days of Our Lives as the the last three soap operas shown in a traditional manner on network television.  All My Children, One Life to Live (and most likely General Hospital) will all be online.

Soap Operas were extremely popular in the 80s and early to late 90s.  I would call the 1980s to like 1993 the golden age of this genre.  There was a film Soapdish (hilarious) that mocked the day to day behind the scenes activities of the world of soaps.  Then there was one of the funniest films of all time Tootsie which centered around Dustin Hoffman's character dressing up like a woman and landing a role on a soap opera.  Luke and Lauras wedding on General Hospital was watched by 30 million people the highest watched soap opera episode ever!  Those ratings are better than most prime time reality television series. So where did this genre go wrong? Did they go wrong, or was it simply an evolution?

The evolution of media and the connection with online viewing has changed the way people watch shows.  More people are dvring, tvoing, watching things streaming on youtube, or hulu than ever before.  There are more networks than ever before and their niche programming has taken away viewers.  People can sit and watch the Food Network all day and watch people cook there more hosts more shows than ever before, and this is true with every niche channel.  Niche programming and reality television have become cheaper ways to get success for networks, and have allowed them to make money, cut costs, but they also push us further away from scripted television.
Culturally, society is in a different place women do not stay at home and watch the kids as much as they did in the past.  The number of women going into higher education has grown and is higher than men at undergraduate and in some graduate areas.  The audience is not there for a show five days a week for one hour.  Many EP (executive producers) and network big wigs talked about trimming shows down to a half an hour and not doing them five days a week, but for them it was easier to replace them all together, or so it seems.  The dagger to heart for these shows is that they are being replaced with bland knock off talk shows like The Talk and The Chew (two of the worst talk show names, ever!) 

Jesse Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family made a comment about the quality of daytime dramas on his twitter account, stated something to the effect of, I understand why these shows are being cancelled (he recanted quickly), but this is a valid argument.  Are soap operas still providing quality television, acting, story lines, are they relevant?  People who have watched shows for years upon years have started to give up on shows because of the quality.  The quality of a show matters!  You can just shovel out shit, and the five day a week hour long model has prevented writers from taking the time to truly listen.  The network executives have had too much control over shows as well.

Many shows have replaced talented older actors with younger prettier faces who can't act.  Acting within this genre is melodramatic and over the top, but there have a been a lot of famous people who have become bigger stars, after soap operas, which proves there has been quality acting.  There are also people who have stayed on shows for years and are some top notch actors/actresses: David Canary, Erika Slezak, Susan Flannery, Jeanne Cooper, Anthony Geary, and I could name so many more people.

Shows have moved away from core families families, and brought in new characters that make no sense to the storyline then what's the point (another recent trend). Are shows true to the shows history? Why get rid of the Quartermaines on General Hospital?  Or the Abbotts on The Young and the Restless?  If I know anything in this country its that people care about family, and focusing on the family is something shows just don't do a good of anymore. 

[one+life+to+live.jpg]Writers, EPs, and network executives have created story lines have been unfaithful to fans and the the shows history. Taking away Erica Kane's abortion (the first abortion ever done on television) was a travesty.   ABC soaps have been the worst at this, but towards the end Guiding Light became a culprit of this as well to pull in viewers by "assassinating" characters and completely changing them out of nowhere. Writers who work on these shows need to respect the fans (and not just the teenage girl mentality of we need hot people), and listen to their audience and write for them.  The have also been several great culturally relevant storylines, but they have pushed out quickly because "the actors are difficult."  The recent gay storyline on One Life to Live got the show a lot of attention, and they got rid of it as quickly as it started.  Soaps need to stay true to their roots but push boundaries more like One Life to Live did.  Bringing in a famous person to guest star in your story can not save your show! James Franco!!

The fans are the life blood of this genre.  Am I happy AMC and OLTL are going online, possibly. Will this be the right solution, maybe.  I could write on this topic forever, and there are so many directions I could go with this, but for now I am still glad that there is still a some sand left in the hour glass.

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