The Death of Soaps

In April, ABC announced the cancellation of All My Children and One soaps AMC and OLTL title cards x'd outLife to Live.  They will be replaced by a cooking show and a health and beauty show.  Wow, we need more of those.  Maybe they can get Dr. Gupta.  We don’t see him on tv enough.  Maybe they could roll all the talk, reality, health and cooking shows into one and have Sharon Osborne and Jamie Oliver judging people while they sing and cook and Dr. Gupta can measure cholesterol levels.  Any of the gazillion talk show hosts could narrate.  They could just run it straight for 4 hours every afternoon.  Low production costs, so it would work for American network daytime executives.

Why are American soap operas dropping like flies?  President of ABC Daytime Brian Frons says people want different types of daytime viewing.  He says the ratings for soaps are low and the costs are high.  The strong soaps will survive, he says.  I hope he realizes that before too long, only the strong food/health/beauty/talk/reality shows will survive too.  He’s adding two newbies to an already overcrowded screen.  Meanwhile, over 40 years of viewing and production loyalty has been chucked down the drain.

Soap fans do not want to watch beauty makeovers or cooking tips.  Maybe they do, in addition to their stories but not instead of.  The whole point of soaps is that they continue and build.  You follow people’s life and get to know them.  Soap viewers want continuity, not cheap tricks.  We know the denizens of Pine Valley and Llanview – what they’re like, what they’re likely to do and not do.  Inexplicable changes in character, too rapid an introduction of new characters and scenarios don’t go over well with long-time Susan Lucci starfans.  We want to see the full range of characters, those who’ve been around a long time as well as the new ones.  These are points of soap creation that used to be the guiding light, so to speak, for soap writers and producers, and seem to have been forgotten in the past 20 years or so.

‘Monkey see, monkey do’ became the new mantra – if a plot works on one show, copy it whether it fits well or not.  If ratings drop, bring in somebody, anybody to make a splashy entrance, whether they fit in the ongoing stories or not.  Bring in a new headwriter or executive producer with a new ‘vision’, whether it fits this soap or not.  Such knee-jerk reaction to soaps creation hasn’t worked.  Soap fans did leave.  I know – I’m one.

From the early 1980s until about 2 years ago, I watched the soaps.  Several of them, with General Hospital and The Young and the Restless being my mainstays.  I taped, I watched in real time – whatever worked.  Then I gradually stopped.  It wasn’t that I was gone or didn’t have time.  It was that I realized that I just wasn’t interested anymore.  I would watch at the kitchen table and play solitaire in the commercial breaks.  When I realized that I was no longer stopping my game when the show came back on, I knew there was a problem.

General Hospital was the first to go.  I just got tired of the mob stuff.  I loved The Sopranos, then airing on network prime-time, but I didn’t want to see The Sopranos on my soap.  Later I stopped watching Y&R, don’t know why really.  I guess it’s like falling out of love; once you start getting disenchanted, it’s hard to stop.

I haven’t replaced my soaps with cooking or health shows.  The tv is now just off during the day.  Until Coronation Street, the UK soap, comes on.  No sign of it being cancelled, 50 years after starting.  Why?  If I knew the answer to that, I hope I’d be getting the big bucks American daytime executives are.  But I’ve got some theories.  “Tune in next time for ‘as the soaps die’…”

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