…and it’s truly a shame.
I had the privilege to attend a panel discussion about soap operas and serialized dramas and where the future of those shows may be. First, the people at this panel had first hand information and experience with daytime soap operas. Because of the nature of soap operas, as they studied the form, they had access to many shows, sets, and writers/showrunners. One gentleman shared stories about his time as a writer on “Days of Our Lives” and “Another World”, another woman was invited to the “The Young and the Restless” set and meet with William Bell. Another woman had interviewed both Gloria Monty (“General Hospital”) and Agnes Nixon (“All my Children”) extensively. And, currently, these founts of information are drying up. No one seems to care about the genre anymore and the knowledge all these people possess will someday be completely archaic.
So, why am I so passionate about the demise of soap operas? Let me explain, I feel that both soap operas and comic books are uniquely American art forms. They’re both on-going narratives with an open format. In these two formats stories grow and change and mutate as do the characters. There are few art forms that revel in the on-going aspect of the work. Both were essentially created in the United States and both catered to maligned groups (i.e. teenagers, housewives) and through their beginnings with these groups they were able to spread and grow and become bigger than that. It makes me sad that these formats have withered on the vine because of the ever changing media landscape.
But, it’s more complicated than that. I think the demise of the daytime soap has obviously happened for a few tangible reasons. 1. College dorms now feature wi-fi and cable for all their students. When I was an undergrad, and the last time soaps had big ratings BTW, large TVs in dorm lobbys and large public areas were communal centers where show like “Days of Our Lives” drew large groups. These groups watched the show, hung out, and basically formed a small tribe around the show. 2. In the current day, parents allow their children to watch MUCH LESS television than my generation did. Helicopter parenting, less acceptance of adult fare for kids, and less ease with which children could take sick days have also created less viewers. Before the restrictions of the present generation, soap operas used the summers to gain young viewers with teen characters and other youth friendly plots. And finally, 3. more mothers work outside the home or within the home and have less time to take a soap opera break in the middle of their day. When fewer women worked away from home, soap operas were more frequently watched and they were then handed down to their children. It was knowledge and tradition that went from grandmother to mother to child.
Although it seems silly and trust me, soap operas could be REALLY silly, I lament the day that the morning soap opera started to fall away. I have many fond memories of sick days and “All my Children”. I remember when “Another World” was cancelled. It was a sad day for me. Now, soap operas get cancelled all the time. I hope that the cyclical nature of televisions and media means that one day the daytime soap opera will come back.
But, I still have nighttime shows. The influence of the soap opera cannot be denied. Even with their classy sheen, shows like “Mad Men”, “BSG”, and “Six Feet Under” use the tropes and beats of the soap opera to move their narrative forward. Even with the daytime soap opera on life support, it’s progeny has just moved to nighttime.