Once upon a time there was an American industry that conducted itself with a level of conservatism and a modicum of class and dignity. Despite the hard and steady work of the professionals who toiled within the industry, many people made jokes about it, called it boring and stuffy, and scoffed that this industry did not have a certain level of prestige. This industry might not have had the broad respect of the public at large but amomg its practitioners and adherents it tended to be more respected than even some of its former and current membership gave credit. For decades this industry chugged along at steady clip, slow to change with the times but managed to keep up with them nonetheless, creating its own titans and smaller player, superstars and valued employees. Most important of all, this industry acted as an "invisible hand," producing enough revenue to fuel other industries, including many of those that openly ridiculed it. The industry was popular almost in spite of itself and was spectacularly profitable.  The industry seemed as if it would go on forever.

Then seemingly overnight, everything changed. The industry tweaked and fine tuned certain elements of itself to attract more consumers and suddenly everybody seemed to want what the industry had to offer. And the more the industry offered, the more the public clamored. The industry responded by providing all kinds of goodies above the demand of its consumer base: it raised its own budgets; doubled and tripled and quadrupled its hires; and expanded and spun itself off in dozens of directions. Whatever the industry could sell, it tried. Whatever the industry could not sell, they tried to sell it again packaged as something else. Bigger, better, faster, stronger. Like a drunken sailor with a credit card.

But like all things, the rollercoaster ride would not last forever. Some in the industry with the purse strings began to pull them tighter and they reigned in their own spending. Others in and outside of the industry began to question its relevance as external events impacted its popularity. Many of the industries’ consumers found competition for their time, energy and resources to be irresitable and began to abandon the industry in droves. But the industry kept going, contracting itself while devising ever more exotic and often outlandish offerings to entice not only consumers but investors back into the fold. Executives and middle managers and talent with mixed track records at best and dismal failures at worst continued to be shuffled around the industry, sometimes landing back at the same divisions from which they had been previously terminated. Sometimes with promotions. And all the while with the market imploding all around them, the top executives spoke with concern about the state of industry but with confidence that the industry itself was sound. In other words, the fundamentals were strong.

20 Responses

  1. Profile photo of DaytimeFan0001

    This is a very interesting post made. Its funny that you are thinking so deep about soaps. I myself am doing the same today. Believe it or not I just got around to finishing the last episode of Passions. That show was a lot better than people gave it credit for, but that’s not the point. I agree that serious changes have to be made, and I think it starts with cutting down the schedule where a certain number of eps are spaced out throughout the week, but not every day. For example: CBS, Y&R and B&B MWF and GL and ATWT TTh. Just an idea. But first of all some money has to be spent and put into advertising during primetime. We are bombarded with promos for CBS comedys and ABC news constantly before our soaps, they need to advertise these soaps and let people know they are STILL around. I wish that someone would make a decision as to what they want to do about the Neilsons. The whole thing depresses me, and the end of Passions (which was the best episode ever, catch it on Youtube) makes me more sad for daytime. As a person who wants to go into the daytime land…this makes me nervous!

  2. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    Fantastic article Bernard!! Can I just say I really appreciate that instead of just lamenting the inevitable death of soaps, you gave us a glimmer of hope and suggested solid, well thought out ideas to reinvent the genre. Thank you for that!

    All of your suggestions sound great to me (except for 1, because obviously more of the same is not the way to go.) I can’t comment on which direction the industry should go in – I’m just a simple soap fan that likes her stories…all I know is that the idea of no more soaps (a world without Reva Shayne or Stephanie Forrester?!?) is devastating to me.

    So since I can’t offer any suggestions, I really only have a couple of thoughts. Most people hate change, or at least are reluctant to it (as you touched on) and I’m cetainly one of those people. The idea of our soaps changing in any way (the shows, viewing methods, etc) made me very cranky, lol. In particular, the prospect of soaps being watched exculsively online freaked me out (“Wahhh! It’s not the same!”)

    But something’s happened recently to change my mind. I started watching the UK soap Eastenders (thank you ssjohn!) and the experience has been revelatory. Not only is it different in style and content from US soaps, but I watch it online (horrors!), it only airs 4 times a week, and on the site I watch it, it’s only available through a small subscription fee. If you had asked me several months ago if I would be watching a soap under those circumstances, I would have said “Hell No!” But much to my surprise, not only do I not mind this *very* different soap watching experience, I LOVE IT! It also happens to be my absolutely favorite soap right now. (*lesson learned, if a soap is great, people will pay to watch it!)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I absolutely agree that the genre needs a complete reboot, and if it changes the “face” of soaps as we know it, then so be it!! The death of soaps is not inevitable – we just need a few pioneers (I refuse to use the word “maverick” :) ) who are willing to take some chances, and soap fans who are willing to go along for the ride :)

  3. Profile photo of SoapSnob

    Great post, J. Bernard. Very well thought through, well written and very thought-provoking. As I have stated before, you are a true talent. And I am pleased that Daytime Confidential is nurturing that talent.

  4. Profile photo of melliebabi

    brilliant work!!

    just an average fan response:
    I choose number 1~ (LOL, Like a got a vote…. hey that system seems familair).

    I would never ‘pay per view’ for a soap- Ever.

    I doubt i would view them online, even if free.

  5. Profile photo of JaSamLover

    The thought of soaps being a dying breed scares me to death.I like the fact that unlike primetime shows, they come on everyday and if you miss a couple of days, you aren’t completely lost. Therefore, I dont like the thought of them only coming on a few days a week.
    To touch on what DaytimeFan said, I agree that soaps do not get enought advertising. I almost fell over when I saw ABC Daytime actually included in an ABC promo. Also, ABC had promos running to advertise new couples (GiGi and Rex, Spinelli and Maxie) that I thought were really intriguing. Believe it or not, I think you can become a new fan of soaps even if you haven’t watched them all your life. Many college students have breaks during the day, new stay at home mothers, etc. IF daytime would amp up their advertising with intriguing promos I think more people would tune in than they bet on.
    I like the idea of a new Soapnet that actually shows soaps. It is more convenient to watch a marathon of a week worth of soaps at one time then t osit down an hour everyday. I also think that DVR ratings should be included, and that goes for all of televsion.
    Mostly, I think of any change, there should be no changwe at the moment. If soaps would focus on storyline, dialogue in particular., I think the legions of fans they lost over time would slowly come back, and remain loyal. Thats what we soap fans do-loyalty.We may get angry and frustrated with our stories and shout obscenities at the screen, but the minute a non-fan says something is the minute we stand up and slap them in the face. If daytime writers would just realize that, it would help immensely. I speak in particular for GH, if they would listen to the fans, where dialogue, storyline, characters were concerned, they would be much better off.And seeing as how those are the cornerstone of any daytime drama, I’m willing to bet that goes for all soaps. Tequila and dominoes-we will never forget.

  6. Profile photo of SJD88

    I really enjoy watching soaps online i’m a newer soap fan used to watch just GH now with dvr i watch all of them except Days. I’m currently listening to old GL and ATWT episodes on iTunes then i’ll move to Hulu its a great tool to go back a few years. After i’m done with that i’ll probably pay for days to round off all 8 soaps (and night shift) but i don’t see non soap fans looking for things like youtube, hulu, or iTunes for new shows they need to fix up the shows first and formost.

  7. Profile photo of Dinah

    For me if they court’s DVR’s/SoapNet with the rating soap are ok
    These days, yeah it’s not like the 80’s but still people watch there
    Soap’s everyday.

  8. Profile photo of J Bernard Jones
    J Bernard Jones

    Best, the idea of airing soaps 3 days a week is not mine. That comes from CBS’ Barbara Bloom (correct me I’m wrong somebody) who was quoted in either SOD or SPW. Nelson alluded to it in one of his most recent reports.

    For the record, I’m a 5 day a week soap man myself.

    I think ABC (like Bank of America in the analogy) is the last titan standing and is committed to dominating the soap opera day part. On the other hand, CBS/P&G/Bell soaps are sort of futzing around with budget cuts and rapid hirings & firings and evolving production models in an attempt to maintain sustainability. And we all know NBC’s keeps Days’ one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel.

    As much as we love our soaps, this would not be the first time a complete daypart has disappeared in a worst case scenario. I’m not sure how many people younger than 30 remember that Saturday morning cartoons and live action programming for kids on the Big Three networks used to be so big, so popular and so profitable that they actually had their own fall previews in PRIME TIME. And game shows like Password, Match Game, The $10,000 Pyramid were as much a mainstay of daytime as Another World, Search for Tomorrow, and Ryan’s Hope. They are all gone now with the exception of those cheap ass cartoons that air on Saturday & Sunday mornings on CBS in SOME markets.

    I’ve always maintained that daytime (that includes Guiding Light for the time being) is not in as deep dire straights as many of the doomsayers declare. But we can’t be complacent because some form of fundamental change is coming down the road. Even if it goes nowhere, Bloom didn’t publicly make that statement about airing soaps 3 days a week if CBS weren’t considering the option.

    In that spirit, I’m just trying to provoke a larger conversation about what happens next that goes beyond “bring back Alan Michael,” “Corday is an idiot,” and “fire Guza.”

  9. Profile photo of OldGHFan

    Wow! Great article. Why don’t soaps bring new people BEHIND THE SCENES? They do it often enough in front of the camera. Soaps need some fresh blood. We have the same tired out producers and writers being rotated from one soap to another. Nothing changes. I think new blood would help to save this dying industry.

  10. Profile photo of siomonstuart2003

    I think that the writers are getting burnt out and tired and playing the same damn s/l over and over again, like Guza and Higley and Passente, and Bell and the rest of them. I think they need new writers and new material and new ideas instead of repeating the same crap over again and making the fans tune out of daytime and I think that it is mirrored the same as politics is going on that we have the same people writing or politicking the same thing and it is not working. We need new blood or the economy and soap industry would be a distant memory.


  11. Profile photo of eriklovessoaps

    This is a really interesting article and though I’ve grown away from soaps, I thought I put my humble two cents in on it. I think the finaceal market and the soap industry are not, in the end, in the same position, because of one looming reason. Soaps are too busy stealing each others’ assets to the point of determent. There is no “government” to fix this self-destructive behavour. No government to tell them to behave themselves.

    As for what format might work, I’m watcching “in Treatment” on HBO as we speak. This is on five days a week for eight weeks with a ninth week of 3 days. This show won a prime time Emmy. Quality programing will make for a show that works. It might not hit the ball out of the ballpark ratings wise, to make quality programing, but isn’t the overprosuation to fans and need for more of them is what alienates them in the end? A soap style works still and “in Treatment” is proof of that.

  12. Profile photo of J Bernard Jones
    J Bernard Jones

    Erik, just to reiterate something that was made perfectly clear: the analogy between the financial crisis and the soap ratings crisis was a broad one, not a specific or literal one.

    And you are right regarding In Treatment’s ratings, echoing something else that I pointed out: great scripts and acting (quality programming) do not guarantee eyeballs needed to maintain or raise ratings. One need only look at OLTL’s nearly stagnant ratings since Ron Carlivati took over as head writer, despite critical acclaim and Emmy wins. In Treatment’s piss poor ratings bear that out.

    To that end here are three questions based on your more DIRECT comparison, since my broad analogy was insufficiently structured for you:

    1. Do you think that any soap currently airing on network television could survive with In Treatment’s roughly 450,000 viewers per week?

    2. In Treatment features two characters and very few sets per epsiode. Therefore, is your suggestion that soaps pare down their casts and production models so that only two characters and sets are featured at a time?

    3. Given that In Treatment is a 30 minute program, should the current daytime soaps be scaled back to a 1/2 hour, too?

    I ask these questions because I want to know if your comparison of a 30 minute tv show with a cast of 14 airing on a pay cable network in prime time that is supported by subscriptions with an audience base that is a fraction of a broadcast network is DIRECTLY ANALOGOUS to the 7 hour long soap operas with an average cast of about 25-30 airing in daytime on a commercial network supported by advertising where the number of viewers (ratings) determines their commercial viability?

    Or was your analogy meant to be a broad one?

  13. Profile photo of J Bernard Jones
    J Bernard Jones

    Erik, you didn’t splice down my broad analogy. I didn’t take it that way at all. And I wasn’t attacking you. I merely wanted to engage the conversation from your argument.

    On that level, I counter that “In Treatment” can be an interesting case to examine. Yes, it’s a great show with terrific writing and acting. But its ratings are far from decent for a show on a premium cable network; HBO is not a basic cable network like G4 Network, where “In Treatment’s” current numbers would make a huge splash. Recent HBO series like “Carnivale,” “Rome” and “Deadwood”, with equally good or superior writing and acting and with far higher ratings than “In Treatment” have bitten the dust. Why? Mainly because they were far more expensive to produce. Quality was not the determinate factor in their survival or failure.

    The primary reason why “In Treatment” has survived is not because of great writing but because it is a relatively inexpensive show to produce and its rather small audience is generally upscale. In addition, HBO has had little choice but to nurture low-rated fare like “In Treatment” and “Entourage” because — until “True Blood” — the network had no real buzzworthy hits to follow in the footsteps “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.” So “In Treatment” survives not simply because it is a good show but because it is also a cheap one.

    A soap airing on American broadcast television would NEVER survive with the same numbers as “In Treatment” because the rules and nature of broadcast and cable networks are vastly different. Your example of “Dexter’s” experimental airing on CBS underscores this fact. “Dexter” was not re-edited “for the kiddies’ sakes,” as it aired at 10PM which is not “family hour.” “Dexter” was re-edited because network broadcast standards under FCC rules would not allow for some of the graphic imagery and most of the salty language. That is a regulatory issue. In addition, Dexter’s 7 million viewership “gain” steadily declined throughout its run on CBS and is widely considered a failure. That’s why CBS won’t be airing “Dexter” again and keeping it on cousin network Showtime.

    So all of this actually brings us full circle to the idea (No. 2) that a cable network exclusively dedicated to airing soaps might be a viable consideration for the industry. Ratings/viewership expectations for all cable fare, basic or premium, is lower than network television. On a cable network, any soap now airing could lose 1/3 to 1/2 it’s current audience numbers and still be considered a modest hit.

  14. Profile photo of eriklovessoaps

    I have to agree that another soap cable channel would be most sustainable. Although, I wonder if changes in our economy could change cable’s stability.

    I like to think forcing lower budgets on soaps could mean a traditional soap like Ryan’s Hope (which I watch on Soapnet) on these funky executive producers. However, with Ellen Wheelers out there, low budgets mean crazily stupid creative decisions.

    I think a problem with daytime is it isn’t like primetime, in that shows aren’t taken down when they don’t succeed alot of the times. Soaps came and went in the 70’s. They were more successful then. Writers had to fight to keep their jobs. I think new shows allowed for new talent to come in. This “community” we have needs accountibility. I think shortening the shows won’t work.

    I think “in Treatment’s” success or failure isn’t dictated by some due to its birth being during the writers’ strike. I consider the ratings to be okay. Will the emergence of “TrueBlood” drive a success or failure test faster? I think that depends on the new leadership at HBO.

  15. Profile photo of gush900

    I have a crazy idea cbs would be smart to do what they did years ago.Y/r used to air one special episode a year in primetime.I think in the summer when networks our looking for new programming for instance cbs should air guiding light one night a week in primetime just to see if the ratings would go up

  16. Profile photo of Amy

    I know I’m a little late for this topic, I’ve been meaning to chime in, but real life intercedes sometimes… This was an insightful and provocative article, what a great way to spark discussion!

    I believe the Night Shift 2 model is a good base to start, it has a true ensemble cast and uses webisodes to build a more in-depth story for a couple of new characters. If this is to become the future model of daytime, I do believe it may need to expand the number of episodes in order to create the same level of rich storytelling and character investment. While there was much to like about NS2, there simply wasn’t enough time to allow some characters (who should have gotten more screentime – like the Scorpios) to have a larger and more complex story.

    The network should also employ the internet to promote more than static information, but not in a way that where the story is told there instead of on the show (ex. Robin’s blog). With a little innovation, rethink of the audience, and creativity, the model could be similar to what Lost or Heroes employs to create more interest in the subtext of the scene (i.e. a mock WSB/GH corporate website that gives information as spoilers, a webisode of a scene within a scene, outtakes, and other online tactics to gauge audience interest). Certain storylines that have mystery, like the Scorpios, the Cassadines, would benefit from having more interactive storylines online that yield clues. The weekly (instead of daily) format would also lend the writers time to map out both the show and online story to make it all cohesive. I believe the Lost/Heroes/daytime fandoms are similar, and more people are online these days, it could be a good way to capture more interest and audiences. Deep Soap’s Sara Bibel echoes the same sentiment in this article about incorporating online content into the story (funny enough I came across this right after I posted my comment about the same topic):

    Of course, it absolutely must be said that that actors and writers should be compensated for their work that is played on the internet. By compensating them in this respect, they should be able to keep/book the great talent they currently have.

    Just a few quick suggestions on the business model that I think Soapnet should employ, thanks for getting the creative thinking flowing!


  17. Profile photo of eriklovessoaps

    I didn’t mean to splice down your broad analogy of the bailout. It was good writing. I was just putting it out there soaps have no bonding…law enforcing mechanism. It was more like a forward than a criticism.

    As for my “in Treatment” thought. I just wanted to say a show can fit in where it needs to as long as it is good. More importantly, I think “in Treatment” is most like a soap and proves soaps can survive. As for the low ratings, in comparison, “in Treatment” has decent ratings for a subscription service. It’s like when Dexter moved from Showtime to CBS and gained 7 million viewers in spite of determental editing for the kiddies’ sakes.

    So, I don’t know what might work better, really. A 30 minute show, a small cast, etc.. I know good shows need to subscribe to good writers and decent actors and from watching Guiding Light, good management. And from living and knowing how this system works, consistancy helps too (That’s why OLTL isn’t jumping up in the ratings).

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