Soap On A Rope

Ghosts of Soaps Past

Here lies the final resting place of the Great American Soap Opera
A good and constant companion to millions,
The genre lost its way toward its Final Fade to Black.
Neglect and misconception caused the genre’s downfall,
But their collective memory shall live in our hearts. Forever.

Daytime O. Drama
1952 (or 1937) – 2010 (or 2015) — Depending on Who’s Counting

Yes, my friends, it is time to put on your best Sunday black, sit Shiva if you are among our Jewish friends, remove all your jewelry if you are Muslim, burn those collections of Soap Opera Digest in a Shraddha ceremony for our Hindu cousins, and the rest of us heathens and infidels can cuss out Brian Frons, Barbara Bloom, Ellen Wheeler and Ken Corday in polysyllabic orgasmic fury. A flame in the wind has flickered its last, the bright promise of our date with life is forever gone. Today is no longer ours. Stick a fork in daytime soaps. They are done. I just have one tiny question:

Are soaps really dead?

If you are one of the thousands of fans who regularly follow Daytime Confidential, the reportage of our good pal Nelson Branco, the soap magazines or tabloids, the exquisite coverage of Sarah Bibel, the passionate treatises of Tom Casiello or any number of the dozens of other websites devoted to daytime drama, you are no doubt aware that the epitaph of soaps have been all but engraved on a tombstone. The mainstream press also has jumped into the act in recent weeks, stopping just short of rubbing its collective hands with glee over the prospect of the demise of daytime. This is not exactly a new development since the mainstream press has been reporting the fat lady clearing her throat since about a week after the end of OJ’s first trial in 1995.

All this gloom and doom is not without merit, make no mistake about it: Viewership for  #1 Young & the Restless is at historic lows.  Guiding Light’s recent 1.4 rating is an alarming development for the 70-plus year old icon. The entire ABC daytime lineup is sputtering along like a hoopty whose latest tuneup may be its last. Firing of Drake Hogestyn & Diedre Hall; no more needs to be said about that. The soap version of Ragnarök is upon us. Again.

Like any other fan who has immersed themselves in the soap opera that is Soap Opera, I have been as disturbed by all of these "new" developments as anyone. I’m not blind and can see the handwriting on the wall, too; yet I am always curious about whose handwriting I’m reading as much as what’s written. What I mean by that last statement hopefully will become more clear if you bear with me.

As long as I’ve been blogging about soaps, both on my now-defunct personal blog and here at DC, I’ve tried to explain why I think that daytime is not on the verge of imminent extinction but in the midst of evolutionary change. There is plenty of evidence to back this assertion up (which I will get to in a minute), but getting that message through is admittedly nigh on impossible. Once a particular narrative has taken hold in the minds of fans it can be hell trying to ask folk to consider a slightly diffrent view. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth a try.

I am willing to admit that I could be completely wrong. However, I am reminded of something that my late mother used to say all the time: when you speak things into existence, they are liable to come true. Another way of saying it is "be careful what you wish for…"

Do the fans want Soap Opera do disappear? No, I do not believe we do. But there is something a little off in the incessant negativity in some quarters about the possibility/probability of it all, as if some fans are all but waiting for the final episode of General Hospital or the last fade out of Y&R to say, "See, we told you so! Nobody listened to us! If they had paid attention to the fans this genre would have been saved! We’re the fans! We know everything there is to know about this genre and if the idiots in charge had only listened, we would still have love in the afternoon!"

There is validity to that once and likely future view. There is plenty of folly in it as well, pointing us to why soaps may not be in as dire straights as many of us think: … (continued)

14 Responses

  1. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    Great piece Bernard! You bring up a lot of interesting points. And I agree, for the short-term, our soaps are safe…but for the long-term who knows?

    Let me ask you a question: You say that understanding the business of soap operas (and issues that go beyond comings/goings of TPTB, Nielson Ratings, etc…) will help us become “more effective advocates” for soaps. I agree that we (and I absolutely include myself in this) would benefit from understanding the overall picture when considering the state of the soap industry, but do you think we really can ever become “effective advocates”? Meaning, obviously we’re a vocal, passionate and highly opinionated bunch but how can we be “effective”? I’m of the belief that whatever happens to our soaps (short-term or long-term, good or bad), it’s for the most part out of our hands.

    Sorry, that was long-winded. I guess my basic question is how and in what way do you see educated fans as “effective advocates”? Do you think our voice really matters and if so, in what way can we help the genre that we love?

    And also, this is a totally random question, so feel free to ignore it if you like: When people talk about DVR numbers, are these only Nielson Family DVR numbers? I’ve discussed this with people and we can’t seem to agree. Some think they’re DVR numbers for everyone who owns a DVR, but I think that’s unlikely… Just curious!

  2. Profile photo of zyona

    I think this is such b.s. so much negitivity. i just don’t know how someone can even predict this unless your an executive.
    Believe me it doesn’t take a genius to predict.

    Mo Ambessa Z Emenete Negede Yehuda
    Lack of money is the root of all evil.

  3. Profile photo of kerfuffles

    Good post. I admit when I first saw it I was thinking the same thing “yet another ‘soaps are dead'” tirade? I agree J that some are going a little overboard with the negativity and schadenfreude about it all. But I read on and was really impressed with your views.

  4. Profile photo of J Bernard Jones
    J Bernard Jones


    Your thoughtful question requires an equally thoughtful answer.

    You are absolutely correct that ultimately, the fate of the 8 daytime soaps on the networks is completely out of our hands. Days or GL could be axed tomorrow and there wouldn’t be anything we could do about it.

    On the other hand, I define “effective” advocacy starting with a deeper appreciation for the challenges faced by networks and producers in increasingly tight economic and ratings challenged times. Often so much of our criticism (including mine) is rather vague in wanting “better stories” and “characters we can root for” and so forth. Such criticisms may seem self-evident to us as fans, but I honestly don’t think that the majority of soap writers and producers are deliberately creating stories or characters to piss us off.

    To that end, we should “vote” with our remotes and DVR’s for that which we think is actually good. In a recent podcast, Jamey (joined in unison by Mike and Luke) hit the nail square on the head when he pointed out that producers tend to copy each other and asked people to check out whats currently going on at Y&R. if the ratings can nudge up for that show, then other soaps are sure to follow.

    What was different about the tenor of Jamey’s appeal was that it was directly aimed at fans of good Soap Opera watching a show that currently defines “excellence” in the form in the hopes that other shows will “get it right.”

    Most of the time, we fans (and I am not exempt) focus so much on the negative that we often overlook, ignore or dismiss the positive. I personally don’t think it is going to fly to ask P&G to not do location-based work or ABC to not do CGI at all. But I think that it behooves us to ask that if they are going to do these things to do them better, to the best of their ability.

    I think “effective” advocacy is not only having the ability to CONSTRUCTIVELY criticize what we see as wrong, but to encourage writers, producers, and execs to do more of what we think is right when THEY get it right.

    One of the things that I love about Daytime Confidential, Luke Kerr, the bloggers here and so many fans like you is that people here may be hard on their shows, but ultimately it is out of love for the genre. There is a general fairness in the criticism of the shows that is not always found at other sites or message boards. If it were not so, DC would not have become so influential in the genre as it has in so short a period time.

    The glue that holds us together, whether we agree or not, is that we generally agitate for excellence instead of wallow in complete negativity that is not hard to find elsewhere. Agitating for excellence is, in my opinion, the best way that we as soap fans can engage in effective advocacy for our shows and the genre as a whole.

  5. Profile photo of shale

    J Bernard beautiful piece. THis really is great.

    I love how you speak of GL by not saying it is out or not.

    In your honest view, do you think Soap Opera’s need a new medium maybe internet or somthing else to survive?

    I tape my shows with DVD Recorder does that help at all?

  6. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    Thanks for the response Bernard! You’re right, there are much more constructive ways to discuss and advocate for our shows than spouting generalized negative comments all the time (to that end, the only thing I can say about myself is that I’ve made an effort to stop using “TIIC” – a small step, but still…lol)

    I’m not convinced though that “average” fans (like myself) could have much of an effect, even if we banded together en masse (I’m such a cynic). But luckily there are people like you (who happens to blog on an influential site :) ) that can speak for so many of us. Thank you for that!!

  7. Profile photo of

    I admit I haven’t thought about this fully in my head but your views fell right in line with mine concerning NBC’s faltering ratings right now. BTW you forgot about the shortchanged Generations.

    Well thought out and informative. Though I believe soaps are still viable I understand more about how things are looked at.

  8. Profile photo of Meg

    I loved this piece. What a great essay and from someone who previously worked in daytime, recently I wholeheartedly agree with this piece. They know things are changing. How we watch tv is changing. I think that they are trying to figure out what they need to do about it and this crazy economy, advertizers and such aren’t helping anything out. Plus as for NBC, zucker isn’t doing a good job anywhere. They just got rid of 500,000 people this week. NBC has a lot of concerns right now, Days just being one of them. I guess with more people on the unemployment list these shows could really use this time with people unusually at home, to write these shows well. Wouldn’t it be interesting that with the decline of the economy people started watching soaps again because they’re home and it takes people away from the problems they are facing? Just a thought

  9. Profile photo of KingTV

    J Bernard. There is nothing I could possibly add to make the point more clear. Soap Operas do not have to fade out and die. They have triumphed and survived for far too long to just begin digging their graves. This post is a brilliant testament to that and thank you for taking the time and consideration to lay it out in a tough, but loving spirit. I watch 4 soaps a week (would watch all 8 if I had the time just because I love the genre so much, even GL and DOOL, although when I have tuned in lately they are barely tolerable) because for me, they are an art form. Just like I go to the theater, ballet, museums or the movies, I watch daytime drama and television in general not just to be entertained but to analyze, discuss and want them to reach their highest artistic peak as complex character studies. They used to all have this goal in mind and unfortunately, in today’s very competitive world, most have turned to (ridiculous) plot-driven garbage. I would rather watch repeats of “Ryan’s Hope” or “Santa Barbara” then most of what is playing on prime-time these days. I think that the new generation of fans are not being taught appreciation of art or culture beyond the latest Wii video game, so I highly doubt new fans are going to be developed even if all 8 soaps were at the top peak of their form right now. It is a very difficult, complex situation but I am hardly ready to start sitting shiva yet. I will watch soaps until every last one of them fades to black. Thank you again for your insight and honorable intentions.

  10. Profile photo of Trudi

    I loved your column. I get so exhausted listening to amateurs analyze the ratings and attribute the declines to the death of this character, or the breaking up of that couple.

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