Soap On A Rope




BURSTING THE SOAP BUBBLE

I want to end this with us, "the fans." You know, all of us who are blogging, posting to message boards, subscribe to ABC/CBS Soaps in Depth, run fan clubs, post cliché videos of our favorite couples to some incredibly sappy song on YouTube, or — this is important — are close enough friends with Carolyn Hinsey to have shadow columns. (Marcia from Arkansas, how did soaps ever manage to stumble along without your pearls of post-modernist snarky wisdom and pithy wordplay?) We who are also known as "the fans" have got it in our collective heads that we represent all fans everywhere at all times.

We seem to think that the vast majority of soap viewers are like those of us who hopscotch networks, are privy to every spoiler and upcoming plot twist, and follow every casting decision with the same intensity that the rest of the country paid to the recent Presidential election. We do acknowledge disagreements and factions among ourselves, but in our criticism of "the suits" we often speak as if we are of "one" voice. The execs should write what "the fans" want, specifics of which are often contradictory at the very best. Hello Skate, LuSam, Liason, CarJax (not to be confused with CarJackers) fans and your nemesi! I see you peeking! We also think that the soap world turns in a self-contained bubble, where soaps only compete against each other in their respective time slots without regard to any other program that airs against them or market-by-market scheduling consideration. Most interesting enough, we judge our soaps against twentieth century standards in a twenty-first century world.

We must disabuse ourselves of such insular thinking. No one who actually works in Soap Opera thinks that way no matter how much they play to the back of the theater about exclusive primacy of "character driven stories." Like any other sector of televised entertainment, the soap world spins at a faster pace with an ever increasing set of difficult calculations that executives, writers, actors, and even advertisers and affiliates must make that we "the fans" who make no spending decisions, who negotiate no contracts, who employ no crew, who deal with no union, who answer to no demographically obsessed advertiser, who license no show nor cut a single check have to worry about.

This is not to say that every soap fan needs to be well versed in the arcana of television programming, but there are a many who will say, "I don't care about all that stuff, I just want my soap to be good."

Fair enough, but I think it behooves fans as a whole to be more cognizant of these admittedly complicated issues than we have in the past if we are to be more effective advocates for the survival of Soap Opera as a genre and an art form.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, I think the supposed imminent death of soaps is greatly exaggerated.


Comments

DaytimeFan0001's picture
Member since:
23 April 2008
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1 day 7 hours

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.

J Bernard Jones's picture
Member since:
9 September 2008
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6 hours 16 min

DaytimeFan0001, um, I think you should read the entire posting. LOL

daisyclover1938's picture
Member since:
14 November 2007
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3 years 49 weeks

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!

zyona's picture
Member since:
13 August 2008
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19 weeks 1 day

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.
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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.

Member since:
4 April 2008
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14 weeks 3 days

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.

Mr. Brightside's picture
Member since:
1 October 2008
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4 years 3 weeks

Hindi is a language, yo.

J Bernard Jones's picture
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9 September 2008
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6 hours 16 min

Daisy,

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.

J Bernard Jones's picture
Member since:
9 September 2008
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6 hours 16 min

Hindi is a language, yo.

The "u" is next to the "i" on the keyboard, yo. Simple typo. Fixed!

Cheers!

Member since:
31 October 2008
Last activity:
5 years 4 weeks

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?

daisyclover1938's picture
Member since:
14 November 2007
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3 years 49 weeks

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 Smile ) that can speak for so many of us. Thank you for that!!

Member since:
11 December 2007
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1 week 1 day

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.

Member since:
11 June 2008
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1 year 5 weeks

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

KingTV's picture
Member since:
1 January 2008
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4 years 48 weeks

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.

Trudi's picture
Member since:
6 January 2008
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2 years 42 weeks

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.