The Decline Of The American Soap Opera

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With the news of

All My Children

and

One Life to Live

being canceled on Thursday, April 12, 2011, the American Soap Opera genre spun into a state of disaster. Over a span of three years, the genre has lost a total of five soap operas, leaving the final four standing. What could cause shows that have been on the air for 40 plus years to get the boot from their respective networks? What does this mean for the American soaps still on the air? What are the key factors to a successful soap? Is it possible that in five years the American Soap Opera will be a thing of the past? So many questions, so little time. I have a few theories and comments of why the genre that has captured the hearts of Americans for years is slowly but surely fading into oblivion.



The first thing the press and media will attain the fall of genre to is ratings. It’s clear as day that the current ratings are nothing close to what they were in the 80’s.  However, I think the same can be said for rest of television period, not just daytime. I hardly ever see mainstream looking at things that way. Also, if you were to look at the Nielsen’s for daytime and compare them to some “hit” primetime shows, you would see that Daytime reigns supreme and has for years. If daytime is beating the ratings of hit primetime shows, then why are those same shows being canned? It doesn’t make much sense if you ask me.

 It’s become harder to watch the shows live, as the networks want it, because the majority of the target audience is part of the workforce. Although, many people, including myself, record soaps and watch them on the weekend in a marathon. The problem with this routine lies within the antiquated Nielsen Ratings System. You are randomly selected to be a Nielsen family, or you have to have a Nielsen box for the ratings to count.  Daytime television must be watched on the same day it aired to be counted in the ratings for that period whereas; primetime can be watched in a 7-day period to be counted for their ratings period. Why the big discrepancy between the number of days? There is no telling how many alienated viewers are out there, that are not being counted. With the technology we have today, why don’t we have a ratings system inside every television? I guess that would just be too easy.


Another issue that could have led to the genre’s current state is the social stigma against the American Soap Opera. There once was a time when watching a soap opera was the thing to do. I mean, Luke and Laura’s wedding was watched by 30 million people in 1981 for God’s sake. However, somewhere between 1981 and 2011 all of that changed. Soaps have always had the stereotype of being catered to housewives, but I feel that is a load horse manure. Look at our website and several others, there seems to be a good mix of men and women of all different ages who are nowhere near the word housewife. Furthermore, could some of the absurd stories over the years (Cloning Reva, Marlena being possessed by devil, killing Dixie with pancakes) be the cause of the turn away from the soaps? I think that has something to do with it, but is not the entire reason. Is there one particular reason soap opera’s went from being the cat’s meow to kitty litter, I think not.  I just know that now saying you like a soap opera is so frowned upon, and I don’t understand why. The majority of “hit” shows on primetime are rooted in soap opera-style drama, but nobody’s willing to admit that. If it weren’t for the format of daytime serials, primetime serials would not exist as they are now. What happened to acknowledging and paying honor to the roots of the serial drama period? I guess the people at the top forgot that somewhere along the way.

Speaking of the executives, they happen to be my next point. When the executives from the respective networks speak about their soap opera’s, I hear the term ratings and money uttered more times than I can count. What happened to the concentration being on story, characters and overall development of the soaps? Those days are long gone and the days of ratings and money are here to stay. If I am remembering correctly, money was the reason AMC was moved across the country? What a way to waste a ton of money by cancelling the soap a year later.

I think what the executives over the years have failed to realize is that you have to spend money to make money. If you don’t do that, then you cut and cut and cut until there is nothing left. Gloria Monty knew this and used it to her advantage. I’ve heard Jamey speak about how she started over from scratch to save GH back in the day and it worked like a charm. Granted the soaps had more money back then, but who’s to say it couldn’t be done now? Is it because the executive’s not so secretly want the soaps to disappear? Apparently, the afternoon time slot is coveted, so why replace generational serial dramas with mindless, sloppily thrown together, same old same old reality shows. I understand that it’s cheaper to produce, but my God, when will people realize you get what you pay for? I would rather invest in a show that has decades of history with an almost guarantee of future viewers (little ones who watched with grandma/mama and grow up to be adults) than a show that probably will not be around in 5 years. If you really think about, it’s not very good business.

In closing, the state of the American Soap Opera is in disarray and it breaks my heart. I can only hope that this genre will get things together and make a huge turnaround. We’re in a dogfight and in the end; both sides will come out with battle wounds. However, it’s not about who wins the battle, but who wins the war.