Why The Remaining Daytime Soaps Must Start Paying Attention to Their Primetime Counterparts if They Hope to Stay Alive


The Mouse House may be doing everything possible to tank their last daytime soap, General Hospital, in order to finally be out of the scripted TV business before primetime hours, but the same channel is aggressively developing numerous primetime sudsers. What gives?


A quick look at ABC's 2012 pilot slate and you're liable to get bubbles in your eyes from all the soap! There's Nashville, the country music-themed family drama from Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise) and directed by RJ Cutler (The September Issue). That sudser just cast wildly popular daytime alum Jonathan Jackson (ex-Lucky Spencer, General Hospital) in a plum role, but if Nashville makes it to air, will that be enough to lure lapsed and furious ABC Daytime fans, still mourning the losses of All My Children and One Life to Live, to watch? If that's even a point of consideration — which, let's be real, it likely isn't.

Nashville is one of multiple primetime soaps the Mouse House has in development, while rapidly ditching their daytime drama forerunners. There's also fashion sudser Americana, starring Anthony LaPaglia as a Ralph Lauren-esque designer, dealing with, you guessed it, family drama; Marc Cherry's first post-Desperate Housewives project, Devious Maids, based on a Spanish language telenovela; period soap Gilded Lilys, from Shonda Rhimes, about a New York City luxury hotel in the late 1800's; supernatural sudser 666 Park Avenue, centered on a young couple who take jobs managing a historic, Gotham apartment building, only to learn it has some dangerously undead inhabitants; and an adaptation of Judith Krantz's blockbuster beach read Scruples, about a glamorous socialite and her department store dynasty during the 1970's. Scruples has Krantz's son Tony Krantz, Oscar winner Natalie Portman and Precious helmer Lee Daniels behind it.

While several period soaps proved to be misses this past TV season—NBC's The Playboy Club and ABC's own Pan Am— PBS has its most successful series ever in Downton Abbey. I wouldn't be surprised if Rhimes' Lilys has its fair share in common with the Dowager and the gang at the Abbey, but that's just my guess. 

Unlike the first time in pop culture history when primetime soaps were all the rage, the early 80's (Shout to to 60's stand alone Peyton Place!), this time around the daytime serials that inspired them are on their last legs, which begs the question — could a spike in interest in primetime soaps possibly benefit the last four daytime soaps on the air in any measurable fashion?

Revenge, one of this TV season's most buzzed about shows, essentially works from a basic "How To Write a Good Soap" handbook, complete with oodles of glitzy, fast-paced stories about sex, betrayal, scandal and murder.There's also plenty of Haves vs. Have-Nots action, thanks to a pair of hunky townies and a trailer trash lass, with a fake identity, mixing it up with the dirty, sexy monied folks.

 Don't get me wrong, I love Revenge— can't get enough of it in fact—but it isn't exactly revolutionary. In all actuality, Revenge is quite retro, which I believe has helped its popularity. As fans mourn the loss of so many traditional, old school soaps in daytime and primetime over the years, Revenge came along and brought the sudser roaring back.

Lead revenge seeker Emily/Amanda (Emily VanCamp) methodically takes down her enemies on the hit 2011-12 TV season sudser episode after episode, much like Sarah Michelle Gellar's Kendall Hart and Sarah Brown's Carly Roberts were doing on All My Children and General Hospital respectively way back in the 90's. Before there were Kendall and Carly, there were their scheming soap mothers, Erica Kane (Susan Lucci) and Nurse Bobbie Spencer (Jackie Zeman), who were wreaking soapy havoc way back in the 1970's. Speaking of Erica Kane, Chrstina Yang's (Sandra Oh) marriage imploding on Grey's Anatomy over her decision to have an abortion to focus on her career isn't something new to daytime soap fans. Erica did that three decades ago!

16 Responses

  1. Profile photo of Carol2

    Aside from Revenge, which seems to be holding its own in the ratings, are any primetime soaps successful today? Or any dramas with soapy elements?

    I don’t agree with people who say soaps as an artform are dead, but I can’t think of any shows with quality soap drama which have a strong following. Just look at the ratings for Parenthood, which should be much more popular than it is.

  2. Profile photo of Restless Fan
    Restless Fan

    Very well done article Jamey! I agree 100%. Soaps slowly started to abandon the traditionalism that made them popular in their heyday back in the 90’s. They need to stop trying to compete with prime time where big events are concerned. Stick to good, innovative, character driven storytelling and I absolutely believe the 4 remaining soaps could do well for themselves. There are still a lot of great stories to be told but they have to stop with the cliches and gimmicks and out there crap.

    Y&R was that traditional well done soap up until Bill Bell Sr. death in 2005. We know the story all too well of how things have ended up in that camp. Among the issues I have with current day Y&R, other than the far out stories, is how rushed everything is. I don’t feel invested in much of anything. You don’t get those powerful moments the soap used to serve up to great delight. Things happen so quickly with little to no build up. New characters are poorly developed. Angelina being the latest horrendous character this regime has come up with. If I am not FF through some of that crap I am falling asleep to it.

    A good friend of mine and I had a Y&R marathon a few months back. I have tons of stuff on VHS so I dusted off the VCR and took a step back in time. Late 80’s and some early 90’s stuff. We were both struck at how unnecessarily different today’s show is. We found our love for the show being whet again in a way today’s show is unable to do. The scenarios were realistic. The characters made sense. The music and production values unmatched. It made me hate the current regime even more.

    Before the fixing phase can even start TPTB have to acknowledge they have not been good fits for the show. They have done no positive service to it. If Maria Bell really is the diva many soap journalists hint her to be then someone else needs to knock her off that pedestal. She is on it unearned. There is very little about her show she should feel proud of.

  3. Profile photo of MadDogLane

    They’re not remotely the same, primetime is a whole different animal, they have seasons, smaller casts & whatnot.

    I don’t think there’s much hope for GH, ABC clearly wants it gone, but the only thing that can save the remaining soaps is good writing & stopping the stunt casting, and have people running the soaps that care about the genre.

  4. Profile photo of Susan Hunter
    Susan Hunter

    Daytime Serials, as an art form, have long borrowed from what was popular. When ‘World Turns’ became an instant hit, daytime execs wanted soaps like ‘World Turns’. Multi-generational, family drama set in a small town, where characters morality was constantly being tested. This was the model and it worked and it worked well. The late 60s came along and with societal unrest, soaps began showcasing franker and more bold storylines. With the almost immediate popularity of ‘Young and Restless’ in the early 70s, the execs demanded ‘young’ stories set in moody almost dark lighting. When ‘General Hospital’ became the must watch soap in the late 70s, soaps once again shifted to make room for white boys with perms in tight jeans who had a save the world fetish. It is no surprise that as primetime serials became popular, wealthy oil barons showed up in small towns which overnight turned into major metropolises. And in the 90s everybody was copying Jim Reilly, without truly grasping why his storylines worked.

    I truly believe that what could save soaps isn’t just doing a retread of ‘Revenge’ or ‘Desperate Housewives’ or whatever is currently popular. What will save daytime is bringing back the long term story. The art of the long term story has left daytime in favor of shorter arcs that oftentimes are meaningless. The one thing that I truly miss is the ability to sit down and watch a storyline unfold over many months, sometimes years. To watch every beat of a story be played in scenes that ran longer than 45 seconds at a clip (but I digress). In daytime you have the luxury of telling a story and telling it properly, using years of history to inform what is happening on the screen. No one does that any longer and I don’t understand why. Just because you have a two year story, doesn’t mean the pacing of the show has to be glacial, but don’t forget half the fun of daytime is the wait. There is nothing better than after two years, finally watching your favorite couple make love or the shocking revelation at the trial or the big shocker at the party with the whole town in attendance. It doesn’t carry the same weight, when you’ve only had to wait 13 weeks.

    I was thinking about this Abby/Austin story on Days. That story could be incredibly interesting and played for years, just based on the history of the two characters and how they’re connected. You could do a whole six months with just Austin wondering why he attracts stalkers.

  5. Profile photo of MsAgentProvocateur1

    Tell it like it is, Jamey! Over the last decade, the Daytime Drama has forgotten how to both INNOVATE & hold fast to the principals of GOOD, OLD FASHIONED STORYTELLING techniques.

    I suggested to someone awhile back that perhaps it has become too difficult for today’s writers to write quality storylines with a myriad of characters 5 days a week. Perhaps they might consider a rotation similar to what their Primetime counterparts are doing. When daytime transitioned from Radio to TV, sweeping changes were made to adapt to and innovate according to the times. Perhaps some sweeping changes are needed again to adapt to the changed Television landscape.

    And for some Dramas, a change in Head Writer is a good starting place.

  6. Profile photo of Camp is not a sustainable model
    Camp is not a sustainable model

    There are so many things that you hit on here that are on-point. Let me add a few things as well. If you take a look at what is going in society today Agnes (the most relevant writer in the history of the genre) would have interwoven what is happening in the world into her daytime dramas. And when she did it they were always a success. From stories like the African American Claire passing for white (which she found while reading an article in the NYT’s about light skinned black actresses finding it hard to get work in the 60’s), Erica’s Abortion (which came via the Row vs. Wade debate) and Jesse being falsely accused of rape (which was a response to how African American men were being railroaded, tried and convicted through the criminal justice system in the 80’s if a white woman was raped. Thus any black man could be convicted without proper evidence). These are a few examples of how Agnes kept up with the times and wrote ratings grabbing, educational and engaging stories that the audience loved.

    Now just think of what would happened if daytime were to explore the issue of contraception’s, Muslim Americans being targeted just because of their religion or gay teen suicide being explored in-depth through core characters we know and love. Think of what that would do for the genre.

    And when you look back you can see the last time period when each soap was at its best.

    Y&R: When Victor was engaging in corporate fraud via the payola scandal, Dru was trying to keep Lily’s paternity from coming out, Daniel was being falsely vilified for the death of Cassie and John risked it all for Gloria; that was when Y&R had some decent storylines. And the good outweighed the bad.

    And some may ask why I give Y&R an asswhoopin and a half on the regular? Because I use to love that show… I loved it. And my momma and daddy always told me never to accept mediocrity as a passing grade. A “C” was not acceptable. A “B” was pushing it. But an “A” was what you must bring home or else that reflected how you would be viewed in life. So I don’t accept it from Y&R.

    GH: When this show was about more than just All Sonny’s trials and we had the Quatermaines with ELQ stories going on. When General Hospital actually still lived up to its name then we had something going on there.

    B&B: Anne Douglas story was a great moment where B&B showed that it move from camp into serious storytelling. And it reminded me of the exact thing Bill Bell would have explored. Also the show use to focus on fashion in a way that was plausible and real. Not the bears and honey mess!

    Days: For me the last time Days was THE SHIT (meaning that it was best of 8 soaps on air) was during the time period where Lexie became Alexander Dimera. Every day was a must see episode. Because you had Alexander plottin’ scheming to keep the secret that she had Hope’s baby. Marlena and Bo were reeling from the fact that John and Hope had been lovers. Sami was developing a relationship with Brandon built on lies (as usual). Nicole became the woman to oust Kate as the lady of victor’s manor and take her place. Jack was determine to get Jennifer back and was thus up to all his usual tricks. And Belle Shawn, Mimi, Rex, Brady, Chloe and Phillip filled out the best younger set in daytime.

    But probably the biggest failure of daytime is that it lacks new blood. The fans of this genre who have studied the masters of the soap universe, understood how you tell long story and short story have been left to dream about life as a headwriter from their bedroom and blogs while prime writers and recycled daytime hacks are given million dollar salaries to destroy the fabric and heart of the soaps “we” have come to love.

    So that at the end our beloved soaps whom were supposed to get a slight cosmetics facelift end up looking like Jocelyn Wildenstein.

    And to close on a play on a quote from Malcolm X:

    “We didn’t land on Maria Bell. Maria Bell landed on us!”

  7. Profile photo of jphelps

    [quote=Carol2]Aside from Revenge, which seems to be holding its own in the ratings, are any primetime soaps successful today? Or any dramas with soapy elements?I don’t agree with people who say soaps as an artform are dead, but I can’t think of any shows with quality soap drama which have a strong following. Just look at the ratings for Parenthood, which should be much more popular than it is.[/quote]

    IA. The Good Wife while not fully serialized also has a soapy side to it and while a great show is not exactly a ratings hit. Friday Night Lights a fabulous nughttime serial drama never really gained an audience. I think ER is the last PT show and maybe Greys that were huge successes that has procedural and serialized elements combined. Lost was more of a hit IMO due to its scify element than anything. Heroes sort of a scify attempt to capture the feel bombed after season 1.

    I think success of a new show is just luck. You just have to hit it at the right time. Glee was huge its first year or 2 and has died down. Look at Smash which with all the hype and an A list producer has turned into a disappointment. Yet an under funded wantabe serialized show on AMC, The Walking Dead a huge ratings success while the much heralded Mad Men continues to underperform. As for the Nashhville show that seems to be more in the formula of Glee and Smash than a soap.

  8. Profile photo of pjc722

    With all the talk about the death of soaps, there was never talk about how the British keep their soaps fresh and on target all the time. The two biggest soaps over there is Coronation Street and East Enders. Each airs 3 nights and 2 nights a week and their ratings are up! When there was talk of canceling AMC and OLTL, why wasn’t anyone in the soap world suggesting the shorten ON AIR timeline?

    For example, why couldnt ABC cut overall costs by having the shows go parttime airing Monday/Wednesday/Friday and have those insipid talk shows on Tuesday and Thursday. As it is, a talk show on food with 5 hosts 5 days a week is too much. Having another talk show 5 days a week about 1 person loosing weight and changing their lives in 1 week (off course shrunken down into tiny bits from months of footage) with 5 hosts is too much.

    Imagine how great both those concepts for talk shows could be with LESS airtime and more concentration of talk, cooking, inspiration. They would be tighter shows and better shows. As would the soaps.

    With only 3 episodes a week, AMC and OLTL could trim down their budgets and guarantees for their stars. They could have possibly added more sets so we’re not bored watching the same scenery. They could have told stories in the same amount of time but with less repetitive dialogue, and even better dialogue.

    The people at ABC/NBC/CBS need to see that we don’t want DIFFERENT tv to watch, we just want better tv to watch. Give me a demon doctor, an evil corporate tycoon, a murder mystery as long as you write it well, tell it right and make me feel like I haven’t wasted my time.

  9. Profile photo of EastWest

    I do like the teacher becoming the student angle w/this article. I do think everyone at their respective shows care, so my argument of a care being there is moot. All these soaps can count on is hoping that the suits see their value and I think that at the end of the day wil buy these soaps more time.

  10. Profile photo of At50

    “The Good Wife while not fully serialized also has a soapy side to it and while a great show is not exactly a ratings hit.”

    The Good Wife did pretty decently in total viewers, at least before the time slot change, but it gets weak ratings with the younger viewers. Its fairly popular but not with the “right” viewers.

  11. Profile photo of jphelps

    [quote=At50]”The Good Wife while not fully serialized also has a soapy side to it and while a great show is not exactly a ratings hit.
    The Good Wife did pretty decently in total viewers, at least before the time slot change, but it gets weak ratings with the younger viewers. Its fairly popular but not with the “right” viewers.[/quote]
    I am a huge fan of the show but total viewers really don’t matter. Cold Case and Without a Trace 2 of my faves were in the same ballpark and got cancelled. I worry that CBS might cancel it. They don’t care much about awards

  12. Profile photo of Nathang1983

    I agree, MadDogLane. When you get right down to it, soaps are being canceled because they’re on five days a week. The execs are all about saving money, and I feel that the only reason why a lot of soaps weren’t canceled ten years ago was because the execs knew of the fan upheaval they would experience. I love soaps, but I can see the writing’s on the wall and General Hospital and Days of Our Lives will be gone within five years (if not this year for GH). That’s just it. If we want a “soap future,” we will probably have to look to primetime from now on. It seems like these days most nighttime dramas are soaps, essentially (either that or procedurals). The money’s in primetime for the TV business, and while we may not accept that, it is the future.

  13. Profile photo of Camp is not a sustainable model
    Camp is not a sustainable model

    @Nathang1983: Primetime? Did you forget the web? Web series have become the new place for original scripted content. And they have discovered that people are more likely to watch a web series if it has a continuing thread that plays out throughout the series. They have built on the successful series on HBO and Showtime cable networks.

    When it comes to soaps the Web is allowing us a platform to get the same time of drama you get from your daily serial. So primetime is not where it is at or the only place.

    Producers/Creators of web series also have full creative control to write what they want and produce it. So this provides another benefit. So if you are looking for good soapy drama check out the web.

    And as someone who host web series on my site that appeal to a young male demographic, I find that all of the series We end up selecting always have a story thread that is played out over the course of the series.

    For example we host this series 12 Steps To Recovery, which is about a late 20’s man whose love of his life has broken up with him and to try and get over her, his two best-friends are setting him up on various blind dates. Each episode we get to see this man’s experiences with with different female personalities that seem to end in disaster.

    In another series The Online Gamer we follow the crazy yet hilarious life of an Online Gamer. Then there is my favorite, Osiris a mystery about an immortal man whom is being hunted down by an unknown evil.

    So you see the model of serialized programming is alive and well. Just it’s original format in Daytime is on the way out. So look to the new medium to get your soap fix. Because it is the future of the genre.


  14. Profile photo of At50

    Web Series look so cheap to me. It seems like a stupid reason not to watch a show but I don’t like the look of them.

    “I am a huge fan of the show but total viewers really don’t matter. Cold Case and Without a Trace 2 of my faves were in the same ballpark and got cancelled. I worry that CBS might cancel it. They don’t care much about awards.”

    I know. My point was that The Good Wife is not unpopular. Its just not popular with the viewers that the networks care most about.

  15. Profile photo of engradypind

    I don’t watch a lot of ABC programming and when it pulls the plug on General Hospital I will be watching a whole lot less. So much of ABC’s veteran fare has become stale after a couple of seasons, and its new additions to the lineup tend to be rip-offs, with the exception of this year’s Once Upon a Time. I know people enjoy Dancing with the Stars, but how many more seasons of c-list celebrities must we endure? The less said about their news programming the better. What do they have against scripted programming for daytime? Too much money? Bull!

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