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Daytime Television and the Fountain of Misguided Youth

You wanna know what those coveted, Madison Avenue-sanctioned younger demographics will get you in terms of gauging success for the ever-shrinking daytime televison industry? Well if you add $.50, the demos will buy you a rag to wipe your sweaty balls in Peapack, New Jersey.


The pursuit of getting children to watch the depraived, carnal, socially-devoid programming modern day soaps have descended to—talk it over soaps indeed—is what has daytime television, a once viable entertainment platform, flatlining.   

Doing Daytime Confidential has shown me that these younger characters and upercouples (I refuse to give most of them the required "S" they need to rate with the likes of a Luke and Laura or a John and Marlena) do have their fanbases. I have been shocked many a time at the fervor for a Passions actor or some of the couples on The Guiding Light (as our Mike still likes to call it) who never would have even made the cut 20, 10 or even five years ago in terms of star wattage, talent or sex appeal, but I realize it is a new, if not brighter, day. 

One of the biggest problems with going after a niche market of younger viewers is that you drive off what has been the genre's core audience for 70 plus years— older women. These women were the ones who kept the Nielsen household numbers steady, by watching without fail and getting their family members to do the same for generations. It was the Trickle Down Theory done right.

Guiding Light may have rampant Cryina and Jammy fans, and Days of Our Lives even struck a cord with some viewers with Daniel and Chelsea, but guess what? The fans of characters like Blake and Ross, Matt and Vanessa, Phillip or Alexandra who watched GL for decades, and/or those who fell in love with Doug and Julie or Jack and Jennifer at Days, have left in the millions, so how is the pursuit of youth working out for this genre? 

General Hospital, which will probably go down in the record books as the most consistently popular daytime drama, based on its reign at the top of the Nielsens during the exorbitant 80's, is pretty much responsible for ushering in the youth craze with Luke and Laura (Tony Gearyand Genie Francis).

The difference between then and now however, is that characters like Laura, her nemesis Bobbie (Jackie Zeman) and her teen husband Scott (Kin Shriner) were all largely connected to veteran cast members and characters who made it okay for the core audience who had stuck with GH during its rocky first generation (1963-1978)  to fall in love with them and later, this newcomer rogue named Spencer. The formula paid off as the soap managed to draw in millions of younger viewers and effectively save the genre from dying off three decades ago.

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I don't think any fan, writer or executive associated with daytime soaps would say that's how it works today. In today's youth-obsessed soap climate, you would never see a 40-something heroine like Lesley Webber (Denise Alexander) in a front burner storyline right along with her teenage daughter Laura. Laura would be on five-days-a-week (seven if Frons could get the rights to air on the weekends) with no other connection to the older, more popular veterans except maybe a surname, while her mother would be brought back for ocassional Sweeps stunts or to gush over her love for a Paul McCartney wannabe.  

It's no secret that no matter what, I love General Hospital and have since circa-1993. I have said over and over again, sometimes at risk of a cyber tongue lashing from my blog-o-peers, that if I stopped doing DC today, there would only be two soaps I'd keep watching and that's GH and The Young and the Restless,  yet even as a diehard fan of the soap,  and yes, its head writer Bob Guza—hey, the guy gave me Clink. Boom— I have to admit GH's long term fans have been woefully disenfranchised. 

The obsessive coveting of younger viewers at the expense of older ones is effectively killing the genre. Daytime network executives are so busy trying to hook an unhookable generation, that they have taken for granted the very people who have kept them employed for decades. There is much too much out there in form of entertainment for soaps— especially poorly written, far-fetched soaps, filled with young adults who couldn't act surprised at a birthday party— to hook teens and twentysomethings for the long haul without it being a family affair. As Tom Casiellorecently pointed out in a magazine article about soaps in the 80's, that time frame was without a doubt the genre's glory days. It was when grandma was watching, her daughter was watching, her granddaughter was watching and her closeted gay grandson was watching.

Nowadays, Grandma has switched to Judge Joe Brown because she doesn't want to watch a 40-year-old man, who got off for killing, raping and or running over the town sweetheart, romance someone who looks like her 14-year-old granddaughter.

 Her daughter is too busy being Super Woman to watch soaps, and although she TIVO's them, she sure as heck doesn't have time to watch them in time for her ratings to be counted, what with PTA meetings, ballet recitals, dentist appointents, Oprah Book Club commitments and vaginal rejuvenation clinical trials. 

Her granddaughter is already thinking Gossip Girlis "like so totally getting old" and is checking Perez on her blackberry and while she may may actually find the 40-year-old guy romancing the prepubescent girl storyline hot, it won't be enough to keep her liquid fast attention span hooked for five minutes, let alone five years. 

Then there's closeted gay grandson. He's come out of the closet and is still watching, glutton for punishment that he is, even though the genre refuses to tell a realistic story he can relate to, so why should he keep wasting his time and his brain cells, when primetime shows like Mad Men, Ugly Betty, Brothers and Sisters and Sordid Lives,  all have well-conceived same sex storylines and cable channels like Bravo and Logo have sprung up to cater to him? Meanwhile, daytime execs, producers and writers are too worried about offending Grandma, who, as I already stated, doesn't even watch anymore and is actually a member of PFLAG. 

When its all said and done and the last Bette Midler song is played before the final closing credits of the Last Soap Standing (hosted, executive produced and written by Alison Sweeney), the guardians at the gate, the very people who inherited this genre from Irna and Agnes, Bill and Gloria, Doug and James are going to have to explain to the Soap Gods on Pop Culture Judgement Day how they squandered their birthright and wrecked an almost century's old medium, all for the sake of the mythical Fountain of Electric Youth ,or even worse "mainstream" validation (see The Channel Formerly Known as SOAPnet) and trust me my friends, it won't be pretty.