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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bad Romance - The Dissolving of Daytime Soaps

It seems lately that the once beloved soap genre can’t get any respect.  Once the darlings of daytime, they are now near extinction and being replaced by reality and educational programing.  This bad break-up between the soap genre and daytime television has been heartbreaking for many soap fans.  So what happened to make what seemed like a happy marriage end in divorce?

While I am only a humble fan, I would like to share some of my thoughts on what I feel lead to the downfall of soap operas.

Soaps didn't get a chance to flaunt their assets

Soap operas have a lot of talent yet most soap stars are not household names like many primetime actors.  While most tv shows want viewers to become familiar with their casts and work to promote the actors as a way of promoting the program, soaps have not done a very good job of this at all.  While non soap fans probably know Susan Lucci, next to none of them could tell you who six time Emmy winner Erika Slezak is.  She doesn’t exist outside the genre.  Why wasn’t she promoted more?  While Susan Lucci deserves the attention she gets, why did daytime not want to showcase all its actors?

Take a look at some of the now household names that did start on soaps.  I’ll use Sarah Michelle Gellar and Kelly Rippa as examples.  Everyone knows Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Regis’s co-host.  These talented ladies didn’t become famous until after they left the soap genre.  The message that gives is that soaps are merely starting spots for actors and that they can only be stars after they leave.

Daytime television should have been making stars.  There are lot of people who will tune into a show simply because they like one of the actors on it.

Pass the trash

If someone didn’t do well in his previous job, why would you hire that same person to do the exact same job again?  Yet this has been happening for years in regards to soaps.  Head writers and executive producers who make major mistakes on one series could always count on being hired onto another series.  Now I won’t name any names - as tempting as it may be - but we soap fans know who they are.

To put it simply, soaps need people who love and understand the genre and it’s fans doing the creative work behind the scenes.  If a head writer or executive producer is killing off the show’s heroines, breaking up it’s super couples, and unnecessarily recasting characters with their friends, they need to find another line of work and shouldn’t be rehired.  Stuff like this can upset viewers and cause lasting damage to the show.

Not enough love in the afternoon

The soap genre is about romance, family, and all the crazy stuff in between.  It’s escapism but also relatable.  The story line should be keep character driven.  Fans should see the good and bad decisions the characters take and those decision should be what moves the story forward.  When a female lead falls hard, the viewers need to fall with her.  Characters need to be fleshed out and couples need to have chemistry.  You need the right actors to do this.  It can’t just look good on paper or in theory.  It needs to sizzle on the screen.  Viewers will forgive the occasional crazy plot line if they care about the characters.

Soaps need to change with the times

While primetime tv has evolve in production values, not much has changed with soaps.  Soaps need to look modern for modern times.  Now this doesn’t mean going all experimental and filming everything with handheld cameras and renting houses in New Jersey is the way to go at all.  I talking more about little changes such as more realistic settings and housekeepers who don’t wear french maid outfits.

Soaps have a bad reputation

I feel as though soaps have kind of gotten a bad reputation mostly in part to some of things I mentioned above.  Things such as bad acting, crazy plots, and gratuitous sex are thought by many to be the characteristics of a soap opera.  While to a certain degree this reputation has been earned,  there is and can be so much more to a soap than that.  Soaps can also have powerful acting, realistically explore important social issues, and showcase relatable relationships.  Soaps need to work on building their reputation with the public and shaking that old bad one.

Soaps are not profitable

The universal excuse for the cancellation of soaps seems to be money.  I blame this on the same networks who are saying this.  How can primetime shows with less viewers be considered “hit shows” but soap operas not be?  I think it’s because the daytime executives didn’t adapt with the changing times of television and didn’t actively look for creative ways to make the shows profitable.

Primetime shows have less episodes to produce which means less cost.  Soap opera programming could have tried to achieve something more like this by having seasons instead of year round episodes or by simply cutting their time in half and moving back to half hour formats.  An airline was able to save millions of dollars simply by removing one olive from each salad it served.  This would have had the same effect.

Another option would be to add some product placement to the shows.  Not only would this generate some income for the show but I think it would actually improve the shows.  Name brand products exist in real life.  It would be more realistic in my opinion to see a character eat a bowel of Cheerios rather than something from a cereal box with no name on it.

And why not sell DVD sets for soaps centered around favorite story lines?  DVD box sets are a given for all primetime shows anymore and they create revenue for those shows.  With the exception of a few DVDS of already cancelled soaps, these are not available for soap fans.  If I want to watch a classic episode of my favorite soap, I have to watch it on YouTube.  The quality isn’t always the best and the show doesn’t get a dime when I do this.

Is there still hope?

While daytime television may not love our soaps anymore, primetime has become the genre’s Prince Charming.  Show like Once Upon a Time and Revenge are thriving.  Dallas is returning on cable.  Sudsy shows such as Game of Thrones and Mad Men are critically acclaimed.  It should be a good time to be a soap opera, right?

Unfortunately some network executives don’t see it that way.  I think that in order for soaps to survive, they may need to find a new home either via cable or online.  If your boyfriend doesn’t love you anymore, dump him and find someone who does.

As for the four remaining daytime soaps,  I think fans need to show our support by tuning in.  When I thought that the soaps would last forever it was easy to watch them sporadically.  Now I know to watch regularly.  Soaps still matter and they need our help.

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