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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Cult of Soap Opera

I remember being fresh from college and living in a tiny apartment that I shared with two roommates.  Everyday I would rush home from my entry level job to watch my favorite show.  It was my way of escaping and relaxing after a hard day’s work.  That show was the cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer - the reruns which aired on FX to be exact.  Yes, I was rushing home to watch a rerun.  This is the way fans of cult television behave and this is what I think makes cult television marketable.  Shows such as Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Two and a Half Men were ratings darlings but nobody runs home to watch their reruns on a daily basis.

Cult shows are typically serials that not only draw their viewers in but give viewers the need to continue to watch to see what happens next.  Fans care what happens to the characters on these shows.  While they can focus on fantasy and science fiction elements, they will usually have a hint of relateblity to them that makes their audiences connect.  Soap operas are a form of this type of television.

Anyone who is a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will tell you that it wasn’t just about staking vampires.  It was really about how high school is hell.  Many of the monsters and “big bads” that Buffy battle each week were merely metaphors for the teenage experience.  Of course those who didn’t watch, think it is just about a vampire slaying cheerleader.

Something simular can be said of soaps.  While on the surfaces they may seem to be nothing more than sex and scandal, they really are about our relationships and desires.  Instead of high school as hell, soaps are about how love can be hell and, of course, occasionally heaven.

Like their science fiction and fantasy counter parts, soaps are also appointment television.  Fans of the shows will make a point to have time to view these programs. Plus when fans turn the channel to these shows, they are actually watching them!  Nobody turns to a soap for the background noise.

This should appeal to advertisers and, according to a recent comment from ABC President of Entertainment Paul Lee, it does:

Lee says that soaps tend to rake in more money from advertisers. "We tend to be able to sell it more aggressively around the world because it's appointment television," he explains, noting that he began his career producing Brazilian and British soap operas. 

Lee’s comment was a surprise to many fans such as myself not because we disagreed but because this was certainly the opposite of what we have been told in the past.  It was very pleasant for a television executive to state what I have always thought was the obvious.

So why have fans of the ailing soap genre been told for so long that soaps don’t make money?  I wish I knew the answer that question.  All I can say is that some television executives just don’t appear to get it.  They don’t always seem to understand that when it comes to viewership, loyalty can be more important than quantity.  I hope that we can see this negative attitude towards soaps continue to change because with everything that is going on in the world today, we all need the escape.

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