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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Social Media and Soap Fans

The below article was originally posted as a comment on Carolyn Hinsey’s blog entitled Have Soap Fans Changed? It is written by fellow soap fan Michael Grasso. You can follow Michael on twitter at @MPGrasso.
I definitely feel that social media has impacted how fans react to soaps. When I was first introduced to daytime, I was 11 years old and the year was 1991. My aunt would give me the occasional Soap Opera Digest, Soap Opera Weekly, or Soap Opera Update (she bought them all). When I got to be about 16 she and I started talking more in-depth about the stories. Our show was GH and Jason and Robin were everything. She was the girl with no future and he was the boy with no past. Over the past couple decades, we’ve discussed the stories, the ups, the down, the twists, the turns – and aren’t limited to 140 character questions or critiques. Since joining Twitter and since having attended a few fan events, social media has really connected me to the soap community. In college I’d have to set the VCR, watch my soap after class, and talk to my aunt about it when I was home for break. Now I watch it on Hulu Plus on my iPad. When something intriguing or funny happens, I’ll pause it, take a screen shot, and I can tweet it to my followers and sometimes we’ll engage in conversation. It’s so great because now we can tweet at the actors too and get them involved. Jen Lilley from Days, for instance, is phenomenal with her fans on Twitter.
Unfortunately, not all social media is used in this way. We’re in a fast paced world. We crave immediacy. We’ve lost our attention spans. We feel entitled and think we deserve things or that we are owed things. As the world has gotten quicker, the pace of the shows has been sped up, and the story arcs have gotten shorter in what may be an attempt to hold people’s attention or get them to experience a quicker payoff. I get it. I do. But the thoughtful critiques and constructive criticism of yesterday are nowhere to be found and so many people are mean and rude from the comfort of the internet’s anonymity.
People seem to want their show their way or else. That just doesn’t make sense. I am not a writer! I can’t trust myself! We have to trust the writers and have faith in their vision. They know better than us because they know what lies ahead when we don’t. For instance, with Lulu and Dante’s baby – when the truth about Maxie came out, I thought that’s it, story’s over. But, nope, that portion was over but we still had the whole storyline with Britt. And then when Elizabeth was on to Britt, I though, oh no, she’s done now. Nope! We discovered Dante was the father but Lulu remained in the dark. This story has gone on for well over a year because there have been a series of story arcs within it. Fantastic! Us fans want that payoff. We live for it. We watch for it. When it happens, there are no words! We want it so bad that we want it all the time. But you know what? If we all got what we wanted, there’d be no reason to tune in tomorrow. It’s the writer’s job to give us what we want every now and then, but mostly to give us what we need to hang along for the ride. We have to accept that characters, even our favorites, will sometimes do things we don’t agree with. That’s okay. That’s life. Is not a reason to quit watching!
I will say that no fan truly means to be unsupportive. Everyone has their favorite show, their favorite family, their favorite character. People will naturally vent, critique, argue, etc. The difference is now we do it in a public forum to strangers. Our conversation skills are often lost. Our manners are often lost. It can resort to online bullying on occasion and that’s not cool. Actors have a job to do. And actors are not writers. I have no problem tweeting an actor to compliment them or praise their storyline. But if I’m not feeling a storyline or I don’t think the actor did a great job, that is not my place to call them out publicly. It makes me crazy when fans feel they can speak disrespectfully to the people that bring us our shows. Ron Carlivati, the HW for GH, is on Twitter and that is a blessing. The old regime at GH was removed from the fans, or at least came off that way. Ron loves good feedback and constructive criticism. But the things some people will tweet him are just plain mean. In a lot of instances, it seems that we have lost the art of communication.
I think there are a couple of reasons things get vicious. One is that we are back down to only four network soaps. No one wants theirs canceled. And everyone thinks their opinions are the right opinions for the show. We are more sensitive about our shows now and we are more defensive. Part of this is due to ratings. If you ask the fans, good story will propel the ratings. If you write it, they will come, right? Sometimes other things must happen from a production side. Budgets must be tightened, stunt casting might be needed, poor storylines may have to be dropped immediately. Sometimes decisions are made from the inside that those of us on the outside don’t understand. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s when tempers flare and negativity spreads like wildfire.
I think another reason for the negativity is that it’s a lot harder to be a soap fan these days than it used to be. When I was a kid, Fox wasn’t even a network. We had only three prime time networks. The options for TV viewing was finite. Now there is cable and there are hundreds upon hundreds of options. And where soap schedules have stayed the same (5 days a week, 52 weeks a year), network television shows have seen their seasons shrink from 35 down to 18-22 episodes a season. And when you bring in cable, they’ve managed to create even shorter seasons of 10-15 episodes a season. Anyway you slice it, it takes time to keep up with a soap. It makes sense that if it’s not going the direction you’d like or your favorite actor leaves that you’d threaten to throw in the towel. But at this point it comes down to choice. I’ve eschewed a lot of prime time programming. I do American Horror Story. I do the new Dallas. And I do American Idol. That’s really it. I’m tired of giving promising shows a chance only to have them get canceled after one season or even after just a couple of episodes. Honestly, I’d rather devote my TV time to GH or Days – shows that I’ve grown up with. There’s something special about that, something magical. It might not be the choice for everyone but it’s the choice for me.
Don’t get me wrong. When Becky Herbst was let go a few years ago, heads were going to roll! Thankfully, that decision was reconsidered and she was retained. We weren’t so lucky with Kelly Sullivan. To this day, there’s an absence on GH since her character was killed off. She was one of my two favorite characters so watching her leave was hard. The show recovered though. I was reminded that it had been on the air for decades before her and could possibly on the air for decades after her. It’s just the nature of the business. Never did I threaten to quit watching or leave though. There’s enough drama on screen between mob wars, botched paternity tests, fake diseases, and all the lying, cheating, and stealing! It’d be nice if we as fans could rise above the drama and be kind. We don’t have to agree but we don’t have to be mean.
Soaps are like life – not everything goes how we would want it to at times. But if they can make us laugh, make us cry, and make us think, we’ll keep tuning in tomorrow to enjoy the ride. It was Agnes Nixon who taught us that.

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