Since there was really no other children my age to play with when I was out of school for summer vacation and soaps were the bulk of what was televised during the afternoons on any given channel, I suppose it became only natural for me to develop a certain affinity for them. To me, it seemed they had everything; drama, mystery, comedy, suspense – even a random musical guest star at times. Other types of shows focused on only one of these themes. Soaps had it all.
I often wondered why people said they hated soaps. Sure, the stories go on forever and are practically never completed, but hey – to an extent, soaps are a mirror of other people’s lives. Honestly, when have we ever seen things end in neat little packages in our own lives?
During and after college, I became so entrenched in my soaps that I decided at one point to write what’s called a “story bible” for my own soap. I had character bios, back-stories, a fictitious town history and other aspects of the story written. I was quite impressed with it, even if I do say so myself.
Ah, those were the days.
Lately, however, I’ve drifted away from them. Due to work obligations and the increased pace of life in general for me and, I’m sure everyone else, I’ve found myself watching less and less of my beloved soaps. At any given point in my life I could tell you exactly what was happening with the denizens of Days of our Lives or the characters on Another World, my all-time favorite when it was on the air. Now, I’m lucky if I find out what’s going on in Salem at all.
Still, it was surprising to me when the announcement came from on high at ABC to cancel both All My Children as well as One Life to Live. Had their ratings tanked that bad? I had thought that both shows were doing pretty well. I guess I was wrong.
The ensuing outrage over the decision at ABC to cancel both shows carried me back to the days when NBC cancelled Another World. I remember the outrage over that decision among the fans verged on being violent. I myself vowed never to watch that farce of a show (which still will not be given the dignity of having it’s name mentioned in MY blog) they put on the air in the place of my beloved soap. Remembering how I felt in those days, I could sympathize with the fans of the ABC shows.
So why does it seem that all the soaps are going the way of the dinosaurs? There are probably a million compelling reasons why this is happening, but none can take the blame all by themselves. Yes, corporations are greedy, and will throw anything out if it isn’t bringing in the almighty dollar, regardless of how venerable it may be. Yes, people have stopped watching them due to work and family obligations. The list of reasons could go on and on. I read an article after the cancellations of Guiding Light and As the World Turns where Linda Dano (Felicia Gallant, Another World) was attributed to saying she believed all the daytime soaps would be extinct in ten years.
So why are we watching an entire television genre die before our eyes? Corporate greed? Viewer’s busy lives or their short attention spans? Maybe it’s something more. As unpopular as it may sound, I believe some of the blame has to ultimately fall on the shows themselves. It seems to me they’ve fallen into a rut of telling the same types of stories over and over. Affairs, serial killers, coming back from the dead, corporate conspiracies are all we ever see anymore. Sure, these are a mirror of what happens in the audiences lives at times (well, except for the coming back from the dead part), but these stories have been recycled so much it’s almost too predictable. As we all know, the only difference between a rut and a grave is its depth. I asked Les Brandt (Rafael Santierro, Another World) what he thought about the cancellations, and he said, “To stand the test of time in any capacity one must bend with the subtle movements of life.” I, myself, am not completely convinced the soap opera genre has actually followed Les’s sage advice. Instead of branching out into unknown territory, the soaps have played it safe by telling stories they know have worked in the past. The problem with this is, viewers know how this will end so there’s no reason to stay tuned to see it happen.
Recently, however, I read that both All My Children and One Life to Live have been given a reprieve of sorts by their lives being extended into the realm of the internet soap opera. Fans of these two shows will be able to still follow the lives of the citizens of Pine Valley and Llanview from their computers. But will this be enough? Will the fans follow it from television to the web? I honestly hope they will, but I must confess that I have my doubts. After all, if we already follow them, we’re most likely already recording them to watch later anyway. I’m not convinced the new web format will save them. Maybe it will extend their life, but not save them in the long run.
I hope I’m wrong.
So as the sand through the hourglass starts to run out, the guiding light has been extinguished, the world has stopped turning, and we see the young and restless becoming the old and sedate, what shall we do to get our fix of the continuing stories that have entertained us for so many years? I suppose we’ll all have to tune in after the smoke clears to find out.