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March 13, 2012 at 8:29 am #421965
Anytime a show gets cancelled or is doing poorly, everyone pointing to this reason or that reason that the soaps have ended up in the state they’re in. What do you guys think were the fatal blows and discisions that have lead many shows in the past 15 years to be cancelled or be in horrible shape?
I’ll start with the obvious ones: Frankie Frame being murdered on Another World and Maureen Bauer being killed on Guiding Light. If there was ever a decision that brought down a soap, it was those two. Another World basically crashed and burned and was gone less than three years later and Guiding Light was never the same after Maureen died and spent years on life support before it ended.
As for shows still on the air, GH becoming mob central with Sonny, Carly, and Jason as the main stars of the shows and eating up storylines and airtime has certainly not helped them and I’m not sure they’ll ever recover. Them also firing or killing off practically every single vet hasn’t helped either.March 13, 2012 at 8:45 am #421967
For AMC it was a series of bad HW, that show’s equivelnt to Carly/Jason/Sonny/insert other player here, (Kendall, Zack, Ryan Greenlee, insert other character)the leathal combo of the unabortion/death by pancakes, an EP that didn’t know what she was doing, the move to LA, and Fron’s “care”. Also the lack of Susan Lucci/no attempts to evolve the character of Erica is another big one. You do not sideline your star like that and give her equally appaling stories to boot.March 14, 2012 at 7:45 pm #421968
ATWT when John Valente took over as EP a year or so after the death of Douglas Marland (head writer), and the Bullshit (Black/Stern) Head Writing regime, paired with Valente was the beginning of the end. And then after GL was cancelled, ATWT was the next domino.March 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm #421969
I think it was a combonation of natural audience erosion and network executives that had no investment in or passion for soap operas. Once the soap opera visionaires had been fired/quit/retired/died they were replaced with people that didn’t care what happened to the soaps and we got poorly executed shows with no vision or quality to them.March 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm #421970
A combination of factors undoubtedly contribute to the cancellation of soaps. First and foremost, however, I would say the writing is the primary factor.
ATWT and GL are prime examples. GL was amazing during Doug Marland’s tenure, and outstanding during the Pam Long years. After that, the writing gradually declined and was especially weak during the last few years. Marland rocked ATWT, but the show subsequently lost its way. Both shows had moments of greatness until the end, but they could never recapture the magic of their earlier years.
AMC also falls into this category. The writing was great in the early 80s and on and off in the decade that followed, but the show fell apart in the 21st century. Given the talented cast of vets during the last few years, the show should have been on fire. GH was made great by Marland and reached another creative high thanks to Claire Labine. But the dark, mobcentric stories eventually drained the show of its heart.
For me, this overall decline is at issue more than any specific story or event. Soaps can recover from most mistakes if the writing is compelling enough.
The one exception to the decline in writing is OLTL, which was engaging right up until the final episode. Perhaps this is indicative that even good writing cannot save a show. However, I think the show’s NYC locale worked against it.
In defense of the writers, producing 5 hours of original programming each week, year-round, is a formidable task. Even during their glory days, the soaps were weighed down by weak stories that are now mostly forgotten. That is why I believe that some soaps would have had greater longevity if they had remained in a 30-minute format. Expanding the soaps to an hour probably seemed like a great idea in the late 70s, but by the early 90s the ratings were (for the most part) steadily falling, indicating that the supply was greater than the demand.
And then there are the factors that are widely acknowledged. Soaps lost, to a great extent, their original core audience (housewives) as we moved into the 21st century; the audience erosion was exacerbated by the proliferation of alternative viewing options.
So those are my thoughts: decline in the overall quality of writing, the expansion of soaps to an hour, demographic shifts, and technological advancements led to the cancellation of the soaps.March 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm #421972
Good call, gdfl. Especially the “patience and/or interest.” The decisions of network executives during the last ten years or so could certainly be classified as “fatal” to soaps.March 19, 2012 at 7:59 pm #421973
I’d rank the reasons as follows:
1. Natural viewer erosion: Declining ratings is not exclusive to daytime TV. Far from it. Consider primetime, where shows on the big 4 networks are getting renewed with numbers that would have put you in danger on UPN. With cable TV, TiVo, and the internet, the audience has more options, and there’s no way for any show to hold on to all the viewers they had 20 years ago.
2. Lack of innovation: Both in terms of story and technology. Five hours of new scripted content every week is a lot to sustain, both for the companies who make the shows and the people who watch them. “GH: Night Shift” was a good idea. The online soaps like “Venice” are another good innovation. GL tried something new with its production model, but that wasn’t an innovation, really; they just made their soap look cheaper without improving its content or delivery method.
Add to that the fact that primetime and cable soaps like “True Blood” do more and go farther. “Real Housewives,” “Jersey Shore,” and their ilk provide soap opera under the thin veneer of “reality.” Meanwhile, daytime dramas continue to tell the same stories they’ve been telling since the stone age. And whenever they did something that got them positive mainstream press (mostly for being the last genre to acknowledge that gay people exist), they either screwed it up or chickened out (GH’s Lucas, Y&R’s Philip and Rafe, OLTL’s Kish write-out, ATWT’s ever-celibate Luke). Soap writers and producers have behaved as though they’re still catering to audiences from 1970, and they wonder why they never attracted any new viewers.
3. Conservative writers, producers, and executives underestimating their audience. Isn’t it silly, in the age of “Modern Family,” how scared soap writers were of gay people? Even a throwback like “Revenge” has an actively bisexual man in its cast, and nobody bats an eye. In the insulated world of daytime drama, everyone was still rich, young, pretty, straight, (mostly) white. Older characters get shuffled off. On “Grey’s Anatomy,” a woman who doesn’t look like a hair model, Chandra Wilson, becomes an audience favorite. On OLTL, Kathy Brier was written on. On “Brothers and Sister,” Sally Field was the central character, but in daytime TV, any women over 40 are either ignored or recast so that they’re magically under 40 (while their offspring are re-cast wth 35-year-olds). TPTB think they’ve been giving us what we want, but who do they think their audience is? What year do they think we’re in?
4. Cost. Talk shows and reality shows are cheaper to produce. Preserving the bottom line usually trumps preserving history.March 20, 2012 at 7:31 am #421974
I almost want to put cost at the top of the list. Even though soap stars in the glory days were being well paid, really well paid by the current standard, there were tons of lower level cast persons and a thousand people behind the scenes who were just doing okay. So when viewership faded, the number of people watching commercials dropped, and the shows became less profitable, there wasn’t really a whole lot of wiggle room in terms of cost cutting.
But yes, none of that would matter if people were still watching the soaps in the numbers they were decades ago.
I think it’s also important to note how much soaps suffer because of public perception. Soaps today have become such a joke for many people who don’t watch them, and some people who do or once did. Often I’ll be in a conversation where I mention that I love soaps, and the person I’m talking to will identify which soap he or she is familiar with and then quickly discredit the show or their ability to keep watching it, lest they also be pegged a soap watcher. (I hear things like, “I used to watched General Hospital, but I can’t keep up now. There’s too much sleeping around/Too many people come back from the dead/People are related and then not related and it’s just too much.”) The very things that were once exciting story twists are now the cliches that people jump to when discussing these shows, and it frankly doesn’t even matter whether it’s true of the show or not. I just feel like soaps could get a lot more network support if it didn’t seem like watching a soap is only something that used to be acceptable, and is now only for people who really have nothing else to do.