Dan J Kroll A Soap Central SPECIAL REPORT

The History of Soap Operas:
Soap Operas Spawn New Businesses

Posted Saturday, May 07, 2005 5:13:15 PM
by Written by Dan J Kroll

If you've missed a part of our special series, please use the menu to the bottom right or please click here.

Soap Central presents a very special seven-part series on the history of soap operas -- the past, present and future of the genre. The menu below will allow you access to each of the parts as they are published.

Part One
The rise of the soap opera

Part Two
Network execs are less than happy with soap magazines

Part Three
Internet web sites cause headaches for the soaps

Part Four
Soap fans are no longer desperate housewives

Part Five
Ratings are down, but does anyone really know why?

Part Six
Soaps aren't just mindless entertainment

Part Seven
Can soap operas find a way to survive?


In November 1975, the first edition of Soap Opera Digest hit the newsstands. The magazine, though not the first soap opera publication, was part of a wave of publications that caused many sleepless nights for networks executives, who were enraged and panicked by what they saw as tabloidesque rags. The soap magazines were now giving the viewing audience spoilers and previews of what was going to happen on each program. Executives worried that days of "must see TV" would be over it viewers knew ahead of time what was going to happen. Some networks went as far as to threaten to cut off magazines' access to its stars if the magazines published anything that the networks felt crossed the line. For a while, magazines kowtowed to the networks' demands. Then, something monumental happened: the networks realized that the soap opera publications could be a very valuable promotional tool: Cover stories on any of the popular soap magazines of the day could lure new viewers and interviews with male heartthrobs could keep viewers tuning in. Sometime during the 1980s, the soap magazines and the television networks realized their symbiotic relationship and began to capitalize on it.

At one time, there were more than half-a-dozen regularly published soap opera magazines. Now, there are just a handful. With yearly sales in excess of $50 million, Soap Opera Digest retains its title as the soap publication with the largest circulation - but its sales have dropped nearly 2.0% since 2003. Sales of many other magazines and newspapers have similarly dropped in recent years - and the blame for much of the reduced sales as fallen on the shoulders of one entity: the internet.

In the late 1990s, the Internet became an easy scapegoat for everything from falling record sales to childhood obesity to dwindling television ratings. Not so long ago, Lynn Leahey, Editorial Director of Soap Opera Digest, remarked in one of her columns that the Internet was "pilfering" viewers from the soaps. With sales of Soap Opera Digest down, it may have been more accurate to assert that the Internet was pilfering readers of soap opera magazines. Web sites devoted to soap operas were never established with malicious intent; there was no secret desire to cause soap opera magazines to fold or to bring about the end of soap operas. Like their printed counterparts, soap opera web sites, such as Soap Central, were created first as a celebration of the soap opera format and second as a business.

Fans flocked to the Internet as a way to learn more about their favorite soaps and to interact with other soap fans. Soap operas have always carried with them a certain stigma. Few people would dare to admit publicly that they are avid daytime viewers. So, unless friends and family members were known soap fans, many soap fans never had a chance to dish the latest happenings in Pine Valley, Salem or Genoa City with other fans. The Internet opened a new portal for fans to chat and share ideas and opinions with other fans from around the world. The new technology was a welcome find for millions of soap fans.

The television networks, on the other hand, remained dubious and were very slow to embrace the "new media" partly out of fear and partly out of resentment.

Internet web sites offer free publicity for soaps -- but some troublemakers cause the networks a lot of sleeplessness nights.

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