|A SOC SPECIAL REPORT|
As was the case with the first wave of soap opera magazines, network execs saw the birth of Internet sites devoted to soaps as a threat to the entire daytime drama genre. Whereas public dissent on storylines had been previously limited to postal mail sent to the studios, fans had now found a public forum to vent their frustration with slacking storylines, poorly-cast characters and mismatched couples. Sadly, these forums also allowed for people to type mean-spirited remarks about performers that they would otherwise not have dared to utter during a face-to-face conversation with someone. The airing of dirty laundry made many networks executives - and even some soap stars - develop a very negative opinion about the Internet as a whole.
Due to the fact that no special materials and resources are required to create an Internet web site, pretty much anyone with a computer can set up a fan-operated web site on any topic imaginable. It would be hard, if not impossible, for the average soap fan to start their own publication to compete with Soap Opera Digest. For better or for worse, the Internet allows anyone with a computer to have their own ... soap box.
Soap Central was created in 1995 as an expansion of the popular All My Children web site, The AMC Pages. At the time The AMC Pages debuted, none of the three major broadcast networks had yet to set up their own home on the Internet. Soap Central started off as a fan site, a web site to share a love of soaps with other soap die-hards. Over the next few years, the Soap Central web site soon took on a life of its own and became one of the premiere destinations for news and information about soap operas. Meanwhile, the networks began making a push towards an online appearance, but focused mainly on their primetime lineups. In some cases, since they had shown up late for the party there was certain feeling of resentment towards the sites that had already been set up and become established.
The Internet, like any media outlet, can easily be used for both beneficial and malevolent purposes. With all apologies to The Wizard of Oz, it is important for a consumer to find out if an information source is a good outlet or a bad outlet. During the 2004 Presidential campaign, FOX News came under fire from some for leaning too far to the right in its coverage. Meanwhile, veteran CBS newsman Dan Rather may have been "forced out," after the network ran a report on George Bush that later proved to be inaccurate.
While Soap Central strives for 100% accuracy, it is a goal that may never be attained by any news and information source. For many web site operators, operating a web site is not about providing a fair, accurate and responsible service; it is all about personal gain and notoriety - creating a web page can tap into the need to feed one's ego. Regrettably, this need may have created a monster.
In recent years, some overzealous fans have gone to great lengths to create bogus press releases announcing the return of fan-favorite performers or the firing of a show's head writer. It is this untamed behavior that has cast doubt on the reputation of otherwise honest and decent web site operators.
NBC was recently put in an awkward position when some web site operators began disseminating storyline previews and other information prior to a release date specified by the network. The network, which had provided the preview material to web sites as a service and goodwill gesture, was wrongly exploited. A few wrongdoers prompted the network to temporarily withhold all "insider" information from all Internet-based publications. CBS, meanwhile, no longer releases long-term storyline spoilers as it has in years past for The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless. ABC, on the other hand, flatly refuses to speak with most Internet outlets that do not have a printed-version counterpart. Perhaps more than any other network, ABC has been the most resistant to maintaining a dialogue with Internet operators despite frequent and sincere overtures by web site operators. The two Procter & Gamble-produced programs, Guiding Light and As the World Turns, have offered the warmest reception to soap opera sites, providing easy access to interview stars, storyline previews and a wealth of other information.
While networks may cringe at the thought of reading some of the message board postings about its shows, these harsh words can also be seen as a positive. If viewers were not so passionate about their soaps, there would be no reason to devote endless hours to discussing a particular program and its occasional shortcomings. Of course no one wants to hear anyone talk badly about their product. That is a natural, human reaction. But what ever happened to the old saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity? It is when the fans stop talking about the shows that the networks really need to be worried.
While the networks may not have changed their approach all that much in the Internet Age, it has not meant that the average soap fan has not evolved.
SPEAK OUT!Is the Internet a bad thing fpr the future of soaps? Do sites like Soap Central serve a positive purpose?
CLICK HERE FOR PART FOUR OF OUR SPECIAL REPORT
Once thought of as housewives, today's soap opera viewers are anything but desperate.