Dan J Kroll A Soap Central SPECIAL REPORT

The History of Soap Operas:
Can The Soaps Last Another 50 Years?

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?


Much noise has been made about the networks' efforts to court younger viewers. It has been mentioned repeatedly within the course of this Soap Central report. However, the latest television ratings appear to show that despite soaps' best efforts, younger viewers just aren't tuning in.

Nielsen Media Research has found that in the first three months of the season that began in September, CBS, ABC and NBC network soaps lost 18 percent of their female viewers ages 18 to 34. In fact, only one of the nine soaps currently on the air - All My Children - saw a rise in the coveted 18 to 34 demographic.

Procter & Gamble Co., the largest maker of household goods in the United States, is also one of the biggest advertisers on daytime television. The company also owns two soap operas, As the World Turns and Guiding Light, both of which air on CBS. It should come as no surprise that P&G is taking major steps to protect its sizeable investment in daytime television.

In October, Procter & Gamble hired the New York-based Masterson Group to develop an advertising campaign for its two soaps. It marked the first time that P&G has gone to such great lengths to promote the two programs. It may be difficult for the average television fan to understand how the soaps are losing money. Daytime dramas generated in excess of $1 billion in ad sales last year. The average 30-second commercial airing during the soaps costs about $15,138. However, the average primetime series can command more than $144,049 per 30-second ad spot. In addition to the disparity in fees that are charged for advertising, there is also a substantial difference in the amount of material that the daytime and primetime programs produce. Over the course of one year, each soap opera typically produces more than 250 different episodes. The average primetime program produces around 24 episodes per season, where the season runs from September through May. Because the volume of material produced is so much more, soap operas have a much smaller per-episode budget. And whereas primetime programs have a week or more to prepare for an episode, soaps tape new episodes every weekday.

In an effort to cut costs, The Bold and the Beautiful has shortened its work week by a day. Producing more shows in a shorter period of time cuts some of the fat from the show's budget. The move echoes one made by Port Charles during the end of the show's run. Port Charles went to a six-month work schedule, which meant the show taped a year's worth of episodes in half the time. During the show's "dark" period, the studio could be used for other purposes and even rented out.

If budgets are truly as tight as the networks say that they are it would behoove them to seek out any and all forms of promotion. The networks need to drop their erroneous stance that the Internet is out to sabotage them. Cooperating with web sites where soap fans flock can only be beneficial for the soaps - whether it be through exclusive interviews, contests, photographs or some other catchy offering, it would go a long way towards placating soap fans and web site operators whose hard work very often goes unrecognized by the networks.

As hard as it may be to believe, the money crunch is not the most serious problem facing the soaps. Until the soaps address the reasons that soap fans are tuning out, the ratings decline and revenue loss will continue. In polls conducted by Soap Central, soap fans have repeatedly pointed the finger at one thing for making them tune out: the writing.

Recently, soaps have begun to realize that viewers care about the show's history. Viewers do not invest day after day, week after week, year after year in programs for naught. Nearly every soap has made an effort to begin bringing back characters from its past... characters that viewers not only care about, but characters that can also further the show's current story telling.

Soap fans are notoriously loyal, but even loyal fans are enraged when they feel that they are being talked down to by network execs. In an age where reality television still rules the ratings, fans of daytime television want to see more reality infused into their soaps - and that means fewer resurrections of characters that have died years earlier. Fans no longer rave when a character is brought back from the dead. In fact, it can often turn viewers against a soap. CBS's The Bold and the Beautiful recently wrote actress Hunter Tylo, one of the most popular performers in the show's 18-year history, back into the show after a two-year absence. While fans are happy to see the actress again, many are furious by the way history has been rewritten to "un-kill" her character.

While ultimately an asset, soap opera viewers can also be a major liability to the soaps. Procter & Gamble has often found its products the target of boycotts by viewers who were dissatisfied with decisions made on its soap operas. Fanatical viewers flood studios, magazines and web sites with mail stating their disinterest in certain storylines or romantic pairings. Networks execs may then change the course of a storyline based upon this fan mail. However, this mail is often generated by a far smaller percentage of the viewing population than it would appear. As a storyline is changed to appease the minority, the viewing majority then ends up disappointed.

With some soaps having been on the air for more than 30 years, some viewers wonder if the soaps haven't told every story that there is to tell. It is often very true that storylines are rehashed over and over, just with different characters. Soaps need to remain contemporary: life and society are both constantly evolving. There will always be stories to tell. But the soap opera genre is about more than just about telling stories - and if that is a widely-held belief, it needs to be changed. More than just telling stories, soap operas need to tell those stories well. If a soap opera is a high quality program, just as surely as there is sand in Days of our Lives' famous hourglass, viewers will continue to tune in tomorrow.

This concludes this special Soap Central report on the past, present and future of the Soap Operas. We thank you for reading it and appreciate your continued loyalty to the site.

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