The Soap Opera and the Resist for Change

Earlier this week, CBS announced that it was cancelling its last Procter & Gamble sponsored soap, As the World Turns later this year.  Guiding Light, the longest running soap in history (dates back to the radio days) will also be leaving television.   There will be  only six traditional afternoon soaps left on television.  People just aren’t watching these shows anymore, likely because they don’t have time – the original target audience now works or prefers less fluffy (and slow) talk shows like Oprah or Ellen.

The genre of the soap was born in the days of radio.  As society and entertainment began to change in the 1950s, it made its transition to television.  It seemed to be innovative at the time, as they targeted the “right” audience – middle class, stay-at-home moms with notoriously slow storylines so that they can do housework and still keep up with the plot.  As society continued to change, so did soaps, as they started including storylines that were relevant to the period – sexism, racism, homosexuality, etc…  However, to keep up with new media prove to be more difficult.  Unlike prime time television, they haven’t taken an initiative to go online.  Right now, many evening shows can be viewed on network websites or downloaded from iTunes soon after airing (usually within a day).  Some shows are also available On Demand.  Soaps?  Not really.  Or, at least, their availability is not promoted the way prime time TV is.  Web-only shows aren’t promoted very well either.  You have to know what to search for to find them. It’s no wonder that the once forward-thinking genre is on life support.

Of course, one can say that a daytime soap is no longer a daytime soap once you put it On Demand or online.  After all, you can watch it any time.  Besides, many weekly evening soaps do fine.  However, prime time soaps are a completely different animal.  In North America, they do not run daily, and have a limited number of episodes per season (usually 22 or so in the United States and 13 in Canada for network shows).  Daytime shows, on the other hand, air every week day, save for Christmas or New Years.  Even if the daytime soap transitions to the web and therefore, in essence, is no longer a “daytime soap”, the spirit of the genre will still be there.  After all, the genre did manage to migrate from radio to television.

I think the whole issue here is marketing.  The people involved with the daytime genre just aren’t interested in making a transition.  Unlike their prime time counterparts, they are not bothering to utilize the new media or targeting new audiences.  In order for the daytime drama to survive, a change is inevitable.