Oh, please, no!

I feel sick.

The NBC president casually let it drop today, in his press release regarding the cancellation of Passions, that Days of Our Lives will probably not continue past 2009. First of all, it’s an insult to any show, on any network, to say something so damning and yet so vague.

I know that ratings for all daytime soaps have been steadily declining since 2000. (I’ll speculate as to why in a moment.) I can’t deny that reality, and I know that original programming like Days will always be more expensive for a network—a lot more—than showing a reality show, or a syndicated rerun, which as things stand now might very well bring in comparable numbers. I know this. And yet it seems like there are so many things that could be tried before taking the drastic step of pulling the plug. In other countries they show their soap operas during the late afternoon, between 4 and 7 pm, so teens can watch after school, or people can watch as they prepare dinner. It seems to me that moving Days to 3 or 4 or 5 pm would be an easy thing to try. Also, and I’m just feeling my way here as I write this, but it seems like someone, somewhere, has to be making original programming, there’s so many channels that show reruns, or celebrity talk shows with celebrities talking about the other shows they’re doing. If TV is a big monster feeding on itself, when does it all become self-referential, where it’s all famous people who are famous for talking about other famous people?

Call me a fool—I’m calling myself one as I write this—but I can’t imagine a world without Days in it. Even during the long hiatus I took, from 1990 to 2005, I always knew it was there. I even knew vaguely what was happening—I knew that Marlena’s little blonde daughter Samantha grew up and was wreaking havoc in the 90’s. I knew that Hope came back from the dead and had amnesia and thought her name was Gina. I heard that Gina married Bo and then became Hope again. I heard about the devil possession storyline. I heard that Jack came back from the dead a couple more times. And I would hear about these things, and smile, or shake my head, and it was like hearing about friends of mine that I’ve lost touch with, but I wish them well.

I think about other TV shows I’ve watched, and loved, and I don’t feel the same. I love(d) Gilmore Girls, but have never been dismayed at the idea of it ending. In fact, I didn’t want it to go on too long. I want it to end before the plots get tiresome and repetitive. But a show like Gilmore Girls is different, because it’s about two characters and the people they interact with. You can’t have Gilmore Girls without the Gilmore girls. But on Days, or any soap, there’s always someone new who can come along and be the next big thing in Salem. And there’s no denying the plots are recycled, but because they happen to different people, there’s always the potential for a new spin. I even watched Judi Evans play practically the same plot twice in two years, because she was Beth Raines who got raped by her stepfather on Guiding Light (one of my few excursions to other soaps) and Adrienne Johnson who got raped by her father on Days. But it was engaging both times—same actress, similar plot, but different characters, different spin.

And yet, though any soap could have a new character come along any time, that doesn’t mean that a soap viewer would happily substitute a new soap for “their” soap. The idea of switching to Y&R, though it’s supposed to be good, holds no appeal for me at all. I love the history of Salem, I love the fact that I’m watching a new generation of Hortons, and of Bradys, coming up. Some people like soaps, I like Days.

Part of the reason I feel the way I do about Days is that I grew up with it. It’s something I share with my mom. When we talk every week we usually devote a few minutes to discussing the goings-on in Salem. I’ve heard that many people are the same, they watch a soap because their mothers did. And maybe that’s part of the problem with getting new viewers these days. You don’t have the mothers staying home, with their soap on, and the kids running in and out and possibly getting sucked in at some point. Working mothers who watch a soap (like me!) watch it on their DVRs after the kids are in bed.

But that doesn’t fully explain the drop in ratings, not even close. Soaps did quite well in the 90s, and it’s only been since 2000 that the viewership has steadily declined. (I only found out how badly last week, when I happened on a thread on a discussion board that posted old ratings. A 2.7 share, like Days had the first week in January 2007, was equivalent to the lowest rated soap in 2000!) I have to believe that this is due to the sheer number of channels available, and reality TV. Sheer number of channels is pretty self-explanatory—competition. Reality TV, I think, is siphoning off those viewers who might tune into soaps for the camp value. Reality TV like “America’s Next Top Model” is a soap opera unto itself, and viewers can dish and bitch about the characters like a lot of people do for soaps.  And a reality TV show, though it may have more limited shelf life, costs a fraction of what it costs a soap to produce.

And maybe the whole genre is passing. Back in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, Hollywood churned out movies geared toward women, the so-called “women’s film.” Their crackpot plots rivaled what we see on soaps today, with unwed motherhood, husbands coming back from the dead, amnesia storylines, etc. Women turned out in droves for these movies, but by 1960 the genre was dead, replaced by—guess what—the afternoon soap opera. Time marches on.


5 thoughts on “Oh, please, no!

  1. Hi Anne! “Will probably not continue past 2009” is indeed an idiotic and oddly vague statement—especially for a soap opera. What’s the point of a statement like that? Is it a last ditch effort to rally the passive viewer and make them start tuning in more? Or, conversely, is it a ploy get loyal viewers disheartened and discouraged enough to jump ship and justify an even earlier cancellation. I don’t get it.

    I think the only time a far in advance finale announcement helps a show is on an unfolding mystery arc like “The X Files”, “Twin Peaks”, or (as is rumored to be forthcoming) “Lost”. When the entire premise is a intricate mystery being slowly and cleverly unveiled one of the most damaging factors is the growing notion in fandom that “they’re just making this shit up as they go along”. By releasing a “this is a 5 season arc” statement which may be done for “Lost” (after all their tagline was “everything happens for a reason”) and should have been done for “Buffy” or “The X-Files” you may actually increase viewer devotion and confidence.

    However, a soap opera’s strength is its characters and its longevity! Part of the appeal of a show like “Days” is that you are following generations: like neighborhood/family gossip that (even if you’ve moved away) your parents will inevitably fill you in on at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’ve not watched the show regularly since puberty, but I still enjoy occasional updates from Salem via this blog.

    I think you have a really good point, Anne, about Reality TV probably siphoning off those viewers who watch mainly for the camp and gossip-over-beers factor. In fact, I’d even take that a step further and say TV about TV (or Entertainment Journalism in general) is the guilty pleasure a la mode for our generation. We can read Star Magazine ironically and watch VH1 “100 Juiciest Celebrity Feuds”. Instead of half-serious/half-mocking discussions at happy hour the Steve/Kayla/Billie love triangle we have them about the Brad/Jennifer/Angelina triangle! Instead of laughing at Marlena’s possession by the devil we laugh at Whitney’s possession by the crack pipe or Katie Holmes and Baby Suri’s possession by Scientology! Y&R’s Kay/Jill on-again/off-again feud is displaced by the Paris Hilton/Nicole Ritchie on-again/off-again feud. We get our soap opera fix from reality–or a sensationalized version of it.

    One question: is “Days” NBC’s lowest-rated soap? If “Passions” and “Days” both go, does NBC have another daytime drama on its roster? Or has CBS cornered that market?

  2. Does this mean i get to get you adicted to Coronation Street (Comcast 99) now?

    I mean, Mike Baldwin just died and left all the money to his illigitimate son that we didnt know about until last year, and someone is sending Gayle poison pen letters! Oh the drama.

  3. Hi Jason, hi Paul. Thanks for commenting. Jason, great point about celebrities’ lives, as well as reality TV, taking the place of soap operas. Why follow a soap when real people are so willing (or forced by the paparazzi) to share every dirty detail of their existence?

    To answer your question, NBC has only the two soaps—Passions and Days of Our Lives. Days always did better than Passions—quite a bit better. NBC used to have Another World, but that was cancelled in the 90’s (which now seems like the beginning of the end). Passions ratings were always bad, though it did well with teenagers. CBS has 4 soaps, ABC has 3. So the idea is that NBC just wants to get out of the daytime drama genre altogether, not that Days is that bad ratings-wise (at least, comparitively speaking).

    The recent ratings shares for soaps are something like this: Y&R, 4.4, B&B 3.5, all the rest, 2.something, Passions, 1.5. That’s way down from the 80s and 90s, where Y&R was 8.0 and only the lowest rated soap was in the 2s at all. Anyway, among all those 2.somethings, Days always is near the top, and supposedly always does well in the key demographic for advertisers (women 18-49). So it’s mostly because it’s on NBC that it isn’t “protected” by being part of a daytime lineup.

    The speculation, though, is that all soaps, or all soaps but Y&R and maybe B&B, will be dead in the next five years. Maybe I’ll be able to take on another soap eventually, Paul, but right now that feels disloyal!

  4. Interesting. If most soaps are indeed in the 2somethings (with Days being one of the better performing) I wonder if CBS or ABC would consider dumping their lowest-rated soap and picking up Days? Its not unknown for shows with a loyal, reliable built-in fan base to be taken by another network.

    Clearly, CBS does something right with their soaps. If this upswing in the stories and the writing continues–and ratings go up–perhaps the fans would be better off appealing to CBS to acquire Days rather than hoping NBC has a change of heart?

    Relatedly, I recently read that The Bold & the Beautiful (interestingly, the only US soap thats a half-hour long instead of an hour) is the most successful foreign export soap of all that come out of the US. I wonder how much that is factored in in judging whether a show is a money maker or not? Does Days make any money off foreign release rights?

  5. Well, the idea that Days could be picked up by CBS or ABC is the speculation that’s running rampant around the discussion boards.

    I think it’s wishful thinking—maybe. On ABC, they own their soaps, so they get all the profits from SoapNet showings and foreign releases, which they wouldn’t get with Days, which is owned by Ken Corday and Sony. So their soaps may not be as highly rated, but they make more money from them.

    CBS is probably the best bet. Sony also owns Y&R (though I don’t know if that makes any difference), and Guiding Light has fairly low ratings and is always being rumored to be cancelled. But I don’t know. I could see networks not wanting to go to a lot of trouble to tinker with a genre that may be dying.

    It’s funny, though—in comparison to network soap ratings, which are sinking, I read somewhere that SoapNet had a very good year last year. They show same-day showings of soaps in primetime. And as you say, there’s a fair number of other countries that show American soaps (I didn’t know that about B&B, though.) Maybe it should be a clue to the networks to try something different, that there is still an audience, they just need to find them.

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