Good food, good drink, good company, good atmosphere and good conversation... what else could a bunch of soapcentric girls want? Well, honestly, we want those things and wish we all lived close enough for that to happen (more than once a year, anyway). In lieu of that, we settle for emails flying all across the country and ultimately landing here at the monthly EOS Round Table conference where we will slice, dice and pick apart specific subjects pertaining to ABC soaps or soaps in general. We welcome you to get a drink, place a food order, put up your fuzzy bunny slippers and join us.
We will take each question individually with responses from our participating staff members posted afterward.
I'd like to think soaps will continue but it's a tough call. They've got to make changes and I don't know what those should be. The budgets are limited, the actors try to find bigger and better opportunities and the stories are old and really just a re-do of an older story with a few updates and different characters.
Hopefully the fans will continue to watch, allowing the soaps to continue but it seems to me the fans are slipping away and if that's true, I don't see a bright future for soap operas
THE MEDIA HO:
I truly don't believe they are on their way out. Even though it
had been speculated that ABC might combine AMC and OLTL, I would be very
surprised if that's going to happen, for several reasons. First of all,
unless you're spending tons of money on location shoots, wardrobe or
salaries, soaps can be very profitable. And now that they have the
SoapNet outlet, even more so. SoapNet spends money on relatively little
original programming and its website. As it's owned by ABC, reruns of
its own soaps cost them next to nothing. I don't know what they may have
to pay to show other networks' programming, but it is far less than the
cost of programming a 24-hour cable channel.
OFFICER DAYNA: I don't think at all that soaps are a "dying art". I think they've suffered a bit since so many women now work full-time jobs and aren't home in the afternoon hours to while away the day eating bon-bons. Or washing, ironing, cooking, etc., but I do prefer the bon-bons to accompany my whiling. But no, now that so many households have Tivo and the like, I think that women will certainly take the opportunity to set the record button and indulge themselves in some drama. The challenge for the soaps is to remain relevant to the viewer who has so many choices. ABC soaps have struggled in the past few years, most notably by trying to copy prime-time cable success stories like The Sopranos and Sex and the City. I think that they erred in trying to be hip or edgy and instead appeared foolish when compared to cable counterparts. The soaps should stick to the basics of romance mixed with drama and humor and if they want to look to prime-time, take a page from Grey's Anatomy (Sex! And doctors! What a concept!) or Desperate Housewives. Both shows are soapy, sexy and slightly wacky. Without a mobster in sight.
KELLY B: I think it’s not so much a dying art as it is a lost art. By that I mean that the writers, the producers – the people that essentially call the shots – have lost their impetus in making great soaps. Now it seems it’s all about demographics, advertising dollars and ratings points. It’s not so much about telling great stories as it is about stunt casting during sweeps, blowing things up or burning them down. Gloria Monty reinvented GH in the early 80s – but that was one show. Now the pregnancies that resulted from a one night stand and the ensuing 6 month long “who’s the daddy?” stories get lost in the insta-couples, flying bullets and made up epidemics. It’s sort of like the stories that used to drive the soaps are now the filler in between the cataclysmic events during the sweeps weeks.
JENJEN: For about the past 3 or 4 years, all I’ve watched is “General Hospital,” but based on what I’ve seen there, I’d say yes, soaps are on their way out as a TV staple.
The reason I think this is because the show constantly betrays its own viewers. The storylines rarely make sense, the show ignores and lies about its own history and focuses on pretty much everything except what I want to see (and I know I can’t be alone in that) and the writers and producers don’t seem to care about what I want. It’s as if to them, the fans are just a noisy nuisance trying to get in the way of them making their two perfect episodes per year so they can win an Emmy.
Watching GH is like having an abusive lover who raises your expectations about what is to come (“Yeah, Stefan’s coming back!), then beats the ever-lovin’ shit out of you (“…and there goes crazy Stefan over the cliff.”), leaving you a little less likely to give a damn the next time.
SHERRY MERCURIO: I don’t think soap operas are a dying art. I do think, however, that the concept is probably going to evolve into something that die-hard soap fans won’t necessarily appreciate. When you think about it, daytime is one of the few areas of television that hasn’t changed very much over the years. Primetime fare changes with the current trends that now happen to be reality, forensics and a little surge back into the “soap-ish” with serials like Desperate Housewives. In daytime, you still have talk shows and soap operas on network television, and until one network decides to try for a change we won’t know how it would go over. Television is cyclical (just like politics!), and I think it’s possible to get to the point where soaps as we know them are hard to be found. Many reality shows are basically soaps on over-drive and it wouldn’t surprise me to see that show up in daytime. Maybe we’ll have a reality show where seven soap stars are stuck in a house together for the summer while we follow them behind the scenes of their show and see how they survive one another at home. (I want a piece when that comes out – you all are my witnesses.) A few years from that point daytime drama will be reintroduced in near-normal soap format as the newest, most innovative programming ever created. Some guy will sleep with some girl’s best friend on the night before their wedding and nobody will think to mention it until the bride and groom arrive at the altar and the love child will grow up swearing vengeance on his own father, and …so it goes. Nutshell: I quite firmly believe my children and my children’s children will have the pleasure of experiencing soap operas in their lifetimes. Will they have to be flexible about their definition (or rather *my* definition – which is another topic entirely) of a “soap”? Probably.
EMERALDAX: The most unique thing about a soap is that it is an adult fictional story that is on every day in the afternoon. Everything else about the genre, especially it’s content, is found in myriad other places. The typical content of a soap opera has never been more popular, and the method of drawing people into the show by cliffhanging it at the end of every episode has become more and more common on prime time shows. The only danger that soaps face is the same danger that talk shows or any other show that comes on during the day faces – a shrinking viewing audience. Ignoring, for a moment, the relatively new accessibility of Soapnet - for a soap to snag the attention of a viewer, the viewer has to be watching during the day. So the question is whether there is enough of an audience during the day to justify the expense of producing a soap opera. Specifically, the audience has to be the type that is drawn in by a soap. I am well aware that soap viewers are extremely diverse and run across all sexes, races, ages, cultures, marital statuses, occupations, blahdiblahblah. Let’s just assume for a moment what TPTB and advertisers assume – that the majority of viewers are stay-at-home moms. I think that for awhile, in the late 80s and early 90s, the target audience would have been at it’s lowest with the trend towards the working mother. Having been a stay-at-home mom for three years, I have noticed that trend leveling off. I, personally, have gone back to work, but I know a lot of women who are not. I suppose I could research demographics and compare it with census data, but why bore the both of us? I guess my point is that I don’t think soaps would ever, as an art, die. It is too attractive a medium for that. It is entirely possible that it could cease to function because the dynamics of society has changed, but societal changes fluctuate. The short version of my long-winded answer is: I have no idea.
KATHY HARDEMAN: TV dinners are on their way out, replaced with healthier choices. Half hour sitcoms have faded so that new sitcoms are fewer but better viewing. I wish biased, inflammatory news shows would die out but they keep rolling them out with new believe-me reporters seeking their moment in the spotlight. Advertisements for cigarettes and alcoholic beverages have gone away to be replaced by marketing hype for the latest drug of choice from pharmaceutical companies guaranteed to improve our mental and physical health. My point is that staples evolve. Soap operas must evolve too and I believe they do.
Is it ridiculous that a monkey could run amok through a hospital where a deadly virus is infecting an entire town? Of course it is. Is it too far fetched to be believable that Alexis Davis could murder her sister’s killer, impersonate a butler and then become the District Attorney? Definitely. How about when Luke pulled the plug on Lucky’s breathing apparatus and ordered him to “Breathe, dam you, breathe.” I was on board, willing Lucky to breathe along with Luke. When we watched Jason’s shadow as he held Sam’s baby and grieved, my emotions were fully engaged and tears ran down my cheeks. At the end of the show, if we have been entertained and/or our emotions tweaked it has been a good episode. No other genre can do what a soap opera does which is creating relationships between characters and viewers. A relationship isn’t possible unless a viewer can relate to a character, issue, or storyline being presented.
Just as statistics say that people don’t read as much because other activities compete for attention including television, soaps must work harder to snag viewers who must decide between a long list of viewing choices and who crave more from an hour of television than sex, violence, and trite dialogue. Networks thrive on media hype as they pursue individuals with innovative approaches to television entertainment be it daytime or primetime. Whether they succeed or fail, the point is that networks are willing to pay big bucks to the people with inventive ideas to pull in viewers. IMHO, as long as there are viewers seeking a viewing experience that is more intimate than primetime can provide, soap operas will have their place in daytime television and networks will continue to evolve with the times.
KATE BROWN: I don’t think soaps have to be on their last legs, but I think that they are. Why? Because ABC keeps kneecapping them. Port Charles was a good example. ABC feigned dismay when it cancelled PC, but it did little to assure its success. ABC played hardball with the affiliates by controlling scheduling and offering few, if any, incentives. The result? Even if faithful ABC viewers wanted to watch PC, they couldn’t. And if you can’t watch a show, you can’t recommend it to your friends. In guaranteeing PC’s failure, ABC manufactured its own evidence that soaps may no longer be viable. ABC has also taken a good deal of the decision making away from Executive Producers. A strong EP makes for a strong soap. No one at ABC really understands that.
Here is my take on job interviews at ABC Daytime:
Brian Frons: So, do you watch soaps? Do you understand the special relationship between a soap and its viewers? Do know how to turn a good soap into a great soap?
Interviewee: Nope, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Brian Frons: You’re hired!
I love my ABC soaps,
but I won’t be surprised when they are gone.
Unfortunately I do think the "super couple" harms a soap. People become attached and fight when things change. This push to keep a couple creates a problem for the writers because though they do want us to be happy to some degree (so we'll watch), they've got to have a good story to tell and appeal to the masses. Sometimes the masses are the "super couples" fans and sometimes they're not.
In my humble opinion, I get bored with a couple and though I'm always a bit sad when they break someone up, I enjoy the process of moving on and the angst associated with it. So I guess on that end, they concept might not be such a bad thing. I guess it's all in the way you're looking at it.
THE MEDIA HO: When all the time and energy is spent on one or two couples, the show suffers. Look at all the backlash GH got when it turned into "The Fab Four Hour" (Sonny/Carly/Jason/Sam). That said, Luke and Laura (and the genius of Gloria Monty) saved GH back in, what, 1982? It's sort of been done to death since, on all the shows, not just ABC. I'd rather see more balance, a more equitable devotion of time to the cast members. There's a lot of wasted talent out there.
OFFICER DAYNA: I think the concept of forcing a "super couple" generally hurts soaps. Viewers don't want to be treated like idiots. I remember prior to Kelly Monaco's first appearance as Sam on General Hospital, seeing advertisements for her relationship with Jax. Before we'd met her character, we were told that she and Jax would be the "it" couple, the hotness, the end-all, be all for soap couples everywhere. Well, pfft...after all the hype, they hit the screen and fell completely flat with one another. Whether it was perceived flatness because we were resentful of the fact that we'd been told that we would love them so much, I don't know. But they didn't work out, and the show had to wipe some egg from its face. Another example would be the Courtney/Jason pairing. Both characters were involved in storylines that were clearly leading them in directions other than where they arrived when Brian Frons allegedly saw them sharing a scene and said something along the lines of, "Make them a couple. No matter what." They were immediately and inexplicably extricated from their sensical stories and made to fall in love with one another. And we were supposed to buy it, but again... most of us just didn't.
On the other hand, the concept of "super couple" isn't one to which I necessarily object. I think it's nice to have a constant... the couple that you know is invested and in it for the long haul. While Emily bops among thieves, princes and mobsters (oh my!), I'd like to count on Elizabeth and Lucky surviving the ups and downs of marriage and despite the obstacles, returning to one another's arms. I'd also like to see those moments and not just take for granted that they're doing swell. I can't speak for the other soaps, but General Hospital just doesn't do "happy" well. And for a super couple to really be super, the writers need to stay committed to making them work. It would be nice to see it done right again.
KELLY B: I love super couples, but I guess the idea of them being a writers “concept” doesn’t do it for me. When a new actor is hired to be a part of a super couple, I’m somewhat predisposed to not liking them. I don’t want someone to tell me that I’m supposed to root for them without caring about the characters individually. To me it’s seeing chemistry develop between two characters that reels me in. If I like what I’m seeing, then I am much more likely to root for them and to hope that they’ll become another reason for me to tune in. If there’s a downside to the super couple concept, it’s that the more popular the couple becomes, the less likely you are to see ensemble story telling. Too many of the cast have to relinquish screen time to accommodate the super couple’s popularity.
JENJEN: Overall, I would say it harms soaps because the couple ends up stuck in a rut. It’s been driven home (sometimes far too well with the right chemistry) that no one else will do for either character, that all others are lacking. That limits the story possibilities too much. Watching a super couple grow is fun in the beginning, but in the long run, it can be a formula for boredom.
As far as GH goes though, if they embraced the super couple concept, I’d approve because at least they’d be utilizing some sort of concept beyond the concept of “crappy writing” and “utter bullshit.”
SHERRY MERCURIO: Super couples are absolutely crucial to soaps, as we know them. I think if the genre banned the super couple concept, things would slowly fall apart. Some soaps of today have just taken the concept and twisted it into permission to float any story out there provided it serves the “super couple”. Some of them have also forgotten that the concept of “super couple” doesn’t mean you take two characters, match them up, and then make them a religion that every other character on the show is either for or against. In Sherry’s perfect soap world, there is more than one super couple on a show. Those couples may be in different places in their soap lives – the matriarch of the show can be still in a long time super couple, or she can be on her fifteenth husband, or she can be mourning her late other half – all these are still relationships that impact other characters. Days of Our Lives, for example, always did an excellent job of keeping the relationship of Tom and Alice Horton alive even after his (and the actor’s) death. Pretending you invented the concept of super couple with the pairing you’re featuring now is just a waste of everyone’s time. Soaps go wrong when they start focusing on the couple only, and every little move *they* make, instead of focusing on the relationship and how it touches everyone around it. Giving one or both of the super couple Teflon armor and enough ammo to take out everyone else in town means you’re setting your viewers up for disappointment. Viewers expect change, cause and effect. There’s the couple, on a little pedestal, with some little people in the background. Things get shaken up on occasion but look away and then look back and things will have fallen back to basically the same place they were – and there’s your pretty couple still standing in the middle of it all wearing the exact same expression on their face and all the little people are still behind them somewhere, seemingly unchanged as well. That’s not drama, that’s a snow globe.
EMERALDAX: I guess it depends on what the definition of a super couple is. I think when TPTB try to create a super couple, it is pretty silly, and detrimental in the sense that they are trying to drive a story with an agenda, rather than just tell a story. I think super couples work if they are part of the story and don’t take over the story. If a super couple is born because their popularity is so immense, I suppose it makes sense that TPTB and advertisers would want to feature that couple’s storyline more often than other stories (the whole frontburner, backburner concept). I have no problem with it if it is done in a reasonable manner. I actually liked Sonny and Carly for awhile – they were what drew me back to General Hospital after a 10 year absence. But the amount of screen time that was given to them and the character assassination that was required of all the other constituents on the show in order to glorify them led me to seriously loathe them and eventually led me to stop watching after four years. I suppose Tad and Dixie might be considered a super couple. There were times when they were driving the train and times when they were the caboose. Love them or hate them, they were part of the canvas, but they did not overwhelm the canvas.
KATHY HARDEMAN: The problem with super couples is that no one knows the magic formula to make one. Three eggs, oil, water and a mix don’t always produce a perfect cake and two gorgeous actors can’t be marketed into super couple stardom much to Brian Frons’ chagrin.
If a super couple evolves on a soap TPTB should thank their lucky stars and run with them instead of breaking them up every other week with petty plot devices. I think a major stumbling block to super couples lies in the control issues of TPTB producing the show. Super couples are created by fan adoration and not writer, director, or producer manipulation. I think they hate when that happens. It’s a two edged sword. Super couple = show hype and attention, but it also means that in order to nurture the super couple the writers must cater to instead of manipulating the couple deemed super. There is a picture in my head of Robert Guza stomping his foot in frustration and hollering, “But I wanted Jax and Skye to be a super couple.”
I never understood the point of “super couples”. As a viewer, I think a
couple either works or it doesn’t. Just as in life, some couples are
meant to stay together and others are not. A great couple brings energy
to a soap. It enhances the storytelling, but when that couple’s story is
over it should be over. A couple should never be put on life support. If
a soap is “married” to a super couple its writing is forced to support
that couple. That can lead to contrived, repetitive storytelling, which
is no soap’s friend.
CAROLYN ASPENSON: I've heard this is what Frons is trying to do but I haven't seen it happen. The only time I've seen a show appear more like a prime time show was when the lighting was changed. My memory isn't good but it was either with PC or The City, I'm not sure.
The police in prime time are smart. On our soaps they're idiots and the people who solve the crimes or handle the emergencies are the main characters of the show. For example, how many emergency workers did we see helping with the train wreck on GH or the explosion on AMC? Yes, we had some on AMC and as I recall, Tad was giving them directions. Prime time doesn't work that way.
Another main difference from the two is the character development. In prime time the development is more subtle where as in the soaps it's sometimes rushed and most often blatant. Plus we have fewer crazy characters doing crazy things in prime time than we do on the soaps.
Maybe they're trying to make the storylines more prime time oriented but I really just don't see any real similarities.
MEDIA HO: I'm
glad that the cheesy background music is mostly gone (daytime ambiance
that I'll never miss) and that production values have improved. However,
it's hard to be slick when you're trying to stick to a budget, and
budgets are very carefully looked at these days. I'll never forget the
conversation that Katrina had with GH Executive Producer Jill Farren
Phelps at last year's GHFCW. Phelps was so pleased that people "get"
that it's a business producing an hour (well, 42 minutes) of show
five days a week, and sometimes you have to make sacrifices to satisfy
the financial beancounters (not her precise words, just my
interpretation). Now that there are other revenue streams flowing
because of daytime programming (SoapNet, text message updates, etc.),
it's time to bump up the budgets. However much ABC spent to lure back
Rick Springfield, Tristan Rogers, Finola Hughes and Emma Samms, it's
paid off. I'd like to see this continue. For all I know, Jill Farren
Phelps is reading this right now (OK, well, if not her, certainly
someone in production). The sites and boards are read/monitored by
people in the business, and they do pay attention to what's being said
on the Internet. They may not be saying, "Oh, The Media Ho wants us to
bring back Frisco and Helena; get their agents on the phone ASAP!" (in
my dreams), but they know there's a huge online population exchanging
many ideas about the programs/characters they love.
KELLY B: Things have to change to remain fresh, and I think that General Hospital is the show most likely to be compared to a prime time show. During the time when the Sopranos were such a hit on HBO, Sonny evolved from a two bit strip club owner that dabbled in mob activities, to a lovable yet flawed crime lord. The focus pulled away from the doctors and nurses of General Hospital and the core families of Port Charles and has remained firmly fixed on Sonny’s “family” and the only time you see the hospital is when someone shoots at Sonny or one of his own.
More recently we’ve seen GH change direction back towards the hospital. Maybe it’s because Grey’s Anatomy is doing well and the Sopranos are in their last season of production. Just a theory.
JENJEN: Not only do I not think it’s timely, I think it’s extremely stupid. Daytime simply does not have the budget to compete with primetime. They never have and they never will. Therefore, they look like a bunch of amateurish, Johnny-come-lateleys when they think they can imitate primetime fare.
Trying to serve champagne on a beer budget like ABC is doing definitely costs daytime some of its unique ambience. When it was at its best, daytime came across as an ensemble effort, like getting to see a play on television, with all its quirky, unexpected, little moments. “The play’s the thing,” not crappy special effects, stunt casting or gimmicky story lines that have run their course in less than a week.
SHERRY MERCURIO: Soaps have to walk a careful line. Some changes were overdue I think and many of the atmospheric changes have been a positive. I suspect though that long time viewers would be just as happy to return to the look they grew up with. Soaps are SUCH a personal experience for people. Most viewers watch primetime television from their couches, but daytime viewers project themselves right into the action. The involvement level is just different. Daytime’s charm has always been that it can take the time to make these characters so very relatable (the good one’s can anyway). Daytime fans aren’t usually afraid to invest in a show because for the most part there isn’t that constant yearly threat of cancellation. A soap viewer makes herself right at home, and nobody likes other people rearranging their home. A little common sense goes a long way when it comes to this topic. Soaps need to remember that their staples (hospitals, family-owned business, restaurants, etc, etc) haven’t changed all that much in the last fifty years. If anything, the tweaks should be made in upping the ante a bit on proper terminology, etc, since primetime has trained us all to expect that. The idea of “updating” a soap I think is often used as an excuse. If interest in the Quartermaine’s seems low, those in charge decide that it must be because they’re still stuck in that old soap staple, the family run corporation. Viewers must be tired of stock options and voting proxies! Let’s have Edward sell it all and open an Ebay store! Hip! Never mind that they haven’t written an exciting business story/scandal in ages. Never mind that new viewers would have no idea what business the Q’s run, etc. If they write compelling stories and we’ll watch, whether it takes place in a cave, in a tunnel, a boardroom, or a chat room.
EMERALDAX: As I mentioned in the first answer, the genre of soaps seems to be bleeding into prime time - the cliffhangers at the end of every episode, using classic soap plotlines. I almost laughed myself sick when CSI: Miami had two classic soaplike storylines in one season: A child that needed a bone marrow transplant, which resulted in her true paternity coming out; and a character that came back from the dead. As far as I know, soaps have gleaned material from every type of genre for as long as I can remember, so I’m not sure what new ground Frons thinks he can cover. Unless he’s planning to make it more reality show-like. *shudder* Maybe there’s some other key difference that is eluding me, but the only way the soaps could become more like prime time is if they shifted to once a week and spent the extra money on location shoots and more fancy camera work. I hope they don’t do that. I dearly love that I get my shows five days a week. I am a greedy person and want those five days. Who cares about fancy camera work. Who cares about location shoots (although they are nice once in awhile). I just want my favorite story that goes on and on and on.
KATHY HARDEMAN: Mr. Frons can primetime my daytime all he wants as long as I see a good story with characters I can fall in love with. I like when soaps address current issues and events; however, I don’t want to see guns and sex every day. The soapy ambiance I enjoy includes building and breaking of relationships and interactions between people. If primetime ambiance includes too many action driven shows then, please, point me to Mr. Frons’ office so I can lock him in the nearest closet.
KATE BROWN: I do not think adding a prime time, or more modern feel to soaps was a bad idea. ABC, however, executed it poorly.
Instead of bringing elements from prime time that would enhance its soaps, ABC decided to suddenly model its soaps on popular primetime shows. GH became a bastardized version of The Sopranos. OLTL became an aggravating mixture of Dawson’s Creek and a slasher flick. Poor AMC became an embarrassing rip off of Sex and the City, with some truly awful reality TV thrown in. Only Brian Frons thought The Sexiest Man in America worked.
ABC execs were mystified when ratings did not soar after these brilliant changes were made. They were mystified because they did not understand the relationship between viewers and soaps.
Soap viewers and soaps have an intimate relationship. “My soap” is something all viewers say. No one says “my Sopranos” or “my Sex and the City.”
If ABC wants to enhance daytime by bringing in primetime elements first increase production budgets. Having a bachelor auction with 10 attendees is cheap and ridiculous. Breaking down sets and recycling them may seem like a good idea but it’s not. Were there any AMC viewers not wondering what the Martin’s porch was doing in Nova Scotia? Second, bring in writers with a fresh viewpoint. Recycling writers means recycled stories which make any soap seem stale. Third, make the stories tighter, as they do in primetime. It’s good to let a story take its time to unfold, teasing viewers as it goes along. It’s not a good thing for a story to wander aimlessly for months, even years, with no end in sight. Viewers might start to think that the writers have no idea where the story is going, if there are any viewers left. As long as we wishing on a star, why not put someone who appreciates soaps in charge of daytime
We hope you have enjoyed sitting around the table with us and sharing thoughts. Check back next month when we will be hammering out other topics and ideas.