I grew up on Days of Our Lives. My stay at home mother took her break every day at 1pm and I would “rest” while she watched her “soap”. Some of my earliest TV memories are of the Salem Strangler, and one of my first diary entries detailed my jubilation that Bo and Hope made love. (Not that I really knew anything about what actually happened under the sheets in those days.) Soap Operas were traditions passed down from mother to daughter. The characters became like family. I recall feigning illness to come home from school on the days of weddings or big plot developments. My mother had to have known, but never commented.
Just last week, we were met with the sad news that two more soaps would be leaving the air. The cancellation of One Life to Live and All My Children came on the coattails of Guiding Light and As the World Turns. It seems soaps just aren’t profitable these days and are more easily replaced by cheaper talk and game shows. That’s a shame. We are losing something special, something that connects us as women, families, and community.
I think lower ratings for soaps have less to do with people not being interested and more to do with how they’re counting viewers. Most of the people I know who have the luxury of being home during the workday still watch soaps. They still give the stay at home moms that hour of sanity to detach and dream. But they also give that comfortable hour of relaxation and familiarity to those of us who DVR, tape, or watch them again on Soapnet (almost none of which are being counted in the rating system as it stands).
When Guiding Light and As the World Turns were cancelled last year I grieved for the loss of characters and stories that had been a part of my heart for years and were like family to me. As soon as As the world Turns was off the air, I took up watching General Hospital. I could have turned on any number of mindless afternoon options, but I needed and wanted the stories and connections that only soaps offer. I have since found new friends at work who love to spend time chatting about what’s happening in Port Charles.
People think that new viewers aren’t coming to the table, but just last week my 12 year-old niece crawled into the chair with me and started asking me questions about Michael and Abby, Liz and Jason, and Sonny and Brenda. She was drawn in despite her homework and her computer. She was drawn into the stories, the couples, the romance. She was drawn to sharing the experience of a soap with me the way I was with my mom when I was little.
I don’t think these recent cancellations are the end of soaps, just maybe soaps as we know them. Formats do have to grow and change with the times and the audience. Many of the actors from As the World Turns and other cancelled shows have ventured into online soaps and other new media. Maybe soaps won’t stay in the afternoons or maybe they’ll only be shown on the web, but one thing that won’t change is the fact that there will always be an audience that craves the connection, continuity, and community that good soap operas offer. I just hope the people in charge of the networks aren’t too cheap to see that.