You have a lot of time to think when you’re sick. I didn’t actually watch much television, but it occurred to me that if I wanted to, I could watch soap operas all day. With the exception of one misguided summer when I was, like, 11, I’ve never actually watch daytime soaps.
In this frenetic, multifarious media landscape, and with more families where both parents work, I wondered about the longterm prospects for these shows. Who’s watching them? I guess there’s always the young and the old, and TiVo for keeners. Plus, TV has experienced an extraordinary leap in quality (in every respect–storyline, acting, budgets, HD video, and so forth), where-as I gather the soaps have remained the same.
I went looking for an article on the state of the daytime soaps. I found this New York magazine piece, which blames reality TV for the soaps’ decline:
The villain in this piece is the reality show. When veteran soap-opera producer Mary-Ellis Bunim created The Real World for MTV in 1992, soap operaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s exclusive grip on emotionally manipulative programming began to loosen. Ã¢â‚¬Å“TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re closer cousins than most people realize,Ã¢â‚¬Â says TV historian Ron Simon. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you look at the Internet chat boards for soaps and reality shows, the audiences are asking the same question, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhy is the character doing this?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re both a way to measure your own life.Ã¢â‚¬Â
How far have soap opera ratings fallen? This Wikipedia article has the answer. In 1998, the top show, “The Young And The Restless”, averaged 7 million
viewers viewing households a day. Today, it receives just 3.6 million households. That’s a serious drop. And what’s particularly interesting is that the numbers have been in slow decline from the very beginning. In 1952, “Search For Tomorrow” averaged 16.1 million households, at a time when the US had roughly half the population it has today.
Apparently one way soaps have cut costs is by firing a lot of costly veteran actors. That seems to make sense. If this trend continues, I wonder how many daytime soaps will be around in 2018?