Who Killed the Soaps? 7 Culprits, Including The Real Housewives, Farmville, and James Franco
Susan Lucci, Farmville
Soap opera fans — and Hoover — can go ahead and blame ABC's head of daytime Brian Frons for the death of All My Children and One Life to Live. Two weeks ago, he pulled the trigger, ending 40 years worth of storytelling, and further enraging fans by announcing in the same breath that both series would be replaced by cheaper-to-produce talk shows.
Susan Lucci on All My Children's cancellation: "I was completely blindsided"
It's true that soaps don't make as much money as they used to, but why? Are there culprits to blame beyond network executives needing to cut costs? We point a finger at several other guilty parties in the death of the serial:
1. Reality TV: From Lauren vs. Heidi to Teresa Giudice's angry table-flip to Jason Mesnick's Bachelor switcheroo, reality TV has made the melodramatic histrionics once dominated by daytime commonplace. Turns out the truth is stranger than fiction — stronger too. Could any writer come up with a creation as bizarre and addictive as Phaedra Parks? Or Spencer Pratt? Plus, the real-life crazies are all willing to work for a fraction of the cost it takes to keep soap operas' big ensembles employed.
2. Ratings-Grabbers vs. Lame Stunts: So James Franco asked to visit General Hospital's Port Charles on his own — that's no excuse for the other, now-canceled ABC soaps to aspire to lesser stunts. If anything, it should have lit a fire under their collective butts. Instead, in recent years, One Life to Live paid tribute to the success of High School Musical (these were pre-Glee times) with "Prom Night: The Musical!" a four-day singing event that was, well, out of tune with its target audience. (Or any audience? See a clip of its sequel, "Starr X'd Lovers: The Musical!" below.) All My Children, meanwhile, committed such treasonous-to-fans stunts as killing off Pine Valley's beloved Dixie with poisoned pancakes, and turning Greenlee, a favorite who'd been gone for years, into a monster for all of 2010. Not the way to hang on to a diminishing pool of loyal viewers.
3. Bratty Kids: Ratings-wise, rugrats have shown up soap fans. For proof, look no further than the failure of Disney's SoapNet, a channel that pledged wall-to-wall soaps, from daytime reruns to prime-time classics like Knots Landing and Falcon Crest and Beverly Hills, 90210, The O.C. and One Tree Hill. The channel tried original soaps, too. There was the General Hospital spin-off Night Shift and the popular Canadian import Being Erica. But not enough viewers turned up and last year Disney decided to shutter SoapNet and relaunch it as Disney Junior in 2012.
4. Day Jobs: Through the years, soap operas relied on housewives to be the bulk of their audience. As they've slowly disappeared into the workforce, ratings have dropped. The long-term effect? Soap-watching, once a popular mother-daughter pastime, is less and less of a shared activity, and young women just aren't picking up the habit because of...
5. The Siren Song of Social Media: Soaps are no match for Mark Zuckerberg and those adorable Farmville folk. Whether they're working, going to school or sitting around the house, women (and men) are keeping busy launching angry birds into pigs, watching the latest in mindless YouTube entertainment, updating their Facebook statuses, or managing virtual farms. Simply put, there are more screens and more distractions, which make a soap's weekly five-hour commitment seem downright daunting.
6. Talk Shows: While viewers are fleeing from soap operas they've remained loyal to talk shows. (All My Children hit a low among women 18-to-34 in March; its total viewership is now about the same as CBS' freshman talk show The Talk.) And while a hit talk show is still a hard thing to produce, they're a less expensive gamble.
7. Time-Shifted Viewing: You'd think that time-shifted viewing would help the soaps, but according to a recent report, most people use their DVRs to tape comedies and procedurals. Viewers seem to have decided that a five-day-a-week serial would eat up tons of DVR space. Sacrifices have been made.
Anyone else to blame? Point your fingers in the comments below.