- It’s mid 2010 and Michael Fairman, one of the industry’s prominent figures, is analyzing the soap genre’s status-
By Aviad Kidron (Soap Columnist)- Rating – Israeli TV Guide
June is around the corner and Michael Fairman can look back. When I ask him to think about the biggest mistake of the year he is laughing: “Oh where do I begin with this! P&G making it so widely known they are out of the soap business, and taking ATWT a bit to prematurely when it still had some life in it… which then signaled to the rest of the mainstream world, that again, “Soaps are dying.” And of course, the Kish storyline which meant so much too so many people, and had such promise. It was so beautiful and compelling to watch. This makes me very sad.”
It’s interesting to speak with Fairman at this point in time. One can find in Fairman’s resume writing, producing and a non stop activity in the soap industry. But the most interesting thing in his resume is the pioneership. Fairman was one of the first people that understood the connection between the internet and the fans of the soap genre. He created SoapCity.com that featured the majority of the official soap operas sites and included chats, interviews and generally, everything that a good website should include.
Now in 2010, in four months only six soaps will survive. Is the internet the next home for the genre? Fairman doesn’t take an unequivocal stand but is encouraged by the success of Venice’s first season: “Crystal (Chappell) and her producing and writing partner, Kim Turrisi, while initially criticized for charging $9.99 for a subscription based series to their fan base… in the end, it has worked out well. The duo is able to be in the ‘black’ and fund season two… so it is has a rollover effect, if you will, on their business model.
As far as the gateway to more online soaps, I think they have opened the door as there are now a slew of them on the web! Some better produced than others, and some with stories that captivate more than others. But it really has been Crystal’s determination, vision, and seeing the need for a market that was not being catered to, which started the online revolution for soap operas, if that is indeed, where the soaps ultimate destination is.”
So we can say that the genre in its current version is dying?
“I don’t think the genre will ever completely die. I think as with any forms of entertainment, it has its ebbs and flows. I believe the strongest of soaps will survive, and that even as more may fade away, at some point, there will be renaissance of the soap genre. But it is indeed true, that we, in the daytime soap business, have never seen a more dismal and disconcerting time.”
Who’s next on the soaps’ hit list? OLTL or perhaps other soap?
“Well, OLTL would seem, from the US’s standpoint to be the next to go for two reasons 1) Lowest consistent ratings of the current airing shows 2) that it is the only soap currently being shot in NYC, once ATWT ends its production shooting, which is at the end of June. Production costs right now in New York are high. However, that being said, OLTL is my personal favorite soap opera throughout my years covering the genre, and always felt like “the little engine that could”. There actors are phenomenal when given material worthy of their talents. But you never know. One of the other soaps could fall first!”
Speaking of OLTL – the aftermath of Kish. Why did they do it? Why get rid of Kish? In your opinion of course.
“In my opinion, and this is speculative because the true reasons have been kept very close to the vest by ABC and OLTL, but to me, something had to have happened for the story to end so abruptly. I mean, I was just in New York interviewing Scott Evans and Brett Claywell together just ten days before they were axed from the show. And, at the time of the interview, (which was held at OLTL’s new studios) everyone was talking about the big battle for Stacy’s baby, and how they loved working with each other, and the ground-breaking storyline they were proud to be a part of.
Honestly, in the end, the show had some of its lowest ratings ever during the Kish storyline and Fish’s coming out. Now, some argue that other stories contributed to the low ratings at that time, and I would agree. This is a business when all is said and done. And, although I would like to think in the USA we live in a progressive society, this signaled to me that we don’t. I am not sure if this story of Kish played well throughout Middle America and smaller towns, where homosexuality is for some, not OK, and thus they do not want to see a gay story depicted on their television screens. Remember, there are 48 other states other than New York and California, which are the most progressive, and that is even questionable since Prop 8 passed in California!”
I return to this point with many interviewees: Maybe the audience isn’t ready for gay storylines. Even B&B doesn’t have any gay character.
“I just did a huge piece on this for InterPride which comes out next month at all the Gay Pride Festivals in North America and Europe and Asia. I spoke with Maria Arena Bell of Y&R, and Jean Passanante of ATWT. Here are two head writers who have tackled gay characters differently- Maria not making a big deal of having a “gay” lawyer, Rafe, on the canvas, instead she chose to integrate him into the canvas. That is an appropriate modern day sensibility. You don’t have to call out people’s sexuality with writing with red magic markers on their foreheads. And, Jean with the Nuke love story did a fine job, because Luke was a major character, and she came up with an all male gay love triangle on daytime! So kudos to her, too. In the end, to answer your question, I think going from four shows having gay storylines between where we were a year a go in May to now, with one, till ATWT goes off the air, (now with the news of Bianca’s return to All My Children, still after ATWT goes off the air, there will be one) is not boding to well for saying that the audience is ready. As far as B&B, yes you would think all types of diverse people with different ethnicities and sexual preferences would be in fashion houses, because that is real life. I am keeping my fingers crossed that at some point, B&B EP and head writer, Brad Bell will tackle a gay story. But with what just happened with the other soaps, it may be a lot later, than sooner. We shall see.”
Sometime you need to pay. 2010 was a tough year for the genre in Israel. It’s interesting to hear Fairman’s opinion on the genre’s murder in the holy land (for USA readers: we lost Y&R and DOOL in January)
Israel has only one soap opera. What do you think of Sony’s decision (asking for a higher price for Y&R and DOOL)? And do you think that the Israeli networks should have agreed to the new price for the sake of the fans?
“I think licensing fees and prices for shows overseas and domestically has been a very serious issue of survival for the soaps. Again, in the end, it’s a business decision, and money is the bottom line. I am not privy to all the ins and outs of the business side, but I understand Sony’s decision to ask for a higher price for DAYS and Y&R, because you have to remember, the costs of putting on a show and churning out stories five days a week is a lot more expensive than it was five, or ten years ago.
One way to think of it, for the Israeli Networks, would be perhaps to have agreed to the new price while things try to get stabilized for the soaps here in the US. With more fans tuning out and getting turned off, and having nothing to view to keep them hooked, it only makes it more difficult to get them back should that time come. This only keeps up the notion that soaps are an eroding audience.”
But these days you can find this audience online where it’s used to a much faster storytelling. Do you think that these days with You Tube, internet etc, that faster is better (for example, Y&R speeding up stories)?
“There is a balance that is now needed for all the daytime soaps. They need to change with the times and cater somewhat to a “fast food” audience, because, unfortunately that is what has happened to our society: many choices on TV, shorter attention span, and so many things going on in all of our lives. With that being said, I think if you can move story along faster, it will not feel to the audience like “I can tune out for three months, and when I come back the same thing will be going on”, so then it becomes must-see daytime television again. I think the issue the soaps have now is how to maintain a quality and level of storytelling without compromising what soaps are about, and move it along and at a modern pace.”
Quality plots are nice but they don’t get you an Emmy…
“As in every year, the Emmys are really a game. It’s a strategy played by the actors, producers and writers to get a nomination. The Emmy system is a flawed system and has been for years. This year for all categories you only could submit one show of your work through the entire eligibility year. And remember, the tape is viewed out of context from the actor’s year-long story arcs, and same with a series nomination that is why you see series submitting big catastrophes or special effect episodes a lot of the time, instead of what daytime does best, which is tell complex human stories that are character driven. So, if you are going to play the Emmy game, you have to play to win, and think, “What would the blue-ribbon panel think?” And, in addition, as an actor or series, once you have made the decision of what to submit, don’t second guess yourself! You will be miserable if you don’t get a nod.”
What we have ultimately learned is critical darlings of the year- Kish, and a performance that knocked everyone’s socks off – Y&R’s, Stacy Haiduk (Patty/Emily) does not guarantee one thing come Emmy time!”
Let’s play pretend: if it was up to you – what would you do to save the genre?
“There needs to be a complete tweak and re-haul of the On-Air Promotions of the networks soap operas. The amount of air time they get to drive their current story is next to nil on CBS, somewhat nil on NBC, and ABC at least, has had the luxury of a cable network, SOAPnet to help promote its stories and actors, but none of it is enough. One of the reasons I launched my website Michael Fairman On-Air On-Soaps, is that there needs to be new multimedia platform creating a positive buzz on daytime. Publicists and network presidents, and marketing VP’s, need to think outside the box more of how they can utilize storyline, talent, and their resources. They need to re-educate and re-communicate it to the mainstream, who think soaps are so “old-school”. And that is not done solely by just a stunt casting storyline like James Franco on GH. There needs to be something more continuous. I have created the first soap podcast that actually has soap stars as its co-hosts (On-Air On-Soaps Podcast), along with myself, and is very star-driven with its guests, and heavily promotes the shows. I think radio, which I have been trying to pursue as another avenue for the soap fans, is not being used right to sell the product and engage them. It’s a natural. Radio has so many different formats to it that you can captivate different types of audiences and demographics. I think we are missing the ET of Soap, for the fans and viewers. This type of show could preview story and go behind-the-scenes, Fans can get more up close and personal with the stars. Additionally, it would show other venues that at least something new is being done for the genre, instead of the ‘same old same old’, tried and true, which is not working anymore. We need a jolt, in a good way, however we can get it.
I also would work on keeping the viewers that are still left from tuning out, and also continue to find ways that make sense to go after viewers from different social and demographic markets, i.e. the gay audience which has always followed soaps, came out in droves more than ever for Otalia and Kish’s storyline. I think cultural diversity is something not seen enough of in soaps, and if people saw characters and situations that relate to them, they might be more inclined to watch. But more than anything, good creative and innovative and emotional storytelling is what drives viewers to the soaps, and so, the powers-that-be need to consider trying new writers with fresh ideas. And finally, if putting on five episodes a week is to daunting in this terrible economic climate, perhaps only new episodes of the soaps should air a few times per week. Less shows, more tune-in, but more needs to happen on each show to keep it viable, and it would cut some costs. The problem with that is: what do you air on the other three days a week? Repeat? It’s a conundrum for sure.”