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4 August 29th, 2010 NPR: ‘As the World’ Stops Turning, Are Soaps Dead?’ Segment

Photo Credit: JPI Studios

National Public Radio’s, All Things Considered this weekend had as it’s guest, former As the World Turns writer, Peter Brash, for a segment on:  if the end is near for soap operas, and what has caused it’s decline.  The audio interview was about 3 and half minutes, but on the NPR website, they also posted an accompanying story and excerpts from the interview including the following below!

“Hardly anyone these days admits to watching soap operas, but they once dominated the daytime TV schedules.  Forty years ago, there were 18 soaps airing on the major networks; today, there are only six. Next month there will be one fewer when As the World Turns signs off after more than five decades on the air.  Peter Brash, a staff writer for As the World Turns, tells NPR’s Audie Cornish that the soaps are really victims of their own success. ”The serialized format has spread out just about everywhere you look,” he says. Four decades ago, most shows presented a self-contained story every week. But now, “it’s all branded to hook you in, to tune in tomorrow. “That means you can get your drama fix any time. You don’t have to sit at home all day and devote five hours a week to keeping up with all the illicit affairs, car wrecks, secret babies and evil twins with amnesia.  Brash says the soaps were all about women — but hardly any women are watching anymore.

Reality television isn’t helping either, Brash says. ”They’re soap operas in themselves They’re just — real. So the audience is savvy enough to know they’re watching one that’s real — ‘Oh, she’s really pulling her hair,’ and ‘Oh my god, she might hurt her” — and one that’s staged. So which one becomes more compelling?”

Brash has written some compelling story lines of his own in 30 years of writing for soaps. ”Once, I was responsible for having two naked people fall from a meteor shower. They seemed to be from another planet, and they ran around naked one summer in Salem. I probably should have told the audience right away that the mad scientist in town had just put them up in a rocket ship and they really weren’t aliens. It’s always better if the audience is in on the joke in that way.”

Traditional soaps — naked mystery aliens and all — may be on the wane, but Brash says their influence is felt all over the television dial.  “Soap operas are kind of lending their DNA to the rest of the entertainment media world, and that includes dramatic and reality [shows].  So I don’t think it’s a dead medium; it’s just morphing into different things.”

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  1. Emma says:

    Sadly, I think daytime soaps are dead or at least will be completely in the next 3-5 years, because they have refused to evolve and change. The dialog is weak, the storylines are often confusing, repetitive, and sadly bad. But, most critically, daytime soaps have committed the ultimate sin. They’ve becoming boring.

    Their storytelling has not really evolved since the 80′s. And with the current crop of continually recycled headwriters (I mean typically when a person gets fired from the top post at a job, they are lucky if they get another shot at a similar job, they don’t tend to get job after job after job), soaps will never evolve. There will never be another Gloria Monty/Douglas Marland, who can see daytime soaps for more than what they are now, to see what they can be. And as a result, they will die. It’s very sad.

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  2. Karen (limeybird2) says:

    The main problem with the decline of soap operas is that the writers can’t or won’t come up with new stories. They keep recycling the same old stories that were on 30 years ago.
    Times have changed & the stories should change too. If the soaps that are still on the air after ATWT goes off on Sept. 17th want to stay on the air they need to take a good long look at what stories they are writing. People get tired of the ridiculous find out you have a twin 20 years later, or didn’t remember giving birth only to have your child show up, or sleep with every member of the same family.
    They should also go all out on any story they write. If they’re going to write a gay or lesbian couple into the show, they should treat them the same way they treat a heterosexual couple, if they’re not, then don’t write them in. The same way with a minority couple, either go the whole way with a story or don’t write it at all.
    That’s the main problem we had with ATWT. They wrote first Luke/Noah & threw stupid stories to break them up & get them back together with little sex, then when they finally brought on someone worthy of Luke, they did the same thing. They threw stupid plot devices to keep them from having sex or even have a long term relationship because they can’t have a gay couple happy.

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  3. Michael Bird says:

    This is my newspaper column in our hometown this week … I thought I would share it with you guys.

    Elegy for the End of the “World”

    “Good morning, dear.”

    Those were the first words spoken by actress Helen Wagner, who portrayed matriarch Nancy Hughes until her death earlier this summer, on the afternoon of April 2, 1956 as CBS-TV premiered the first 30-minute daytime drama live from New York City – AS THE WORLD TURNS.

    A production of Cincinnati soap and cleaning products giant Procter and Gamble – the company that gave this genre its nickname – ATWT was a creation of Irna Phillips, who had written and created the most successful soap operas of the radio era, such as THE GUIDING LIGHT.

    The residents of fictional Oakdale, Illinois, were live on November 22, 1963, when Walter Cronkite broke into a scene between Nancy and Grandpa Hughes to announce that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. And until the late 1970s, ATWT was still performing each episode live. It ends its life next week, with the final episode taped at Brooklyn’s JC Studios.

    ATWT was the number-one soap opera on television its first two decades, and was the first soap featured on TV GUIDE’s cover in 1971; original daytime vixen, Lisa, portrayed by Eileen Fulton, starred in her own prime-time spinoff series, OUR PRIVATE WORLD, in 1965; comedienne Carol Burnett even parodied the program on her variety show with “As the Stomach Turns”. The tragedies and triumphs of the Hughes and Stewart families carried the first quarter-century of ATWT, and if CBS wanted to be known as Tiffany network, then AS THE WORLD TURNS was among its crown jewels.

    The few crazy years of competition with rival ABC’s youth-oriented “run-and-gun” soaps are not the most notable in show history, although these years did produce memorable storylines that featured future megastars like Meg Ryan, Marisa Tomei, and Julianne Moore.

    For many viewers, however, the program’s golden age began in 1985 with the appointment of actor-turned-writer Douglas Marland to the post of Head Writer. Marland re-established the supremacy of the Hughes and Stewart families while adding the Snyder family as a representation of his own life growing up on a Midwestern farm. He refused to let plot devices drive storylines; rather, with actor and audience input, allowed stories to develop from character.

    Saying goodbye to an extended Oakdale family that I’ve been watching for virtually my entire life is proving difficult in these last days. I have been there for all the kidnappings, evil twins, back-from-the-dead spouses, and baby switches all these years. I also learned a lot about Alzheimer’s disease, rape, HIV/AIDS, discrimination, and alcoholism along the way. ATWT was an escape, but it was also an education.

    I have also witnessed some powerhouse acting – Larry Bryggman as John Dixon, Elizabeth Hubbard as Lucinda Walsh, Don Hastings as Bob Hughes, Colleen Zenk as Barbara Ryan, Maura West as Carly Tenney, Kathryn Hays as Kim Hughes, Michael Park as Jack Snyder, and many, many more who made my daily trip to Oakdale such a worthwhile visit.

    I could boycott Bounty, stop doing dishes with Dawn, or never pop a Pringles can again, but how will holding a grudge against P&G products bring back my beloved show? It can’t, and it won’t.

    As the last day draws ever closer, it marks not only the demise of my soap opera habit but of the true soap opera era. Procter & Gamble, the inventor of the soap opera, is giving them up permanently. Love and family in the heart of America, as one reviewer called ATWT, is passing us by.

    Irna Phillips should be recognized as a legend for her creation, a uniquely American institution that defined the genre and provided 13,858 episodes of quality drama to an audience of millions. We will never see these episodes on DVD sets; books will not be written about these characters. What has happened these past 54 years in Oakdale will fade into the mists of television memory.

    Perhaps Irna Phillips had it right when she wrote the epigram for the series in 1956: “as the world turns, we know the bleakness of winter, the promise of spring, the fullness of summer and the harvest of autumn – the cycle of life is complete. What is true of the world, nature, is also true of man – he too has his cycle.”

    Michael Bird is a band director for Tallassee City Schools in Tallassee, Alabama. The final episode of “As the World Turns” will air Friday, September 17th at 1:00 p.m.

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  4. Louise Stephens says:

    OK, I’m being biased here. My favorite soaps are One Life to Live and General Hospital. Following the thrilling GH episode of “the Balkin” situation, GH seems to have temporarily gone downhill, but OLTL is still kicking high, in my opinion !! On All My Children, I admire Susan Lucci for her longtime commitment , but I eventually grew tired of her main character not holding on to at least ONE husband, plus many of the storylines just centered around her. I’m glad ABC at least decided to not cancel OLTL until January 2012. Better yet, I hope they will be pressured to change their mind. The replacement shows don’t seem exciting at all!

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