News - Soap Buzz

2 July 12th, 2011 Soap pundits speak on state of soaps to ABC National Radio Australia!

Photo Credit: JPI Studios

The ABC National Radio news program, Future Tense, out of Australia late last week had a segment led by series host, Anthony Fennell, who interviewed a diverse cross-section of  panelists including American soap journalists and pundits. The segment included soundbytes from The Red Room’s and US- based soap critic, Lynn Liccardo, and Sam Ford, Director of Digital Strategy for Peppercom Strategic Communications, a research affiliate with MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium, and co-editor of the book The Survival of Soap Opera.

Many issues were brought to light including: the social impact of soaps worldwide, the state of the storytelling, the demographic of the audience, and where soaps went into a downward spiral.  We particularly found some of thought-provoking comments of Liccardo of interest.   See below!

Liccardo addressing the demographic of soaps and the stigmas attached to them: A significant portion of viewers of soaps have always been men. Last time I looked at the numbers it was 24%. That notwithstanding, soap opera’s always been seen as something attached to women. And in the US culture anyway, anything that’s tagged as feminine is valued differently than what’s perceived as masculine. As an example, a few years back a woman I didn’t know especially well, but who knew that I watched soaps, turned to me and regarding nothing we were talking about, she just asked, ‘Who’s Dotty Thornton’s mother?’ And I replied, ‘Edna.’ I didn’t have to think about it. A bystander overheard, turns around, and says, ‘What are you two talking about?’ And we said, ‘All My children.’ And he was like, ‘Ugh! I can’t believe you two remember that kind of detail!’ And was dripping sarcasm and contempt. So I decided to try a little experiment. I said, ’56 games.’ And he shot back, ‘Jo DiMaggio’s hitting streak’ (baseball player). It still stands after 75 years, so the value is really in the eye of the beholder, and as I say, if it’s attached to women it tends to be valued as less important than what’s tagged as masculine. But the fact of that marginalisation and the reason behind it is a lot less important than understanding the insidious impact it’s had, both on how soaps have been perceived and what the genre has become.

Liccardo addressing, as the show calls it,The Enemy Within! “The self-loathing — and I actually prefer the term internalized marginalization, my editors like self-loathing — but you have the grandmother: she never misses an episode of Young and restless but when she’s watching with her grandson she reminds him that this show is ‘utter trash’. A newspaper reporter, a television critic, mocks soaps in her articles consistently but in ways that make it clear she has been, and possibly still is, a viewer.

And for those who make soaps: there’s Harding Lemay, before he became Another world head writer in 1970, he was an author and a playwright. Yet, he finds out that his editor’s wife is a fan, and he wonders why she’s wasting her time watching the show that he’s writing. But kind of the granddaddy of all of it was in 1978, Anthony Geary is asked to become part of General Hospital by Gloria Monty, the producer, who revitalized the show, and he says to her, ‘I hate soaps.’ Monty replies, ‘Honey, so do I. I want you to help me change that.’ Which they did, with enormous success. They introduced these adventure stories and comic books — fantasies like The Ice Princess. And what happened was other shows tried to replicate the success. They jumped on what came to be known as the ‘We’re not your mother soap opera anymore’ bandwagon. They pushed veteran performers aside, undermined the multi-generational storytelling that had been the heart of soaps and, in doing so, reinforced the idea that in order to survive, soaps had to abandon their roots.

Liccardo on how the state of soaps is driven by the bottom line…dollars! A big part of it’s driven by money. You know, scripted storytelling is very expensive to create, especially when compared to reality television, which is extraordinarily inexpensive to create. And episodic shows, which is to say shows that have a beginning, middle and end, shows where you don’t need to know what happened before to understand what you’re going to see in the next hour or so — they are very lucrative for producers because they’ve worked in syndication. I mean in the States you can sit down and watch 12 hours of Law and Order in a row, just one after the other. And they make a lot of money for the producers. You can’t do that with serialized television. They just don’t attract the kind of audience because you have to make that commitment to watching the whole thing. Money’s always a big part of this.

You can listen to the complete segment featuring all the guests,  or read the transcript by clicking here!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. kay killgore says:

    This article is so right on the money when OLTL & AMC got cancelled my sister sent a sarcastic message saying what is the world coming to? I responded with all the actors that have come from soaps who now have Academy Awards.

    Reply

  2. todd says:

    What was said about soaps being perceived as feminine and by turn less valuable in our male patriarchal society is so true. It amazes me how consistent this message is. Being a vegetarian, I see a persistent and controlled message on tv and popular culture about vegetarianism being a feminist trait. In turn, this must be a bad thing and mocked at all times. Every character on tv that becomes a vegetarian (usually a girl) is mocked, and the meat eaters all decide that soy or tofu tastes like nothing and then eat meat. An entire philosophy called feminist vegetarianism has sprung from this. I believe soaps are suffering the same patriarchal stigma. It is so pervasive that even its viewers and those in the industry have little respect for it. There is still perception that all viewers are 70 year old women who do not buy things, and do not know how to use the internet. Reality shows that as much as 20% of viewers are men. People grow up watching the shows with their grandmas. They develop loyalties. The go to school and get jobs. They can’t watch at 1 or 2 pm, so they have to watch online. There are more than 2.5 million viewers daily for OLTL, Neilsen just isn’t able to capture who watches them. There is no fight about the show being taken away, because patriarchal society views them as outdated mindless, terribly acted trash to occupy Grandma’s time. I think there is potential for OLTL to find a bigger audience online then daily airings on ABC at 2pm. I just wish ABC wasn’t still going to profit from the shows. If OLTL continues in the quality of the writing, acting, and social storytelling it has been telling….then the future is not bleak. There are concerns about the costs……but I pray there is a way to make it work. I keep up with all my shows on Hulu now. I would gladly pay for a soap channel that aired episodes online. They could save money on the expensive sets. I do not tune in for fires….guns….tornados…and explosions. I tune in for dramatic explosions like the big reveal at the twin Buchanan girls wedding. We fans were waiting for that moment for months. It was better than the Super Bowl. NOw we have the Tale of Two Todds. I would not miss their meeting nor the fallout from that big reveal if my life depended on it. And by the way, I am a man…..and a vegetarian.

    Reply

Leave a comment