Have the young gotten too restless for today’s soaps?
Desperation is never pretty. And right now, it’s what you’ll find if you flick around the dial to catch some of the longest running shows in the history of television.
It’s no secret that the ratings for daytime’s long-popular soaps are far, far below what they were even a few short years ago. When the blame game is played, most network execs will quickly point the finger at the O.J. Simpson trial, which unceremoniously bumped the soaps for months on end. According to these execs, viewers learned to do without their daily dose of drama in much the same way a smoker kicks the habit by going cold turkey.
But maybe there’s something much simpler at work.
Somewhere along the line, soaps forgot to deliver real, human emotions and instead traded drama for melodrama. In recent weeks, As The World Turns has looked more like Friday The 13th as a knife-wielding, mask-wearing killer has decimated dayplayers left and right. A mermaid has taken center stage at the always-offbeat Passions. And one All My Children character recently pissed on another.
Apparently, the powers that be think this is what it takes to keep viewers hooked. Oh, and not just any viewers: Like everyone else in the entertainment industry, the daytime execs are after the hottest clique in town: The elusive 18-34 year olds.
We humbly submit that if those in charge of the daytime line-up would like to remember better days, they swing by AOLvideo.com and take in a few episodes of the gone-but-never forgotten classic sudser, The Edge Of Night. Or head over to SOAPnet and bask in the glory that was Ryan’s Hope.
They say that those who forget the sins of the past are doomed to repeat them. In this case, those who forget the roots of the genre seem doomed to kill it. Rumors of Guiding Light’s demise have been circulating for so long that it’s easy to understand why viewers might be wary of jumping into the Springfield-set saga for fear of falling under its spell and then having it taken away.
Interestingly, even the top-rated sudser — CBS’ The Young & The Restless, which has sat atop the charts for nearly 1,000 weeks in a row — is not immune to the changes sweeping through daytime. While one might expect other shows to emulate the success of Y&R, which has, for the most part, eschewed while plot twists in favor of deeply personal stories, the reverse has proven true: Last month, Y&R heroine Sharon Newman found herself being held hostage by reliquary-seeking Nazis. And the show’s pace — always wonderfully lethargic, giving viewers time to absorb the rich characterizations — has been stepped up dramatically, no doubt as a way of preventing ADD-addled viewers from becoming bored and switching channels.
We all know what happens to desperate characters in the movies: They don’t tend to have happy endings. In this case, desperation could be the end — period — for a genre which has been around since the days of radio. And that would be a tragic tale indeed.