Friday, July 8, 2011

Like Sands Through The Hourglass . . .

In May, ABC announced the cancellation of two long-running soap operas, All My Children and One Life to Live.  They have since thrown complaining viewers a bone by selling the rights to these shows to an on-line media company who will continue to produce the shows and air them on-line and through internet-connected televisions.  I'm not here to debate whether or not original programming in on-line formats is the future of entertainment.  I'm here to berate the decision to cancel these shows in the first place, and possibly to harp about the current state of television in general.  ABC executives said the decision was "guided by extensive research into what today's daytime viewers want and the changing viewing patterns of the audience."  Well, didn't they just KNOW I was gonna go off on that line of bull?

My favorite soap, General Hospital, premiered in 1962, followed by One Life to Live in 1968 and All My Children in 1970.  I began watching all three some time in the late 70's.  There is a brief gap in my viewing between joining the "real" world (going to work full-time) and the invention of the VCR.  During that dark period, I kept up as much as possible on holidays, sick days and through Soap Opera Digest.  When we got our first VCR in 1984, I was once again able to visit Port Charles, Pine Valley and Llanview on a regular basis.  While GH is now the only story* I watch without fail, I have kept up with the others enough to get the gist, and I tune in more regularly now that I'm home more.  I'm about as close to a life-time ABC soap fan as you'll find, which I think qualifies me to express my opinion - known in some circles as clear, rational thinking.

To fully understand the colossal irony of ABC's statement, you first need a brief insight into attitudes about soap operas.  According the the museum of Broadcast Communications, negative attitudes toward soaps have existed since the concept began on radio in the 1930's.  Even when soap fans comprised 90% of the daytime listeners/viewers . . .
...the soap opera has been assumed to be of interest primarily or exclusively to uncultured working-class women with simple tastes and limited capacities. Its presumed audience is most easily stereotyped as the working-class "housewife" who allows the dishes to pile up and the children to run amuck because of her "addiction" to soap operas.
My personal, in-depth research into the opponents of soaps unearthed the following objections:  ludicrous plot devices, overly dramatic, they do not present a realistic picture of life, they present and condone immorality - viewers come to believe that these behaviors and moral standards are socially acceptable.

Now let's revisit ABC's crap about "what today’s daytime viewers want and the changing viewing patterns of the audience".  It doesn't take a marketing study or a psychologist to analyze the changing viewing patterns (although there are plenty of both available).  You need only scroll through the TV guide to know that "reality" is king.
  • The Real Housewives of Orange County 
  • The Real Housewives of New Jersey 
  • The Real Housewives of Atlanta 
  • Jon and Kate Plus 8
  • Jersey Shore
  • Sister Wives
  • Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?
  • Temptation Island
  • The Bachelor/Bachelorette
  • Joe Millionaire
  • Average Joe
  • Flavor of Love
  • Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica
  • The Simple Life
  • The Girls Next Door
  • Being Bobby Brown
  • Keeping Up With the Kardashians
  • Big Brother
This is a minute portion of the over-two-hundred shows I found listed as "Reality TV" in the U.S. within the past ten years - and that's not counting the self-help or game shows.  Basically, these are the ones I know enough about to be able to ridicule them sufficiently.  To refresh your memory, networks are cancelling soaps because they no longer fit today's viewing patterns.  Since soaps are judged as containing ludicrous plot devices, drama, unrealistic depictions of life, and condoning immorality, I have to assume these are the characteristics they are trying to avoid with quality programs like those listed above.  I'll just let you carry that extrapolation to it's conclusion, but I will point out:
In 2004, VH1 aired a program called "Reality TV Secrets Revealed", which detailed various misleading tricks of reality TV producers.  According to the show, various reality shows combined audio and video from different times, or from different sets of footage, to create an artificial illusion of time chronology that did not occur, and a misportrayal of participant behaviors and actions.
So much for reality!  "Today's audience" is watching thinly disguised Soap Operas with less clothing and even less morality . . . and plot.

As for soaps appealing to "uncultured working-class women with simple tastes and limited capacities", it is true that those women are no longer watching soaps.  They're too busy beating each other up, calling each other [bleeps], and showing their boobs on reality TV.

What about soaps condoning immorality?  I'm not going to take the non-existent high road and defend the content of soap operas except to say that, when taken as a whole, good usually wins eventually and bad is usually punished - and they're not presented to impressionable teens (or adults) as "reality".   I can sum up the morality issue by noting that I never found it necessary to prohibit our daughter from watching soaps.  However, the reason I am vaguely familiar with most of the shows listed above is because they were banned in our house at some point.  

To address the multitudes of you reading this post (and yes, I still believe in Santa Claus) who are saying, "But the replacement shows aren't trashy reality shows."  I agree - one is a "lifestyle show" called The Chew (with Mario Batali) and the other is a weight loss/makeover series, The Revolution, led by fashion icon (and my personal life guru) Tim Gunn.  I think The Chew sounds wonderful - put it on a cooking channel where it belongs.  As for The Revolution, I may even tune in just to see what amazing wisdom Tim shares, but   can't it replace the hour of Judge Judy re-runs our local ABC affiliate shows each afternoon?

A final word on "reality" TV - schadenfreude.  Schadenfreude [shahd-n-froi-duhis satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else's misfortune.  Schadenfreude is the entire basis for Dave's favorite channel, TruTV, also known as Stupid People TV.  To quote Entertainment Weekly "Do we watch reality television for precious insight into the human condition?  Please! We watch for those awkward scenes that make us feel a smidge better about our own little unfilmed lives."  I'll admit that the commentary added to the "World's Dumbest..." series by a cast of celebrity screw-ups and repeat offenders can be funny, but the clips themselves just make me sad.  Sad that this is what now passes for  acceptable behavior; sad that we find pleasure in watching other's pain and tribulation; sad that these morons are contributing to the potential gene pool for my future grandchildren!

I'm even sadder to see one more piece of my youth vanish.  Sad to lose one of the constants in my life.

*Bonus points if you're old enough to remember when ladies referred to their "stories".


  1. You make a very good case here. I've never watched soaps but it does seem like there are so many niche shows that it wouldn't hurt to keep them on for the soap niche audience.

  2. Well said! I grew up with these shows as well. I don't really watch any more except for the occasion time when I can get the tv to myself and catch the on the Soap network. But I'm said to think that they won't be around any more!

  3. I remember when going to my babysitter's house after school as a kid and catching the tail end of General Hospital. As an adolescent I was an avid watcher of Days of Our Lives and Passions. I have since lost track of all soaps (and Passions has since been cancelled) but I find it really sad that long time soaps are slowly disappearing.

    Also, can I just say it makes my heart happy and gives me a good giggle when I see male characters on tv hooked on soaps, such as House trying to get out of his clinic hours so he can watch General Hospital or Spike on Buffy having to get his Passions fix in.


  4. I have watched GH, on and off, since I was in junior high. I'm on an off period since I had Gage last year. I just don't have the time to keep up. Once he gets a little older I hope GH is still around for me to return to!