Soap operas ruled at my house when I was a kid. There was “Search For Tomorrow,” with the star-crossed romance between Joanne and Sam; there was “The Guiding Light,” “As The World Turns,” and, of course, “Days Of Our Lives” among many others. I was stuck with them, just like sands are stuck in the hourglass, because we had one television and two channels and a mother who ruthlessly controlled the viewing options. My mom watched the soaps while she performed the endless tasks involved in overseeing a seven-kid household, so I had to watch them too, dammit.
Now they’re nearly dead. They’ve been circling the drain, so to speak, for some time now — but Ad Age is proclaiming that The End Is (Probably) Nigh.
“Viewers these days want to dip in and out of shows, media analysts suggest, so talk shows, quiz shows, health-and-wellness programs and even infomercials might better fill the bill,” the magazine reports. It notes that the Big Three networks aired 18 soap operas in 1970-71 but are down to six now — with only one of those on NBC. Viewership of the soaps has fallen from 6.5 million during the 1991-92 season to 1.3 million in the 2009-2010 season.
Of course, there actually are lots of soaps still on TV — they’re just not called soap operas. They’re called “reality television” and they skip the writers and actors that once were used to make soaps soapy. “Big Brother,” which puts on hours and hours of programming almost nightly on Showtime, is a classic example; the ridiculousness of some shows is so rich that the inevitable parodies have arisen.
My fascination with the soaps I hate is simple: I can’t believe they’ve held on this long. Trace them back through radio (and heck, before that, through movie serials — and fakey travelogues and phony chautauquas and travelin’ shows before that) and you can see a line of soapiness that dates back for more than a century. I guess the taste for hyperinflated drama never really goes away.