In the past year, two long-time soaps have been given the ax by the respective networks. In the light of the cancellations of Guiding Light and As The World Turns, can any of the remaining daytime dramas feel safe, or should they all be either cowering in fear or figuring out a way to break out of the mold and meet the changing demands of their perspective audience?
Thirty years ago, soaps went through a heyday, especially General Hospital with the pairing of Luke and Laura (pictured left). Suddenly the it thing to have was what became known as the super-couple–a pairing with undeniable chemistry who were fighting the odds to be together. It didn’t start as a pretty relationship, but fans ended up rooting for them despite the rocky beginnings. But that formula isn’t working anymore.
Times change. Viewers change. And if the soap opera wants to rise up from extinction, it needs to change too.
Think about the prime time programming that is on today, and then compare it to what you were watching in the ’80s and 90s. We don’t see shows that even resemble Mork and Mindy, One Day at a Time, or The Cosby Show. In the mid 80s we saw Falcon Crest and Dynasty (most likely a result of the popularity of the daytime drama) but when Soapnet tried to produce a nighttime serial spun from General Hospital a few years ago, it only lasted two seasons.
Despite it’s quick demise, I think General Hospital: Night Shift was ont0 something. Yes, I’ve sung it’s praises before in the features I used to write for Blogcritics: Making the Rounds at General Hospital and The Night Shift, but it’s worth mentioning again. The show–especially in it’s second season–took on some tougher and more gritty subject lines. Some even daytime still refuses to explore fully. We watched a beloved character (Robert Scorpio played by Tristan Rogers) battle cancer, while on the daytime parent show a character (Alexis/Nancy Lee Grahn) was given lung cancer, only to have the treatment of such glossed over and be bestowed a miraculous recovery.
If the daytime serial is going to survive, I think it needs to take a lesson from the prime time counterparts. It needs to give viewers more real-to-life scenarios and do it in a well-written, timely fashion. It can’t rely on stunt guest appearances by large name actors if it can’t follow through with a decent story line. (note the recent failure of the James Franco appearances on General Hospital, no part of which is the responsibility of the actor.)
Unfortunately, and to the great disappointment of this viewer, I think the time has come where they must make big moves to change or go the way of the dinosaur. (And for the tie-in to writing) It all comes down to the writing: Believable story-lines, catered to the majority of the viewing audience (Women). THIS is what will save this endangered species.