A recent story by David Segal in the Washington Post details the transition of Procter & Gamble soap opera Guiding Light into audio form. Although written in the usual, intelligent but tongue-in-cheek tone that soaps are usually covered in, Segal looks at how the idea got generated--the show's Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler thought of the idea when her husband talked about the ability to follow the show while moving around the house as long has he had the volume up loud enough. The story was republished in the Chicago Tribune today.
According to CBS VP of Daytime Programming Barbara Bloom, the downloads of the Guiding Light podcasts number "in the tens of thousands," but the show remains one of the lower rated soaps, usually generating about 2.5 million viewers. Most soaps' ratings have been cut in half over the past decade, which this article cites as being due to the number of women going to work and the increasing number of television choices.
The story's details of the way in which the show is transformed into a podcast is fascinating, following the employee who edits the 40-minute show (once commercials are stripped away) into a 25-minute download for the iPod or to listen to on the computer, with all the scenes that are more visual in nature, close-ups on people's faces, etc., stripped out, and voiceover narration added in.
As I've mentioned before, GL's sister show As the World Turns is doing a podcast as well.
The article is a good read for those interested in cross-platform content like this and how content from one media form can be transformed on a daily basis into another medium.
But one aspect of this story that Segal doesn't look into very deeply is the fact that, since Guiding Light began as a radio show, the content has come full circle in some ways. The show launched in 1937 on the radio and transferred to television in 1952. Now, for the past year, it has returned to the audio form, and some people say they can enjoy the show just as much without the visuals.
This strikes up an interesting debate within the soap opera industry. Do soaps not use the visual well enough? On the other hand, those close ups to people's faces have become the staple of the soap opera genre, and the actors often tell so much of the story through their body language. If the remedy appears to some to be to introducing snazzy editing or more dreadful special effects (seldom look good on a soap budget), I think they are going the wrong way.
You do lose a lot with a soap when you don't see the actors engaging with each other, but dialogue remains the essential form of the soap opera, and any attempt to distract from that changes the art. The podcast won't become a preferable replacement for the soap opera, but it does prove to be useful for a lot of people and proof that dialogue-driven soaps can be repurposed in many different formats.
On Sunday, I wrote about an upcoming Guiding Light crossover into the world of Marvel comics.