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November 3, 2006

Legacy Characters and Rich History: How Soap Operas Must Capitalize on Their History (and Pay Attention to the Lessons of the WWE)

Luke and Laura have me thinking about soap operas and legacy characters and the importance of recognizing histories on shows that are fortunate enough to have a wealth of former content to draw from.

A lot of long-standing television forms have not completely grasped the idea that one of the most important selling tools they have is exactly what sets them apart from the more ephemeral primetime fare: longevity.

In this category, I'm talking about any type of program with deep archives but particularly thinking of daytime serial drama, the soap operas; professional wrestling; some long-standing news shows or features on other networks, anything that has been on the air for years, without an end in sight. These programs are special, with formats that have built within viewers the sense that, even if the program hits a down time, that its longevity and format will cause it to be around for years to come.

That's why I've made the argument with both pro wrestling programming and soap operas over the years that you can't really apply the term "jump the shark" to these shows because they have jumped the shark and back so many times over the past few decades. As the World Turns and Guiding Light have both been on the air every weekday and all year long for more than 50 years now, making PGP a brand renowned for longevity. And World Wrestling Entertainment's roots stretch back to 1963 as a regional broadcast, giving WWE a longstanding viewership history that few other primetime shows can match, other than news programs.

Yet, traditionally anyway, these shows only give a cursory glance to their history, instead relying on bragging about their history only in ambiguous terms from time-to-time.

WWE Finding the Right Direction with Legacy Content

Vince McMahon completely ignored wrestling history for a long time, and it made some degree of business sense when it came to the history of his competitors. He was trying to establish the WWE as the only wrestling history that matters. Now that he's pretty well won the game, though, now that he has established his wrestling empire as the owner of the country's primary wrestling brand, Vince has started to give more than just a passing glance at the wrestling archives.

Enter WWE 24/7 On Demand, which I've written about before. At the time, I wrote:

The point of all this? WWE has been able to draw on nostalgia in a way that appeals to a very concentrated group of fans, those who care enough about professional wrestling to throw down a few bucks a month to watch old pro wrestling programming, tape archives that were otherwise just sitting in a closet somewhere. It's an example of Chris Anderson's Long Tail, in that products like these can be profitable just by finding a fan base. Although the initial costs of digitizing and mapping out these tape libraries may put the product in the red, the long-term sustainability of this niche product should eventually turn a profit, especially considering that the footage can also be used for DVD releases, etc. (The company has found this out, especially with releasing multiple-disc sets of various wrestling personalities.)

And, the WWE has been able to pull in some fans who don't even watch the current product regularly but who love to see the wrestling of yesteryear. In fact, there are some people who are hostile against the company, who do not like Vince McMahon, but are willing to pay him for this archive, to remember wrestling from the regional era before what they see as his corrupting influence came through and changed pro wrestling.

On the other hand, soap operas don't really seem to "get it," as Vince would say. And it's not like Vince always has but rather that he has slowly come around to ways of educating current fans to care about wrestling history and then to promote that wrestling history with the 24/7 product, DVD releases, etc., in order to eventually make money off that content that was just collecting dust otherwise.

The Lesson for Soap Operas

The same needs to take place with soap operas. While every other television industry seems to make its name off target marketing and niche audiences when it comes to demographics, soap operas are the opposite. Almost everyone I know my age, male and female, who watch soaps do so because they started watching them with a relative growing up. In fact, almost everyone I know period started watching soaps this way. When the audience started falling off, soaps began to dumb down the shows' histories more and more, ignoring the past and worrying about losing viewers with such stuff. New characters with little history on the show started being the major focus, and veterans are lucky to make it on the screen a handful of times a month now on many shows.

Why? Soaps are losing their 18-49 female target demographic, and they are trying to appeal to them directly. But they don't understand the value of transgenerational marketing when it comes to soaps, and they've spent the last decade looking for a quick-fix for the target demographic when I believe they would have been better served focusing on improving creative and utilizing their history more effectively. Shows should bolster their longterm viewers' numbers and letting them act as their proselytizers for younger soap fans. In other words, if you hadn't lost grandma and mom, you would have been able to keep grandson or granddaughter.

Legacy Characters

How do you remedy that, though? Legacy characters. Acknowledging the history. Not only could soaps find more and more ways to make money off the show's archives (when you bring back a legacy character, release online content or DVDs that highlight the history of that characters, their interaction with others who are currently on the show, etc.), but they can also draw back in the prodigal sons and daughters who have drifted from the show by returning some familiar faces.

There has been a lot of talk in the soap fan communities and the industry in the past year about legacy characters and how their return can generate buzz for shows once again. A lot of these legacy characters are out of the demographic that the show is trying to reach, but...gasp...viewers seem to sometimes be interested in characters that aren't necessarily the same age as them, and--when it comes to the large families on most soap operas--these characters are woven into storylines of several generations of other characters on the show, leading to a show that is supposed to be multigenerational in its storylines in order to appeal to multiple generations of viewers.

Ed Martin with Media Village wrote about the return of Laura from the famed Luke and Laura couple on General Hospital and what it means to the show. Martin writes, "Francis' return as one of the most popular characters to ever emerge in daytime drama is worth noting because it calls attention (at a time when much attention is needed) to the enduring power not simply of daytime soap operas but to that of serialized programming overall and to broadcast television itself. Consider the enduring popularity of her character, Laura. This month marks the 25th anniversary of Laura's now-legendary wedding to Luke in a two-part 1981 episode that drew 30 million-plus viewers, still the record-holder for a daytime drama audience."

Later, he points out that this "is what a well-written, well-acted soap opera can do, a point well worth making at a time when most soap operas are fighting for their lives, the victims of repetitive writing, industry indifference, escalating competition from other media and, I am convinced, flawed audience measurement."

Martin shares an anecdote about younger viewers been involved with the storylines of older characters, saying, "Significantly, Alexis is not an ingénue. She's a middle-aged woman. And yet, young viewers remain heavily invested in her storylines. There's another industry perception smashed to bits. But that's a column for another day."

Nice to know that there's someone out there who agrees with me that soaps break the myth of niche demographics and that applying that rubric to soaps has been a driving force in diminishing the soaps audience.

Bringing Back the Prodigal Viewers

But what can shows do about it? seems fairly obvious, yet I'm afraid that it won't to most of the marketing folks. People like nostalgia. And the only way soaps are going to build their audience back up is first to get a great number of those people who have watched at some point in their lives back into the fold. And, gasp, the majority of those people need not be in the target demographic. I'm talking about getting grandmas and middle-aged mothers and fathers back into the show, so they can get back to work as your grassroots marketers to the younger generations.

And what's going to attract these fans back into the fold? Two things: first, familiar faces; and, second, good writing when they get there. I am not arguing at all that you don't need amazing new characters and dazzling young stars because you need something to get these viewers hooked on a new generation, but you have to use the old generation to do that. First, start by putting the veterans on the show more often, integrating them into storylines. A show like As the World Turns has a cast of Kim and Bob Hughes, Tom and Margo Hughes, Susan Stewart, Emma Snyder, Lucinda Walsh, etc., all characters who still have a lot to give and actors who are still able to carry scenes. I'm not saying that the shows have been completely inept at featuring them, but they haven't been great.

Don't be afraid to put Tom and Margo on the screen. Have young swindler Henry Coleman enter into an illicit affair with the older Lucinda Walsh, throwing the whole town off-balance. And so on. Bite the bullet and bring back Dr. John Dixon, a face many identified with ATWT for so many years. Sure, he's old, but that means that several generations of viewers will recognize him. Bring back some old favorites like Andy Dixon or Kirk Anderson...whatever happened to him, anyway? Dead or alive?

Then, by encouraging fans to promote the current storylines of these characters or one of their returns, by taking advantage and empowering the show's grassroots marketers, some of those old fans will come back into the fold. If they like what they see, they'll bring more back into the fold with them. And that leads to even more grassroots marketers. Then, they may start getting younger viewers tuning back in.

The problem is that this type of growth is slow growth...It's not a week or a month fix. And you have to have quality writing when fans get there and younger characters that are compelling and who interact with these legacy characters in ways that gets fans hooked on them as well. One of the major problems is that a lot of writers currently with shows don't even know the shows' deep histories, since soap writers switch from show to show so often, it seems. But these shows need to get it together and take advantage of their greatest asset: their own histories.

The Best Marketing: Good and Consistent Storytelling

As I said, though, shows have to get good, and stay better for a while, before they can regain an audience. Word-of-mouth takes time. This type of approach needs a long-term commitment from the production companies and the network. The problem, though, is that trying one immediate fix after another in the soap industry for more than a decade now has led to continued decline in the numbers. If they had started this process a decade ago and focused on long-term growth, we might not be in the shape that so many creative direction changes and quick fixes have led to by this point.

In the end, the best marketing for a show is good quality. Soaps have the advantage of feeling permanent, and longstanding shows are probably not going to go off-the-air anytime soon. If shows start now with a more long-term approach to growth, incorporating the idea of taking greater advantage of the archives and bringing back legacy characters and empowering proselytizing among fans and the other ideas laid out here, then there may be a turnaround in numbers. But it's going to take a big shift in thinking from the current demographic-driven, short-term thinking that has guided the industry.

For those who are interested further in these ideas, feel free to contact me directly or read some of my previous posts on the soaps industry and pro wrestling industry here at the site. I'm teaching a class on pro wrestling and its cultural history here at MIT next semester, and my thesis research is on the current state of the soap opera industry and how using new technologies and the new relationships with fans can transform the genre and the industry in the 21st Century.

Thanks to Todd Cunningham with MTV Networks for bringing the return of Luke and Laura to my attention.


The concept expressed in this piece of utilizing older legendary (legacy) characters as a method of helping to reinvent the soap opera viewing audience is fascinating and quite unique. The idea of actively rejecting the consistent concern with more and more youth, and instead reaching out for the multigenerational audience is one that we would be wise to explore and, frankly, exploit.

Having spent over 32 years writing a daytime drama, I can testify to the validity of utilizing the collective show history as both a means of keeping alive the fundamental vision of a daytime show, and also what should be an excellent means of drawing old viewers back to the fold. However, whenever stories of this nature were discussed in our meetings, most often there was the argument, mentioned by the writer, that these characters are outside the crucial demographic.

I feel the response to that concept as presented in this posting are quite profound. No one in my experience has said, let's bring back this old person as a means of drawing old viewers back to the show and getting them re-involved, because these old viewers might be the key to drawing in new viewers from their own families, and helping to re-establish the tradition of soap opera viewing as a family affair, passed down from mothers to daughters to their daughters.

I agree totally with the writer's premise that the majority of daytime viewers became daytime viewers in this manner, although there is also a significant part of the audience that developed their daytime viewing habits more from their friends than their parents. To the extent that Passions has garnered and held onto a young audience, I believe that the habit of watching this show has more likely evolved from peer relationships rather than from family viewing. And many of the fans of General Hospital in the legendary Luke and Laura days, I believe, also arose from peer relationships, as huge numbers of college students and even high school and younger kids were rushing home from school every day to watch the unfolding of this remarkable, historic story.

Lap dissolve. It's 25 years later. The daytime serial industry has been in a significant slump for years, across the board. Brilliantly, or so I believe, headwriter Robert Guza, Jr., is bringing back the historic couple. And, praises be, it's not a recast. It is Genie Francis. Not Genie Francis the ingenue. But Genie Francis, the mature woman-- side by side with her unlikely Prince Charming Tony Geary-- to once again relive their love story.

GH now has the incredible opportunity of showing us once again what all the incredible romance was about 25 years ago. Those college kids who were watching then are now, guess what, 25 years older, too. The average female viewer will have gained a little weight. The experience she has lived in these 25 years will show in her face, just as it does in Genie Francis's face. But you know what? Luke still loves her. She is the love of his life. No matter that he is married to Tracy Quartermaine. It is clear from the moment Luke makes the risky decision to allow the drug therapy that may bring Laura back how much he still loves her.

It is evident in his despair when it seems not to have worked how much he still loves her. And it is most evident in the look on his face when he is leaving and she speaks his name, how much he still loves her. What woman who was a girl or teenager when she first saw the love story of these characters is not going to be moved by this? I wasn't even a viewer at the time, although I know of this incredible soap couple, of course. And I was moved, profoundly, when Laura spoke his name. And yes, I will tune in each day to see what happens now.

But can this sustain? Can it bring in new, younger viewers? I was in the hospital following the birth of my daughter when Luke and Laura were being played heavily on GH. The young woman in the bed next to mine was a GH fan. Because of this, I can tell my daughter about this remarkable story emanating from the time of her birth. General Hospital's head writer Bob Guza made the brilliant choice to bring Laura back at a time when the two children of Luke and Laura, Lucky and Lulu, are involved in heavy stories of their own. Luke has already been drawn into these stories, especially Lulu's story. I presume these parents will become a part of the stories of their adult children.

Thus, viewers who tune in again for the nostalgia value of Luke and Laura, will witness several things: they will get their nostalgia from the many flashbacks to the Luke and Laura romance that GH will undoubtedly play; viewers will also see what the characters are like now, today, 25 years later, as this story of undying love is rejuvenated; and finally, these old viewers may well find themselves drawn into the stories of the newer characters--the "children of" stories, as well as becoming involved with newer, very powerful characters like Sonny, Alexis, Carly, Jax, who have become more the mainstay of the show, but who would be new to viewers from long ago. In short, it seems to me that General Hospital has the potential to hit it out of the park with the return of Genie Francis and all that this could mean at this time.

Posted by: Kay Alden | November 6, 2006 12:23 PM

sam, just a quick note for now. don't want to belabor "they need to write better stories" right now. do want to take a look at the bigger picture.

the real question here is not what TPTB should do, but why they're not doing it, and what stands in their way. it's no coincidence that it was luke and laura that got you thinking. when it comes to exploiting soaps in other platforms, ABC is clearly the leader. first, they own and produce all of their shows (i don't think this has always been the case, i know they didn't own ryan's hope -- not sure about others). they have soapnet on cable and the net. they hold fan events at disney parks. they promote their soaps both on soapnet, and style -- where they have finola hughes (amc and gh) hosting a makeover show. they clearly get it.

given all of the above, it's hard to believe that ABC hasn't run the numbers on a DVD release. if so, then why haven't they done it? i really don't know, so i'm just going to throw out a few possibilities. could be they haven't been able to come to terms with AFTRA. but they must have cut some kind of deal with the union to run the shows on soapnet. so that may be in the works. also could be a problem with clearing music rights. ABC has always been great about just sucking it up and paying the royalties for the right version of the right music instead of using a cover. not in every episode, of course, but it could have come back to bite them in the ass.

(and people do notice the music -- and remember: i've never forgotten the scene in GH when bobbie danced with the decidedly undead roy delucca to the bee gees disco classic how deep is your love?. i wasn't watching gh when bobbie and roy first got together in the late 70s, but i'm guessing that was their song.)

i know your focus is on P&G and CBS, and i'll have a great deal more to way about them later. but i think ABC is where you should be asking these questions. i believe barbara bloom is still vp of daytime at CBS. she used to president of daytime at ABC. start with her. kay may be able to help.

Posted by: lynn liccardo | November 6, 2006 3:39 PM

Kay, you have made some great points digging into GH much deeper with your examples. Unfortunately, having only a very limited history with the show, I didn't really know the specifics but just how it related to the CBS soaps.

I do think that the idea of only marketing directly to new fans is ill-equipped. With meager advertising budgets, etc., soaps just have a hard time directly appealing to new viewers. At the same time, they have all these potential marketers ready and available to do the work for them, if they would just take advantage. It seems to be fairly obvious that soaps should embrace these grassroots advocates for the job, but it does fly in the face of traditional niche demographic marketing concepts.

I can tell you first hand, and most shows would prove it as well, that good actors are what draw people in. I have had plenty of people who watch DOOL tell me about their fascination with John and Marlena, not the younger characters, and I've known plenty of people who watch nighttime teen dramas like One Tree Hill or The O.C. more for the adult storylines than the teens.

The point is that people like good acting and good storytelling, and that transcends demographics to a great degree. It doesn't mean that younger characters shouldn't be viable, the main focus of the show even. But the companies are cheating themselves when they don't write for all the characters on their shows or acknowledge their history.

Good point, Kay, about the need to temper transgenerational family recruitment to soaps with peer recruitment. The problem is that, if you don't have that many in the target demographic watching, they can't do much peer recruitment. I think Passions is a good example of the 12-17 demographic or young adult females recruiting each other because the show has caught hold with a good number, but that soap seems only able to reach that one target demographic, which limits the pool of grassroots marketers it has to draw on. Many of the other soaps could potentially appeal to several generations simultaneously, in theory anyway.

I think you are right about hitting it out of the park, but the return of Laura for a limited time is one small incident. I am not predicting it will change the industry or anything of the sort, as one smart decision doesn't turn everything around. I just think that a whole lot of these types of decisions is the way to go and a change in the way the industry thinks overall. It's not that what I wrote or what you are saying is foreign or that a lot of people haven't thought of some of these things in the past but that the system has been built in a way that is ill-equipped to handle things like encouraging viral marketing, transmedia distribution, multiple demographics (or what some people call surplus audiences), or depth of interaction (as opposed to total number of eyeballs).

But I also know you can't bring back every popular character in the history of the show or anything of the sort, and I do think that younger characters should still be the main focus. As you mention, bringing back familiar faces and having them interact in meaningful ways with younger characrters is one answer. I think another answer would be setting aside part of the cast budget to bring back older characters more often for short stints, more of a revolving door of faces.

Thanks for the illuminating elaborations, Kay!

Posted by: Sam Ford | November 6, 2006 5:17 PM

Wow. What a great piece and a facinating thesis topic. I'm working on my Master's thesis about World's Fairs. I love them, but geez... Soaps would be soooo fun to research! Too bad I'm not at MIT or I'd try to register for your class on the Wresting next semseter. Sadly, I'm a liberal arts, gal. Technology scares me. LOL!

Anyway, I agree with just about everything you said. I used to watch wresting back in my undergrad days, but I quit when the WWF merged with the other organization (The one with Goldberg and Hulk Hogan, I'm sorry I forget the name. The WWW or something?) Suddenly there were all these new characters and I didn't know what was going on. Without the characters and storytelling, it's just gymnastics. I got bored and I stopped watching. Now, It seems like that's happening with a lot of the soaps I watch, too. Stuff just happens with no motivation or deeper exploration. (A small example that's been bugging me. Why have Henry and Simon not had a scene since Simon got back? They were always reluctant friends and now it's like that was just forgotten.)

Without characters, continuality, and SLs that I care about, it's just static. Soap have DECADES to tell stories, establish characters and make connections. I don't understand why they don't take their time and do things properly.

I think long term planning is needed to make soaps, SLs and even characters really work. In order for me to be invested in a couple, I have to KNOW the couple. I have to have watched them deal with each other, their families and their problems over an extended period.

My current favorite soap couple is Sami and Lucas over on DOOL. Why? Because they started out friends, became enemies, and then slowly realized that they loved each other. It's been 13 years or so with these same two characters (played by the same actors) and their relationship. I care about them, I know them and I'm invested.

On the flip side, I wasn't invested in (just for example) Jen and Dusty here on ATWT. They went too deep, too fast. And now he's instantly moving on with someone else, which makes his whole relationship with Jen seem shallow. I don't watch soaps for shallow. I know that Jen left the show, and Dusty's character needs to move on, but look how AW handled a very similar situation with Cass and Frankie back in the 90s. When Frankie died, Cass mourned her. When he began to have feelings for a new woman, Lila, AW made a big deal of him slowing letting go of Frankie and finally taking off his wedding ring. It worked because everyone in town (and in the audience) knew that he'd loved Frankie and that, in letting her go, he was beginning a new commitment to Lila. So, AW kept true to its history and built off of it into a new SL.

I liked the idea of having old wrestling matches availble for people to see again. SoapNet does that for soaps on a more limited basis, but I'd also like the networks to have DVDs of old soap SLs avalible for sale. I know a lot of people (including me) who'd buy a ton of old SLs to see again or see for the first time. It's why trading soap tapes is so popular online.

I'm not sure that I can give you any real advice or "new take" on your thesis. You seem to be doing a incredibly insightful job. But, have you considered looking at how comic books tell stories? Like soaps and wrestling, they deal with new and long term characters and opened ended SLs.

Also, (and this maybe really off the focus of your thesis) but have you ever watched the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Combined with it's spin off show, Angel, there were 12 seasons of interconnected SLs, with old and new characters. BtVS, especially, was told in seaon long story arcs that were very soap opera-y. Old SLs and characters were constsntly being brought up and discussed again, so viewers stayed invested. It's why the show is still so loved today, several years after it's cancelation. Just a thought. :)

Anyway, good luck with your thesis. If you can, post a link when you finally get finished. I'd love to read it.

Posted by: KatieRose | November 6, 2006 8:44 PM

Lynn, good points about ABC being particularly poised to thinking about some of these issues. The business reasons many of these barriers are in place can't be ignored.

I would presume that there are a few problems with doing DVDs. First, since there is just such a heavy volume of soaps, figuring out HOW to do DVDs of anything from a soap is tough to figure out. Do you do it by character? If so, how do you do that? Do you do it by storyline? If so, it's not easy to pull out sections about one storyline on a show that's being written well, since storylines often overlap within scenes, etc.

The key to this has to do with the long tail, too, Lynn. When I mention DVDs showing the history of returning characters, I invision something that's not expensively produced, that doesn't have a lot of gloss, and that isn't marketed hard. It would just be something to promote to fans through the message boards and other places and perhaps mention at the end of the show. A DVD of the history of a soap character may not appear on your shelves at Target but could be a viable profit-turner once all the legalities are cleared.

And it can act as a tool to deepen the relationship for current fans, to catch fans who may not have seen this stuff the first time around up, and to give fan advocates something to help them with recruiting other fans into the fold.

And it doesn't even have to be DVD releases. I could invision the Web site or iTunes or even SoapNet being a good tool to do these sorts of things more make the older clips very directly relevant to what's going on now. Then, embedding historical references into the current show could actually be more justified as a marketing tool to drive people to ancillary content on the Web sites, etc.

Posted by: Sam Ford | November 7, 2006 10:17 AM

KatieRose, I've found that there's several soap/wrestling fans out there. Although you don't have to be technologically savvy to be here at MIT. (Believe me, I promise.)

The other organization was WCW, and that's when WWE had its falloff in popularity. Now, they've done something very smart. These days, WWE is the parent company, and there are three different wrestling divisions on three different networks: RAW on USA, Smackdown on the CW, and ECW on Sci-Fi. The idea is that you can be a fan of one and not necessarily the other, etc.

And I agree that good storylines is what makes wrestling interesting just as with soaps. In wrestling, the "gymnastics" are essential but also meaningless without the story driving it. I think there may have been a brief passing in the bat of Henry and Simon one day when he was waiting for Lucinda, but point taken. There are many of these pressing questions--If Maddie lived with Lisa, how come we never got to see them in Lisa's suite? Will lived with Bob and Kim for several months, and we never saw one scene in their home with him. These are the types of questions that fans really do care about. Do these little scenes make or break a show? Not particularly. But they make a show go from decent to great fairly quickly. Dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts. Fans care about this. They want a world created that they can really believe, that doesn't say to them, "This is just a show!" (Well, depends on the soap when I say that, but I think a show like ATWT, which you were discussing is almost always only good when it is attempting realism).

But, when you are thinking of raising your numbers from one week to the next, hotshot storylines make sense. This is what happened in wrestling's Monday Night Wars eventually as well, and it's one reason WCW went under. They tried to put everything into one particular edition of the show sometimes, etc., and they blew all their big storylines and was left with nowhere left to go.

Good comparison with Sami/Lucas against Dusty/Jen, as far as longer-term relationships leaving you to not have to stretch to believe the feelings involved. Such as Henry and Katie on ATWT. It's not hard to beleive his feelings for her when we've seen them build for months.

At least with Lucy, there's history with Dusty, so it's somewhat believable that he would have feelings for her. Some would argue that his relationship with Jennifer was really just because Lucy was out of town, but they haven't explored that fully. Dusty should grapple with the fact that he may havce loved Lucy all along, even while he was with Jennifer. Should that make him feel guilty? Did that make him a bad husband to Jennifer? Does that disrespect her memory? That would be an interesting direction to go with it, to give some depth to his "moving on."

The popularity of tape trading is probably one of the reasons WWE eventually decided to market the past more heavily, just as they created a WWE online fantasy league because fans were already doing it. Think of the same with soaps. Why not make official DVDs available instead of letting fans do all the tape trading? People would be willing to throw down a little extra to have a professional quality DVD.

I'm actually taking a class on comic book storytelling this semester, to compare it to soaps and pro wrestling. I used to collect comics regularly and have been reading a lot of stuff lately from the traditional companies like Marvel and DC. Comics have been able to really take advantage of serial storyteling. And I am well aware of Buffy and find that there are several primetime shows that are doing a good job with serality these days; I'm a big fan of Veronica Mars, for instance.

Would love to discuss these issues further. Thanks for stopping by.

Posted by: Sam Ford | November 7, 2006 10:31 AM

Some random thoughts:

▪ How ironic, wouldn't you say? Soap operas target 18-49 demographic group and instead of drawing that group (back) to TV screen, they seem to push them farther (and further) away. It should be asked, though, why do they target this specific audience? Answer: so that once they are grabbed, they'll keep on watching until old age and because advertisers think they are the primary buyers of their products. Or so the marketing people think.

▪ A quote by Courtney Simon Sherman (Hogan Sheffer's ex-historian or editor, as you like it): My personal feeling is that we are doing ourselves in by catering to a specific, young demographic. I do not understand why this makes sense even in advertising terms, given that people my age have disposable income and we still buy things. I think everyone now is fickle enough as a consumer to try a new product. In other words, the conventional wisdom in the old days was if you don't get them buying Tide when they're 20, that's it. You've lost them. I just don't think that's at all true anymore. I think people are always looking for the next new thing that's coming down the pike because technology is racing along at warp speed. I think we're always ready to pick up the paper and find out that there is a brand-new 'whatever' that's either going to cure cancer or get stains out in a way that nothing else has before -- and we'll believe it and we'll buy it. We're just not set in our ways the way our grandmothers might have been about what products they buy. I feel we're catering to this demographic for advertising reasons, and it's really costing us in terms of the characters that we use and the stories that we tell. So multigenerational storytelling, if we got back to a little of that, it would help things. We've lost an awful lot of loyal viewers because the shows are telling trivial stories with characters who don't have a lot of history to draw on. I think there should be a microcosm, obviously there should be all ages represented. Clearly I don't have the answer for bringing back viewers who have been lost -- and you know, if I did, I would be sooo rich!

▪ I'd also like to share an episode that happened to me recently. A few months ago, a friend of mine who used to watch The Young and the Restless was dropped by and I played that day's broadcast. She had not seen the show in almost 10 years and commented frequently on how many of the characters were still bickering about the same things they were bickering about 10 years ago. The conversation ended with her making some comment to me about why I was still watching this "cr**". I guess what I am getting at is if daytime wants to flourish and attract some of its abandoned fans, it needs to give them something to be excited about.

▪ So, I'd say that industry people should wake up because it's really high time. And I would underline in that context the importance of great writing. New writers should learn from the "Old School" professionals: Harding Lemay, Douglas Marland, Agnes Nixon, William J. Bell, Irna Philips (I assure you that many of today's fans would go crazy for her stories if she were alive today; she had such an inspiration and it might be true that by the end of '70s her golden touch was leaving her behind, but she will always be the queen of daytime, a title she could have earned only for inventing the genre, let alone inventing the majority of its narrative devices)... All of these writers have unique qualities, and it might be argued that some of them were suitable for certain soaps, but the truth remains that you should learn from the masters.

▪ Many people ask how could The Young and the Restless endure on the top for over 900 weeks by now. The simplest answer is: consistency. Consistency of writing, of vision, of casting, of productions values, consistency of writing team structure (which recently "suffered" a dramatic make-over). That team is pretty much the toughest team in the industry to become a part of, it has been made of the same people for years (even decades), all trained and picked up by William Bell or Kay Alden and promoted from within the production (eg., Sara A. Bibel, once PA, now BDW).

▪ I'd also like to make a personal request: I'd like those industry people to include script, story bibles and similar thing in those DVDs. I think it's the scripts that ultimately survive, tapes are destroyed after a while.

Posted by: John Andersson | November 8, 2006 1:18 PM


I agree that it's ironic, but it just goes to show you that the simple outreach from company to fan is just not always as effective as it sounds. This idea of empowering fans outside the demographic to do the marketing for the show may be counter-intuitive, but the problem is multiple--it's hard for people to pick up a soap and get involved completely on their own because there is quite a bit of a learning curve with the characters and the relationships; and, more than that, there's the problem that soaps are least impressive in their visual production, and that's what viewers notice most. Plus, they have quite a bit less money when it comes to ad campaigns as compared to primetime shows. Add all that up and I guess it's not quite as surprising that direct appeals to the target demographic, when they don't have a prior relationship with the show, is not as effective.

It defies logic that, if the main reason advertisers want 18-49, that the show drops the ball on long-term fans, thus undercutting the very reason advertisers would want them in the first place. Older and senior viewers are the most underappreciated consumers, and in this case I see relevant reasons why they are important not just for their own purchasing decisions but also for bolstering the commitment of younger viewers.

Sure, many older people are on fixed incomes, but we're talking about shampoo and deoderant here, not BMWs.

Great quote from Courtney Simon Sherman, by the way. Where did you find that? She said correctly that she doesn't have all the answers, but you have to wonder whether, even if she did know exactly what to do or others in the industry, would the current structure of the system allow them to do anything about it.

It's scary that the genre as a whole (and I'm not trying to blame anyone in particular here)has slowly slipped in ratings and talks become more constant of cancelling some of these "worlds without end," yet the experimentation has been fairly restricted so far. And it isn't like multigenerational storytelling is really that far out of the box. It just requires doing something different. There have been instead a lot of quick fixes over the years, and I would consider this current GH campaign a quick-fix. It may do a minimal amount of good, but it won't be enough to reverse the overall trend. That takes a major reconceputalization of the genre, and I think that it's still valuable enough a genre to invest the time in to reconsider and revise.

You make a good point about the reverse, that you don't want to just retain characters stuck in the same rut. Instead, you want consistency but also dynamism. Familiar faces, but not just the same storyline over and over again. That's a hard balance to strike, but it's an important point to make.

Your comment and Kay's as well and Lynn's and KatieRose's emphasizes one thing: that there are passionate people throughout the industry who love and care about these shows. I've talked with several people at CBS and Procter & Gamble Productions since doing my research on soaps, as well as others who work or have worked in the industry. I believe there are a great many people with a passion for this industry. The problem is that the modes of thinking shaping the industry as a whole have not been working, and daytime drama's strengths have been underplayed by advertising and marketing that seeks the opposite. Good dialogue, intriguing characters, consistency, multi-generational programming, etc. These create and maintain consistent viewership.

Thanks for stopping by and your great insights, John.

Posted by: Sam Ford | November 8, 2006 4:44 PM
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