Soap Operas

September 4, 2008

On Soap Operas and "Strategic Forgetting and Remembering"

C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell spent some time in June a little out of his element, presenting at a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, for The Society for Cognitive Study of the Moving Image. Jason gives an outsider's perspective on the work being done in the field of cognitive film studies, as well as the slides from his own work, on his blog, Just TV.

His presentation was entitled "Previously On: Prime Time Serials & the Poetics of Memory," addressing questions of how American television storytelling has shifted in the past two decades and issues of "historical poetics." His slides bring up some intriguing points, one of which deals with how the longtime complex and serialized storytelling nature of daytime serial dramas (soap operas) intersect with primetime dramas. Jason and I have discussed these issues through the blogosphere in the past (Look here and here.)

Back in that prior post, I wrote about some discussion that broke out in the comments section of Jason's blog.

I said regarding redundancy in soaps that:

But people outside the genre often greatly overstate the amount of redundancy in soaps, I think. Reader StinkyLuLu makes this point, writing, "My basic feeling is that what you call redundancy is actually a pivotal soap pleasure--revisiting key moments from the recent and distant past--not unlike the narrative data mining you describe in contemporary prime time serial drama." I'd like to develop that thought a little further.

At their worst, soaps are recap-laden. I've seen Days of Our Lives have episodes a few years ago, for instance, that seemed more flashback to earlier in the week than current. That's not good soap, and we have to distinguish between good and bad practices in the genre. However, with five episodes a week and little in terms of reruns, the redundancy is necessary. That's why REaction is so important in soaps. The redundancy becomes a central part of the story. It matters not as much that X happens as it does seeing how everyone in town responds to finding out about X. In that case, the plot is a driver for character-driven stories. Anyone who missed X will find out about it during various scenes retelling and reaction to parts of it, but that retelling process IS the show; it's about interpersonal relationships, not the what. (By the way, my guess is that some of the fans who fast-forward are also some of the ones who archive; fans often pick out particular characters or stories they follow on a show that they actively consume, even while skipping others...)

Continue reading "On Soap Operas and "Strategic Forgetting and Remembering"" »

June 13, 2008

More on Cultural Biases and Soaps

As many regular C3 blog readers know, I spend quite a bit of my research time focusing on soap opera related projects. At the moment, I'm working with C3 Consulting Researchers C. Lee Harrington and Abigail Derecho on a collection looking at this pivotal moment in the history of one of U.S. television's oldest genres.

So I'm interested to keep seeing references to the soap opera popping up in the news, notably in the columns of New York Times television critic Gina Bellafante.

I first wrote last month about my frustrations with Bellafante's tone when writing about Luke and Noah from As the World Turns fame. Rather than knocking aspects of the storytelling that she felt was poor, the article indicated that aspects of the story were scripted poorly because this was a soap opera, and there's simply no way for these shows to do anything else.

Well, good friend Lynn Liccardo contacted me recently to share this, Bellafante's latest piece. On the one hand, I was elated. Here was a glowing review of the magic of Friday Night Lights, a show whose merits I've emphasized here time and time again (and see more from Xiaochang Li here). On the other, the story included this line: "The obviousness of his looks -- soap-opera hair, soap-opera smile, soap-opera skin -- is incongruous with the refined style of his performance."

Continue reading "More on Cultural Biases and Soaps" »

May 28, 2008

Soap Fans Looking for a New Home: The General Hospital Nomads

Who owns the media property? Is it the copyright holder? Or is it the audience, the group that makes that product popular? These are questions at the core in tension between media producers and media audiences and at stake in discussions about relationships between producers or consumers or what consumer "can do" with texts out of the ausipices or interests of the producers.

A reader forwarded me some threads from the official ABC Daytime boards for General Hospital, where fans are upset about the way they are treated and the technical attributes of their board as opposed to message boards for ABC primetime shows. Rather than just complain, though, they have taken to invading the boards of other spaces in order to make their problems and presence more well known.

See this thread, in which fans are organizing 5 minute invasions of various other boards.

That didn't go over as well with the Lost fans, but attention has been directed instead toward the official board for Notes from the Underbelly, a cancelled ABC show that still has an active board, and a board that some GH fans feel are better than what they've been given.

Continue reading "Soap Fans Looking for a New Home: The General Hospital Nomads" »

Interesting Soaps Links: Liccardo, Bibel, and Muslim Representation on ATWT

I wanted to start out a full round of post-Memorial Day blog entries today with highlights of a couple of things worth seeing from around the Web. For this post, a few interesting soap opera related posts:

First, see the new blog from Sara Bibel. Sara is a friend of mine who I had the pleasure of meeting through my thesis work on soaps. She was formerly a writer for The Young and the Restless. She used to work with Kay Alden, one of the members of my thesis committee and a current writer for The Bold and the Beautiful, and it has been a pleasure getting to know Sara through some e-mail correspondence over the past year. Now, it's even better, since her thoughts--bolstered by some experience writing in the genre--are freely available online, through Fancast.

Continue reading "Interesting Soaps Links: Liccardo, Bibel, and Muslim Representation on ATWT" »

May 21, 2008

Culture Wars and Cultural Hierarchies: New York Times on ATWT's Nuke

Lynn Liccardo suggested to Lee Harrington, Gail Derecho, and me that one of us should respond to the recent article in The New York Times by Gina Bellafante about the soap opera and specifically the popularity of the Luke and Noah couple on As the World Turns, because of the work we are doing on putting together a contemporary anthology of work on U.S. soap operas. Unfortunately, the article had to run right as I was moving into a new apartment, just the worst time to try to organize my thoughts, especially in a way that limited them to 150 words.

Instead, now that most of my furniture is in order and most of the boxes are unpacked, I wanted to return to Bellafante's article last week. First of all, as is no surprise, the article is beautifully written and a great bit of publicity for soap operas, which remain culturally ignored by most mainstream arts and entertainment publications. Scholars I know, including myself, would argue that there's a combination of cultural biases, geographic and economic stereotypes, and gender discrepancies that would explain why soap operas aren't covered as "entertainment" by publications that cover most else, just as one of my other areas of interest--pro wrestling--is ignored by Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker alike. Rather, both get relegated to their own ghettoized press, separate and certainly not equal.

In reading Bellafante's piece, I'm reminded of Victoria Johnson's work on Friday Night Lights, in which she pointed out how critics had to justify and qualify why they liked the show and distance themselves from the stereotypes inherent with being a viewer or, God forbid, a fan. Johnson's best example came from a New Yorker review, I believe it was, in which the author had to explain that she started watching the show when an artist in Manhattan at a museum told her she should watch FNL, overcoding almost to extremes the situation in which she decided to watch the show and playing off the cultural stereotypes of what a show about football in a small West Texas town would be like.

See also this piece from yesterday about my lunch in which a fellow professional seemed somewhat taken aback about my enthusiasm about the creativity and potential for artistry in pro wrestling and soaps.

Continue reading "Culture Wars and Cultural Hierarchies: New York Times on ATWT's Nuke" »

The Continuing Controversy of ATWT's Nuke

I have written some in the past about the continued development of the Luke Snyder coming out storyline on As the World Turns, a story which has engaged new viewers to that portion of the soap opera audience and attracted some mainstream attention due to ongoing controversies about the way the show has handled the gay storyline and resistance from conservative groups. The story started with Luke's coming out, complete with an online transmedia extension in which fans could read Luke's blog.

From the beginning, there was a broader audience who started watching the soap specifically through Luke's scenes, as I wrote about back in June 2006. That energy grew significantly when Luke eventually met and had his first gay relationship, with Noah Mayer. For instance, back in August, considerable attention was given to the first kiss between the couple (see here).

Then, there was no kissing for quite a while, and the show started getting protests, not from conservative groups but rather from online fans who were impatient to see the couple kiss again. First, there was the scene under the mistletoe at Christmas, in which the couple looked to be about to kiss, only to have the cameras pan out. Then, there was Valentine's Day, when Luke and Noah were the only couple featured on the episode not to lock lips.

Continue reading "The Continuing Controversy of ATWT's Nuke" »

Masculine Discourse Surrounding Modern Television

One of my greatest frustrations from Console-ing Passions was that my workshop was scheduled directly against some of the panels most directly relevant to my interests. Now, this is not meant as an attack on the conference planners; I'm keenly aware that there's just no way to avoid this when you're launching a media studies and fandom conference, but it was hard knowing that, next door, there were four interesting research presentations occurring while I was boring audiences with all my blabbing.

Ironically, while I was talking about soap opera audiences outside the target demographic and the ways in which those audiences are devalued in the commodification of audiences, Elana Levine was in the next room, talking about how the masculinization of television in recent years has further devalued more "ephemeral" programming, such as U.S. soaps. Elana was kind enough to forward her research my way, and I found her approach--to look at the increasingly masculine rhetoric surrounding the removal of the television from the domestic and the increasing focus on the technology of television as we move into a flat-panel, digital world--a fresh way to understand how television has begun to overcome many of the cultural biases that have long existed against the products that are broadcast on television and provided through cable.

Foremost, I find it interesting that Elana's compelling argument that television has become increasingly masculinized in rhetoric through emphasis on technology and the escape of domestic spaces exists alongside the growing trend for primetime television to adopt many of the storytelling tactics of daytime soaps. For instance, I was talking with Ivan Askwith about some of the rhetoric surrounding Lost, marveling at the existence of such a large ensemble cast and purporting that there's never been such a large ensemble cast on television. That is, of course, except for the soap operas that have been an hour in length since the mid-1970s and which have featured hundreds, even thousands, of characters in several decades on the air, many of which still have the potential to come and go fluently from the show.

Continue reading "Masculine Discourse Surrounding Modern Television" »

May 20, 2008

Soap Operas, Relative Realism, and Implicit Contracts

Just yesterday, I was out to lunch with someone when the subject of soap operas came up. This person vaguely knew that I have done a fair amount of writing about soap operas and their audience, so we started to discuss the nature of soaps, pro wrestling, and the other media content that I study.

It didn't take long for the importance of cultural taste hierarchies to get established, as my lunch partner made it clear she had never watched soap operas much herself. She felt the need to clarify after she had told a third person briefly involved in the conversation that they could download their soaps for free and podcast them for the commute to work. "Don't ask me how I know these things, because I don't watch those shows, but I do."

And I believe her. She doesn't watch them. These shows are just pervasive enough in our culture that even those who feel they've safely distanced themselves from "low culture" media texts are often more implicit than they want to be. This person is a media industries professional, who has worked and lived in the New York City area for some time now, and she wanted to be clear, even when talking to a soap opera fan and someone who not only is a fan of soaps but also studies soaps and their viewers, that she doesn't watch.

During the lunch, the difference between East Coast and West Coast soaps came up. I pointed out to her that East Coast soaps often have a different feel, because of the number of stage actors who appear in them. She said that she knew many stage actors worked in soaps for the steady pay, to fund their lifestyle on the stage. I agreed that it was sometimes the case and then posited that soaps often have quite good actors involved.

Continue reading "Soap Operas, Relative Realism, and Implicit Contracts" »

May 6, 2008

Product Placement and Soap Operas

In my final piece this afternoon regarding product placement, I wanted to provide some excerpts from my research on the subject of acceptable and unacceptable placement. This project started as my Master's thesis work (see original submitted version here--today is the one year anniversary of my thesis defens...ahem...consultation), and I have continued editing the manuscript, eyeing eventual publication. Let me know if you have any thoughts, queries, or disagreements.

Product Placement in As the World Turns

In my manuscript chapter entitled "Not So Nice 'n Easy," I wrote about an example from As the World Turns, in which a longtime character, Margo Hughes, notices gray in her hair. Hughes, one of the senior officers of the local police station, talks to her mother-in-law about it at the police station and gets a recommendation to use Nice 'n Easy, which she does. Later, in the same episode, we hear how satisfied she is with the results...

While there was some attempt to use the Nice 'n Easy product integration for humor, viewers and columnists did not find the disruptive audio references to the hair product amusing in the least.

Continue reading "Product Placement and Soap Operas" »

May 1, 2008

A Followup from Lynn Liccardo on Listening to Consumers and P&G Soap Operas

In the previous post, I ran a piece from Lynn Liccardo, one of my thesis advisors and a longtime soap opera fan and critic, on how the P&G ethos is separated from their soap opera programming. I waned to run Lynn's followup piece this morning.

No matter what reformulations, new packaging and other improvements market research generates for existing products, the fundamental function of those products must remain recognizable to consumers. At the end of the day, people have to be able to wash their clothes with Tide's "new formula" and brush their teeth with the "new and improved" Crest. While our mothers and grandmothers used earlier versions of Tide and Crest, they certainly wouldn't have any trouble recognizing and using the current formulas.

But when it comes today's soap operas, what I see flashing by as I watch with my finger on ff I can barely recognize the shows I've been watching for over 50 years. Such has been the impact of market research on soap operas. (And I want to be clear that while I'm speaking here specifically about P&G, the negative impact of market research effects all soap operas, not just those produced by P&G.)

Continue reading "A Followup from Lynn Liccardo on Listening to Consumers and P&G Soap Operas" »

April 28, 2008

Lynn Liccardo on P&G and Listening to Consumers

Regular reader and commenter on the Consortium blog, Lynn Liccardo, recently wrote me regarding some comments from Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley she found interesting, especially considering our common interest in P&G's two soap operas. Lynn served as a member of my Master's thesis committee here at MIT and is contributing a piece to the collection on soaps I'm co-editing with Consortium consulting reserachers Abigail Derecho and Lee Harrington. Also, see Lynn's recent piece Henry Jenkins shared here.

From Lynn:

As I watched Charlie Rose's interview with A. G. Lafley, P&G's CEO, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to hear anything about P&G's two long-running soap operas, As the World Turns and Guiding Light, and indeed, I did not. But what I did hear has enormous and immediate relevance for the current sorry state of these two shows.

I was immediately struck by several "ironies," as Sam Ford described the situation I relayed to him. I, however, think we're way beyond irony here - well on our way to cognitive dissonance. When Lafley talked about his experience as a supply officer in the Navy, running a PO on a military base in Japan, and described complaints as "these little clues you can use to improve your should treasure complaints," I immediately thought of Alina Adams, who clearly wasn't copied on the "we should treasure complaints" memo.

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April 24, 2008

Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (3 of 3)

Perhaps even more frustrated, then, are soap opera fans. Soap opera producers sell the 18-49 female demographic more broadly, and the 18-34 female demographic in particular, to advertisers. Further, since soap operas primarily only exist as a daily television show, there are few economic forces counterbalancing the pervading "logic" of the target demographic, thus leading "the powers that be" (or "the idiots in charge," as soap opera fans more often refer to them) to constantly try to develop stories, and feature characters most prominently, that they believe will play well to the target demo. Since soap opera ratings have been falling steadily for the past 15-20 years, soaps have responded by trying to even more expressly target the target demo. However, the problem with that logic is that it directly defies the transgenerational nature of the narrative itself.

I have found anecdotally that almost all longtime soap opera fans began their relationship with the text of these shows through relationships with other fans. Often, this has been a transgenerational relationship. A grandmother, a mother, an uncle, or a babysitter watched soaps regularly, and the fan grew up with these same soap operas on. Thus, it is the longtime characters that have remained the glue holding them to the show, and it is the relationships built around the show--or the memories of these relationships, for loved ones who have passed away--that keeps them watching today. For more on this appeal, see Lee Harrington and Denise Brothers-McPhail's latest project on aging in soaps, as well as some of the work from Barbara Irwin and Mary Cassata at Project Daytime.

Continue reading "Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (3 of 3)" »

Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (2 of 3)

In the case of pro wrestling, the WWE's popular television shows--Monday Night Raw, ECW, and Friday Night Smackdown target a young adult male and teenage audience.

Advertisers expect this audience, and the shows position their texts to presumably appeal to heterosexual U.S. young men in particular, despite the fact that some estimates have WWE audiences at 30 percent to 40 percent female, the average age of the WWE's fan base is older than the target demographic, and WWE's international popularity often helps bolster flagging enthusiasm in this country.

This economic marginalization can lead to great creativity among pro wrestling fans excluded from the debate--see scholarship, for instance, about how Latino-American children interpret the WWE narrative from Ellen Seiter, Sue Clerc and Catherine Salmon's work on pro wrestling slash, and Brian Pronger's writing about pro wrestling from the standpoint of a gay spectator.

Continue reading "Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (2 of 3)" »

Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (1 of 3)

I came to the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture dialogue on LiveJournal and Henry Jenkins' blog from both ends of the producer/consumer scholarship binaries often posed in the discussion. On the one hand, I work for a group called the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium, which converses with media corporations to look at the intersection between media producers and audiences. On the other, my primary areas of research interest have come from studying the ways in which fans reappropriate media texts in their own performances and discussions, often in ways that run counter to the interests, or at least irrelevant of the interests, of bottom-line driven corporate endeavors.

I also felt some kinship to both sides of the gender divisions being discussed in the debate. On the one hand, my work on professional wrestling occupies a place between sports fandom and media fandom--two worlds that have strangely been separated in academic discourse, as Kimberly Schimmel, Lee Harrington, and Denise Bielby have researched recently. Pro wrestling has often been criticized as "hypermasculine," while my other research interest--soap operas--has often been derided and ghettoized in popular culture in many ways because of its rich history of primarily female authorship, a feminine narrative perspective, and a largely female fan base. For me--as a lifelong fan of both professional wrestling and soaps--I saw great connections between the two, connections I have written about as dealing with the immersiveness of the narrative worlds of both texts.

Continue reading "Outside the Target Demographic: Surplus Audiences in Wrestling and Soaps (1 of 3)" »

April 22, 2008

Soap Opera-Branded Casual Games

As many of you may have read in this post here on the blog earlier in the month, I'm teaching a course this semester on the history and current state of the U.S. soap opera genre, using As the World Turns as a case study. As I continue research on that field, and particularly how one of television's oldest genres may transform itself in interesting ways in a digital age, I'm always interested in hearing of new initiatives being launched.

For instance, see this post from December 2006 on the SOAPnet Fantasy Soap League, the idea being to mimic the success of fantasy football by having fans play games based around some of the stereotypes in the genre. I guess it's a chance for those of us not terribly interested in sports to nevertheless participate in something similar that, in part, measures our knowledge of a media property while also encouraging us to watch the current product. I know I participated in pro wrestling fantasy leagues once upon a time that incorporated some elements from this approach, and it reminds me as well of the Fantasy Television League that some C3-affiliated folks have taken part in.

But, in following soap operas for more than two years here on the Consortium blog, I'm always interested to see how these initiatives launch in the U.S. daytime serial drama industry, which is what attracted my attention to this post from Adrants back in March.

In an effort to further build their brand, Soap Opera Digest has launched casual games surrounding the soap operas, available here. The choices include a jigsaw puzzle of the cover of SOD, a variety of word-based games, solitaire, and other variations on classic casual games.

Continue reading "Soap Opera-Branded Casual Games" »

April 9, 2008

A Criti-Fan Who's Yearning for the World as It Was

I ran this on my site this morning, and considering the tie-in to Sam's work here through the Consortium blog, I wanted to cross-post it here as well.

One of the more unorthodox policy decisions we've made at the Comparative Media
Studies Program is to allow students to include non-academics as outside readers on their thesis committees where they can demonstrate that the person has relevent experience and expertise. This has opened to door to bringing alternative kinds of knowledge into the thesis process. When Sam Ford, who now runs the blog here for the Convergence Culture Consortium, wrote a thesis about soap operas and convergence, I ended up sitting on a committee which included both a veteran soap opera writer Kay Alden (The Young and the Restless, now writing for The Bold and the Beautiful) and a long time soap fan who had written for Soap Opera Weekly, Lynn Liccardo. Needless to say, it was a fascinating discussion -- one which allowed Sam to test his ideas against real world feedback from within both the industry and the fan community. As one of the non-soaps people in the room (along with William Uricchio), I learned a great deal from listening to both of
our visiting experts.

This term, Sam Ford has been teaching a course through our program on soap opera and the blog for the course has attracted a range of outside participants, including, once again, Lynn Liccardo. I asked Lynn if I could share with you some thoughts she has about what has happened to the soap opera genre in recent years and why she is becoming increasingly frustrated with a genre which has been part of her life for decades.

by Lynn Liccardo

Over the past few weeks I've been checking in on the blog Sam Ford set up for his class on The American Soap Opera: here. The student comments touch on many of the issues that underlie the current, sorry state of the American Soap Opera. Of course, being only a few weeks into the course, and from what I can tell, relatively new soap viewers, they lack the contextual understanding to connect the dots.

They're watching As the World Turns, a show I've watched since it premiered in 1956, the year I started kindergarten. But they're watching and studying ATWT as it exists today; I'm watching the same show and yearning for the show it used to be.

Continue reading "A Criti-Fan Who's Yearning for the World as It Was" »

PCA/ACA: Other Soap Opera Presentations

This year at the PCA/ACA conference, I presented work that originated from my Master's thesis project, which you can find more about here.

See also posts here and here on the subject.

Presenting on the panel alongside me were some other academics doing interesting research. Mary Cassata and Barbara Irwin, who are chief powers in organizing the soap opera area for the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association national conference each year and who head up "Project Daytime," presented a project entitled "The American Soap Opera Genre at a Crossroads: An Analysis of Its Past, Present, and Future." Although, through my own lack of organizational skill, I neglected to take my copy of their essay back to my room with me even after they were nice enough to print out copies for everyone, I have reached out to Barb to get an electronic version and am expecting one shortly.

Continue reading "PCA/ACA: Other Soap Opera Presentations" »

PCA/ACA: Marsha Ducey on FCC Complaints; Other Soap Projects

One project that really caught my eye at this years soap opera area at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association national conference in San Francisco was from Marsha Ducey at the State University of New York--Buffalo, whose project was entitled "As the World Turns: 'Indecency' in American Soap Operas."

Marsha's project looks at complaints filed against soap operas in particular with the Federal Communications Commission from 2004 through January 2008, with information provided through a Freedom of Information request. Marsha became interested in her projects in a post-nipple society, as she wondered what impact--if any--the controversy surrounding the Janet Jackson incident at the Super Bowl would have on daytime television. She was also interested in the FCC issuing what had been the largest fine in history at the time for a show called Married in America, despite abysmal ratings and the fact that there were only about 25 complaints, stemming from a couple of form letters. She could not find any research on complaints filed for soaps and decided to investigate.

Continue reading "PCA/ACA: Marsha Ducey on FCC Complaints; Other Soap Projects" »

PCA/ACA: The Soap Opera Area and Suzanne Frentz

The soap opera area at the national joint conference for the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association in San Francisco this year was my main reason for attending. Since I did my thesis work on soaps and am currently co-editing an anthology on the current state of the U.S. soap opera (see more on my soaps projects here), I find it rewarding to go to a conference where I can talk with others who are working on soaps in particular.

This year was particularly rewarding, because part of the session was in tribute to an academic who I never had the opportunity to meet personally but who nevertheless had a significant impact on my project and the work of many soap opera scholars. That person was Suzanne Frentz, a longtime soap opera scholar who was the original chair of the soap opera area at the PCA/ACA.

Continue reading "PCA/ACA: The Soap Opera Area and Suzanne Frentz" »

April 2, 2008

My MIT Course on U.S. Soap Operas

This semester at MIT, I'm teaching a course on the history of U.S. soap operas, based on the work I've published here on the blog over the past couple of years, my Master's thesis project, etc. The class includes a few MIT undergraduates and a Harvard undergraduate, as we look at the history of and contemporary state of the U.S. soap opera through reading and discussing the history of soap opera scholarship and soaps.

In particular, the class is following the soap opera As the World Turns, my longtime favorite, for the semester. None of the students were fans of U.S. soaps prior to the launching of the class, and none had seen ATWT prior to the class' beginning, save perhaps a few clips of gay couple Luke and Noah, through YouTube or other video sharing sites.

Continue reading "My MIT Course on U.S. Soap Operas" »

March 21, 2008

SCMS: Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds

For a couple of weeks now, I've been planning to include some notes here on the Consortium's blog about a few of the sessions I had the opportunity to attend at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago. The event was a great opportunity to see many friends and colleagues, and it gave me a chance to learn more about the current state of a variety of research projects, as well as hear about some new projects and meet some interesting new faces as well. In the following series of posts over the next few days, I wanted to transform some of my random notes about the conference into a recap of sorts.

I'll start with the first session of the conference, which came at noon on Thursday. I had the fortunate opportunity to present first. I know many people probably feel that isn't so fortunate in timing, especially since most of the people I know weren't even arriving at the conference until Thursday, but I was excited about the opportunity to get the stress of my own presentation out of the way so that I could concentrate instead on enjoying other panels. Despite the early start time, though, the panel was standing room only, and I have the interesting work of some of my fellow panelists to thank for that.

My presentation was about a concept I've written on here on the blog from time-to-time: vast narratives and "immersive story worlds," a concept I have drawn on beginning with my Master's thesis work here at MIT.

Continue reading "SCMS: Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds" »

February 24, 2008

GL Makes Major Shift in Soap Opera Production This Week

One industry many have come to expect the Consortium blog to post on, per my entries, over the past couple of years is American soap operas, the area in which I've done my thesis work and continue to write about substantially. In fact, my particular areas of interest and my acting as the primary contributor to this blog explains why there are robust categories of entries on soap operas and professional wrestling. (NOTE: We have not completely tagged all the posts in our archives, so these categories often do not include a significant number of the posts we've done on a subject.)

I'm actually teaching a course on the American soap opera this spring here at MIT for the Program in Comparative Media Studies, and my students and I are in the process of launching a class blog about soaps and particularly about the soap opera we are following for the semester, Procter & Gamble Productions' As the World Turns. We'd love to have you stop by and join in the conversation here. The good news is that comments actually work over at that site! We've also been invited to run regular class updates at the official blog for Procter & Gamble Productions, located here.

But one of the most significant stories in soaps this year is set to take place this week, when Guiding Light switches over to a new taping format that uses handheld cameras and four-walled sets.

Continue reading "GL Makes Major Shift in Soap Opera Production This Week" »

February 10, 2008

Scott Bryce Fan Campaign Continues

As part of some blog catch-up this Sunday, I wanted to pick back up on a story I wrote about last month about fan response to the firing of actor Scott Bryce on As the World Turns. Fan campaigns have launched Web sites, petitions, and mailing campaigns, as soap fans are so quick to do when they dislike a decisions made by soap opera producers.

Now, with Bryce doing a fairly candid interview with well-known soap opera columnist Michael Logan about the situation for TV Guide, fans have had much of their sentiment confirmed by the actor himself.

Continue reading "Scott Bryce Fan Campaign Continues" »

February 9, 2008

Passions Cancelled Again...But Rumors of Its Continuation Persist

Last April, I wrote about the intriguing deal NBC struck with DirecTV to move its soap opera Passions over to the satellite provider as exclusive content, after the network had decided to cut the soap opera from its daytime schedule to make room for another hour of The Today Show.

The show ended up getting a run that lasted from Fall 2007 until Summer 2008, when the last episode of Passions is currently set to air. Fans and critics alike knew the deal struck with DirecTV was an experiment from the start.

Continue reading "Passions Cancelled Again...But Rumors of Its Continuation Persist" »

January 30, 2008

Cheerios Ads Tailor-Made for Specific TV Shows

After my daily intake of As the World Turns yesterday afternoon, I saw a curious ad, one that prompted me to write this morning.

First of all, I'm one of those timeshifters who doesn't watch the ads...It takes my hour of soap a day down to 30-some minutes, and it gives my wife and I something routine to watch on the DVR while we're having dinner. Generally, as the show ends, and we get a couple of preview teasers from the next episode, I hit stop and delete.

We got a new "all-in-one" remote over the weekend, so it look me a little longer than usual to stop and delete the episode, and I heard a commercial that sounded vaguely familiar. "Six weeks ago, Bob slipped into a coma. Ooh! Now, he's fine, and Chris is the one with a headache." At first, and only half-listening, I thought it was a bizarre start to the commercial, but then I realized that they were talking about Dr. Bob Hughes and his son, Dr. Chris Hughes, characters on ATWT.

The tagline? In that same amount of time, you could have lowered your cholesterol by 4 percent by eating Cheerios.

Continue reading "Cheerios Ads Tailor-Made for Specific TV Shows" »

January 24, 2008

Soap Fans and Veteran Actors: Jesse & Angie, Scott Bryce

For those of you who have followed my writing about soaps here on the C3 blog, you likely know that I feel one of the strongest thing the current daytime serial dramas have on their side is their history. As such, historical characters on the show today provide those contemporary ties to that deep history which I believe helps strengthen the transgenerational viewing patterns necessary to gain and maintain viewership for these shows in the long term.

ABC seems to hope this is the case, especially with the sagging ratings of longtime ABC Daytime fixture All My Children has been experiencing. Racquel Gonzales, one of the contributors to the book Abigail Derecho at Columbia College Chicago and I are putting together on the current state of soap operas, wrote me recently about how ABC Daytime is using the SOAPnet channel in a strategic way for both AMC and General Hospital. For GH, the cable network has planned to air a "Robin Unwrapped" episode marathon which helps catch viewers up on the history that more fully explains a pivotal story on the show, which is the first HIV pregnancy storyline in television, according to the promotion.

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January 14, 2008

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part VIII: Soap Operas as Brands and Conclusion

Soap Operas as Brands

The phrase "not your mother's soap opera" does not work well for fans in this genre. This phrase may never have been overtly used, but the implication has been in place when the show's history was sacrificed at times to new characters meant to appeal to the target demographic with little connection to a soap opera's past. In most of these cases, though, managing these shows as one would a primetime show and trying to come up with a short-term way to increase viewership among the desired demographic proved to do nothing to curb the downward ratings trend and the continued loss of cultural and financial significance for soap operas. While every other television industry seems to make its name off target marketing and niche audiences according to age/sex demographics, soap operas are in danger when being conceptualized in this way because they are, by their nature, best as a transgenerational narrative. Soap operas may be able to continue thriving in a narrowcasting environment, but the niche audience these shows appeal to may not be able to be broken down so neatly by age/sex.

Continue reading "As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part VIII: Soap Operas as Brands and Conclusion" »

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part VII: Quick Fixes and Fan Proselytizers

Quick Fixes

Many 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. This category includes any type of program with deep archives but particularly daytime serial drama. These programs have been on for years, without an end in sight, making them special in a television industry of constant changes and cancellations. The formats of these programs are meant to instill in viewers the sense that, even if the program hits a down time, its longevity and format will cause it to rebound and remain a part of the television landscape for years to come.

Most soap operas today concentrate on finding new viewers by either trying to appeal to casual fans or else stealing viewers from other soap operas, resulting in a dwindling pool of potential audience members as the viewership of the genre as a whole slowly drops. On the other hand, these shows used to have millions more viewers a decade ago and especially two decades ago. Appealing to those prodigal viewers, the "lapsed fans" who have moved away from their soap but would still recognize and perhaps even care about some of the longtime faces of the show--legacy characters--could help bring fans back to these shows, and through the process of transgenerational storytelling, get them interested in newer characters as well.

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As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part VI: Product Placement and Transmedia Storytelling

Product Placement and Soap Operas

If soap operas shift to a brand-management strategy that gives greater value to depth of fan engagement and the social activities surrounding the consumption of the official texts of these shows, new revenue sources become more plausible, as I look at in the fourth chapter of my Master's thesis.

The deeper engagement that the immersive story worlds of soap operas encourage also lead to revenue models that value engagement in a way that commercials based on Nielsen ratings do not. While the first forms of product placement can be found in literature, product placement in broadcast was launched simultaneously with commercial radio content, particularly driven by corporate sponsorship that involved prominent product mentions on the air. Nowhere in radio drama was the product more closely married to the show than in the soap opera, however, a genre in which product placement was part of its name.

Continue reading "As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part VI: Product Placement and Transmedia Storytelling" »

January 13, 2008

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part V: Utilizing Soap Opera Archives in a Long Tail Economy

Since most American soap operas have been on the air for decades now, these shows have legions of former viewers from previous generations that may not be as interested in the contemporary product but might watch the shows from their past if they could be reached and marketed to and especially if material could be packaged and contextualized in meaningful ways, rather than just airing every episode from the archive in its entirety--especially since many of those episodes no longer exist, especially from the early years. The potential value in this archive leads to a logical business model which directly integrates the available content from the many years in the air.

Using Chris Anderson's concept of the "Long Tail economy," the fifth chapter of my thesis looks at how soap operas could use their history more meaningfully, perhaps as an ancillary revenue source. While ratings today are lower than in previous decades, much of the footage available in that archive aired with higher ratings than the show airing today.

The proliferation of television viewing choices, the rise of women in the workforce, and the O.J. Simpson trial have all contributed to these changes, but the fact remains that most soap operas may have more prodigal children who could potentially be part of a market for this archive content than current viewers. Further, since there is no syndication and no off-season, many of these popular episodes only aired once, never to be seen again, unless a viewer happened to archive the episode and add it to his/her tape collection.

Continue reading "As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part V: Utilizing Soap Opera Archives in a Long Tail Economy" »

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part IV: Understanding Online Fan Communities

Online fans are more active than the casual viewer model the Nielsen ratings system is based on, with its focus on impressions without relation to the level of engagement. The shift to balancing quantitative measurements with qualitative ones requires acknowledging and valuing that active engagement, however, as I explain in further detail in the third chapter of my thesis.

Further, many of the "unique" and "niche" aspects of online fan communities actually echo offline modes of engagement with the text as well, albeit on a much larger scale and in published form. These discussion boards can often seem full of noise, especially for the television executive approaching these fan forums with no history in the fan community.

It is important for those exploring the reaction of these fans to be a part of that fan community in an active way and to understand it not as an outsider but as a native. Generally, this means that researchers are best recruited from the fan community rather than trying to become anthropologists studying that community from a distance.

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As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part III: The History of Fan Discussion

Soaps do not exist in a vacuum, and a show's daily texts can only be completely understood in the context of the community of fans surrounding them. Instead of imagining the audience as a passive sea of eyeballs measured through impressions, this approach views soaps as the gathering place for a social network. Acting as dynamic social texts, soap operas are created as much by the audience that debates, critiques, and interprets them than through the production team itself. Here are the various ways fans have interacted with and around soap opera texts through the years, as described in detail in the second chapter of my thesis:

Continue reading "As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part III: The History of Fan Discussion" »

January 12, 2008

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part II: The Current State of Soaps

Currently, the soap opera industry is in a state of flux. With Passions moving off NBC, ratings that continue to fall or at best stay even, commentators continue the discussion that has taken place for more than a decade as to the long-term fate of the American soap opera. Reasons for the long-term decline of soaps most often cited include the proliferation of media choices, women moving into the workforce, and the O.J. Simpson case interrupting the daily flow of the soap opera text. However, the inevitability argument posits that nothing can be done to reverse this trend, that soap operas are inevitably on a slowly declining path toward eventual extinction, and also attempts to give a pass to the strategic and creative errors that have expedited or even created many of these negative trends in viewership.

These shows have attempted a series of short-term strategies to gain more viewers specifically in the 18-to-49 female demographic, but this process is often done by focusing on characters within that age demographic as well, ignoring one of the soap opera's strengths--transgenerational storytelling, and particularly transgenerational storytelling that focuses on characters and relationships more than plot progression. In a broad-casting model, soap operas were strengthened by their ability to draw in viewers from multiple generations through texts that examined the relationships in multigenerational families, but the genre has increasingly targeted young adult females at the exclusion of its older viewers and characters as the television industry has become focused on target demographics.

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As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part I: Immersive Story Worlds

With my class on soap operas coming up, I recently completed a summary of some of the major points of my thesis work, some of which has appeared here on the C3 blog in the past here and here. A draft of the full thesis is available here. Speaking of the class, a quick thanks to the folks at CBS Soaps: In Depth for featuring it in their latest magazine.

As of this posting, comments have been temporarily turned off, so if you have any response to this summary, feel free to e-mail me directly at Our tech guys tell me comments should be enabled once again later this month.

One of the central ideas of my thesis' posits that soap operas exist as one of few "immersive story worlds" in the media industries, narratives that are developed over time with a large volume of characters and text. Many of the reasons why people are attracted to these narratives deal with the depth and breadth of these stories and the feeling that these narratives are immortal. The first chapter of the thesis posits that only three narrative types exist as exemplars of immersive story worlds, even if many media franchises have some of the characteristics:

  • The DC and Marvel comic book universe
  • Professional wrestling
  • Soap operas

Continue reading "As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part I: Immersive Story Worlds" »

January 9, 2008

Soaps Continue through Writers Strike

Before the holidays, we published a couple of posts dealing with the writer's strike. As you know, a lot has changed over the past couple of months when the Heroes writers visited MIT while the strike was young. We've seen the late night shows disappear, only to come back in the new year. Letterman and Ferguson have returned with an interim deal in place, while the other late night shows--including The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have come back sans writers.

For me, soap operas are in the most interesting place, as they are the one narrative that is especially built on a "world without end." Strike don't stop soaps, and whether you call the writers "interim," "scabs," or "fi core," there are a group of unnamed people churning out scripts for the nine American daytime soaps. Most of those scripts haven't made it on air yet, but fans are wondering what this will mean for the respective shows.

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October 22, 2007

Significant Changes for Procter & Gamble Daytime Shows

One of the big discussions generating a significant amount of buzz among the soap opera industry and the soaps fan community is the decision to make some production changes to Procter & Gamble Productions' two daytime serial dramas, Guiding Light and As the World Turns. As those of you who follow this blog regularly know, the soaps industry is an area of particular fascination with me. My Master's thesis work, which is currently under consideration for publication, deals with the PGP soaps in particular, and I am currently co-editing a collection of contemporary work on the state of soaps with Abigail Derecho from Columbia College Chicago, as well as gearing up to teach a class on soaps in the spring here at MIT.

Tremors of this decision had been making their way around the fan community. ATWT has been experimenting with various new aesthetics on the show, including the use of a digital handheld camera and an increase in the use of location shoots, as it has been rare in recent years to have outdoors scenes actually filmed out of the studio. Through using digital cameras, though, PGP has decided that it would actually be a better use of funds to have a permanent "outdoor studio" of sorts, where all outdoor scenes are filmed.

Continue reading "Significant Changes for Procter & Gamble Daytime Shows" »

October 2, 2007

Condom-Sponsored "Online Soap" in the UK

I've been writing about a variety of interesting online video series lately, that have been in one way or another labeled "online soaps." I want to make clear at the outset, though, that I don't personally agree with this definition, or at least would argue that the online soap would be considered a very different format than the daytime soap.

I've been thinking about these issues a lot lately, as Abigail Derecho and I are co-editing a collection of essays on the contemporary state of daytime serial drama. We have been thinking through questions about what does and does not count as soap opera. I've discussed this often with other friends and fellow soaps enthusiasts, like Lynn Liccardo, in the past, finding that there is danger in the conflation of daytime soaps and primetime soaps, even with the similarities.

The latest of these online soaps comes from the United Kingdom, originating with a study that has found that the desire to watch the romantic lives of soap stars often eclipse the romantic lives of the actual fans. Now, mind you, a condom maker commissioned this study.

Continue reading "Condom-Sponsored "Online Soap" in the UK" »

September 21, 2007

New Tide-Sponsored Online/Mobile Video Series

The latest news coming out about an online series ties into writing we've been doing here at the Convergence Culture Consortium about online video, branded entertainment, and soap operas. Procter & Gamble's Tide brand will be the sponsor of a new broadband series through GoTV Networks, a 10-parter called Crescent Heights.

The series, written by Mike Martineau of Rescue Me fame (see this post relating to Jason Mittell's writing about the FX series and how he feels it serves as a hypermasculine soap opera), will be available not just through Tide's Web site but also through mobile providers as well.

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September 14, 2007

Jonathan's Story: Guiding Light's New Transmedia Project

A story that's been getting some press in the American daytime drama industry of late is over at Guiding Light, where the character Jonathan Randall returned for a short stint recently after having faked his death, along with his daughter's, in order to escape the domineering figure of Alan Spaulding, his daughter's great-grandfather.

A short-stint return of a popular character is always big news in daytime, but it's not particularly novel. What is perhaps more interesting is his return is yet another chance for daytime to experiment with the novel, quite literally, as Procter & Gamble Productions is promoting a book tie-in with Jonathan's return, with the upcoming release of Jonathan's Story through Simon and Schuster. See this post from A.C. Powers at The Soap Dispenser for more, and look here for more information on the character.

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August 23, 2007

Surplus Audiences, ATWT, and the Luke/Noah Kiss

Those who follow the blog even with casual interest probably know that the world of soap opera is the site of a significant amount of my research and writing. I'm currently in the early stages of preparing a course here at MIT in the spring on soap operas, and my Master's thesis work was on the subject as well.

I'm also really interested in the topic of surplus audiences, those that rest outside the "target demographic" but who still create a valid and significant audience portion. The fact that pro wrestling is sometimes among the most popular content for young adult women, according to some numbers I've seen, or that 25 percent of gamers are over 50, as I wrote about earlier today, are key examples of this.

Perhaps most interesting to me, then, is male soap opera fans, a group I fit into. There are many male soap opera fans, and that's nothing new, but soaps have always been about the 18-49 female demo. Some have gone so far as to say that anyone else simply doesn't matter or doesn't exist, since that's not who shows are selling to advertisers.

Continue reading "Surplus Audiences, ATWT, and the Luke/Noah Kiss" »

August 16, 2007

C3 Team: DRM, Hypermasculine Soaps, and Gender and Fan Studies

In addition to all that we've been covering here on the Convergence Culture Consortium blog, there have been some interesting pieces written recently on the blogs of some of our consulting researchers as well that I'd like to point the way toward.

First is a recent post from C3 Consulting Researcher Rob Kozinets, over at Brandthroposophy, his blog on "marketing, media, and technoculture." In a post entitled What Does DRM Really Stand For? Whack-a-Mole!, Kozinets thinks back to a conversation with an executive from the music industry in a class he taught back in 1999, talking about early MP3 players, and his own conversations with students over the years about file sharing and digital rights management, for both music and movies. He concludes that "entertainment companies haven't even come close to getting it. When they do, they'll learn to work with the trends and not against them. That's going to be an interesting day."

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August 15, 2007

C3 Updates: Flash Gordon, ATWT Inturn, and Ten Day Take

Hope the C3 readers got something valuable out of the interview with Parry Aftab. It's Wednesday morning now, and I wanted to update everyone on a few extensions of issues we've been following here at the C3 blog over the past year.

1.) Flash Gordon. I first wrote about Flash Gordon in a post from January on fan communities based on historical comic strips, such as Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon, as well as the historical Yellow Kid of much older fame. Some fans wrote in response to me, questioning whether Tracy and Gordon could really be considered historical properties, and the scope of this changed when I learned through Warren Ellis' blog that Sci Fi was planning on making a television movie featuring Gordon.

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July 31, 2007

Daytime and Primetime Serial Dramas: The Question of Complexity

One final post for the day. I have been meaning to post links to the latest two rounds in Henry Jenkins' fan studies and gender discussions, and I also wanted to respond to some detailed comments from Jason Mittell over at his blog, Just TV. Jason is one of our consulting researchers here in the consortium.

First, see the posts and debate surrounding a round of posts from Kristina Busse and Cornel Sandvoss here and here.

This week's posts are from Abigail Derecho and Christian McCrea, here and here.

The first round of Abigail and Christian's debate brought up a lot of issues about soap operas and pro wrestling and other massive narratives which exist on the "margins" of popular culture, which of course got me particularly interested in the discussion. Be sure to look through the comments there for more.

Mittell's post on these issues particularly interested me, as he addresses his own works on narrative complexity in primetime television. I have often credited Jason with being one of the few scholars who does not try and hide the ties to daytime serial drama that primetime complexity has, but some in a recent conversation criticized his essay for not going very in-depth with that connection. He brings up quite a valid point in his blog--that many scholars have pointed out that it's hard to understand soaps from the outside and that it's best not to try and analyze them without intimate knowledge of them. Of course, that makes folks who aren't looking particularly at soaps at a loss for how to cover them, since many of their visual and storytelling markers have been so stereotyped, and are often misunderstood.

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July 16, 2007

Immersive Story Worlds and "How Not to Wreck a Show"

In my work on soap opera fandom, I keep encountering a document that I think deals with some questions that are at the heart of much of what we are talking about in working with fandoms, especially in thinking toward longstanding media properties with long and complicated histories.

I have written quite a bit lately about a particular form of narrative universe of this type, which I call immersive story worlds. As I have written about here on the blog before (see here and here), immersive story worlds are fictional universes whose characteristics include seriality, multiple creators, long-term continuity, a character backlog, contemporary ties to a deep history, and a sense of permanence.

In my own research, I have identified soap opera narratives (once a show has passed a certain number of years), comic books, and professional wrestling texts as being the best examples of these sorts of narratives, but the principles--and potential benefits of thinking toward developing and maintaining immersive story worlds--apply to a wide range of products which have some similar characteristics to these massive serial (social) texts.

To return to my point, however, I think that my writing about serial texts is underpinned by a set of creative criteria and an industry perspective perhaps best articulated by the late Douglas Marland, known by a variety of soap opera fan communities as one of the best soaps creators of all time, in particular in his relationship to the fan community and in respecting the continuity and history of soaps, and the nature of serialized storytelling for an immersive story world.

Continue reading "Immersive Story Worlds and "How Not to Wreck a Show"" »

July 12, 2007

Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part Two): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford

See the first post in this series here.

Sam Ford: I know that a lot of the people following this debate might not be that interested in soaps in particular, but I am interested in the differences in discussing fan culture when it shifts from being a conversation primarily about fan fiction, which many of the back-and-forths have so far. How do we measure creativity in relation to fan communities? My understanding is that most people would agree that fan fiction only retains its full meaning and resonance within the community that it is produced in, and the social specificity of creative output is no different in the soap opera fan communities we have been discussing, but the output is often much different--criticism, debate, parody, discussion, continuity-maintenance, historical perspective...these are very creative processes that seem to be the prevalent forms of fan output for soap opera fandom.

To move toward your discussion of sports and media fans, I think the question you pose is one relevant to this series as a whole and one which various contributors have touched on in one way or another. Are we looking at the difference in male and female fan responses or in the responses of scholarship on fans, or can you really separate the two? As you imply in your question, there is some difficulty in separating the two, and perhaps the body of academic work on soap opera fandom, television fandom, fan fiction communities, sports fandom, and so on are shaped greatly by the gendered perspectives, and the respective genders, of those who have been most prevalent in those fields. It is important to realize this may be the case, while not making that the totalizing explanation for differences in sports fandom and sports fan studies, when compared to media fandom.

Continue reading "Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part Two): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford" »

July 11, 2007

Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part One): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford

This is the first of a two-part series being posted on Henry Jenkins' blog and discussed through a LiveJournal community site, the latest in the rounds of posts featuring a male and female fan studies scholar looking at issues of gender in relation to the study of fan communities. This round features my discussion with C. Lee Harrington, who has been a key scholar in the history of the study of soap opera fandom. Both parts will be posted here on the C3 blog as well.

C. Lee Harrington: Hi everyone. This has been an interesting set of discussions thus far -- Sam and I are happy to contribute. We'll follow the general norm by beginning with introductions. I've been engaged in audience/fan studies since the early 1990s, with most of my work co-authored with Denise Bielby.

Our interest in fan studies grew out of our long term soap opera-watching habit. I don't remember how long Denise has been watching, but I started watching soaps in the late 1970s and have been an enthusiastic follower ever since (mostly ABC soaps, with some years watching DOOL).

When I was in grad school at UCSB in the late 1980s (Denise is on the faculty there), we went to a General Hospital fan club luncheon, were fascinated by the entire experience, and decided to study the soap fan culture. Our book Soap Fans was published a few years after Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers and Camille Bacon- Smith's Enterprising Women, among other important work of the late 80s/early 90s, which heavily influenced the way I thought about audience/fans.

Continue reading "Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part One): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford" »

July 4, 2007

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part VI of VI


To trace the character of Tom Hughes is to trace the trajectory of the American soap opera and, to a degree, American television. The character demonstrates the soap opera genre's use of SORASing and the supercouple and the constant tug at soap storytelling between the three major strands of soap opera plots--family and workplace drama, tackling social issues, and escapist romance fare.

A part of the soap canvas for 45 years now, Tom Hughes is, in a sense, the history of ATWT, and the treatment of his character marks changes in performers, changes in writing staffs, and changes in audience reception and in American society. From tackling divorce to drug culture and Vietnam to living wills and AIDS, Tom's character has been involved with many of the controversies that have defined American public discourse over the past few decades. And for fan communities with lasting memories, his current character serves as a monument to those social changes and plot turns.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part VI of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part V of VI

Tom's Maturity--Scott Holmes Takes the Role

At this point, Scott Holmes took over the role of Tom Hughes. Tom was out of Oakdale for some time in Washington D.C., where he was heavily involved in a massive FBI case that the Oakdale Police Force was also involved in. With Holmes portraying Tom, he returned to Oakdale to put his marriage back together and began working with Margo on the Falcon case. The couple was eventually reunited.

The central character in the defining family of Oakdale, Holmes' Tom once again became a part of several storylines that sought to renew focus on social issues through personal drama, similar to the stories Tom was part of in the late 1960s. This mid-1980s to early-1990s time period is often celebrated by ATWT fans as a glory period of the show, with head writer Douglas Marland blending social relevance into a strong writing emphasis on workspace tension and family drama.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part V of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part IV of VI

Childhood and Adolescence--The SORASing of Tom Hughes

Tom Hughes was immediately a central focus on ATWT because he was born to the central couple of the show at the time, Bob and Lisa. The show's writers recognized that only a minimal amount of storytelling could be accomplished with Tom as a young child.

Therefore, Tom became one of the first victims of SORAS, a disease that now regularly strikes children in soap opera towns. SORAS, which stands for Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, is a term popularized in the soap opera press and in online fan communities, in response to the trend to age soap opera characters, almost always children, much more rapidly than real time would allow.

The early development of Tommy Hughes is one of the most blatant examples of SORASing, as the character was born in 1961 and, by the end of the decade, was in Vietnam. The character's birth and early existence was largely as a plot device in the dissolution of Bob and Lisa's marriage.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part IV of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part III of VI

Shifting Portrayals: The Many Men Who Are Tom Hughes

One important aspect of daytime television is that characters, even as they become so entwined with their portrayers, are also bigger than those actors. It is quite common in American soap opera for a character to be recast if an actor leaves the show, especially when the character is linked to several others. Because the power of soap operas lies in character relationships rather than plot development, an essential character must stay on the show, whether the actor who portrays him or her does or not. The duration of actors such as Wagner, Fulton, or Hastings is impressive because such long-term performances are relatively rare.

Tom Hughes, excluding his time as a baby, has been portrayed by 13 different actors. Starting in 1963, Tom was old enough to have dialogue on the show and began being portrayed consistently by one child actor at a time. The character was aged more rapidly than real time would allow, and his birth date was revised significantly as the show progressed so that the character would be aged enough to allow for certain stories.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part III of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part II of VI

As the World Turns

However, As the World Turns changed the conception of the television soap opera. Under the supervision of Irna Phillips, one of the "auteurs" of television rarely discussed in "mainstream" accounts of television history, As the World Turns (ATWT) popularized many of what are now considered defining elements of the genre.

The program aired daily for 30 minutes, breaking away from the shorter 15-minute increments of shows like Guiding Light. Slow pacing, an emphasis on dialogue, and the now-stereotyped camera angles were all part of the ATWT conception. For that reason, many soap historians would consider ATWT the most significant soap opera in American television history.

From 1958 until 1978, ATWT was unchallenged as the top rated soap opera, until growing competition in the 1970s unseated it. Throughout its now 50-year run on CBS, ATWT has survived important changes--the switch to color, the conversion from live to taped television in the early 1970s, the shift from 30 minutes to an hour in the late 1970s, and fluctuating ideas about what topics the genre should cover, oscillating from family drama to romantic escapist fare to tackling controversial social issues or some combination of the three.

Today, ATWT remains an award-winning soap, often recognized with writing and production awards at the Daytime Emmy awards. While Guiding Light has phased out many of its long-term characters (most characters considered "veterans" on the show today debuted with Guiding Light in the late 1970s or early 1980s), ATWT has retained not only the greatest number of long-term characters but also many of the actors who have defined those characters.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part II of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part I of VI

Next week, Lee Harrington and I will be presenting the latest in Henry Jenkins' series of discussions about gender and fan studies. Since Lee has been a pioneer in research on soap opera fan communities and since much of my recent focus have been on fans of daytime drama, I wanted to return to a paper that I presented at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association's conference here in Boston back in April. It was a great conference, with a followup discussion about the present and future of soaps with a variety of interesting and interested scholars who have written and presented on soaps. I thought I would present the content of that paper, sans the footnotes, as I prepare for next week.

Television is an actor's medium. While budgets and schedules have often given movies a greater mastery of grand visual spectacle than television (a divide between film and television that is growing increasingly thin), the actor has always remained the currency of television fiction. Even today, with television series consistently raising the bar for production values, the actor still holds the most power in connecting with the audience.

The smaller screen of (most) television sets values the close-up, the study of human emotion (and especially the human face), in a way that the grand vistas and elaborate cinematography of most Hollywood films seem to miss. The value placed on the actor and the exploration of character is more suited to the seriality of television as well. While films visit a character's life for a short time, a television series visits characters on a regular basis, over a number of seasons.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part I of VI" »

June 25, 2007

CBS Streaming Most of Its Soap Operas Online

Great news for daytime soaps fans, and a special thanks to Ivan Askwith--another C3 alum--for passing this along. Three of the four CBS soap operas are now going to be made available through CBS' Web site on a daily basis.

The Young and the Restless and Procter & Gamble soaps As the World Turns and Guiding Light will be streamed in their entirety every day online through CBS Interactive, starting mid-week last week.

The full story is available on Soapdom.

In short, the episodes will be made available every evening starting at 6 p.m., basically providing the service that SOAPnet currently provides but through a different distribution platform. For those who aren't DVRing or setting something to record, or if their device malfunctions, this will be another way to timeshift soap opera viewing.

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June 18, 2007

Days of Our Lives Now Available on iTunes

As NBC continues to evolve its relationship to the traditional soap opera, Days of Our Lives launched last week on iTunes. This got some play from Variety's Josef Adalian, who has been among the best at the big magazines in covering the latest events of daytime television.

This is not the first daytime television show to go to the iTunes format. That honor goes to Passions, although the show will be back off iTunes soon when it moves this fall from NBC to its new home as exclusive content for DirecTV subscribers.

The Days deal is set apart because, while one can order a singular episode for $1.99, multipasses can be purchased, with $9.99 for 20 episodes, or just 50 cents an episode. The Passions shows weren't available in multipass format, to the best of my recollection.

That now means Days is available in three different formats--on SOAPnet in the evenings and on weekends and on iTunes, in addition to its traditional spot in the NBC Daytime lineup.

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June 10, 2007

Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part V of V

My Focus on the Online Fan Community

Nancy Baym's research in Tune In, Log On provides a solid foundation to build on, but the online world has changed significantly from the discussion groups she studied in the 1990s to the new technologies and forums available in 2007. During the time Baym was studying, online discussion groups were still in relative infancy, whereas there are a much wider variety of soap opera discussion forums today in a variety of formats. A much greater portion of the viewership has signed on in the past decade, even as the overall number of soaps viewers has declined. Further, these contemporary discussion groups exist alongside a variety of soap opera Web sites, blogs, podcasts, videos, and other new media products, both professional and fan-created, that did not exist in the 1990s.

While the majority of Baym's focus is on how soap opera fan communities are built and maintained and how they function on a daily basis, I am particularly interested in the perceived and actual ways that these fan communities interact with each other and the producers of the show with the explicit hope of making an impact.

Continue reading "Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part V of V" »

Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part IV of V

Web-Based Communication Among Soaps Fans

While these previous modes of communication lacked the potential for a large community of fans to build around daily discussion of texts, the Internet created a space where the one-on-one interpersonal model of fan discussion that empowered soap opera viewing could take place on a wider scale. With a forum for a concentrated discussion that was public, the Internet empowered fans with new ways to organize themselves to get the attention of "the powers that be," or TPTB, as fans often abbreviate.

As Jennifer Hayward points out through her essay "Consuming Pleasures" which came form her 1997 book by the same title, the Internet provided "a more collaborative forum for soaps discussion" than was possible by individual fan letters or other previous modes of communication (515). Further, the Internet's hybrid of concentrated niche spaces that are nevertheless public gave fans unprecedented ability to create their own texts based on their reception of the show through public commentaries and discussions.

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Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part III of V

The Soap Opera Press

One factor that changed the way soap operas relate to their fans is the creation of the soap opera press. While soaps were often covered in some degree by TV Guide and certain big events might be mentioned in newspapers or magazines, daytime--despite its visibility and popularity--was left behind, even as primetime television programming was granted an increasing amount of attention from serious critics.

While there is much less scholarly attention given to the artistry of soaps as compared to the best primetime has to offer, there is also much less serious consideration of soaps in the popular press. This niche is filled somewhat by magazines focusing particularly on soaps that are now a staple of checkout lines in grocery stores. Whereas previous forms of fan communication involved private exchanges (local discussions, fan mail, and fan clubs) and most publications did not regularly report or include reader letters about soap operas, soap opera magazines provided a new forum in which the reception of soap operas could become texts themselves, through official industry news and behind-the-scenes information, official columnists, and fan letters and polls.

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Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part II of V

Fan Clubs and Fan Letters

The earliest attempts at official connection for soaps, not surprisingly, came through letter writing to the network and fan clubs. I have found little information about the history of fan clubs, and my correspondence with the current president of both the As the World Turns and Guiding Light official fan clubs, Mindi Schulman, emphasized that there had not been an institutional history passed down and that she did not know much about the history of the organization prior to her taking over in 1999.

No matter how long this "official" fan club has been in operation, evidence indicates that various fan clubs have existed around these shows for some time. The current ATWT Fan Club hosts an annual luncheon with various current and former cast members and provides members with pen pal lists and various documents about the current creative team behind the show and the names and birthdays of current actors. The fan club also provides two resources to fans that echo the earliest powers that fans employed: a list of people to contact in the press in reaction to soaps, as well as a list of the executive producer, head writer, and contacts for both Procter & Gamble Productions/TeleVest Daytime Programs and the Senior Vice-President of CBS Daytime, all of whom fans might be interested in sending praise or (more likely) complaints.

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Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part I of V

At this year's Media in Transition 5 conference, I presented a portion of the work I have been doing on soap operas. I wanted to share that work here on the blog in a series of posts this weekend. I've been fortunate enough to get a great deal of feedback from members of the soap opera fan community while working on this research, some of which I haven't been able to incorporate back into the work thus far, but I look forward to any thoughts you all might have as well. Thanks again to Henry Jenkins, William Uricchio, Lynn Liccardo, and Kay Alden for all their help on this project, as well as a variety of others.

Soap Opera and Fan Discussion

Soaps do not exist in a vacuum, and the show's daily texts can only be completely understood in the context of the community of fans surrounding them. Instead of imagining the audience as a passive sea of eyeballs measured through impressions, this approach views soap operas as the central piece and catalyst for a social network of fans. Acting as dynamic social texts, soap operas are created as much by the audience that debates, critiques, and interprets them than through the production team itself. Of course, the power of the reader is not new ground. For instance, see Roland Barthes' 1967 essay "The Death of the Author." While Barthes focuses on the solitary reader's ability to "author" the text, the social connectivity of today's media landscape enables much more widespread meaning-making from the audience.

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May 18, 2007

Soap Operas, Target Demographics, and Angry Fans

One fan exclamation in the soap opera industry that has gotten quite a bit of blogosphere attention came from the Web site The Wreck Center, posted by Jase. The piece, entitled "An Open Letter to Carolyn Hinsey and Daytime Television," is in response to a recent column in Soap Opera Digest magazine.

First, for those who follow my research, you know that I'm particularly interested in how soap opera fans communicate to soap opera producers, the reasons behind and ways in which soaps can survive the continued ratings decline that started 20 years ago, and the way in which soaps are hindered by notions of a niche target demographic and how to appeal to that demographic. I've written time and time again about the importance of transgenerational storytelling and empowering audience members outside the target demo to be proselytizers for each soap opera.

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May 7, 2007

Immersive Story Worlds (Part Two)

The first part of this excerpt from my thesis work was presented on the C3 blog earlier today, available here. That portion focused on my own history with immersive story worlds, defining the term, and looking at seriality as one aspect of an immersive story world.

Multiple Creators

All three examples of immersive story worlds provided here are too large for any one creator to accomplish. Each of these worlds have passed through many creative hands over the years, with no one creator necessarily being THE defining vision of what this world means. In each case, there is a sense of the narrative world having a life of its own and being bigger than any particular creative regime. The fact that all three of these narrative worlds have stood the test of time is evidenced in the way they have weathered passing off from one creative hand to the other. Although Stan Lee is often credited with being a defining force in the initial creation of the modern Marvel Universe, along with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby and others, many writers, artists, and editors have helped shape the trajectory of these characters through the following decades. Not only have various creative regimes had control of an individual series over the years, there are creative teams working on each title within the Marvel Universe at any one time, meaning that--although Marvel as a content producer has centralized control over the official narrative universe of its characters, there is still a decentralized process of creating the Marvel Universe and fleshing out all its corners, developed through the many creative forces who have passed through the company over what is now almost 50 years.

Soap operas may have a defining creator, such as Irna Phillips and Bill Bell and Agnes Nixon, and the creative vision of each of these people have often helped define the long-term feel for many of these shows. However, the number of writers that work on a show at any one time, from the creative influence of the executive producer to the overall stories of the head writer(s) to the way that is broken down into scenes and dialogue, demonstrates the hundreds of creators who have had an influence on soaps stories through the years. Consider how much impact the thousands of actors who have appeared on these shows have had as well, in addition to directors and other creative forces, and there is certainly no clear "author" of any of these soap opera texts. Even if fans have particular writing teams that they have preferred over others or certain periods of a show that they consider "golden eras," there is no single writer that can be seen as the single defining source of a show, especially once it has been on the air for decades.

As for pro wrestling, the fact that wrestling narratives often spilled over from territory to territory and that wrestlers who retain the copyright to their own characters would jump from one show to the other ensures that, in addition to the constant shifting of creative forces within the bookers of any particular wrestling organization, there was also a meta text that fans would follow which branched across every wrestling show in the country. In the regional days of wrestling, fans would follow characters as they moved across the country, being written by a variety of creative forces along the way. Now that the WWE is the major show left in wrestling, there are three WWE divisions, each with their own head writer; and there are still alternative wrestling promotions that often take characters who leave the WWE, like TNA wrestling on Spike TV. In addition, the wrestlers themselves are traditionally known for developing many of their own attributes, and the performance of the audience affects every show as well (and audiences often stray from the intent of the people who scripted the reactions they are "supposed" to have on live shows). It's hard to identify who "creates" the final product of any particular wrestling show, much less the ongoing narratives of the various characters.

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Immersive Story Worlds (Part One)

As regular readers of this blog might know, I have been in the process of completing my thesis here at MIT. Henry Jenkins recently included some excerpts from my work on his blog, so I wanted to include that same work here as well, since the concept of immersive story worlds has cropped up in my work here on the C3 blog from time-to-time. The concept is an important one, I believe, to understanding the power of mining archives, of transmedia storytelling, and a variety of other factors we discuss here at C3 on a regular basis.

This will the the first of two posts that fleshes this idea out further here on the blog--

My History with Immersive Story Worlds

Growing up an only child with a stay-at-home mom, I spent my childhood days engrossed in what I have come to call immersive story worlds. In truth, I began my relationship with popular culture with no more than an antenna connection and a collection of toys. For me, it was G.I. Joe. I have never fancied being a military man and really do not remember too many playground days spent pretending to be a soldier, but the world of G.I. Joe fascinated me nonetheless. The dozens of characters I found for $2.97 apiece at Wal-Mart drove my interest in the alternate military reality these characters inhabited. Every toy included a biography of that character on the back, which I clipped and kept--in alphabetical order no less. I ended up with a group of friends who also collected and kept up with the world of G.I. Joe.

My love for G.I. Joe soon spilled over into the Marvel G.I. Joe comic books, where these characters came to life. I read those comics until the covers fell off, hoping to learn everything I could about each character and apply that knowledge to the games I played as well. I soon became engaged with the whole Marvel comic book universe, and I spent most of my $10 weekly allowance following the weekly or monthly adventures of Spider-Man, the X-Men, Hulk, and a slew of other colorful characters. Yet again, I found contemporaries at school who shared my interest in comic books. They wanted to be comic book artists, and I wanted to be a comics writer, so we set about to create a comic book universe of our own.

At the same time, I was becoming familiar with another immersive story world, that of the superstars of the World Wrestling Federation, now known as WWE. My cousins had long told me the legends of Hulk Hogan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior, but I didn't know where to tune in to glimpse into this universe from a syndication window. However, my parents' decision to get a VCR opened me up to a slew of videotapes my cousins mailed to me and the growing collection of wrestling shows available at the local rental shops and convenience stores. Finally, I even convinced my neighbors to let me come over and start watching the Monday night wrestling shows since they had cable television. The Marvel superhero universe and the World Wrestling Federation were my media fascinations, and they both fit into this category I now write about as immersive story worlds, a concept I will flesh out in the next couple of posts.

Continue reading "Immersive Story Worlds (Part One)" »

April 28, 2007

Passions Fans Get Their "World without End" After All: The Soap Opera Lives on with New Episodes on DirecTV

One of the biggest news items in terms of media distribution over the past week, especially as my thesis defense on soap operas in a convergence culture looms on the horizon, is that the NBC Daytime series Passions, the soap opera set to be cancelled in the fall, will not be disappearing after all but rather picked up by DirecTV as content exclusive to the satellite provider.

According to the press release from DirecTV and NBC Universal, "under the new agreement, NBC Universal Television Studio will produce brand-new episodes to air Monday-Thursday on DIRECTV's original programming channel, The 101."

DirecTV's EVP of Entertainment Eric Shanks said that "Passions fans no longer need to mourn the demise of their beloved program as it has found new life on DirecTV."

Josef Adalian with Variety calls this DirecTV's "largest original programming initiative ever." The budget will be lower, at $700,000 per week (1/3 lower than it is now), and there will only be four episodes a week instead of five, which will help producers deal with that lower budget.

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April 22, 2007

Collaboration 2.0: Sam Ford and Soap Operas

On Friday evening, the first presentation as part of C3's Collaboration 2.0 was actually one that some readers of this blog might be quite familiar with, since my research has been built through a variety of posts here and some of the insights of various readers who have posted comments in response to those ideas. My thesis research here at MIT has focused on taking the perspective of the Convergence Culture Consortium and apply the types of issues we look at here to the soap opera industry in particular.

I'm a longtime soaps fan, and my interest in watching CBS' As the World Turns was driven by my grandmother and my mother's relationship with their "story." Today, my mom still watches, and my wife and I watch soap operas regularly. My contention has long been that soap operas can only truly be understood as a social text that reaches its fullest potential when one takes into account these relationships that are built around the daily text.

As I've worked on this research on the soap opera industry for the past two years, I have presented my work on a regular basis here on the blog as it has developed, and I have been appreciative by the many readers here, on soap opera fan boards, and in the industry for their insights that helped shape my study. Most recently, I was part of the soap opera panel at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association's national conference here in Boston, sharing my work with academics who have long worked on the soap opera genre such as Barbara Irwin and Mary Cassata. We had a soap opera roundtable afterward, joined by great thinkers like David Feldman and others, who even further helped develop some of these ideas.

See my C3 bio here.

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April 9, 2007

SOAPnet Leaves Some Ardent Fans Feeling Betrayed, Questioning the Brand Identity of the Network

There are still several angry viewers out there, and the new approach by TV network SOAPnet leaves many questioning whether the company was in it to be the Long Tail platform it had originally claimed.

The cable channel, which has been built around airing several daytime soap operas in the evening after they air on their main networks during the day, has supplemented that material with content from the archives of popular cancelled soaps like Another World and Ryan's Hope...that is until a new daytime lineup came along and bumped off a lot of the soaps.

Now, instead of Another World, the channel will feature One Tree Hill, The O.C., reruns of ABC Family's Falcon Beach, and is featuring regular airings of Dallas as well--four hours a day, in fact. The network will also be launching General Hospital: Night Shift later this year, as I wrote about last month.

Ryan's Hope has been moved from its daily airing to Sunday morning and will now air from 6 a.m. until 7 a.m. Further, the short-lived Port Charles has been moved to 6 a.m. on Saturday only. Considering that, as Daniel R. Coleridge with TV Guide notes, the Another World reruns were averaging a 0.0 in the Nielsen's among the target 18-49 female demographic, that's not a good sign. Of course, it's also probably a sign that the Nielsen's don't help much when trying to measure Long Tail targeted material of the type that SOAPnet is pushing, but that's another story.

The question raised by the fans of these classic soaps is what the point of SOAPnet was, if it's going to now feature significant content from primetime shows that these fans argue aren't really even soap operas and that primetime dramas like The O.C. and 90210 and Dallas don't fit into the brand identity of a soap opera cable network.

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April 5, 2007

College Nielsen Measurement's Effect on Daytime

Earlier today, I wrote about some of the initial impact of college viewers being calculated into the Nielsen ratings, and in that post, I mentioned that daytime viewership is up 5 percent taking into account the 135 or so college students now included in the Nielsen numbers, if my understanding of the sample is correct.

There has been further analysis of those numbers in a couple of articles, one at the beginning of daytime measurement from Forbes, and another written this past week from MediaWeek.

When the college viewers were first added to the sample back in January, I wrote, "Soap opera fans are discussing these ratings and wondering what it means, if anything, for measuring soaps viewing and also for how much soaps will focus on college audiences. At one time, especially before cable provided so many alternatives, soap opera viewing was significant on campus and still probably adds in viewers not currently counted."

Forbes' Rick Kissell, in the first week of Nielsen numbers, wrote that "NBC's young-skewing combo of Days of Our Lives and Passions shot up by more than 30% this week to week among adults ages 18 to 24." He further reported that ABC's General Hospital and CBS' Guiding Light received more than 20 percent more viewers in that category, and that As the World Turns saw an increase as well, while Young and the Restless did not gain in the week-to-week demographics.

Cut to John Consoli's article in Monday's MediaWeek.

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March 11, 2007

Y&R/ATWT's L.A. Diaries on CBS innertube: An Intriguing Approach to Transmedia Storytelling

Following up on the reality show InTurn on CBS innertube, As the World Turns is now partnering with fellow CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless to produce a transmedia Webisode series called L.A. Diaries. The project, branded "Daytime Digital," takes an interesting and innovative approach in how to use a Webisode in several ways, which I will get into below.

The plot? As Linda Marshall-Smith with Soapdom explains, "It's a five-week series and takes place in a recent flashback sometime after Alison left ATWT in 2005 and before Amber arrived at Y&R last fall. Apparently, the two met while working at a dive bar in Venice, California where both young women resorted to a life of - get this - internet porn in order to make ends meet."

In short, I think the L.A. Diaries approach is instructive because of the way it appeals to the fan bases of multiple existing shows, the tight focus of the story, the way the series reintroduces characters by explaining their backstories, the way the series is used to launch a new storyline on the shows, and the crossovers back onto both ATWT and Y&R.

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March 10, 2007

General Hospital: Night Shift Could Be Fascinating Case Study in Cross-Show Storytelling

A few weeks ago, my colleague Ivan Askwith made an appearance on the blog to announce a recent report that soap opera General Hospital would be spawning a primetime spinoff as part of the first original dramatic programming from cable network SOAPnet.

The partnership makes sense because ABC owns SOAPnet, and the network also owns its own soaps, as opposed to CBS Daytime, which gets programming from Procter & Gamble Productions and Bell.

In Ivan's report, from information he got from Cynthia Turner's Cynopsis, he pointed out that the show would be seralized, with 13 one-hour episodes that will focus on some current characters on the show. He wrote, "Not transmedia in the traditional sense -- no platforms being crossed just yet -- but it's an interesting experiment in creating television spin-offs that remain tightly linked to the narratives of their parent show."

As more news comes out about General Hospital: Night Shift, I wanted to add further information. Connie Phillips, who writes Making the Rounds at General Hospital over at, emphasizes that the show will be "centered around the hospital and will go a little deeper into the storylines originally run on the base show as well as dig a little deeper into the characters' lives and relationships."

Phillips writes, "One can only wonder if they will choose to use this platform as a showcase for veteran actors and characters that have not been receiving much screen time as of late. Long time fans of the show were broken-hearted over the recent decision to kill off Dr. Alan Quatermaine, a character who has graced the show for thirty years, and many fan-based boards have clamored for the soap to turn away from the mob-driven stories and bring focus back to the hospital the show was built on."

The show will be written by Robert Guza, Jr., who is the head writer of General Hospital as well. Apparently, the plan is for a storyline to start on the daytime show and be the driving force for beginning the SOAPnet series. The show will be starting on SOAPnet sometime this summer.

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February 6, 2007

Soap Operas in Convergence Culture and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of "a Genre in Decline"

I haven't gotten back to covering this in full yet, but in a Bloomberg article on 26 January, NBC's Jeff Zucker made the assertion that soap operas are facing "the beginning of the end." This, of course, is based on his cancellation of the parody-of-sorts Passions, which is both the youngest and the least popular of the nine soap operas currently on American daytime television.

The article provides some reasons for such gloomy talk about soap operas as well as a response from various people in the industry. And I think the problem is that, for many people, the mentality is not all that much unlike the theme of this article: "soaps aren't dead yet, but they're gonna be." When network executives like Barbara Bloom, who has the two most popular soaps on American television on CBS and another that is in direct competition with all the ABC soaps for ratings over the past few years for that shifting "number three" spot, doesn't sound that positive, either, it emphasizes the problem: the people in decision-making positions, even those who still remain committed to soaps, are showing ambivalence about doing so.

And, if the networks and industry insiders believe that the decline of soaps are inevitable, then it's going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy

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January 27, 2007

General Hospital Borrows from 24 in Real-Time Storyline During Sweeps Month

While on the subject of soap operas, I thought I would point out a really interesting development on the soap opera General Hospital that shows just the kind of interesting television genre crossings (of sorts, in this case) that we've written about before. Michael Newman, who teaches film and media studies at the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee, recently directed my attention toward a post on the Entertainment Weekly Popwatch Blog by Abby West, following up on a story they wrote last year with the head writer of GH and the producer of the primetime series 24 giving their version of the other's show. Now, apparently, General Hospital is going to turn that fun exercise into action.

The plan is for General Hospital, during sweeps month, to enter into a 24-like plot, showing an explosion at a well-known hotel in town and then making the next 16 episodes the 16 hours before the explosion, so viewers can slowly learned what happened leading up to this event. In other words, more than two weeks of the show's programming is going to focus on telling the story of the events leading up to this explosion in real time, a la 24.

There is certainly a connection between these two shows. Although the connections aren't made often enough, the seriality of primetime shows bear a strong ancestry with the construction of daytime television narratives, as I've written about several times before. Yet, with all the hype about seriality in primetime, very few articles in tthe popular press or even in academic circles link this type of plot back to the long lineage of seriality on daytime.

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Guiding Light Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary with a Look Back at Its History on Radio, Television

This past week, the American daytime drama Guiding Light celebrated its 70th anniversary with an episode that provides a fascinating historical perspective on another era of media in transition in American history, the cultural move from radio to television.

In the 1930s, the soap opera became a vibrant part of American culture, as radio serials sponsored by soap companies developed the name, and many of the aspects of soaps that remain a characteristic of the drama to this day. Thursday's Guiding Light featured the cast of the show in a tribute to the early history of their own program, as a majority of the cast played the roles of many of the actors and behind-the-scenes players in the early days of the soap, which launched in 1937.

The episode began with the death of a current character on the show, Tammy, focusing on the grief of her loved ones. It launched back to a sermon from the radio show Guiding Light, showing the creative team putting on the show and the way a radio soap opera was done, complete with radio jingles for "Save-All" (would have been great to see a major current P&G product used here, but that's another story). At the helm of the program was Irna Phillips, the creator or co-creator of Guiding Light and several other soaps that are currently on the air.

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January 20, 2007

The Convergence Manifesto IV: The Importance of Quality Storytelling

This is the fourth part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.

These types of transmedia attempts exist throughout the television industry, and I've talked with people in multiple media industries about cross-platform content. All agree on one thing--convergence may exist in a lesser form as a marketing ploy that simply distributes products across many media platforms, but transmedia storytelling...and true convergence...requires, at its heart, a compelling story.

Without good writers and other strong elements throughout the story, the fact that something is converged or spread across several media forms is only impressive in a shallow sense, as an experiment or a marketing ploy.

And that's what the journalists, the writers, the fans, and everyone else who fears convergence are worried about. They don't seem to really be against convergence, but they are against convergence done poorly.

Continue reading "The Convergence Manifesto IV: The Importance of Quality Storytelling" »

The Convergence Manifesto III: Quality Storytelling in Soap Operas

This is the third part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.

It's no surprise that I will fall back on one of the genres of television that I know best: the soap opera. While documentation of the experiments of primetime television and video games and comic books seem to be well-documented, daytime programming seems largely ignored by critics and scholars and even most of the people in the industry.

I think that such media snobbery leaves the industry ignoring important lessons from these marginalized genres. There's some view that soap operas (and pro wrestling, another major lovemark of mine, is also often ignored by "the mainstream," despite the fact that both genres have very large viewership).

I've been following and blogging a lot about the ways in which the soap opera genre has been trying to adapt in our current convergence culture. In particular, soaps have been attempting to use new cross-platform ways of storytelling, usually attempted more as a marketing experiment than as a true transmedia experiment.

Continue reading "The Convergence Manifesto III: Quality Storytelling in Soap Operas" »

January 9, 2007

Is Serial Programming a Format or a Genre? Slippery Language in the Popular Press

The New York Times is the latest authority to chime in on the controversy of the Fall 2006 television lineup, as people still debate about complex television and the failure of some of the new shows this fall.

By this point, I find that so much of the negativity surrounding seriality has become the way the failure of these various shows have been covered in the popular press, particularly in considering serial programming a genre. That's the language used by reporter Edward Wyatt in this story. After first calling serial programming a "format," he later writes, "All of which has left some fans of the genre wondering whether it is worth committing to untested new serials, or better to wait and see if a new series will be around for more than a few weeks."

That raises an interesting question. Serial programming is not new. Maybe there is a particular bent of serial programming to this new format, but the idea of storylines that connect from week-to-week has helped drive narrative interest in some shows for a long time now. But, to me, the serial format is a mode of storytelling, not a genre of story, at least not in the sense television genres are usually discussed in.

What we have here is a question about genre and how it fits in with form versus content. The problem here in general is this discussion of a genre that seems to be failing to gain attention, but one source points out in the story that more shows in general are serialized this year and that the fact that some of them failed obscures the fact that most TV shows fail every year and that this is no more of a trend than usual. That source, Jeffrey D. Bader from ABC Entertainment pointed to the success of new series like Heroes on NBC, Jericho on CBS, and Brothers & Sisters on ABC as all shows who have a serial format and who are not just surviving but could be considered "working," in his language.

Continue reading "Is Serial Programming a Format or a Genre? Slippery Language in the Popular Press" »

December 7, 2006

Building Soaps as Long-Term Brands: A Diatribe on Laura's Return on General Hospital

Back on Nov. 8, I wrote about legacy characters in soaps, basing much of my writing about the short-term reuniting of Luke and Laura on General Hospital the iconic couple of days gone by in the soaps industry, going back to a time when soaps carried many more viewers. The post raised spirited debate, even drawing in the former head writer of the top-rated American soap opera, Kay Alden, who is also an advisor on my thesis project.

My intent now is to start with the comments generated from that last post to move into examining the limited success of the Luke and Laura reuniting and what the industry can learn from it and hopefully not misinterpret. The show re-inventing the Luke and Laura wedding did a 2.9, above the usual average for the show but below what some projected might be possible to reach. And, what's worse for some people, the ratings were back down to a 2.6 average for the show, still putting it atop some of its competition but not resulting in any major sustained growth. However, the reunion did post the highest rating in the history of cable network SoapNet, and it generated quite a bit of publicity.

Kay Alden wrote about how unique thinking about using older characters/viewers to help "reinvent the soap opera viewing audience" was a fascinating way to think about audience-building that the genre had not thought about. "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."

Alden writes, "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."

Continue reading "Building Soaps as Long-Term Brands: A Diatribe on Laura's Return on General Hospital" »

December 5, 2006

Name That DAYS Baby: A Low-Investment Stab at Interactivity

Here's an interesting call for interactivity in the soap opera world. NBC soap Days of Our Lives is asking for fans to choose from a list of final names for the baby of one of the main characters, which is due in January.

Hope will be having a little girl that may be named Cassidy or Darcy or Rori or Bridget or Clara, depending on what the fans choose. Voting is open from Dec. 4 to Dec. 17, at which time the contest will be narrowed down to the top three vote-getting names, and fans can choose again from those top three names from Dec. 18 to Dec. 31.

According to Anna Johns with TV Squad, the site is set up so that each fan can vote as many times as they would like.

Continue reading "Name That DAYS Baby: A Low-Investment Stab at Interactivity" »

December 3, 2006

Replacing Touchdowns and Field Goals with Amnesia and Love Affairs: The Fantasy Soap League

Many of us have had friends and relatives addicted to fantasy football. And I wrote this summer about an interesting project between MSN and the Schaumburg Flyers called Fan Club: Reality Baseball, where the collective intelligence of fans was touted as being consulted to help manage a minor league baseball team.

A little farther away from "pure" sports, I spent plenty of time in earlier days competing in fantasy pro wrestling leagues, putting together shows and hiring and firing rosters to get the best ratings from a third party who played "the Nielsens," to compete with the managers of competing wrestling shows. And then there's all the people addicted to the Hollywood Stock Exchange.

But I'll have to admit that I've never heard of a venture quite like this one; cable channel SOAPnet launched a Fantasy Soap League earlier this month.

Continue reading "Replacing Touchdowns and Field Goals with Amnesia and Love Affairs: The Fantasy Soap League" »

November 25, 2006

Oakdale Confidential: Secrets Revealed: How the Book's Reprint Is an Even More Striking Example of Transmedia Storytelling (with a Tangent about Bad Twin at Intermission)

Oakdale Confidential has now entered its first reprinting stage, and just as the writers wove the initial printing of the book into storylines for the soap opera As the World Turns, the reprint is becoming perhaps an even greater catalyst for events happening on the show. The book--which sat at #3 on the New York Times bestseller list for two weeks in a row and made it as high as number five on Amazon's seller list--is being reprinted with the addition of a new story by author Katie Peretti, a character on the show, who reveals a major town secret in the book now that she has decided to publicly acknowledge her authorship of the book. In a chance to get revenge on her ex-husband for what she sees as ruining her current marriage, she writes what would--in the real world--be sure libel in accusing that ex-husband and his girlfriend of stealing expensive jewels, an accusation that is, in fact, true.

Following the ups and downs of this book's release, both its major success as a transmedia experiment and also its pointing at some of the troubles with creating this type of text and its subsequent instructions on future projects of this sort, has been worth following throughout 2006. Unfortunately, because of what I perceive as a bias that marginalizes certain types of content even as its popularity should rank it as mainstream, the successes of Oakdale Confidential have not been that well covered or examined. I am going to attempt to trace that history a little bit here.

Continue reading "Oakdale Confidential: Secrets Revealed: How the Book's Reprint Is an Even More Striking Example of Transmedia Storytelling (with a Tangent about Bad Twin at Intermission)" »

November 10, 2006

Passions Now Streaming on NBC Web Site

When more and more women became part of the workforce, many wondered if it would be the demise of soaps. Plenty of cultural critics have written about how fundamental alterations in conceptions of daytime television came along with the changing conceptions of femininity. Of course, the VCR, the DVR, and a variety of other time-shifting devices has been the answer, and I think that the drop in soap opera popularity over the year is due to a variety of factors. While the change in the number of viewers at home may account for some of it, so does a great proliferation of viewing alternatives for cable and satellite users, as well as a variety of what I would consider ultimately faulty logic in how shows are written and marketed, as I wrote about last week.

One answer to the problem of viewers not being home when soaps air has been SoapNet, the cable network which re-airs a variety of soaps that have aired that day again at night, and in programming blocs on the weekend, to provide another form of time shifting for viewers who are not home during the day. Another has been podcasting, which has worked for The Procter & Gamble soaps, as well as All My Children.

Now, the NBC soap Passions has announced that it will begin streaming its episodes online. Each episode will be made available in the afternoon after it has aired on the network on NBC's site, as part of an ongoing effort to expand cross-platform content of NBC shows on NBC's site. The content is available free. Linda Marshall-Smith compares this to the previous online effort to distribute soaps, SoapCity.

Passions is an innovative soap when it comes to cross-platform, as it was also the first daytime drama to become available on iTunes. Because the show is the lowest-rated daytime show but pulls good numbers from teenage girls, its efforts at time shifting and its propensity for using new platform models makes sense, since younger viewers are perceived at being more savvy to Web-based and iPod content.

The show is also innovative in other regards, as I have previously written about here and here and here.

These types of new distribution models may help address questions that popped up last year (and do every year it seems) about the future and survival of the soap opera genre, as I wrote about last November.

November 9, 2006

The Papdits and InTurn on CBS innertube: Thank You Very Much

Along with news this week that CBS has formed CBS Interactive under the helm of Quincy Smith, news has also broken that the network will have new content available on its innertube player and will be launching innertube content onto CBS. One is a discarded pilot, while the other is a reality show based on the soap opera industry.

The first is plans for innertube to feature a pilot that the network did not end up putting into the schedule, a show called The Papdits. The show was created by Anthony Hines, who wrote the popular feature film Borat. The show, which was a pilot for this past season, strikes a similar cord with the popular film. In The Papdits, a family from Kashmir interacts with Americans, very similar to Borat's film, which creates comic misunderstandings and cultural differences. No surprise that CBS decided to pull this one out of the archives now that Borat looks to be a major commercial success at the box office.

Continue reading "The Papdits and InTurn on CBS innertube: Thank You Very Much" »

A Firsthand Account and Reader Reaction to Marvel Comics/Guiding Light Crossover

Some of you may have been following the recent Procter & Gamble Productions/Marvel Comics crossover. Now Jonah Weiland, who had some firsthand experience behind the scenes of this partnership, has written about the experience. Jonah's account provides an interesting perspective about how these intriguing narrative crossovers, not only across two entertainment properties but across genres as well, comes about and is mediated.

This crossover first caught my eye back in September, when I saw mention of plans for Marvel characters to make their way to Springfield, the town in which Guiding Light is set in.

Continue reading "A Firsthand Account and Reader Reaction to Marvel Comics/Guiding Light Crossover" »

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.

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

October 29, 2006

Passions Tabloid Providing Great Transmedia Storytelling Opportunities

NBC's soaps, known for their fantasy and departure of the semi-realistic depiction of the issues of domestic life that is expected from soap operas, are also known for some interesting innovations, particularly the show Passions. Since I've begun writing at the C3 blog, I've written about an animated sequence on the soap, as well as a Bollywood episode. Passions was also the first soap to launch on iTunes. Now, it is making news once again by working with a new storyline and site called Tabloid Truth. The storyline will play out over a 12-week period, with the tabloid--run by gossip columnist J.T. Cornell, who as returned to the town to cause problems, publishing new installments twice a week.

One benefit Passions has, with its irreverent style and its lack of focus on reality, is less concern about an immersive and realistic tabloid site. The site features a convergence of video, pictures, and text, in a transmedia attempt further storylines in interesting ways.

It also includes message boards encouraging readers to do their own gossiping and digging as well. As opposed to materials for an ARG, where every attempt is made to create an authentic product, this is an over-the-top tabloid on the main site for Passions, but it presents an interesting model for a transmedia story. I've long argued that soaps should do these types of crossovers on a more regular basis, including online newspapers for their shows featuring user-generated content.

Since my thesis at MIT is on the soap genre and the developments of new transmedia storytelling initiatives that take advantage of the massive storytelling potential in these narrative universes, I'm interested in how these projects are serving to slowly acclimate soap audiences to this type of storytelling.

More information is provided through the press release, including that each video installment will feature a hidden clue that will forward a story. Again, this storyline is strongest because the tabloid writer is a character on the show, and the rumors and installments in this online space are driving the stories on the show. Soaps are experimenting with transmedia in increasing ways, developing into what may become a fully immersed transmedia storyline at some point. See previous posts about the Guiding Light/Marvel crossover I wrote about yesterday, GL's Springfield Burns, As the World Turns's Oakdale Confidential, and ATWT's blog for character Luke Snyder.

October 28, 2006

Guiding Light Episode to Feature Marvel Crossover

Now, super heroes are raiding the soaps!

Last month, I wrote about my surprise of a soap opera/superhero crossover. The news had broken that an upcoming story of a comic featuring the Marvel super hero team The Avengers would feature the residents of the City of Springfield, the fictional town which is the setting for the soap opera Guiding Light. The idea came from Marvel's consulting a designer from the soap for a wedding gown for a Marvel character, leading to an idea of cross-promotion.

I wrote, "The crossover seems an interesting one, as it seems the target demographic of soaps and comic books are drastically different. However, Quesada says that the Avengers-GL crossover 'is just one more way that we're trying to reach out beyond our usual audience in an effort to expose those who don't know anything about the greatness of comics and hopefully come back with a few new converts.'" I found that statement refreshing because it allows fans to cross lines that are usually ignored in today's world of niche audiences and target programming and marketing.

However, I questioned whether this partnership could ever go the other way, in that GL characters may make more sense in the world of the Avengers than vice versa. I wrote, "I'll definitely have to say that the world of comics can fit the characters of GL in much better than the televised Springfield could handle the Avengers. This is one time in which transmedia storytelling would not play well, as soaps generally strive for realism, a realism that really would be ruined by having a team of superheroes invade the town 'to determine if a new super-powered character will be a friend or fiend.'"

Now, I'm eating my words, as next Wednesday's episode of GL is going to feature a story straight from the Marvel crossover. A sneak preview is currently available here, as well as a written preview of the episode. The episode, entitled "She's a Marvel," will avoid some of my concerns, though, by being a standalone episode that does not relate to the rest of the GL world, managing to avoid many of my concerns about the realism of the soap universe. While I don't think it's completely fair to claim that soaps are realistic, with the exception of Passions and perhaps Days of Our Lives, these shows are much better at dealing with the complications of everyday life for real human beings, rather than trying to bring the supernatural into these small towns.

Continue reading "Guiding Light Episode to Feature Marvel Crossover" »

October 1, 2006

Springfield Burns Another GL Cross-Media Experiment, but with Transmedia Storytelling Potential

Make this the third post about the soap opera Guiding Light in the past week, but the show and its parent company--Procter & Gamble Productions--continues to do some intriguing work regarding cross-platform release and transmedia content of the show's story. Previously, I've written about the soap's crossover with Marvel Comics and the Washington Post piece examining the process of transferring a day's GL episode into podcast form.

In that Post story, there was also mention of an interesting transmedia project that the GL folks have invested in, a Web site called Springfield Burns. As with many other current transmedia experiments, it hints at how great an idea like this could be, more than anything else, but lacks enough significant detail and time invested into it to truly reach its potential.

The premise of the site is that it is written by an anonymous member of the town of Springfield, where the show is set, and is used as a place to dish about various famous figures in the area. The Web site is worked into the television show, as characters are angered about things that are written about them and loved ones on this site, etc.

Of course, there is not nearly enough narrative flow between the site and the show for this to draw major attention, as is the case with many current transmedia enterprises, and the site does not have enough new activity to become a daily must-read for viewers or anything of the sort. But it does provide another interesting instance of a company sticking its toes in transmedia waters and getting viewers more prepared to look for this type of content.

The site includes a merchandise section and links to a variety of local Springfield Web sites. None of these are much to look at, but that reflects what most real small-town restaurants and organizations have for Web sites, so I find that pretty realistic. And, knowing some of the landmark places from the show, it's fascinating to flip around and actually look at artifacts from the fictional world.

There are a couple of things that would make the site more authentic, such as having some of these sites not exist as subaddresses for this address but rather at standalone URLs, and that wouldn't be that expensive to pull off. And it would also seem more realistic if there were several places depicted that viewers hadn't seen on the show, since GL can only show so much of life in Springfield.

But this site provides the skeleton of transmedia storytelling, much as Oakdale Confidential did earlier this indication that fans and viewers alike are amenable to this type of information, once it becomes monetized and once more and more viewers gain broadband Internet access and interest in pursuing the story outside of the daily one-hour show.

The key to monetizing it may be to solicit real advertisements for the site, even developing local ties for some of them. What about a local IHOP or Home Depot or Best Buy running a banner ad? There are a variety of ways to make this exist in the fictional realm of Springfield while also making it a profitable enterprise to expand the reach of its narrative. The site currently features ads from Oil of Olay and Cover Girl, but neither are particularly worked into the site in any way or make any acknowledgment of the Springfield market and, of course, are not the type of ads you would expect to find on a local site like that, anyway, especially without any particular reference to a Springfield area mall or something of the sort. Both Olay and Cover Girl are Procter & Gamble brands.

This would require, for soaps, deeper thinking about the structure of the town and a true organization of what Springfield or Oakdale or Genoa City really looks like, culling the collective memory of fans and writers to think of the various landmarks and where they would be in relations to each other, etc. But investing more energy in a project like this also creates another site to increase the fans' immersion in the narrative in meaningful ways.

September 26, 2006

Guiding Light Podcast Getting Ink This Week

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.

September 24, 2006

Soap Opera/Comic Superhero Crossover?!?

Here's a project that crosses over into two great interests of mine but whose success I'm still not quite sure of...sort of like how two of my favorite foods are chocolate and pasta, but I'm not sure I want to put hot fudge on my penne anytime soon. It seems that the two company's approach, though, may just make this counter-intuitive crossover work.

Either way, I have to give the folks at Marvel Comics and Procter & Gamble Productions points for originality for the upcoming plan to incorporate the City of Springfield, the fictional home of the residents of the daytime drama series Guiding Light, into a storyline for the famed Avengers team of super heroes.

According to a Newsarama interview with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, the idea for this soap opera/comic book crossover came after folks from Marvel consulted with a designer from Guiding Light regarding a wedding gown for Storm of the X-Men. According to Quesada, Marvel's Sales VP David Gabriel "broached the idea with them about doing a bit of audience cross-pollination and they loved the idea."

I'm in the process of a small group study this semester with Henry Jenkins in which I am considering my own attraction to types of entertainment that have narrative universes that are large enough to become immersed in. I've found that my own interest in pro wrestling and soap operas come from this aspect of their narrative, that there is too much programming to ever be able to master, too much history to ever be able to know, and a wealth of former characters and storylines to draw off of.

My thesis project on soap operas, studying my longtime favorite and Guiding Light's sister show As the World Turns, can be explained by this, too. To know the history of the thousands of characters and the 50 years worth of storylines that have been on that show is impossible, but it leaves a wealth of potential stories to explore throughout the show's past.

Although I haven't regularly read comic books since I was in high school, I know that my love for the superhero universes can be explained in the same way, especially with Marvel, which has incorporated soap opera-style storytelling in the adventures of its heroes over the years.

The crossover seems an interesting one, as it seems the target demographic of soaps and comic books are drastically different. However, Quesada says that the Avengers-GL crossover "is just one more way that we're trying to reach out beyond our usual audience in an effort to expose those who don't know anything about the greatness of comics and hopefully come back with a few new converts."

In an age of niche targeted demographics for almost everything, that's a refreshing statement to read. With the way things are currently structured, almost every entertainment property has a surplus audience that most writers/producers/performers ignore. Because of the immersive natures of both story types, I can see a very compelling reason why soap opera fans would love comics if they were ever exposed to them in a way that interests them. Hopefully, the Marvel writers can present a compelling story that also stays true to the characters of the soap.

And I'll definitely have to say that the world of comics can fit the characters of GL in much better than the televised Springfield could handle the Avengers. This is one time in which transmedia storytelling would not play well, as soaps generally strive for realism, a realism that really would be ruined by having a team of superheroes invade the town "to determine if a new super-powered character will be a friend or fiend."

Conversely, the folks at GL may be hoping to introduce a few of their characters strongly in the comic series and convince a few people to give their daytime show a chance.

But the Avengers should just consider themselves lucky that they didn't come to Springfield during the Roger Thorpe era, or they would have a power on their hands not even a super hero could control!

Thanks to Geoffrey Long for pointing me to this story.

September 1, 2006

All My Children to Debut Video Podcast

News has broken that All My Children will become the second daytime soap opera to offer content through Apple iTunes.

According to Linda Marshall-Smith with Soapdom, the press release sent out by ABC and AMC stated that the content, which will be made available both on iTunes and, will consist of a weekly video podcast that will backstage footage, focusing on particular actors or storylines each week.

Marshall-Smith reports that the feature will be available for free and quotes Executive Producer Julie Hanan Carruthers as saying "the video podcast will provide an enhanced fan experience, allowing our loyal viewers to become equally as intimate with the actors as they have already become with the characters they play."

The first soap opera to launch into iTunes, the 30-minute soap opera Passions, is making every episode available through iTunes, as opposed to this ancillary content from All My Children.

In a similar vein, I have written in the past about the podcasts available for Procter & Gamble Productions shows which play audio-only versions of each episode for those who may have missed or not be able to watch As the World Turns or Guiding Light, the InTurn show airing on CBS innertube associated with As the World Turns in which aspiring actors compete in a reality show to get a 13-week contract on the soap, the Procter & Gamble channel on AOL Video, and various other online experiments for soap operas.

With the focus of the AMC video podcasts apparently to promote the show by developing a stronger connection between fans and actors, it will be interesting to see how popular the content is with viewers of the soap. Would anyone watch this content who were not fans of the show? And would fans of the show feel compelled to watch this online content that does not relate to the storyworld of the show but rather how the show is put together?

August 16, 2006

Procter & Gamble Launches Classic Soaps Channel

After what has felt like years of silence on the part of Procter & Gamble Productions for providing some of its content for redistribution to American audiences, news has broken recently that PGP will be launching its own Classic Soaps Channel through the new AOL Video player.

PGP is the original broadcaster of soaps, with its two extant shows having been on the air more than 50 years apiece, and several other shows in its archives. This new channel of content will not only air original content that will supplement their current shows As the World Turns and Guiding Light but will also start re-airing episodes of popular but now-defunct soaps such as Search for Tomorrow, Another World, The Edge of Night, and Texas, the Another World spinoff.

At this point, details remain sketchy, as the same paragraph of information is all that can be found from place to place, informing viewers that the company that put the "soap" in soap operas will be launching this new channel. Fans of both old and current PGP shows are eagerly awaiting to see what content the shows will air.

It seems pretty straightforward what the content will be regarding the old shows, as it will be straight distribution, but what will be offered for ATWT and GL. What type of original content might be made available? And, if they will offer original content for these "contemporary classics," will they be offering shows from the vault as well? My thesis reserach about applying convergence culture to the soap opera industry looks, in part, specifically at how best to utilize the immense archive that these shows have.

A platform like the Classic Soaps Channel would be a great way to provide a series of episodes to give historical context about current events happening on the show, for instance, or compliation collections of histories of current or returning characters. PGP could also attempt to recapture former fans who have moved on from ATWT and GL through this platform, by attracting them to rewatch the shows they watched 10 or 20 years ago.

A good model may be WWE 24/7, which charges a subscription fee airing old content through video-on-demand services from cable television providers. Many people who are not fans of the current content are interested in this platform because they can watch their favorite matches and storylines from years past.

What particularly intrigues me about 24/7 is the ability that it gives viewers to follow an old run of the show from episode-to-episode, making a new episode available at regular intervals so that you can follow the history of the show just as if you were watching current episodes. Soaps could do the same thing, but it does require substantial digitization of the archive.

At this point, it's not clear how far developed that digitization process is for PGP or what they have planned for ATWT or GL, but this new platform, if promoted and used right, could serve to bring in new or returning viewers by utilizing soaps' strongest power: their own histories. If that historical content is used in strong correlation with the current programming on CBS, it might serve to transfer those nostalgic fans to watching the current show as well.

And, if all else fails or if the media landscape shifts drastically in the next decade, the AOL Video platform shows potential promise for new distribution formats to help keep the daytime serial drama alive and vibrant, as I focused on earlier today.

Passions ready to Launch on iTunes

Scores of new programs are launching on iTunes' video feature on a weekly basis, but the latest is the first of the daytime serial dramas to announce their iTunes availability.

Passions, the youngest of the nine current daytime soap operas, will now be available on iTunes on a daily basis. The barriers for soaps to enter iTunes are a little bit larger than primetime shows, considering the daily episodes, the lack of emphasis in most networks on daytime programming as opposed to primetime lineups, and other industry factors.

It may not come as that big of a surprise that the youngest soap would be the first to launch onto iTunes, although PGP already podcasts their soaps, and many shows make their lineup available on cable network SoapNet for evening or weekend viewing.

NBC's Passions is a little more accessible for iTunes because of its being an attractive soap for teenagers.

I've written a couple of times in the past about how Passions, which is somewhat of a parody soap, has been pretty innovative with its pop culture references across multiple television genres. For instance, the show has aired part of an episode in animated form and an entire Bollywood episode.

Of course, the show is a little bit more amenable to these types of experimental content considering the over-the-top nature of the show. But maybe, if Passions has some success on iTunes, other shows will follow suit. People already regularly BitTorrent soaps and post clips on YouTube, and some soaps have had some success in the past airing pay-for-streaming episodes, such as was once available through the no-longer-existing SoapCity.

And, while many--from the creative folks behind soaps to the industry to the fans themselves--are talking about the future of soaps and what might happen next, as I've written about previously with NBC's Days of Our Lives, digital distribution may eventually offer a viable alternative for these shows, if there can ever be enough online advertising revenue or subscription rates to help guarantee the costs needed to fun those large ensemble casts.

As referenced in that post, executives had told soap producers that, if their current contracts were not renewed with the network, they should consider alternative forms of distrubution instead of letting these shows with such storied histories die away. By looking back at that issue, which I wrote about last December, and then seeing Passions launch into iTunes, it seems that this cross-platform distribution may be a good way for soaps to prepare for the future, in case the networks ever decide to pull their dedication to the serial drama form and instead launch a whole other round of daytime reality shows or talk shows.

August 6, 2006

As the World Turns InTurn

Procter & Gamble Productions' As the World Turns, the show that earlier this year launched a podcast and its own transmedia novel, Oakdale Confidential, is now the focus of an online reality show called InTurn. The show is a reality show with several potential actors vying for a spot on the screen in fictional Oakdale, Ill.

Now already on its tenth episode, the show brings eight young actors to New York City to live together and compete for a spot on the show in a 13-week role, with veterans from As the World Turns acting as judges of their acting ability. The episdoes are only about five minutes or so in length and are distributed through CBS's innertube platform for digital video distribution. There will be a total of 24 shows for the InTurn season.

ATWT stars like Scott Holmes (he's still around) and Colleen Zenk Pinter, who made the creative Tyson commercials, from the main cast will act as judges and mentors.

Accoridng to a story from American Entertainment's TheWebNewsRoom, the current set of eight actors will be narrowed down to three, all of whom will get ATWT screen time, with viewers able to decide which one will make it as the show's newest cast member.

The show's site also includes a blog from the producer.

Fans seem divided by this, some who like seeing a different aspect of how ATWT is produced and what it's like to be an actor. These people also seem to believe it's a pretty good way to offer relevant transmedia content that doesn't overlap with what's being done on the show and also that it's a good marketing tool to reach out to people who may not be that interested in ATWT but who would love reality television like what InTurn offers.

The other camp is angry that time and energy is being wasted on a reality show when it could be used instead to invest further in the fictional world of Oakdale. These people may not have necessarily been opposed to the book released earlier this year or other projects that remain inside the fictional world but see these types of programs as being irrelevant to the show.

Either way, InTurn is another innovative effort from PGP. If the show develops a following, one has to wonder whether that following will come along with the actor who wins once he or she becomes part of the ATWT cast.

July 25, 2006

Shrinking Distance from Producer to Consumer

This entry builds on some of the themes written about in yesterday's post about using the Internet as a means of discussion between content providers and fans.

David Edery, who helps manage the Convergence Culture Consortium, alerted me to an editorial on the BBC News Web site regarding the blogosphere and the new levels of interaction between producer and consumer that got me thinking about my own research initiatives regarding the entertainment industry.

In this particular commentary, journalist Daniel Pearl is writing about the relationship between journalists and their readers. In the past few weeks, I've written about how journalism storytelling has been affected by changes in increased transmedia content with instantaneous updates, increased diversity of communication platforms for exchange between news operations and their readers/viewers, and further debate about convergence and the essential characteristics of each medium and how journalists in each discipline can best be trained. This commentary brings up another essential part of the impact convergence culture has on journalism, though--reader/viewer response.

Continue reading "Shrinking Distance from Producer to Consumer" »

July 7, 2006

Fans Debate How They Should React to Actor's Death

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the death of As the World Turns star Benjamin Hendrickson and how, in the lack of initial coverage from most mainstream media, the fan community spread news about the particulars of his death virally and posted tributes to him in various places, including YouTube.

Since then, shows such as The Insider and publications like The New York Post have covered Hendrickson's death, but the fans are still providing each other with important details and, as a group, trying to come to terms with the death of someone who they have watched perform consistently for the past two decades. What spurned much of the discussion was a claim made in the Post article and subsequently picked up by FOX News and others that, since the episodes currently airing feature his character Hal Munson at his daughter's bedside as she dies of complications from viral pneumonia, his depression about the death of his mother a few years ago was worsened by the material from the show and that it drove him further into depression.

Fans immediately saw the lack of logic in this claim, since the show is taped a month in advance or more. These fans have rightfully criticized these unsubstantiated claim from the magazine. Further, on the Media Domain board, a popular poster revealed that, during his year sabbatical from the show, Hendrickson had to have all of his teeth replaced by implants and learn to speak properly again. When he returned to the show, many of the fans noticed his slurred speech patterns and often questioned or commented on Hendrickson's health and the reason for his trouble speaking. According to this poster--MaryHatch--a close relative of Hendrickson's had said that his preoccupation with his appearance and speech helped drive his depression, not the content on the show, especially when Hendrickson found that some fans were speculating about his health and appearance online.

While the message boards at Media Domain are usually used to debate the show, over half of the debate has instead been regarding Ben's suicide and its repercussions. Since the show isn't recasting, how will his character leave the show? Will he be killed in the line of duty or perhaps will they depict his death from depression over his daughter's death, closely related to part of the reason the actor's death has been attributed to? And the fans are questioning their own implications in the actor's depression, especially since criticizing performances and even actors' appearances is a regular part of the discussion in online fan communities. Should fans feel guilty?

The rest of the online posts have been dedicated to online tributes to Hendrickson. Fans are organizing petitions to Procter & Gamble Productions to ask that an entire episode be dedicated to the Hal Munson character. Fans on the official PGP Soap Box fan message board are posting on a thread that will be sent directly to the family of Ben Hendrickson. And, off Newsday, fans are posting to a Legacy online guest book for Hendrickson. At this point, almost 600 fans have already posted their condolences from most of the 50 states and the Canadian provinces, as well as the Netherlands and elsewhere.

I've posted before about the power that these online guestbooks have given fans to demonstrate their dedication and concern for an actor. These new outlets give fans a way to organize and discuss their grief. Since this is an actor whose character they have grown close to over the years, how much of a right do they have to grieve? Is it considered obsessive fan behavior to be overly upset about Hendrickson's death? Is it okay to cry? Is it okay to send flowers? These online forums give fans a way to legitimately express their sympathies without seeming to overstep the boundaries of their relationship with the actor. And online fan communities give fans a way to organize, debate, and process their feelings about this tragedy collectively.

July 5, 2006

Soap World Shocked By Actor's Death

Soap fans were shocked when news began to break last night and became official this morning that daytime television veteran Benjamin Hendrickson, 55, had passed away over the weekend. Hendrickson, who trained at Julliard and won an Emmy for his portrayal of Hal Munson on As the World Turns, has been in the role since 1985, aside from a few brief hiatuses along the way. The cause of death has not been reported, although Hendrickson was rumored to have had health troubles for some time.

However, because many major entertainment outlets rarely report on or are at least slow to report on events that happen in daytime television, the news spread instead through the soap world, primarily via the fan community. Soap Opera Digest broke the story earlier this afternoon. A few minutes later, fans on the Media Domain message board reacted to the news. Someone had posted a rumor of Hendrickson's death the night before but it had been dismissed on the message boards as "a sick rumor" when no further information was made available.

Around the same time, fans on the official Web site of Procter & Gamble Productions, The Soap Box, posted their response to the news within the hour. Minutes later, a representative of the company issued an official release on the fan board. In the past couple of hours, fan response has filled threads at both message boards, as well as others. At this point, the fan community can do no more than address their disbelief, since he is currently playing a central role in scenes where his on-screen daughter is dying of complications from viral pneumonia. (As an ATWT fan and a Ben Hendrickson fan, I am still in shock myself.) By watching a performer play a character several times a week over decades, an even closer character identification often develops than in primetime shows, especially since soap operas are particularly about character and character relationships.

The show tapes several weeks ahead, and Hendrickson's final air date will be next Wednesday. Hendrickson has had various personal issues and rumored health problems that have taken him from the show in the past, including a year's hiatus in which Randolph Mantooth filled the role. While fans accepted Mantooth in the role as a replacement, Hendrickson was soon welcomed back to the show and received a central supporting role upon his return. The reaction to Mantooth's performance demonstrated how fans often feel about recasts of roles portrayed for such a long time by one portrayer in the soaps world. Recasting is accepted in daytime, but it is less accepted the longer an actor has been in the role. The response to bringing Hendrickson back, even though he was not a young or starring performer by that point, shows the powerful relationships actors develop with fans while portraying a role over decades.

The role of Hal Munson is not planned to be recast this time around, according to a statement from PGP. It's not yet clear how his death will be handled on the show.

In the past two hours, soap Web sites have picked up more information based on PGP press releases and more mainstream news sources are beginning to react as well. However, since mainstream news sources often pay little attention to what happens in the world of daytime television (as I've written about before) daytime fans had to spread the word themselves after it was broke by SOD. As of this posting, neither CBS's main page or even its daytime page had acknowledged the actor's passing.

Hendrickson's performance has an important place in ATWT's 50-year history, as he was among a group of 10 or so performers on that show to have lasted in a role for about 20 years or more and remained an integral part of the show. And, whether the mainstream media take note of his importance or not, the fan community and the soap opera press are mourning the loss of one of the genre's most talented veterans.

June 26, 2006

Could They?? Fans Reacting Passionately to Murder Rumor on Soap

A couple of years ago, Days of Our Lives got a lot of people's attention by killing off many members of its main cast, later revealing that these veterans had not died but rather had been sent to a deserted island.

That kind of camp may work on a show like DAYS, but it is not what viewers expect from As the World Turns, the long-running CBS soap I follow closely and have blogged about here several times.

Rumors are circulating quite heavily that Summer 2006 will feature a serial killer storyline, and now word is circulating that the story will lead to the demise of a couple of minor and a couple of major characters on the show. Word has begun to circulate in the online community that TV Guide and Soap Opera Digest are breaking news about the serial killer storyline, although no conclusive word has come out about cast members ending their contract so far, indicating that either word is being suppressed about who is leaving the show for as long as possible or that the characters planned to be killed are not played by contracted stars, making it much harder for word to break out (or, a third option, that fans are taking several unrelated news bits and combining them into something blown out of proportion).

Recently, the show killed off newcomer character Nick Kasnoff, who was murdered in self-defense, and is set to kill off Jennifer Munson, a longtime 20-something character on the show, next week to a bout of viral pneumonia.

Fans were upset about Jennifer's death, as she's been a major featured character on the show for a while, but that pales to the reaction that fans have given over the past day or two on the ATWT Media Domain message board about rumors of the death of character Tom Hughes.

Rumors had been circulating that a veteran on the show was unhappy with their contract, and the star who plays Tom's wife Margo--Ellen Dolan--has also voiced her displeasure with ATWT in a letter written to the fan community that I blogged about a couple of months ago. With news that a beloved character was leaving the show and that Tom was going to be attacked breaking out, longtime fans are angered and feel that portrayer Scott Holmes must be fed up with never getting a storyline. While some fans don't particularly care about the character and others feel that Tom's role has been diminished to the point that his leaving wouldn't be that big of a deal, many fans feel such a move would be a slap in the face of the show's history.

Continue reading "Could They?? Fans Reacting Passionately to Murder Rumor on Soap" »

June 22, 2006

Online Newspaper for DC Comics Series

Within the comic book medium, both DC and Marvel have proven their expertise in stretching narratives across various comic series. Occasionally, a storyline or a catastrophe is so great that it encompasses all of the fictional universes of a certain comic company, so that all characters and all monthly comic series are affected by a current event. And, for readers to get the full story, they would have to buy all the comic books that company produces in that time span, even if they are regular collectors of many of those series.

However, comic books have often used crossing media platforms simply for adaptation instead of transmedia storytelling (the difference being that transmedia requires each story to build on the other rather than simply telling the same essential story in multiple media forms). Comics have branched into film, cartoons, video games, and various other venues, but have often not utilized the storytelling potential this transmedia empire allows.

A new initiative from DC Comics proves what transmedia storytelling within the superhero genre is capable of, however. DC has launched an intriguing new comic series called 52, a weekly series produced by four of DC's best writers. The series focuses on what happened in the DC Universe that week, including the aftermath of many of the events that happen in the other comic series.

The storytelling extends to an online project, a digital version of The Daily Planet, the newspaper of fictional Metropolis. This daily newspaper mimics news sites in providing stock trackers, online ads, and other features, all utilizing companies that are part of the DC Universe. And there are several options, including a variety of news stories, updated on a regular basis.

The idea of providing a digital newspaper to cover the events happening in a fictional universe, especially as one as outlandish as the comic book genre, is a project that could extend to almost any transmedia storytelling format as an easy way to provide additional and meaningful content. For any fictional universe that is big enough to provide enough material for constant news updates, this type of project seems not only feasible but as providing meaningful extensions for fans.

This would be a more difficult fit for weekly series to pull off, but other daily series could do this as well because their fictional universe is updated often enough to make this type of product valuable. The areas I follow--such as soap operas and pro wrestling--are other potential extensions for this type of product. The WWE already has as an online newspaper of sorts in its main Web site, complemented by its magazine, which provides news on a regular basis about the WWE universe, often blending fiction and reality. WWE on-air commentator Michael Cole--a former news correspondent--has been named editor of the online news content and is working to give it a more authentic, news-oriented feel.

However, soaps have not yet branched into this area, although it's a natural extension. Most shows already have their newspaper as part of the fictional universe, so that Oakdale's City Times or The Intruder could easily become an online daily extension for As the World Turns, with AP-style reports on events that happen in Oakdale, on the show. Sure, Jack and Carly's divorce wouldn't be in the news, but it would be a fascinating way to provide background for the show and cover shocking events--murders and the like--when they happen.

I, for one, hope that the entertainment world takes notice of The Daily Planet and that the site is given enough meaningful content to realize its potential.

Thanks to Dr. Henry Jenkins for passing this along.

June 14, 2006

Disney and Gated Channels: Exploring the Future of Online Distribution

A post by Rafat on paidContent has brought my attention to a TelevisionWeek piece about Disney's new digital distribution efforts through the Disney Channel Network, as well as its SOAPnet channel--a project I'm particularly interested in.

The company has adopted two simultaneous revenue streams, by receiving paid advertising content from a broader online site available to everyone in some projects, while only allowing other services to be accessed through what Daisy Whitney in the TV Week piece refers to as "gated" channels. For instance, the second approach is embodied by SoapNet's project called SoapNetic, offering content only to those who Verizon high-speed internet customers who pay to see it. But, companies should be careful by locking up content in gates that some people cannot access it even if they were willing to pay to...

According to Disney's strategy, this approach strengthens the relationship between Verizon and SOAPnet and encourages fans of SOAPnet to use Verizon to gain access to SoapNetic, while Disney gains fees from Verizon for offering this exclusive content.

The company is celebrating this two-pronged approach, offering both content exclusive to gated channels while also offering shows that are available for download by all. Experts quoted in the story indicate that this proves that the right idea is still up in the air and that Disney is trying to diversify by launching several different approaches simultaneously.

For SoapNetic, launching content in online forms helps it overcome the fact that the channel is not yet available in many cable markets. Daisy Whitney says that SOAPnet has been "among the vanguard of networks offering shows online." The SoapNetic site will include content not available anywhere else.

I'm interested in seeing which of Disney's dual approaches seems to gain the most legs. The problem with the "gated" approach appears to be the company-specific restrictions that causes many problems of platform. If, as a fan of soap opera and pro wrestling and classic country music (using me as an example, you see), soap opera content is available to me exclusively on Verizon, wrestling exclusively on RCN, and country exclusively on BellSouth, then I'm going to be extremely upset as a fan that I'm blocked from being able to enjoy the content I want to see the most because it's locked up in such company-specific deals. Of course, these deals mentioned above are hypothetical, but--while staying in Kentucky--I can't see the SoapNetic content if I wanted to, since Verizon Internet service is not offered here.

I would much rather see companies taking the approach of charging subscription prices or pay-per-view webcasts to get content directly from their site, such as WWE does with its content. Of course, with network neutrality itself hanging in the balance, more and more of these "gated" channel distribution deals may be in our future. But I think companies, including Disney, should think more about what they may be costing themselves with "gated" deals in alienating fans and shutting them off from content they love.

In the media world, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Considering the great number of choices out there, absence usually makes you forgotten.

Thanks to C3's David Edery for pointing me toward this development.

June 10, 2006

The Reach of the Telenovela--My Network TV

2006 appears more and more to be the Year of the Telenovela in America, as network executives have already turned their eye toward the power of telenovelas and soap operas to garner a continued audience. The American soap industry has had a fall from grace and dwindling ratings due to the increase of so many new programming choices over the past 20 years, but few--if any--types of programming are better at garnering continued viewing from its ardent fan base. And few programs are more ripe for timeshifting of various sorts. After all, a whole cable channel--SOAPnet--is currently being powered by providing nighttime viewing of daytime soaps, and many of today's soap viewers--for instance, me--are timeshifting soaps using digital recorders because they are working during the time they officially air.

Telenovelas are an interesting branch from the soap opera, as short-term soaps that examine one particular storyline with a smaller cast and then end when that storyline is over.

News came out earlier this week that Lifetime has ordered a 20-episode run of the telenovela Bianca, based on a popular German program that had the same name.

This comes on the heels of the development of a sixth broadcast network called My Network TV, owned by Rupert Murdoch. The network, which is planning to pick up many of the stations that are losing network affiliation in the fall with the merger of UPN and The WB into the CW Network, will be powered, at least initially, on soap operas and telenovelas.

The network launched from several FOX-owned UPN affiliates who were losing their network and has expanded into various other major markets already; New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Antonio and many others. Overall, the network already has 150 affiliates or more at this point.

Right now, programming will focus on only two shows, airing 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. EST, but the two soaps will air six days a week. The stations will fill up the rest of the day with syndicated programming. Both soaps will be telenovelas, named Desire and Secret Obsessions. After 13 weeks, each soap will begin a new story unrelated to the prior focus. Therefore, the overall program is just a blanket name for the telenovela series, while each 13-week show will have its own title.

While my home city of Boston has yet to find an affiliate, FOX is going to carry the network from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. so that Bostonians do not miss out on Desire and Secret Obsessions. (Thanks to the Wikipedia page for providing some of that information.)

How powerful will the telenovela form be? Because of its 13-week structure, the shows may be able to garner a powerful audience during each 13-week run. However, unlike American daytime soap operas, the storylines from one 13-week arc to the next will be unrelated. Will Desire and Secret Obsessions carry any long-term vitality without that ability to depict the lives of characters on a daily basis over a number of years?

My Network TV seems to be banking on it.

June 1, 2006

Bringing in New Audiences

A recent thread on the Dreamcaps Forums website is following the Luke Snyder gay coming out storyline from As the World Turns.

While the thread was started and maintained by a few ATWT fans who are also members of the gay community, following the message board's reaction to the show over several weeks shows how the storyline was able to draw non-fans in. Some of them mention that they don't watch the whole show but only the Luke scenes, but they are beginning to get familiar with much of the cast, as Luke interacts with 10 or so other characters on a regular basis.

The thread is a demonstration of how fan communities within a niche audience can begin to proselytize and recruit other members of their social group to watch the show as well. First of all, members of the online gay community may have never become aware of the ATWT storyline if they were not already fans of the show without the active posting of some fans of the show. Further, their continued updated discussions of the show, made friendly for newcomers, has brought several regular posters on the Dreamcaps site to become regular viewers of ATWT as well.

The discussion about the Luke storyline starts morphing into a dicussion of the distinctive elements of the soap opera genre and its emphasis on dialogue and slow-moving action paced out over several days with multiple storylines juggled simultaneously. Posters begin encourgaging each other to not just watch the Luke storyline but also check out other current stories as well. And the thread has now gone to 17 pages over the past few months as people continuously follow ATWT.

A great example of the power of the fan community, particularly when a show taps into a niche "surplus" audience that is not its primary demographic, which is women 18-49.

As I mentioned in post back in February, the Luke Snyder character also has his own blog, as the show attempts to extend into multiple storytelling platforms.

Thanks to Alex Chisholm with Interpublic for passing this along.

April 13, 2006

As the World Turns Novel a Success

For those of you who saw my previous post about Oakdale Confidential, here is a brief update now that the novel is out. During my recent travels, I've had a chance to read it, and I've even weighed in on the book myself on some of the soap opera message boards.

Oakdale Confidential is standard fare as a quick-read murder mystery, but the way it has been woven into the plot of the show makes it a more valuable purchase for ATWT viewers. On television, then novel is treated as a fictional story that nevertheless reveals some secrets about people in town--and people that are not exactly public figures. So the book and the identity of its author has become an Oakdale town scandal.

The mystery on the show is who wrote the book, and everyone is walking around with their copies, while viewers are also able to buy the book and read it, not just to enjoy for the sake of the story in the novel--which could be readable for a non-ATWT fan but likely not nearly as enjoyable--but even more so because the book gives you clues about who wrote the book and gives you the chance to directly own and consume an artifact from the story world.

What makes the book most intriguing is that viewers are looking through the text and examining shows carefully to get clues as to who authored it. There are several factual discrepancies in the book from what we have actually seen on screen that are illuminating for close watchers of ATWT, and my thoughts on the message board look into those parts of the text that stray from the "truth" we've seen on the screen in detail to get a better sense of who might be the author and why they may have either gotten facts wrong or deliberately chosen to omit certain things in their rendering of the story.

From a transmedia storytelling standpoint, the attempt has been a great success. Oakdale Confidential is currently ranked the #7 book on Amazon, up from #10 two days ago but down from #5 yesterday (the numbers are updated hourly). Message boards have come alive with debates about who wrote the book, and we have yet to see if Nielsen numbers reflect a surge in viewership based on part-time fans having an interest in the book or even new readers becoming interested in the show through picking the book up (and, if the Nielsen numbers don't reflect a major difference, is this really an indicator that it isn't happening?)

While the experiment shows how much more coordination is needed between the real author of the book and the television writing team to really exploit all the possibilities of taking the story from one medium to the other, the one thing that Oakdale Confidential has demonstrated quite powerfully is that such an attempt at transmedia storytelling is becoming more and more profitable and that viewers are eager to join into a deep transmedia experience. I am hoping that the experiment not only shows the people at ATWT that this was a good idea but also what to do better the next time around.

March 21, 2006

Talk Shows and Soap Operas Make You Stupid? Or Do They Just Indicate That You Are Losing Your Cognitive Abilities?

For those of you who follow my posts here on the C3 site regarding soap opera, and for those of you who care about the way television is viewed in general, you'll love this gem that was published yesterday evening in a story by Amy Norton on Reuters about an upcoming study to be published in the Southern Medical Journal.

A test proves that watching talk shows and soap operas is somehow tied to "poorer mental scores" in the elderly. Although a causal relationship can not yet be identified, the test indicates that those elderly people who chose "talk shows and soap operas" as their favorite programs tended to have lower cognative abilities than those who chose news programs, for instance.

I don't even think I have to respond for you to know what I think, but I wonder how "talk shows and soap operas" can be considered a category of television in the first place, or if a lot of other factors should be taken into consideration--for instance, as has happened with wrestling in the past, many viewers with a higher education level are less likely to admit their passion for genres like soap opera and talk shows (two separate genres, again, which the study does not distinguish between), even if they are, in actuality, one of their favorite shows.

Among my favorite quotes:

Dr. Fogel, who led the study, says that a preference for talk shows and soap operas "is a marker of something suspicious" in the health of patients and encourages doctors to ask elderly female patients about what might be their favorite TV shows as a way to indicate potential cognitive decline.

Considering, the constant switches, the intricate plots, and the sheer number of characters you have to keep up with, I have a hard time believing that mastering a soap opera can lead to cognitive decline. But I guess we should be happy that people have found such a great new use for television--as a way of proving a lack of brainpower depending on what people's favorite programs are.

Dr. Fogel hypothesizes that elderly people who are losing their thinking power watch soaps and talk shows because of the "parasocial relationships" that the shows encourage, so that people who can't think as clearly can revel in the emotional connection they feel with soap characters and talk shows and can thus pay attention, despite their diminished mental capabilities.

Fogel says that this doesn't mean these shows are bad for you but rather than they could signal "a possible problem."

But don't worry. Fogel finds that, while watching talk shows and soap operas might indicate diminished mental capacities, there might be some television programming out there that can benefit the intellect and help viewers manage stress.

Good. I was starting to get concerned that all our studies were for naught.

Thanks to Jenny on the As the World Turns Media Domain message board for posting the link to this story there.

March 13, 2006

Soap Actor Reaches Out to Daytime Fans to Lobby Together

People within almost any industry often debate the value of the online fan community and the fan clubs of a particular show. A few weeks ago, I posted an argument on the Procter & Gamble Productions message board between moderators with PGP and fans on the board regarding the importance of the hardcore fan base versus obtaining general viewer impressions.

One actress that seems to be convinced of the importance of the most ardent fans of a show is Ellen Dolan with As the World Turns. Last week, Ellen sent a letter to the ATWT Fan Club explaining her problems with the way the character had been written and female characters more broadly on the PGP soap over the past year or two. Ellen's letter was quickly posted on message boards dedicated to ATWT across the net and became the talk of the fan community this past week.

In her letter, instead of taking the line others have that active fans represent such a miniscule number (although a number that far outweighs the Nielsen's, eh?) that they don't matter, Dolan points to the prior successes of the fan club. She points out that Trent Dawson, who was one of the favorite recurring actors on ATWT, was given a contract after being cheered on at the last annual fan club gathering.

She also makes the case that her character was originally one of the few female detectives on daytime but her professional duties have been stripped from her character, in a trend she seems to find where daytime, while once progressive with putting women in the workforce, is actually scaling back now that primetime is offering up female detectives and business leaders.

"Do you remember when Margo was a strong, independent woman and not a sniveling,cat fighting, high school girl craving for a football hero?" she asks before further asking why longtime ATWT actor and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Tamara Tunie can't seem to get a story of her own and longtime character Lucinda Walsh, a powerful businesswoman in town, never gets any stories about her professional life on the show these days.

"The character is being dismantled. These characters are your characters and I think valuable to the show. I need your support. I need you to help save Margo Hughes! I need you to write and ask for Margo back. I have attached a list of names and addresses for you to write to. Tell them how you feel about this character. Please guys, 'cus I love Margo and I want to keep giving her to you. Not to mention that my kid is only six, I've got many years to go."

ATWT is one of the best written shows on daytime television, but it doesn't mean that Dolan hasn't found one of the points that online fans constantly bring up as their frustration with the soap's content--the lack of workplace stories. While the show's producers can't be happy that what would essentially be a backstage argument has disseminated throughout the fan message boards, the direct plea and the grassroots campaign Dolan is trying to begin shows some recognition of the most active fans having the most power and the most investment in the show.

And Ellen hits on a very powerful message regarding the moral economy surrounding the characters, the feeling on behalf of the fan community that they have ownership of the characters, when she says, "These characters are your characters" and implies a fan duty at protecting the quality of the show by doing their duty and writing in.

Following this situation and the response of PGP should provide an interesting window into where things stand with the company's view of the fan community.

February 20, 2006

Product Placement and Soaps

Back in December, I posted an entry about a discussion on product placement in soaps from Michael Gill's Media Domain Board for As the World Turns.

At the time, everyone who posted on the thread agreed that product placement would be more effective, more natural, and possibly the only way for soap operas to survive, longterm, and people began to debate particular issues about how product placement should be handled.

Fast-forward a few months, and the same board has had a small mini-discussion with a few close watchers of ATWT regarding a particular case of product placement this past week.

One of the characters, Margo Hughes, came in with a bag of groceries, filled with Procter & Gamble merchandise. Only a few astute viewers even picked up on the fact that the majority of the items in her grocery bag were P&G items, which is the company that produces ATWT. In this case, the script called for her to be unloading her groceries in particular, and the types of items inside were completely plausible for a trip to the grocery. The items were never referenced directly, but it just felt natural--especially compared to the "Brand X" products used too often in daytime television.

These characters in the Hughes family live in the same branded world we do, and that's the type of realism that product placement done correctly can bring.

Of course, a few fans chimed in who were almost completely anti-P&G products being in the show, saying they were sickened by it, etc., but this seems to be more anti-commercialism rhetoric than anything. The majority of the viewers indicated that they found it natural, noticed but didn't pay close attention and some felt it actually added to the show to have those real products used. And most of them, the loyal and active viewers who post on message boards, also saw supporting product placement as a way to support the show and its sponsors.

Alec's the product placement expert around here, though, so I would love to have him weigh in as well...

The Most Important Discussion in the Entertainment Industry?

A really interesting discussion has been taking place on the official Procter & Gamble Productions message board for Guiding Light, based on a comment made by a PGP moderator on the board on what the fans mean to the show in the overall business scheme, and where the online fan community stands in contrast to the Nielsen ratings. In many ways, I think it is a discussion that should be happening not on the boards of fan communities but in the offices of the sponsors behind these programs.

To give you a short recap. The moderator, Alina, stated that "a headwriter's job is to make the sponsors happy. They're the customers who pay the bills" and that "the only way to gauge fan happiness is ratings (message boards, magazine polls and Emmys are nice, but they mean nothing if the numbers aren't there)." Fans were upset by Alina's comments, believing that this process is backward and that making fans happy should in turn lead to maximum profit for sponsors, not the other way around. It's a case of someone wanting to shoot the messenger, though.

Alina responded by pointing out that "the 1000 or so people on this board are a tiny number compared to the overall audience, right?" She suggested that fans should "try to get as many people as you know to stop watching the show for, say, a week [ . . . ] and then see if it moves the Neilsen needle. That will give you an idea of the sort of numbers TPTB are looking at, versus what we on the boards are looking at."

Unfortunately, Alina has taken the brunt of fan anger on the board for the comments, but she is getting at the heart of what is happening in the entertainment industry. Alina is one of the people who "get it" the most in the entertainment industry and develops a lot of transmedia content for PGP. She was just stating the harsh reality of the way the industry works right now, for better or for worse.

Sure, it's unlikely that a significant number of the people posting on the boards are a large number of the 5,000 or so Nielsen households that exist at any one time. On the other hand, the question is how viable the Nielsen ratings are in an era when television viewing is splintered by so many choices. Sure, 5000 households may be a good indicator of what people are watching among three or four choices, but what happens when you have hundreds? The Nielsen's are still potentially viable, but can they really be the bible to base success by?

And are Internet message boards then not a viable measurement of a show's success? I guess it depends on what you're looking for. A message board of 1000 or so actual viewers is a bigger sample than 5000 Nielsen households, if everyone on the message boards are viewers of the show. And in the soap industry, fluctuations on a show and between shows are usually only by one or two tenths of one rating point, which would be caused by the change of a channel of a tiny number of Neilsen households.

The Nielsens are probably more flawed than the logic of some of the fans on these boards, but Alina has a good point--if it is what TPTB (sponsors and not creative forces in this case) accept, how do you change the logic that surrounds it?

If you accept that most involved fans are likely to plan their days around the shows and more likely to be more profitable for advertisers and, in the long run, more economic benefit comes from increasing the number of loyal viewers than there is creating a greater number of casual viewers on a particular day.

But Alina's point is important here...As long as the Nielsen's are accepted industry-wide as the guide to go by and as long as that is what sponsors are looking at, how do you change it? It is the sponsors that should see the value in expanding the data they look at beyond just Neilsen numbers.

Sure, a lot of the most vocal fans on the Internet aren't necessarily the best indicator. You can't write too much for an online audience who is likely to complain no matter what happens, and a lot of them will say they'll quit watching but hardly ever mean it, becuase their involvement with the show is so deep there is great opportunity cost in their minds to quit watching it considering how much time they've invested in the show over the years. On the other hand, it's important to keep the most loyal fans the most happy because they tend to be your cheerleaders, and word-of-mouth is still the best way to grow your audience.

The PGP Boards are a great example of fans and representatives of the company getting together and not discussing the company line but rather having a conversation, as a group of individuals. Sure, these discussions are not smooth, but the issues aren't really smooth, either, when there's so many transitions taking place so rapidly in the media industry.

February 6, 2006

Luke Snyder's Blog

The soap opera As the World Turns has begun a new story arc over the past several weeks. The son of one of the prominent longtime couples on the show, Holden and Lily Snyder, is gay, and he doesn't want to tell his parents. The son--Luke Snyder--is in high school and communicates his problems over the Internet on a blog, although he does not openly admit in the blog that he is gay but rather that he has secrets that he doesn't want his parents to find out.

The blog became part of the story when Luke's father learned about it and snuck onto his laptop while he was gone one day and stumbled upon the main page of Luke's blog. He then confronted his son about it, and privacy issues became an issue, as Luke did not expect his father to ever read the blog. (Holden doesn't seem to be that much of a whiz with computers.)

The same day the episode ran first mentioning the blog, a new blogger joined same Luke Snyder, who has been updating his blog every day, corresponding with some of the events happening on ATWT. The blog makes no overt reference to ATWT, and the only direct connection is that a moderator on the official Procter & Gamble Productions message board included a link to the blog in one of her messages.

So far, the blog has attracted comments from people who do not realize that Luke Snyder is a fictional character and who are reacting to his troubles. ATWT fans have found the page and have joined in on the fun as well. Now, someone is blogging as one of Luke's friends from school, and several people have assumed the identities of characters no longer on the show but who are related to Luke--Luke's biological grandmother, Luke's uncle who was a child the last time he was on the show years ago, and several other characters from ATWT, many of whom have been gone from the show for years.

Sure, there are some people who feel really sly making reference to the writers of the show or something to destroy the suspension of disbelief, but the blog is an interesting way in seeing how integrated storytelling could potentially unfold for a daily drama like any of the daytime soaps.

Would it be permissible for someone to police the blog and eliminate any references that destroy the fictionality of it? I am not really one for censorship actions, but it seems that it might make all the difference to allow this to be a space for fans to roleplay as characters they have invented that fit into Oakdale or as former characters who might read the blog.

And, again, what are the implications on transmedia storytelling with a project like this? Right now, the blog is completely ancillary--But how easy would it be to have Holden stumble onto the blog but not say anything about what it said--so that viewers would be really curious and potentially seek out further information, only available in this form?

This relates to my previous post on Oakdale Confidential, as well as past posts on As the World Turns.

What is Oakdale Confidential?

As the World Turns is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary--What can one of the longest-running shows on television do to celebrate its rich history? There is always a struggle between ratings and "doing the right thing" when it comes to anniversary shows like this...Long-time fans want to see a lot of old clips celebrating ATWT's history, while TV executives are worried about retaining newer viewers and not losing ratings on an overblown tribute to the past.

So far, ATWT head writer Jean Passanante has made it clear she wants to do more than one stand-alone episode, and two such episodes are planned--one that will be a parody or fantasy celebration of the show, while the other will include a lot of old clips, etc. There will likely be some storylines running during the spring that also feature the veteran actors a little more than usual as well.

Most interesting of all, though, is plans for Oakdale Confidential, a novel that is planned for release the week of ATWT's 50th anniversary. Apparently, the novel is going to be worked into the narrative of the show in some way.

Fans are already trying to figure out what the book might be. One of the characters on ATWT, Emily Stewart, run a tabloid-style magazine. Could the book be a novel released by her giving the dirt on all of the residents of Oakdale? Or could the character Emma Snyder, who long-term fans remember dabbling in fiction writing several years ago, release a book of some sort? Or could it be a character not even on the current canvas writing a tell-all about some of the more prominent residents of the town?

Whatever the case--this is another step in the right direction, if done well. How can a novel become a piece of transmedia? If done well, the television plot will in some way hinge on the contents of the book, so that the television show promotes the book but also requires viewers to read the book to understand the full implications of the impact the book has on the residents of Oakdale.

The show has been very tight-lipped about what Oakdale Confidential is, and Amazon's page on the book has next to no information about the contents...Which makes all of the fans all the more determined to find out what's going on. There's great potential here for an interesting experiment in transmedia storytelling.

Genre-Crossing and Pop Cosmopolitanism? Passions and Bollywood

Recently, the NBC soap Passions had a sequence that was done in Bollywood style. Passions is known as the fantasy soap, a show that is self-referential, a parody of sorts of some of soap opera's conventions, and the most popular soap amongst younger viewers, particularly teenagers. It revels in its excess, but it can hardly be lumped in the same boat as some of the cheesy-but-don't-openly-know-it soaps and more serious and well-acted soaps, like As the World Turns. (Is my bias showing again?)

I found the show to be a good example of what our fearless leader Henry Jenkins calls pop cosmopolitanism--(the link will take you to a splendid audio interview with Henry on Forbes about the concept). Basically, people are learning more about the world and being "cosmopolitans" today through popular culture--And what better example than a Bollywood-influenced sequence making its way into an American soap opera?

Bollywood and Passions is a perfect fit--They are both campy, celebratory of excess, and require the viewer to lower their expectations of realism. And, not surprisingly, the episode was a major success in that it garnered a lot of press for the show and a lot of feedback from the audience. NBC's daytime site has even devoted a section particularly about the Bollywood sequence. You can watch the Bollywood sequence, read reaction, backstage interviews, view photographs, etc.

Some of you all may remember a post I made a couple of months ago about a Passions episode that featured an animation sequence as well. At the time, I mentioned that the show is a great example of genre-mixing being very successful as well. By incorporating an international influence in this latest experiment, Passions is showing not only the value of mixing genres but also by mixing cultures in new and innovative ways.

If some of you all have the time, check out the Passions Bollywood site and let me know what you think...

January 19, 2006

Podcasting begins for As the World Turns

For those of you who follow this blog even semi-regularly, you've probably caught a lot of my posts on the world of soap opera. In fact, my thesis here at MIT involves the soap opera industry's adaptation to new ways to communicate with their fan communities and instances of transmedia storytelling.

With that in mind, the soap opera I am a fan of, As the World Turns, officially began podcasting this past week, with the podcasts available for download to MP3 players. The podcast is the dialogue from the show without music or background noise and with an audio narrator to transition scenes.

The show began the service on Monday. Its Procter & Gamble Productions sister show, Guiding Light, has been offering podcasts for a few weeks now and are now including daily commentary from various actors on the show, as well as features on certain characters on certain days.

This is all a part of the CBS Netcast initiative. The network even provides an Internet-only talk show about soaps called CBS Soapbox.

It's a little too early to know where this is going, but the trend is an exciting one to help transition one of television's oldest genres into the 21st Century.

December 29, 2005

Mainstream Tastes Limit Transmedia Opportunities

Reading through the year-end double issue of Entertainment Weekly, I began to think about the limits that mainstream coverage of the entertainment industry put on success in the industry. As you know, my main areas of interest are soap opera and professional wrestling, and it probably doesn't surprise you that this year-in-review recap include nothing from either of these places, despite their prominence on television.

Despite still being a dominant force in daytime television, even with the increasing competition for the daytime viewer and the change in composition of the daytime viewing audience, soap operas are completely ignored in the "Best of 2005," as a genre.

And pro wrestling is ignored in glaring ways. For instance, in their listing of the biggest entertainment stories of 2005, EW identifies the success of Chris Rock's Everybody Hates Chris for UPN, implying that it's the only major hit of interest in UPN's history and rejoicing in its capturing of the young demographic. Yet, WWE's Smackdown had previously aired in that same timeslot for years and was highly successful and remains almost as successful on Friday nights, despite Friday being a death day.

Considering the EW focus on sitcoms, that wouldn't be that surprising. But in its listing of the great entertainers of 2005 who died, 82 people are listed, yet the list doesn't include the death of Eddie Guerrero, one of the WWE's biggest stars, who died in his prime at 38 years old.

On the other hand, released its list of the Top 10 Most Euologized Persons of 2005, which found Guerrero trailing only Rosa Parks and Luther Vandross. The online funeral guestbook registered over 5,500 comments made on Eddie's page as of the end of the year.

Considering many of the ideas people now celebrate as complex television came from soap opera, and considering how much of an innovator WWE has been in transmedia storytelling and many other aspects of media convergence, it just makes me wonder how many other extremely popular and profitable areas of popular culture are ignored by most mainstream journalists, considering the two areas I study in particular were both completely shunned....

I believe a major part of it is that the fan communities surrounding these "fringe" entertainments, from the perspective of mainstream journalism, is chiefly misunderstood, even when the industry in general could still learn so much from these cultural producers and their fans.

December 23, 2005

Television and Fashion: A Two-Way Street

Not that long ago, I posted an entry about the marketing opportunities between Banana Republic and the new Sony Pictures release Memoirs of a Geisha. However, the fashion/cosmetics industry and the entertainment industry are constantly in the process of cross-promotion. For instance, my wife has the Sarah Jessica Parker perfume Lovely setting in her shelf.

And, this past week, a story and an ad really lept out at me with a message--the promotion goes both ways.

Case-in-point: Virginia Heffernan's story in Wednesday's New York Times focuses on the new Style Network talk show Isaac, featuring clothing designer Isaac Mizrahi as the host. The fashion guru-turned-Target designer is attempting to further brand his fashion products by becoming a television personality somewhere other than his ads.

On the reverse side, the inside of the cover of this past week's tabloid Life and Style features a full-page advertisement for new All My Children Fusion perfume, sold exclusively by Wal-Mart and online, the official scent of the popular ABC soap.

Is this just shameless cross-promotion to sell stuff or a spin-off of transmedia storytelling, using a broader definition of the term? A good move by Isaac Mizrahi? What about AMC? Does this encourage the trend that we're pushing for here at C3, or does it make us groan? For me, the jury is still out. Turning a soap opera into a scent borders a little close to the stench of marketing, pun intended, and the succes of Isaac depends on the quality of the show as far as building a personality.

But the broader question really is whether fashion should be seen as a form of storytelling? It seems to have very little narrativity, but we've seen a lot of moves toward moving fashion and cosmetics and storytelling into the same space...Does it work?

December 21, 2005

Soap fans and product placement discussion

Over on Michael Gill's Media Domain Board for As the World Turns, one thread of the discussion has focused on product placement in soaps. Since my thesis project at MIT involves looking at the soap opera industry and ways in which the companies can change their methods of advertising and storytelling based on changes and new trends in television and entertainment, I found the discussion to be illuminating.

Everyone who posted on the thread were in agreement that product placement would be more effective, more natural, and possibly the only way for soap operas to survive, longterm. The majority of the argument singled not on if but on how product placement should be done...As several of the posters pointed out, product placement in soaps, where most of the scenes take place in people's homes or in public spaces, would be easy to incorporate into the show. The local coffee place could become a Starbucks or some similar chain. And kitchens could be filled with actual food products.

When this is a serious discussion in the fan communities and seems to be widely accepted, one has to wonder why CBS and P&G have not embraced these opportunities. I'm going to look into this very issue much further in my research over the next couple of years, but what do you all think? Is product placement the logical next step for soaps regarding advertising?

You would think a company like P&G would be better at naturalistic product placement than they are. Thanks to MaryHatch for starting this discussion, by the way.

December 12, 2005

Passions Animation: Genre Mixing in Soaps

NBC soap opera Passions had an interesting week from Nov. 11-Nov. 15, running a series of animations as part of a fairy tale storyline throughout each episode during the week.

Becuase Passions has framed itself as a fantasy soap, with storylines including vampires and all sorts of other supernatural situations, fans seemed to accept this major break in soaps-as-usual.

The episodes were critically acclaimed and seemed to indicate potential new avenues for soaps. The move got quite a bit of press for the show, which is the lowest rated of the nine daytime dramas in overall viewers.

The success of the episode reminds me of one of our reserach partners at the consortium Jason Mittell, in his book Genre and Television. Jason looks at the TV show Soap and the cartoon The Simpsons as examples of genre crossovers. In this case, the soap opera managed to do quite a bit of genre crossing, ironically using the same company that produces The Simpsons for the animated sequences.

What do you all think of the potential in moves like this, if done occasionally? Is it groundbreaking from a transmedia perspective?

December 9, 2005

Soap Dance Videos?

Procter & Gamble soap As the World Turns has taken a novel approach to promoting--surprising, of course, since soaps usually do very little to promote themselves other than on daytime television and through soap opera magazines, preaching to the converted, so to speak.

However, the soap is hoping to show its artistry and complexity in a way that breaks out of the conventions of soap opera; several of the actors filmed a dance video that is currently airing on 1,400 movie screens before films, promoting the CBS show.

The dance video will be set to Evan Olson's "Take the World."

Several of the ATWT fan boards have members asking where these videos are airing, as most of them have not seen them.

Is this a good idea? Will it really lead to increased viewership? How can a traditional soap opera like ATWT break through the stereotypes that soaps have against them?

Actor Michael Park, who plays Jack Snyder, says, "Any time we can transcend different mediums, that's the name of the game. We're trying to reach as many people as we possibly can."

The show has featured many actors over the years who have gone on to do well in Hollywood--Meg Ryan, Julianne Moore, Parker Posey, James Earl Jones, , Jason Biggs, John Wesley Shipp, and myriad other actors began on the show. The current cast includes Michael Landon's daughter Jennifer and a lot of young actors who have great possibilities for the future, as well as very accomplished television and film actor Tamara Tunie, accomplished stage actors like Scott Holmes, and veterans who have been on the show up to...well...50 years.

Nevertheless, is there anything that soaps can do to draw in viewers who already have such preconceived notions about them?

And what are the benefits to the crossover with Evan Olson?

Any thoughts?

December 6, 2005

Tyson Chicken--An Example of the Future??

Since I study the soap opera industry regularly, I thought I would post something about the partnership between Tyson Foods and As the World Turns, the soap that I "study" (am an avid fan of).

Barbara Ryan, who has been a regular character on the show played by Colleen Zenk Pinter since 1978, is one of the most recognizable stars on the show. In the past couple of years, her character--who has long been the neurotic head designer of fashion company BRO (Barbara Ryan Originals)--has gone of the deep end and has become a soap villain of sorts.

Tyson, a regular advertiser on the CBS daytime lineup, somehow borkered a deal with the producers of ATWT and shot the following commercial:

Barbara walks into the kitchen of her aunt and uncle's home (Bob and Kim Hughes, the core family of the show), on her cell phone and says the following:

"What did I do today? Well, I took the kids to school, foiled a kidnapping attempt, took my son to his psychiatrist's, picked up the drycleaning, divorced my eighth husband, went to lunch and played bridge, recovered from the explosion, went to the grocery store, and sabotaged a fashion show. You?"

At the bottom of the screen, Tyson's logo appears, along with its new catch-phrase "Powered by Tyson." These were a great departure from the more conventional "families powered by Tyson" commercials, but the fans of As the World Turns began talking about the commercial regularly.

Later, Tyson featured Barbara Ryan's character in a second commercial with similar results, as she walks into the same kitchen and says:

"What have I been up to lately? Well, I flew out of a second-story courtroom window, confessed to a murder that I didn't commit, foiled an attempt to brainwash my son, sent my enemies to a Swiss spa and aged them 40 years, and crashed my car into a mental institution? And you?" Again with the Tyson information appearing.

As opposed to blatant product placement within the show, the fans have accepted this spot as brilliant and regularly bring it up on message boards, etc. I think this is one way that producers could market their products along with entertainment in intriguing ways. The spot cost nil to produce, as it was filmed on the show's set with one of their regular actors, and yet it created a much stronger link between the fans of the show--As the World Turns--and the product. Now, Tyson seems to be a "hip" product in-line with what soap opera is really like, rather than a frozen food and chicken company trying to hock its products at the stereotypical housewife.

November 30, 2005

End of DAYS: What will happen to soap?

NBC's longtime soap opera Days of Our Lives may have just celebrated its 40th anniversary last week, but there is talk, evidenced by an article in this week's Soap Opera Digest, that the show could end up on the cutting block around this time next year.

According to the article, the soap may soon have to consider other distribution options. The President of NBC Entertainment, Kevin Reilly, addressed the cast and crew at the meeting, claiming that Corday Productions and their partner Sony Pictures Television should consider other options, like Video iPod feeds, mobile phones for distribution, etc.

"We're going to be working very hard trying to figure out how we will keep this great franchise alive," Reilly said, noting the constant flux of the main networks these days in trying to keep content fresh that involved constantly shifting lineups.

NBC indicated that they were in constant conversation with Sony about alternate distribution methods should the show be taken off the network but said it was Sony's decision, since NBC doesn't own the show.

Ken Corday signed with NBC in 2003 for a three year deal with a two-year option, meaning that the end of 2006 may see DAYS attempting these new forms of distributions we have been discussing in the consortium.

Other talk, such as a discussion on the Media Domain message board for DAYS, indicates many believe the "great franchise" could end up on ABC, FOX, or the cable network SOAPNET.

These rumors come at a time when soaps have settled into a much lower ratings than they had 20 years or even a decade ago, as cable competition for daytime programming proliferates. DAYS remains a fairly popular soap in comparison with its competitors and almost always does better than most in the key young female demographics.

However, these threats reflect an overall downsizing of the soap opera industry with lower ratings than in former times and what many perceive as a major drop in quality of the DAYS show in particular.

What do you all think? What are the implications if a major TV franchise like DAYS, with a 40-year history, starts using the iPod or mobile phones as the primary means of distribution?

October 14, 2005

Public Service Announcements as Product Placement?

I recently saw an interesting trend while watching As the World Turns, the CBS daytime serial drama.

One of the longtime characters on the show, Lucinda Walsh, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the show has frequently covered the real risks and medical procedures associated with the disease, followed by ending the show with a public service announcement.

In another recent case, a character who smoked and worked two jobs while pregnant followed several episodes with an ending PSA urging viewers to visit a Web site which detail the dangers of not taking care of one's self while pregnant.

This past week, the writers of ATWT went a step further in working a PSA directly into the storyline.

Dr. Bob Hughes was met at the hospital by his wife, Kim Hughes, who runs one of the major television stations in fictional Oakdale. She explained to Bob that she was had stopped by the hospital because she wanted to work on a PSA announcement for her station and needed a medical expert for the spot, clearly indicating her husband. She then went on to tell Bob that she was concerned about the continued epidemic of AIDS in Africa and had some startling statistics, which she read off to him.

Bob replied by saying that the numbers startled him and that, for the price of a cup of coffee, most Americans could probably make a real effort into testing and prevention education for these countries.

Kim said, "Now, if only I could have you come down to our station and say that on television. That's exactly what our viewers need to hear."

The self-reflexivity of the scene made me think that this might be more effective than just an end-show PSA announcement. Viewers wouldn't be able to as easily fast-foward through it, yet it was still worked effectively into the characters and their various stories.

While PSAs are different in advertisements in their purpose, they both still face continued danger of not being seen by consumers. So, similar to product placement in the fictional worlds, these embedded PSAs may start to take the place of the traditional end-show PSA announcements.

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