There was a brief time in my earlier life when I watched soap operas. That’s what my mom was watching and I was then of the opinion that if the TV was on, it should be watched. (And if the TV wasn’t on, why did we buy one? I long ago overcame this notion.) The plots were faintly silly, but not as silly as other soaps got later. Still, they were engaging.
But soap operas are gradually becoming the stuff of TV history books. ABC has cancelled two more: All My Children and One Life to Live.
Soap operas run five days a week for 30 or 60 minutes. As someone who comes to this blog because of an interest in writing, think of the effort required to keep multiple storylines per program going week after week, year after year. Think of trying to keep characters and situations fresh and interesting when the scope of your show is largely confined to the employees and patients of a hospital. Whether it is good writing depends largely on what you think of the genre, but it’s still an amazing outpouring of creativity. And it’s no wonder the plot lines sometimes become a little muddled or bizarre.
But there are fewer people watching the soaps these days. The working world has taken its toll on the venerable soap opera. As former All My Children writer Celena Cipriaso tells us, there is also less willingness on the part of TV viewers to spend the time necessary to know who the characters are – their backgrounds, their idiosyncrasies, their passages between good and evil. It’s not too bad, yet, trying to keep up with a weekly program, but a daily one requires a lot of effort on the part of the audience.
I have no particular concern about whether soap operas survive, although I am a decided non-fan of the sort of nonsense that will replace the latest soaps axed; unscripted “reality” shows are worth every word a professional writer has typed for them. But as someone who can sometimes struggle to get 250 words of fiction written once a week, I want to tip my hat to those who write so voluminously and who have entertained so many for so long.