Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Fall of American Soap Operas

Thoughts and Laments from a former soap watcher
by: Stephanie Burkhart

In the early 1980's as a young teenager, I discovered soap operas. The first story I remembered watching was Luke and Laura's quest for the Ice Princess. That was it. I was a General Hospital fan. My favorite storyline was the slow-burning character driven romance of Robert and Holly. Then my friend, Alyssa, turned me onto As The World Turns.

I loved to hate Craig from ATWT. Meg Ryan played "Betsy." Julianne Moore was "Frannie." I loved All My Children in the early 1990's with Dimitri and Erica and the Young and Restless' Victor and Hope's story. Then I found Todd Manning and was devoted to One Life to Live.

I thought I'd share some of my favorites with you simply because I miss them. As an aspiring writer, I wrote the "One Life to Live Satire" from 1998-2002. With over 100 episodes, this fan fiction was well received and I even met with Jonathan Reiner from TV Guide who covered the soaps at that time.

What did the soap opera format give me as a writer? The most important thing I received was the ability to picture my stories in my head with a compelling respect for setting. Soaps taught me the importance of a good character driven romance as opposed to a plot driven one. Soaps also taught me the difference between love, passion, lust, and pure, honest romance. I learned the rewards for honesty, loyalty, and integrity, and that crime doesn't pay.

Let's face it, all I needed to know I learned from watching soap operas.

I am heartbroken to see there are only four soap operas on Daytime TV now. In 1990, there were 12.

Who can remember watching with their mom, grandma, or favorite aunt? Heck, my Aunt Mary would drop everything she was doing to watch Guiding Light. Aunt Mary was hooked on Reva. Anything my Aunt Mary did was cool so I joined her.

Why did soaps fail after seventy years after it's inception? Ultimately, I think it was the culmination of a perfect storm of events, but in my observations and research, I've developed 4 points.

1. Working Women
In the 1970's women worked in the house, but through the decade, into the 80's and 90's and beyond, women went to work outside the home. That generational bond between mother and daughter which was previously nurtured, wasn't. Young girls went looking for other shows.

2. AC Nielsen did not keep track of places with common settings such as restaurants, work breakrooms, and health clubs. What else doesn't count? DVR and the Internet. So viewers may actually consist of a higher number, they aren't counted.

3. Cable and Internet provide alternatives to traditional daytime programming.

4. Viewers prefers reality shows to TV melodrama which goes back to point one and passing the legacy of watching a show onto your "loyal" daughter.

What was your favorite show? Your favorite storyline? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the decline of soaps and what impact it might have. What impact did watching soap have on you personally?

A member of Generation X, Stephanie Burkhart was born and raised in New Hampshire. She spent 11 years in the military, serving 7 of them overseas in Germany. Now a 911 Dispatcher for LAPD, Stephanie enjoys reading a good book, Dancing with the Stars, and volunteering in her sons' classrooms. Her December 2011 release is "The Faberge Secret," a Christmas contemporary romance.

5 STARS, Celia Yeary, Author
You will thoroughly enjoy this fast-paced tale of danger, a mystery, and a satisfying conclusion. Elise and Dimitri make sparks fly!

5 Stars, Reader's Favorites
Fabulously written, the story combines elements of mystery, action, love, and tender family moments all at the right places, making a perfect fit. If you want a good story combining history, crime, and passion, "The Faberge Secret" is the book for you.

Sue Perkins, Author
The Faberge Secret exceeded my expectations. Definitely worth reading more than once. What more can I say? It is such a good book.

5 Hearts, Sizzling Hot Book Reviews
As the love story thicken, the suspense heightens and it won't let your eyes leave the page. I recommend The Faberge Secret to all of the romance readers. Even if you have never read romance, The Faberge Secret would be a great place to start.


Elise Goodwin finds herself faced with danger when she learns the Faberge egg she's bought belongs to a Russian mogul, Dimitri Romanov, but is Dimitri playing a game with Elise's heart to get his heirloom back?

Elise Goodwin runs a heritage museum in Brattleboro, Vermont. She travels to Boston to buy some items for her museum at Sotheby's auction. What she acquires is a delicious surprise that would excite any curator – a Faberge egg.

Enter Russian businessman Dimitri Romanov. He goes to the auction with the intent of buying the egg only to discover that Elise is in possession of it. His dilemma? He's attracted to the petite brunette with doe-like eyes and a trusting disposition.

Complicating matters is Dimitri's rival, Gustav Kelch, who wants the precious jeweled object for his own collection. Can Dimitri protect Elise from Kelch?


Fascinated by Dimitri's story, Elise sipped her warm milk. "Boris' van was in front of the auction house. He told me the auction didn't want his items. They didn't think they were valuable enough."

Dimitri snapped his fingers. "Ah, all right. That makes sense, but how could they miss the egg? They had to know it was valuable."

"Perhaps they didn't want it. Perhaps they suspected it was stolen and didn't want anything to do with it."

"So why did you buy it?"

"How could I pass up something so precious? I love the beauty of it."

"I'm glad you appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty of the egg."

"Of course I do. I'm an art history major."

Dimitri continued to look at her thoughtfully. He rubbed his chin. "Alexi didn't tell me, but I wonder... could Boris have been his contact?"

"Boris?" Elise sipped her milk. "I doubt it. If you want my opinion, he didn't strike me as the informer type."

"No... Boris mentioned a name. Anatoly, I believe, when I talked to him. I wonder if he was Alexi's informant."

Elise shrugged. The name wasn't familiar to her.

"Perhaps... yes. Perhaps Anatoly was Alexi's informant, and he stole the goods to give to Boris. Boris was supposed to use the auction house to sell them, but they didn't anticipate the auction house not wanting the items, so Boris sold them on the street," Dimitri mused.

"It's plausible, but how did Kelch's men know to track us down?" Elise asked.

Dimitri scrubbed his eyes with the palm of his hands. "No... no... but..."

Elise put down the mug and placed her hand on his waist. The contact sparked a fire in her limbs. "What's wrong?"

"Your receipt--" He lowered his hands. Guilt splayed across his face. "I saw it, and that's how I knew Boris had sold you my egg. I... I crumpled it up and threw it on the floor of the van. Kelch must have broken Anatoly, and then sent his men to find Boris. And if they found him--"

"Oh." Elise swallowed at the fear glittering in his eyes -- fear for her. "They found the receipt with my name."

"Yes. Damn it! I should have pocketed the receipt, but I was furious. All I wanted was my egg."

Apprehension coursed through her. That's why Lucy had been attacked. Kelch and his men hoped to find the egg because they knew Elise had bought it. Lucy had just happened to be in the hotel room because Elise was on a date -- with Dimitri.

He pushed her hand off his waist, clenched his fists, and marched into the living room, halting close to the window. Was he angry at her, or at himself? Well, a part of her was angry at him, too. She and Lucy were in danger -- real danger -- because of that egg, but a part of her just wanted to reach out to him, to comfort him, to tell him everything would be all right.

Elise shifted from foot to foot. Dimitri truly had protected her and Lucy tonight, but how much could she trust him? Was it all about his egg? That's all he'd thought about when he'd thrown the receipt on the floor. No. This man respected his family. He honored Christmas. He was spiritual. She couldn't let him beat himself up for a mistake.

She left the kitchen and walked up behind him.

He stiffened. "Elise, now is not the time. I want to be alone."

She ignored him and placed her hand on his back just under his shoulders. "I know you didn't intend to put Lucy and me in harm's way."

"But I did."

"No, I've got to fix this. I've got to make this right."

"Dimitri, stop--"

He spun around and pressed the hard length of his body against hers, curving his hand around the nape of her neck. His kiss was hard and demanding. Her core heated. Her bones melted. A man's kiss had never rocked her senses quite like this.






K. M. Springsteen said...

I worked out of the home in the 80s and 90s but I set my VCR faithfully, or listened to a little radio that pulled in TV so I'd know what happened from the words. When Guiding Light was cancelled, I cried. I cried again when As the World Turns went, and then the ABC soaps followed. Some of the story lines were outrageous but I found ways to watch ALL of my favorites, whether it was real-time or late at night on the Soap channel. I've worked from the home since 1999, which made doing that easier. What I learned was the importance of showing emotion in my characters. Emotion is what connected soap characters with fans. We empathized with them through the highly relevant story lines. Someone asked me if I watch The Chew, and to be honest, it might be a great show but to me it's just another show about food that took the place of my beloved All My Children. So, no, I have not. GREAT post!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Steph, I'm an oddity among women. I was never home in the afternoon on a weekday, plus my mom worked. We walked down to the beach or hung out with our friends at the pool or fishing pier. There was always so much to do. In college I had science labs in the afternoon, and then I landed in the work world until I had babies. Then it became kiddie shows on daytime TV until I returned to work. See? Too busy for TV. Even now, I work on my books at night, but thank goodness for recording devices. I catch my fav shows that way.

Anyway, I'm glad you connected with these shows. They are a valuable part of our social consciousness. As you stated, generations of women watched them together. They have made a lasting impression in our pop culture and even folks like me who didn't watch them appreciate their emotional content.

Smiles, Maggie

Jillian said...

I always watched All My Children - My mom loved it and we watched it when I was a kid. I continued to watch as I got older and the funny thing is, when I was in law school, there was a group of about 20 of us (men and women) who would watch it in the student lounge. It was super fun.

I also used to love The Edge of Night but it went off when I was still a teen, I think. Good post, Steph!

alym said...

"As the World Turns" or "As" for short was my favorite, although my brothers called it "As the stomach turns." My Gram got me started on it when I stayed with her during summer vacation. She had cable TV, which we did not have at home, so I got exposed to a lot more TV. She was retired, and would do all her chores and errands in the morning, and then settle down with the TV in the afternoon. Some great actors came and went on that show. I didn't see it for years until I was home on maternity leave and then I got to watch the end of the show and the finale (Which I think they could have done a lot more with.)

StephB said...

K.M., I would never watch "The Chew." It hurts too much to watch that reality driven show when my soaps are gone.

Yes, soaps gave us the importance of showing emotion. Thanks for popping in. I bought a stash of hankies to share, Sweetie. Just let me know if you want one.

Maggie, how interesting to hear your tale. You make a good point - generations of women connected with these shows and it hurts to see that connection broken.

Jillian, I remember watching Edge of Night, too. I really enjoyed it, but then it was gone. I think I would have liked Dark Shadows but that was before my time.

Aly, ((hugs)) I will always have a fond spot in my heart for that show. sniff...sniff... I agree - a lot of great actors sharpened their technique on soaps. The importance of the genre shouldn't be overlooked.


Kathleen O said...

It has been a sad time for me, as there is only one soap left for mad and that is the Grand Dame of them all now. General Hospital... When OLTL went off the air, I felt as if someone had taken away a big part of my life...
The shows that are replacing them just to not do anything for me..

I have watched these soaps since I was in my teens... With my Grandmother.. she would be horrified to know AMC and OLTL is off the air.. I am glad she is not around to see it..
Farewell my friends. I know some of you are going on to other soaps, good luck.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

My mother was a soap opera junkie. Sometimes she would talk about the characters like they were relatives. The only soap opera I rerally cared about was Dark Shadows. I rush home from school to watch it. For about a year in 1970 I watched All My Children when it first came on but, when they killed of Phillip in Viet Nam, I quit watching and swore off soap operas forever. LOL
I do not like reality TV. I like scripted shows where they pay writers to entertain us with drama.
A very interesting blog, Steph.

StephB said...

Kathleen, I agree, it's a sad time. My Aunt Mary was heartbroken that GL left the airwaves. Can't get into the new shows. It's somewhat nice to know that some of my favorites like the Mannings will find a new home on GH, but it's not the same.

Sarah - good point - my Aunt Mary would talk about these characters like they were old friends. They kinda' were, you know. That's how good the writing was.

Reality TV doesn't do much for me. I'm picky about it. I like Survivor and DWTS but that's about it.


Celia Yeary said...

As The World Turns was the only Soap Opera I ever watched, and that was during the late 50s and early 60's. I was there from early on, when Lisa and..can't remember the main guy's name--were married and had a baby. Their baby was born the same year my first was born. I was a stay-at-home mom for several years. Although Lisa's baby was the same as as my daughter, in about five or so years, he had grown up and went to college. My daughter? She hadn't entered elementary school yet! I have always laughed at that.
School, work, more school, etc. kept me from watching any more.
This was fun, Steph, thinking of the old soap operas.

Anonymous said...

So funny. When I was in college, the campus had day rooms where the TV was always turned to a soap opera. And when we were stationed in Panama, the guys would get off from work and come home to watch General Hospital

Keena Kincaid said...

I was a dedicated Guiding Light watcher, inherited from my mother and grandmother. I never understood the appeal of Luke and Laura, but I remember the dorm lounge being wall-to-wall women when it aired.

Although I must say, I was a late comer to OLTL, but Todd Manning was dreamy.

Jenny Twist said...

I think soaps are still going strong in England. We have East Enders, Coronation St, Emmerdale Farm, Born and Bred, Dr Martin, and my own favoutite, HeartBeat.
My favourite American one was years ago and was simply called Soap. One of the funniest things I've ever watched

StephB said...

Celia, it's it wild how soaps age the kids? It's just not right. I think OLTL let the characters of "Jessica" and "Starr" age naturally in the 1990's and 2000's which was actually heartwarming to see.

Ella, isn't that wild how a soap can bring people together no matter where they are?

Keena, oh, I'm a big Todd Manning fan. He walked a fine line between good and bad and I loved it.

Jenny, in my research, I learned about the British soap operas. I believe they're still going strong, which is a blessing for you. I'd love to do an interview with you about British soap operas. Let me know if you're interested.

Some of the ladies at work like to Spanish telenovelas. While I don't understand Spanish, they translate for me and I have to admit they have their appeal. They're full of that drama and they have 13 week arcs so you have some sense of closure.


Moon_Pie said...

I watched As the World Turns with my mom on her lunch break. Remember it fondly! Later on, I enjoyed Sunset Beach (my hsb called it Sizzle Beach) and Passions. *Romvets!*