My soaps are back! My stories, as our grandmothers or mothers used to say. In 2011, ABC/Disney announced the cancellation of 2 longtime running soap operas, All My Children and One Life To Live, after 40 plus years on the air. The excuses ran from budget to low viewership, but the general feeling among soap opera fans was that they didn’t really want to save them. It was even said that one studio executive commented that viewers could be trained to watch reality TV in the daytime instead of soaps. With thinking like that, what chance did the shows have? The ultimate injury/insult to viewers was done, and the studio gave these 2 shows the ax. While I have simplified what is a very complicated and complex issue, I believe if they’d wanted the soaps on the air, they would have found a way to keep them.
What ABC/D didn’t count on was the fans’ reaction. We were furious! And we were LOYAL to our soaps. So we fought back. We called ABC until they actually asked us to stop calling! We inundated them with emails, letters, tweets, and any other way we could think of to let them know how unhappy we were. We were relentless. The more they asked us to stop, the more we hit them with requests to bring our shows back.
We learned of a company named Prospect Park that was trying to buy the rights to our beloved shows. We were so excited! Someone heard us and was going to bring the shows back! Then legal issues started up; Prospect Park got bogged down in wading through the legal muck and our hopes were dashed. There wasn’t enough money; ABC wasn’t giving Prospect Park what they needed, etc. etc. It was dismal. Did we fans give up? NOT. AT. ALL. We picked up our swords and began the battle all over again. Facebook pages and Twitter were full of encouragement to keep the battle cry going. So the fight began again.
In a way, ABC did us a favor. That sounds odd, but because of their decision to kill the shows and the fans’ decision to come together and fight back, we found a new way to connect with our favorite stars. Thanks to social media like Facebook and Twitter, we’ve come to know these fine actors, as well as some of the executives and crew, on a whole different level. We supported them and they supported us. It became a personal fight for all of us, and we became a real family, fighting for the lives of our shows.
In a nutshell, we won. On April 29, 2013, our shows were reborn, giving 200 or so employees a job again and making soap opera fans very happy. This is a significant win. How many times can you remember where fans fought to have a show brought back and won? Prospect Park did what it had to do, we fans kept the battle going, and lo and behold, our soaps are back. Not on TV this time, but online. Why is this so significant? Why is this groundbreaking? These are not reruns of shows. Shows are being filmed and setup specifically for online viewing. You can watch them through Hulu, Hulu Plus, or ITunes. The shows are made available for downloading Monday through Friday in the wee hours of the morning and when you are ready to watch (at least for me on ITunes); I download the episode and tune in. I can watch at breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. I can watch while I get dressed. I can watch while I do my household chores or go to the park! Anywhere I can take my IPad with Wi-Fi, I can watch my stories. And I can watch them again and again if I choose. Needless to say, that makes me one very happy soap opera fan.
So back to my title question: what is it about soap operas? Why are they so important to us fans? Why are we so loyal to our shows that we are willing to fight to have them brought back? How can shows stay on the air for over FORTY YEARS and keep a fan base? Because I have friends who really question my sanity over my love of soaps, I have been thinking on these questions for quite some time.
There is not a simple answer. Soap opera fans come from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages. We are not, as some would believe, just ‘bored housewives’. We are productive people- homemakers, every day workforce employees, lawyers, actors, writers, doctors, college professors- we all have a valid place in society and we earn our way. There is also a wide age group that watches soaps, from teenagers and 20-somethings right on up to the elderly. Subsequently, the shows mean different things to different people but bottom-line, all of us involved in these shows, from actors to crew to fans, are family. We are watching people grow up from children. We see them go through the angst of their teen years. We watch their parents and their grandparents struggle with life issues. We see characters fall in and out of love; some get it right, most struggle with finding that one true love. The characters in these shows are US, in a slightly exaggerated and, for me anyway, much more beautiful form. They have great houses, great clothes. It’s a fantasy version of our own lives.
Agnes Nixon, the mother of soap operas, has a unique gift for weaving complicated stories that are also contemporary. She has tackled subjects that many TV shows didn’t want to touch. AIDS, rape, homosexuality, rape pregnancies, drugs, alcoholism, human trafficking. She doesn’t shy away from current topics and yet presents them in ways that enable us to understand the human side of these events. People marry, people divorce, businesses thrive, businesses fail, people are born, people die. It all happens on our shows. And we can relate.
There are mysteries along the way. New characters get introduced, and the story weaves in and out like a hidden trail through the forest. We are so intrigued by what’s going on and what might happen. We have characters we love; we have villains we love to hate. When you stay tuned in to something like this for years (and some of us have been watching for the entire 40 plus years), you don’t just STOP because somebody decided the shows were boring and costing too much!
Imagine your favorite genre/hobby. Say, for instance, you’re a sports fanatic. You love it all: basketball, football, soccer, golf. Or you love DIY TV - the horrible fixer upper; the pain of repair jobs gone wrong. The beautiful gardens you want to plant, just like the ones the magic crew whips together for you on a weekend. Whatever floats your boat, as they say. Let’s stick with the sports analogy: you watch your favorite teams every season for years (the Lakers perhaps?). You agonize over the bad plays; you jump for joy when they win a championship. Now imagine after years of watching them on television; someone at the top makes the decision – sports are boring! They cost too much to air! So they just rip your heart out in one bad decision and before you know it, there are no more sports on television. Maybe you can find a few reruns of games on a few channels if you surf long enough. Or, you just have nothing. You try to watch other shows, but it’s just not the same. You loved your sports! You need your sports! Life isn’t the same without them! This is what I felt when my shows were ripped from me. They ripped out part of my heart. These were my ‘chapter a day’; my escape from reality. Their problems were much more interesting than mine! Their lives were a part of my life.
So I am thrilled they are back. The production quality is excellent! There are some changes with online viewing; the shows have more freedom, so now we can hear some of our favorite characters say the same kind of 4-letter words a lot of us use when we get frustrated. It’s caused a bit of a stir amongst longtime viewers, too. It’s different. We have new characters to get to know and some of our favorite characters/actors have yet to return. We have new actors playing long-loved characters, so we don’t see the face we expect to see. The shows are 30 minutes instead of an hour. But it’s all good in soap opera land. We fans are nothing if not flexible and resilient.
And grateful. Ever so grateful to Prospect Park, the producers, the writers, the actors, and the crew that do all those things that make these shows possible. We are deeply grateful to Prospect Park for their creativity in making these shows happen. They did what ABC wouldn’t. They found a way to make it happen. And we love them for that. The world seems in balance again… our beloved shows are back!