Friday, September 29, 2006

How Soap Operas Changed the World

Since Fred Hembeck has confessed to being a soap opera fan I feel I should make a confession too. I was once hooked on All My Children and Guiding Light. I nearly got hooked last year on Days of Our Lives when they had a murder mystery plot. Someone was killing off the entire cast. However, it turned out that none of them died. They had just been transported to an island for an evil scheme of some mad man. I lost interest but at times like that I feel a soap like Days of Our Lives should be on the Sci-Fi Network. I was in my 20's and in college when I got hooked on them. How can a young man at that time get hooked on soap operas? After all he had his studies to do. A part-time job to go to. Young ladies to flirt with and his buddies to pal around with. Well for two days a week I didn't have to go to my part time job. I was caught up on my homework and had no classes to attend and all my friends were either at school or at their part time jobs. I had nothing to do but watch TV. Back then there wasn't much choice on daytime TV. It was almost all Soap Operas. So I got hooked for awhile.
Soap Operas have been around for a long time. Since the days of radio. One of the first soap operas was on WGN in Chicago called Painted Dreams. It was about the trials of an Irish-American widow and her daughter. It was only 15 minutes long but got a big audience. Of course success breads success and many successful soap operas jumped onto this new format. World War II helped to popularize soaps as they were broadcast daily and helped housewives escape to another world away from house work and worrying about their sons fighting overseas. The daytime dramas were called soap operas as companies like Procter and Gamble used commercial time to sell their Ivory soap and other cleaning products since housewives were their biggest audience. These days they have a larger demographic with the audience ages starting at 12 and up. P & G still hold the most commercial time but you could see anything being sold from acne medication to hoveround chairs. In the early 60’s P &G’s power was much that when the Dick Van Dyke Show was about to be canceled after it’s first season the producer, Sheldon Leonard, flew to Cincinnati, Ohio to meet with the board of directors of P & G as they were the sponsors of his show. He got them to call the network and told them if the Dick Van Dyke Show was canceled they would pull their ads from the soap operas. If they did that the network would not have time to get new sponsors for all their daytime shows and could not afford to air any of the programs. DVD was saved and given a better time slot and ran for 5 years.
The format of the soap is really the star of the show. With so many characters you can have many storylines to follow. At least one story will get you hooked and you have to see it to the end. However, once that story ends a new one has just started and you want to see how that turns out. Before you know it you have been following the show for years. With the invention of the VCR some of that has now changed. Many people tape an hour long soap and fast forward to their favorite storyline and have watched the show in 10 minutes. Doing it that way maybe you could watch a soap and not care what went on in the rest of the show.
The format of continuing stories and subplots has been adapted in to almost every form of entertainment. From radio dramas to cliffhangers to comic books and novels to today’s popular TV shows like 24 and Prisonbreak. In some ways the format has helped TV shows to reach their full potential. Not too long ago if an actor had a choice to do a TV show or a movie they would take the movie. Money aside, they would say they liked 2 hour movies as it gave more time to develop the characters and the plots. On TV everything was wrapped up easily in a half an hour or an hour. I always felt that some plots should be continued week after week until it reached a logical conclusion. Sometimes the plot felt rushed as it had to end in an hour of broadcast time.
The subplots are another jewel in the format. I can’t tell you how many TV shows I watched or comic books I read where I didn’t care two cents about the lead story but I just new that subplot was going to break free of its restraints one day to become a great lead story. One I remember in particular was in the comic book the Flash. I don’t remember a thing about the lead stories but the subplot dealt with how Barry Allen’s Dad was acting odd. Yes he was recovering from a car accident he was in which killed his wife but he was acting odd even for that. In the end it turned out that it was a plan from a long dead villain the Top. Barry’s Dad died in the accident too and the Top’s spirit entered his body. He planed to find a way to lead that body and take over the Flash’s body. In the end the Flash tricked him. The Top remained dead. Flash stayed in his body and Barry’s Dad got back into his own body. You have to read that series to understand the excitement that I felt at that time. A storyline like that would work well on today’s soap operas. They do time travel, have mad scientist conduct experiments on them, have people taken to an uncharted island to be part of an evil experiment, etc. My wife keeps telling me that she doesn’t like science fiction or comic books. Then she tells me Bo and his wife are battling an evil scientist on Days or one of her other soaps. I tell her “Honey, you would like science fiction and comic books. The only thing missing is the hero does not have superpowers.”
Soap Operas! Love them or hate them, they have quietly changed the world of entertainment.
The above cast photo of All My Children you can get if you click here. Posted by Picasa

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