Housewives couldn’t get through their day without them. Kids who were at home sick reveled in them. College kids would crash between classes or study hour to catch up with them. If you have been away from them, either for a week or 10 years, it usually takes about 10 minutes for you to know what’s going on in Pine Valley, Llanview, Salem, and Genoa City, among the small quaint towns with big secrets and interesting characters.
The world of the “soap operas“ was dying a slow-moving death, until the last two years, when it accelerated. “Guiding Light”, “As The World Turns”, and now the news of “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” being cancelled have sped up the process of an era that is disappearing, without much fanfare except for the fans that have lived on the edge of their seats for each episode.
My grandmother’s daytime routine evolved around the television set during the summer when my cousins and I were young. The child’s play of frolicking in the house would stop between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm when Victor Newman, Erica Kane, the Buchanans, the Bauers and the Spauldings, and the Quartermaines popped on the television set in her kitchen.
There were long-time shows (“Love of Life“, “Another World“) and there were short-lived ones (“The City”, “Santa Barbara”). The ones with a big splashy opening (“Capitol”) to the opening that would “haunt” you (“The Edge of Night”).
Even with all of these memories, the soap opera genre was already struggling to maintain viewership…for nearly 30 years. Here is a 1980 CBS Evening News story on the cancellation of CBS’ “Love of Life”, reported by a young Jeff Greenfield (who returned to CBS for a second stint in 2007). Notice that the reasons given for the show’s ending is similar to what ABC’s decision to jettison AMC and OLTL later this year.
As viewers evolve, their television taste changes. The daytime serials have tried to keep up, but it’s not enough to stay in the rat race with Maury Povich, Judge Lynn Toler, and The People’s Court.
SoapNet, a channel dedicated to daytime soap operas is about to get the ax as well, in 2012.
The soap opera genre’s long journey into the fabric of American society is facing a grim, and all too common reality: a quick and painful demise. Which is unfortunate, but there are no perfect endings, as the Greenfield piece didn’t mention about “Love of Life.” We never knew what became of the trial or the characters.