ABC plans to show repeat episodes of soaps -- will other networks follow?
by, 07-25-2010 at 01:23 PM (16484 Views)
Fans of ABC soaps were recently thrown for a loop when the network announced that it would be preempting its entire soap lineup for a special three-hour marathon of classic General Hospital episodes featuring Vanessa Marcil (Brenda Barrett). While fans of General Hospital might be pleased by the trip down memory lane, fans of All My Children and One Life to Live (and also some fans of GH) have expressed anger over the network bumping new episodes of their favorite soaps for an afternoon of promoting an actress' return to the ABC lineup.
The announcement of the Brendathon came on the heels of reports that ABC is planning to show fewer original episodes of its soaps during the year. How many fewer? The network declined to offer specifics, but a published report states that the number may go as high as 20.
Is this a cost-cutting measure? Is it a way to help boost the network's ratings? Is this a sign of the impending demise of soap operas? Well, there are several ways to look at it.
Soaps air five days a week -- and some soap fans have come to take those airings for granted. If you get stuck in traffic and don't get home as planned, you know that your favorite soap will still be waiting for you the next day. Get caught up with work and taking care of the kids? Fear not. There's always tomorrow. In putting together five original episodes week in and week out, soap operas have gotten a notorious reputation for having plots that move at a snail's pace. Who hasn't heard the old joke that someone who hadn't seen an episode of their favorite soap for 20 years was able to tune in and, in the course of a few minutes, figure out exactly what was going on?
As the World Turns executive producer Christopher Goutman raised eyebrows last year when he suggested that soaps might someday only be shown three or four days each week. Of course, As the World Turns will soon be airing zero times a week. CBS announced in December 2009 that the show would go dark in September of this year.
But did Goutman have a point?
Check out any of the seven remaining soaps' ratings and you'll see that there are routinely one or two days each week when the ratings are significantly lower than the other days. In a recent ratings report, on Monday, The Bold and the Beautiful had a 2.4 rating -- and then the next day that number sank to 2.1. The three-tenths difference of a rating means that about 321,000 less people watched the Tuesday episode than the Monday episode. All those viewers were back on Wednesday, but by the end of the week they were gone again. In that same week, The Young and the Restless started the week with a 3.6 rating -- but some 450,000 viewers weren't watching on Friday. Where did they go? Isn't Friday supposed to be the big cliffhanger day? Maybe that's why more people tune in on Monday -- to see how everything will resolve itself.
The result of the fluctuating ratings means a lower overall average for a show. If a soap chose not to broadcast an episode on a day of the week when its total viewership is traditionally down, that low rating would not be factored into the overall average rating. Sure, it may only be a matter of a few hundred thousand viewers -- but we're at a point when every viewer matters.
What about giving the soaps the summer off? Would that further erode viewership because viewers would have to find something else to watch (as was the case with the OJ Simpson trial), or would fans be chomping at the bit for their soaps to pick back up in the fall? What would the networks air during the summer months? I haven't figured that out just yet. Could they air reruns? I dunno. Could they show really old episodes? Maybe.
Here's my thought process behind all of this. With soaps airing every single day, the writers don't get that chance to catch their breath and work on storylines that will really capture our attention. If they had, say, a month off… they might be able to plot out stories that wouldn't be filled with fluff or things that fans deride as untrue or unrealistic. Imagine having five days of story where every day is must-see television. I write enough content for soapcentral.com to know that some articles or columns are better than others. If I had a week off to do whatever it is that I'd be doing if I were not working, I might come back and write Shakespeare. What soap through yonder window breaks? Okay, so maybe that wouldn't work.
But finding something that does work is important for soap execs. Now's the time to get it done, because waiting any longer could be hazardous to our soaps' health.