DIY Media 2010: Anime Music Videos (Part Three)

This is the fourth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following is an interview with Tim Park from AnimeMusicVideos.org in which he responds to my questions about the anime fan scene.

Many get confused by the superficial resemblances between Fan Vids and Anime Music Vids. Though both are expressions of fan appreciation, they come from very different traditions. How would you describe the similarities and differences between the two?

For this question, I asked AbsoluteDestiny, who started making AMVs in 2001, and switched to making vids in 2005. He’s much more familiar with the vidding community than I am, but also has familiarity with the AMV community in order to compare. He wrote:

Henry’s question is a really huge one and one I’ve actually given a lot of thought. There was a time, in the 2vcr days of both vidding and amvs, where there were a lot of similarities between the videos made in the two communities. Hair by Media Cannibals is largely the same vid as Hair by You Know Who, albeit with different gender gazes. As the communities, skills and aesthetics developed, the respective videos started to diverge. The reasons for this are a mixture of three important factors:

1) How the source is read and enjoyed

2) How the source lends itself to video editing techniques

3) What kinds of videos the communities give praise (and reward) to

In very very broad terms, the vidding community grew out of media fandom’s more narrative side, fan-fiction and so on, with a strong emphasis on character over genre. Anime fandom, on the other hand, is largely interested in genre, spectacle, Japanese culture and self-referentiality. These differing priorities tend to different subjects for videos – Wonder of Birds (Laura Shapiro) versus AMV Hell (Zarxrax) to take two extremes.

Then we have the very nature of the source. Scenes in anime are not emotionally subtle – visually, especially in TV anime. Much of the emotional nuance is carried by the voice acting and only the more emphasised visual emotions (joy, anger, embarrassment) remain when the footage is removed from its audio. So where vidding can rely on the superbly nuanced body language of the actors, anime can really only pull on whatever aesthetic flourish the source gave them (flowers, blushing, thought bubbles with super-deformed characters beating each other up etc). To do subtle emotion with anime is hard and it’s not unknown to rely on external manipulation (such as Playground Love by Nathan Bezner). Thankfully, animation lends itself to external manipulation very well and roto-scoping the footage and puppeteering it to do your bidding is not out of the realm of possibility, which allows for original narratives that are still very much in the spirit of anime (with its genre, spectacle, culture and meta fixations).

Lastly we have the community and how their reception of the works develop and refine aesthetics. The AMV community learned to walk at conventions and even in the early days of Anime Expo and Otakon a formal structure for AMV exposition was created in the form of the contest. Categorisation and the need to find ways to compare highly subjective works led to the formation of AMV genres and a fond regard for technical proficiency (being something that is much more objective when judging a video’s quality). While the explosive growth of the community towards the mid 2000s did introduce all kinds of new aesthetics, the major genre categorisation and the search for technical wonders moved amv work further to the side of original spectacle, sometimes very disconnected from the narratives of the sources being used. Ultimately, however, it is a combination of all three elements here that have created the communities we have and the output they produce.

There are wonderful oddities and outliers on both sides but the kinds of work you are likely to find largely fit into the following spectrum:


Vidding tends toward deep analysis of character and show and utilisation of interior movement where amvs tend toward meta, spectacle and genre works with a strong utilisation of external motion, footage, effects and original art.

I’ve also vaguely plotted some well-known videos (though the amvs totally show my age) onto the graph. It’s very rough but this should give an idea as to how I see the whole amv vs vidding spectrum.

[Titles in black are vids, titles in blue are AMVs]


Your account of AMV focuses on their American origins. Are such vids part of the Otaku tradition in Japan or is this a distinctly western response to Anime? If the former, what kinds of contact exists between the artists in the two countries? If the later, is the AMV being picked up by Japanese fans as well?

Learning about hobbyist video editing by fans in Japan and sharing ideas is difficult due to the language barrier. Remix videos in Japan that we’re familiar with are called MADs, since one of the early tapes was labelled “Kichigai Tape”, or “Tape of Madness”. There are many different types of MADs, but early on the AMV community was exposed to a number of Seishiga MADs (and to many, “MAD” came to be a term with only this narrow definition), where still images, often from dating games or visual novels, have motion and other effects applied to them. This creates a distinct aesthetic that was emulated by some North American AMV creators such as VicBond007 in his Believe AMV.

In 2005, one MAD editor named pianos (interview from 2004) came to Anime Weekend Atlanta with a translator, and showed the audience MADs made by him and other editors at his panel. Some of them can be difficult to understand, again due to the language barrier, but there was one short MAD I came across years ago that I liked so much, I remade it for an English-speaking audience.

It used to be fairly difficult to find MADs. I stumbled across some videos where the files were split up between hosts to avoid bandwidth and space limitations. Later on, I came across a collection of them on Usenet. Now you can find Japanese fan videos on Nico Nico Douga, but of course it’s a Japanese site so it can be difficult to navigate. Some of them get uploaded to YouTube so you can see them there. They can be hard to find since MAD is a common English word, but you can try searching for “Nico Nico MAD” to find some examples. Several MADs consist of anime-inspired custom artwork, which is relatively rare in AMVs. (Some exceptions: Greed vs. Envy, Utena Daioh, Woolongs For Nothing)

What functions do AMV play within the fan community? Are they primarily consumed by existing fans of the program or are they part of the process of educating American fans about Japanese media content?

A little of both. As I wrote in the first segment, fans at AMV panels at conventions have often indicated that they’ve bought anime after seeing it in an AMV. For those that are already fans of a particular show, today’s search engines make it easy to find an AMV that uses that show.

Now, however, the internet also makes it much easier to find both licensed and unlicensed copies of anime, so I have a feeling that the promotional impact of the hobby is now less than it used to be. Though in some cases, editors seek out shows that haven’t been licensed here yet, possibly in order to be the first to use a high-quality new title.

What kinds of relationship exists between the AMV creators and the commercial and semi-commercial groups who are marketing anime in this country?

Views on the hobby depend on which company representative you talk to. I heard of one anime convention panel with ADV Films where one of their employees told Brad DeMoss that they loved his Evangelion/Star Wars Episode I parody. The company, while it existed, was also AMV-friendly in other ways, with employees helping to judge at Iron Editor events. Also, for the final DVD of their release of the Noir series, they contacted four AMV editors, including myself, to create videos to include as Easter eggs on the disc. This took some wrangling on their part with the rights holders in Japan, and due to rights issues we were only allowed to use the opening and ending songs from the show, but it was a pretty cool thing of them to do.

On the other hand, reportedly at the closing ceremonies of Anime Expo one year, a Japanese guest of honour was upset when they played an AMV that incorporated one of his works. I’m not sure who the guest was, but AX stopped playing AMVs at their closing ceremonies after that.

For one final example, Anime Tourist reported on a 2002 interview done with Hiroyuki Yamaga, Co-Founder of Gainax and his friend Takami Akai.

Audience question: What is your opinion on anime music videos from a company standpoint and from a personal standpoint? Have you seen any anime music videos?

Mr. Yamaga: What exactly do you mean?

AQ: Like the anime music videos that we are going to be showing tonight?

Mr. Yamaga: I like them a lot. I think that they are very well done.

Mr. Akai: I didn’t know that they existed. I actually like them personally.

Mr. Yamaga: I feel that copyrighting is only for professionals. For people who are doing it for their own enjoyment as a hobby, I feel that the line is very blurry. The reason that copyright laws are so strict is because it is very difficult to make the distinction whether or not someone is professional or amateur. But as Gainax, they got their start doing similar stuff so it’s very hard for them to say, “No, We won’t allow that’. They also feel that they don’t really want to say that. As Gainax, the corporation, they have to say, ‘No, we haven’t seen it’, ‘Nope, haven’t heard about it’. That is how they deal with it.

I’ve also heard this “willful ignorance” position from some in the North American industry. (again, from a professional standpoint) Though I’ve heard of at least one employee calling them a “headache”, AMVs and the North American anime industry seem to coexist reasonably peacefully.

Tim Park programs videogames by day, and helps to administrate AnimeMusicVideos.org at night. The site has been online for over ten years and catalogs over 100,000 AMVs. He’s edited a few dozen AMVs (and one vid) under the name Doki Doki Productions.

DIY Media 2010: Anime Music Videos (Part Two)

This is the fourth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following selection of Anime Music Vids was curated and commented upon by Tim Park from AnimeMusicVideos.org.

Only Bob – by Infinity Squared

Although plenty of interesting results can be made by simply mashing up anime and music, some editors like to push themselves and try to incorporate elements of other mediums into their work. In this example, original CGI is combined with anime to portray a robot pondering what it means to be human.

The following videos were also considered for the event:

A Little Retrospect – by Kitsuner

Using footage from other AMVs is often frowned upon in the community. This is partly because the North American anime industry is still quite small (ie: compared to Hollywood) and if you’re going to use some footage, you should support them by buying the DVD. In the case of this video, however, Kitsuner deliberately picked scenes from over 60 AMVs that span a decade to show “how far we’ve come”. (The Strongbad parody clip saying you can use all the AMVs you already have came from Road to Iron Chef)

AMV Minis Episode 3 – compiled by Zarxrax

(Embedding of this video has been disabled. You can view it on YouTube)

Ever since the first one, the AMV Hell series has been hugely popular, with showings of some of the hour-long projects routinely filling screening rooms at conventions. The general idea is, an editor may think a certain part of a song would be a funny pairing with a certain part of an anime, but the joke wouldn’t be funny for the entire length of the song. Collect enough of these ideas and put them together Short-Attention-Span-Theatre-style, and you have AMV Hell. It’s spawned countless imitators and homages, even in machinima in the form of HMV Hell, based on the Halo game franchise. Zarxrax kept saying he’d retire the AMV Hell series, but its spirit lives on in this shorter-form of the popular rapid-fire comedy shorts. Things are often hit-or-miss based on your sense of humour and knowledge of cultural references, but this was one of my favourite compilations of AMV Minis Season One.

Continuous Play – by Ileia

Although repeated scenes may be a symptom of a lack of effort in a video, it works strikingly well here with the song “Stuck On Repeat”. Also, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has scenes that are similar in composition but with different elements or palettes, which makes the video less repetitive and more visually appealing.

Lawl & Order: Legal Tender – by Fall_Child42

Some videos are closer to short stories or parodies than actual music videos. This one tells the story of the criminal justice system. This video was originally done for an Iron Editor event, but Fall_Child42 went on to improve and complete the video after the event.

Time – by qwaqa

qwaqa alters footage from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time to tell his own story of a girl who fixes the past. A “making of” video is directly below, so you can see the work that went into altering footage from the movie.

Kawaii Girls: Ultimate Dating Simulator – by Fizziks

This is a fake parody ad making fun of the Japanese dating simulator game phenomenon.
(Short glossary: kawaii / mecha /moe /otaku)

Attack of the Otaku – by Chiikaboom

After Odorikuruu practically defined the upbeat dance video, there have been constant attempts to one-up videos in the genre with more effects and fun footage. One editor even claimed that he wanted to create an “Odorikuruu killer”. This more recent entry to the field makes references to Koopiskeva’s prior work, Skittles. One effect on display is masking, or isolating an anime character and removing the background in order to put a character in another scene, or in front of some other effects. Chiikaboom wrote in the video description: “It takes a good 20-30 minutes to mask out one frame. There were 482 frames. Do the math.” (And that was just for one scene. A total of 904 frames were masked)

Auriga – by Nostromo

Nostromo specializes in dance videos with electronic music, but instead of cute or fun scenes like in Attack of the Otaku, he typically uses scenes with a higher quality of animation and art than most budget anime TV shows for a different aesthetic. Interestingly, he also used software to interpolate frames, creating more in-between frames for an even smoother look. A description of the process, and higher quality versions of the video are available on the video’s profile page.

Twilight – by Koopiskeva

In a similar vein to Only Bob, above, Koopiskeva combines Kanon with original live action footage. The video was inspired by one of the characters asking another, “Have you ever wondered that perhaps we were living in someone else’s dream?”

A Feel-Good AMV – by haunter103

What can I say? It’s a feel-good AMV! :)

The following videos were made in 2010, too late to be considered for the event:

The Friend Request – by Moonlight Soldier

Here Moonlight Soldier explores anime relationships via Facebook. There are a number of anime and editor in-jokes here, but you should be able to get something out of it. In this video, the female singer is actually speaking for the boy, since Shinji Ikari, the male lead in Evangelion, is portrayed as a bit of a wimp. Other AMVs have also used female voices for him, such as Kevin Caldwell’s Engel.

Every Anime Opening Ever Made – by Derek Lieu

This supercut compilation video illustrates how anime opening sequences share

a lot of elements between them, from composition to effects.

RAH HEY! – by Ileia

Cleverly based on the similarity between the pronunciations of “anime” and “enemy” (at least when sung by Green Day), this is a fun “can you name them all” compilation video which includes composites of anime with editing and social networking software.

Tim Park programs videogames by day, and helps to administrate AnimeMusicVideos.org at night. The site has been online for over ten years and catalogs over 100,000 AMVs. He’s edited a few dozen AMVs (and one vid) under the name Doki Doki Productions.

DIY Media 2010: Anime Music Videos (Part One)

This is the fourth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following curator’s statement was written by Tim Park from AnimeMusicVideos.org.

As far as the AMV community is aware, the first Anime Music Videos were created by Jim Kaposztas in 1982. He was inspired by MTV, back when they played music videos. Anime had a slow growth in North America, with few options before the ’90s for shows licensed and released in English. Fans would trade tapes recorded by friends in Japan, and often translated into English and subtitled by other fans. Many times there would be some extra room at the end of the tape and so as not to waste any, occasionally people would record AMVs after the show.

To some extent, AMVs have helped advertise the shows that they contain. At AMV panels at anime conventions, when audiences are asked if they’ve ever bought an anime based on an AMV that they’ve seen, most hands go up. Apparently when Hold Me Now was shown at Anime Boston, the dealers room sold out of Princess Tutu shortly thereafter.

Before the rise of digital distribution, another common way to see AMVs was at anime conventions. Rather than simply screen them, tradition was that the videos would compete in a contest, perhaps because one of the other most popular events at conventions, cosplay, is also most commonly in the form of a contest. Every year, AMVs shown at Anime Expo and Otakon are seen by thousands of fans, and they can vote for their favourites. (Though in some cases, contests are evaluated by a judging panel) Anime Weekend Atlanta was the first convention to have a 24-hour room dedicated to AMVs for the entire con, and a couple of others have followed suit.

And so, unlike most of the other genres presented at the DIY festival, much of the AMV community is steeped in competition, with multiple rating systems available to grade and evaluate videos at AnimeMusicVideos.org.

One of the reasons for these systems was to help the site’s creator (and others) to find good AMVs. There are even “Iron Editor” competitions where two editors have to make the best video they can in two hours with a few predetermined shows… and a secret ingredient of course.

It’s not all competition, however. Ever since the first Dance Dance Revolution Project in 2001, where almost 20 editors came together to create a dance mix AMV over an hour long, there have been many cases of people coming together to create something more than just one person could manage. They’re called Multi-Editor Projects, or MEPs, and there’s also a sub-forum on AnimeMusicVideos.org to help people organize them. Themes for MEPs can include bands, emotions, holidays, or even numbers stations.

When selecting videos for consideration to be shown at the recent DIY festival,

most were released in 2008-2009.

Videos shown at the DIY 24/7 2010 program:

(With the exception of the YouTube embeds, if you click on the small “link” chain icon in the videos, you’ll be taken to the video’s profile page at AnimeMusicVideos.org. There you’ll find more information on the anime and music used, and any other details about the video that the editor wanted to convey)

I’m On A Blimp (ft. Teddy) – by LittleKuriboh

LittleKuriboh is known for his Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series videos, which consist of abbreviated episodes of the Yu-Gi-Oh anime re-dubbed with humourous dialog. This video parodies The Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat” with Yu-Gi-Oh footage, but unlike most AMVs, the original song’s lyrics have been revised and performed by the creators, in the manner of filk songs. (Another notable example of AMV creators doing their own singing is the Iron Chef Idol series of videos)

Ian Fleming’s Property of a Lady – by qwaqa

There are several instances of AMV editors making faux openings or trailers for existing movies or TV shows. In this case, using Noir, Cowboy Bebop, a few other shows, and a lot of editing, qwaqa creates a fake James Bond-style opening for Ian Fleming’s story, “Property of a Lady”.

AMV Technique Beat – by Douggie

Also called an “AMV For Dummies” (ie: a how-to book video) in the title card, Douggie illustrates a number of techniques and considerations that go into making an AMV. The title is a reference to the “Technique Beat” trilogy of videos by Decoy.

Tim Park programs videogames by day, and helps to administrate AnimeMusicVideos.org at night. The site has been online for over ten years and catalogs over 100,000 AMVs. He’s edited a few dozen AMVs (and one vid) under the name Doki Doki Productions.

The Survival of Soap Opera (Part Four): Why Fans Matter

The final section of The Survival of Soap Opera focuses on the evolution of fan community practices online, on various soap opera fan experiences/demographics, and on relations between the soap opera industry and its fans. Below, a variety of the contributors to this section answer questions about the relationships fans have with the soap operas they watch and with one another.

Tom Casiello is a current member of the writing team for The Young and the Restless, a former associate head writer for One Life to Live and Days of Our Lives, and a two-time Daytime Emmy Award-winning writer with As the World Turns who has written about the genre at his blog, Damn the Man! Save the Empire.

Abigail De Kosnik is an assistant professor at the University of California-Berkeley in the Berkeley Center for New Media and the Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies who writes on media, fandom, and copyright. As editor of the collection, she co-wrote the book’s introduction, “The Crisis of Daytime Drama and What It Means for the Future of Television.” She also wrote an essay in the collection, entitled “Soaps for Tomorrow: Media Fans Making Online Drama from Celebrity Gossip. C.

Lee Harrington is professor of sociology and a Women’s Studies Program Affiliate at Miami University is co-author of the book Soap Fans and who has written on the soap opera genre since the late 1980s for publications including The Journal of Aging Studies, The Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, and Transformative Works and Cultures. As one of the book’s co-editors, she co-wrote the book’s introduction, “The Crisis of Daytime Drama and What It Means for the Future of Television.” She also co-authored a piece for the book with Denise Brothers, entitled “Constructing the Older Audience: Age and Aging in Soaps.”

Roger Newcomb is the Editor-in-Chief of soap opera news site We Love Soaps, the producer of two Internet radio soap operas, and executive producer and co-writer of the film Manhattanites. His essay in the book is entitled “As the World Turns‘ Luke and Noah and Fan Activism.”

Radha O’Meara is a doctoral candidate and lecturer in screen studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia, who has published her work in Screwball Television: Gilmore Girls and in the Austrian journal Metro. Her essay in the book is entitled “The ‘Missing Years': How Local Programming Ruptured Days of Our Lives in Australia.”

Julie Porter is a longtime newspaper editor and reporter who is webmaster of soap opera site talk!talk!. Her essay in the collection is entitled “Hanging on by a Common Thread.”

QueenEve is the pseudonym of a career professional and soap opera fan who has moderated and/or founded several popular soap communities online. The collection features a piece based on Abigail De Kosnik’s interview with QueenEve focusing on fan activity around and against soaps.

How has the relationship between U.S. soap operas and their fans evolved over time?

Tom Casiello: I honestly think the relationship between the soaps and the fans hasn’t changed nearly as much as others believe. (I also think we have to be very careful not to group them all together as “the soap operas.” There are currently six U.S. daytime soaps on the air, all of which should have their own individual identity, wherin their fans expect different things from each show.) At its core, the audience still wants stories and characters they can connect with on a human level, mixed with the element of fantasy and escapism they’ve come to expect. They want to know the characters they’ve loved their whole lives, whom they’ve watched grow and evolve, are in capable, trustworthy hands…and they will continue to live on in their homes daily. While audience demograhics may shift, and trends will come and go, strong, long-term serialized storytelling with heart is all the fans have ever wanted.

Roger Newcomb: Obviously, from radio soap operas to present-day television and internet soaps, the way fans view or listen to their soaps has changed tremendously. The relationship the soaps have with fans has evolved as well. Even 30 years ago, the main feedback mechanisms were snail mail and telephone feedback lines. In 2010, fans can email the shows and their networks, and many times the stars themselves. The shows also have Facebook and Twitters accounts to solicit immediate feedback from fans, and the actors themselves directly interact with fans in a more personal way through social networking. It is not clear whether this increased and immediate interaction has impacted storylines or story direction.

QueenEve: I think it used to be a far more personal relationship shared between female multi-generational family members and the soap opera. Over time, with the growth of soap magazines covering more than just “the stories,” suddenly we knew about the actors playing the characters and the writers writing the show, making it a little less personal. We learned about the relationships between the actors playing the parts (marriages, divorces, and kids), entirely separate from their parts, and the experience expanded beyond one among just you, your mother, and the story. Then, with the internet, it became even less intimate and much more of a group activity with other viewers. So, what had been something between female members of a family and the soap eventually involved the actors, the writers, the media, and other viewers who may not have viewed the show and characters as you and your family did. The other side of that is that the “family” element has sort of dropped out, and it is no longer a multi-generational female experience. Some of that is the changing role of women in society, but a large part of it is that soaps have backed away from telling multi-generational female stories in search of the almighty 18-49 demo, and the audience loss has reflected that. So, I think it went from a highly personal and intimate experience to a more expansive but impersonal experience such that viewers don’t have the investment they once did.

What changes have we seen in recent years in how fans of U.S. daytime dramas connect with one another?

Tom Casiello: The Internet for one – for the first time in history, it’s much easier for those with the same interests to connect instantaneously, on a level playing field. Who they are in their lives, where they come from, their education – it’s irrelevant on the Web. Here, they are all equal fans, and that has not only helped organize a stronger group effort in their campaigns but also created a world of discussion to bounce their ideas and opinions off of each other in what is hopefully a moderated environment.

Abigail De Kosnik: The most striking fan activity that the Web, and online communities, have brought about (in my view) is that “fans make their own fun,” as one of our contributors, Web site moderator “QueenEve,” stated. Since fans have started communicating online, they have basically produced their own virtual soap operas – spreading spoilers and dissecting upcoming plots, posting speculations about what’s going to happen next as well as (often very thoughtful) analyses of what happened recently on their favorite shows, in addition to gossiping about behind-the-scenes rumors (Which co-stars won’t work together? Why did the Exec Producer fire that actor? When is that former writer coming back to this show?). There’s also been a level of drama in the wars between fan bases that matches that of the heightened conflicts depicted on soap operas. The animosity that warring fan bases have borne toward one another has been awesome in its fierceness, and, while I don’t want to minimize the fact that some people’s feelings have probably been deeply hurt by these acrimonious exchanges, I must say that there’s an element of watching or participating in soap fans battle online that is immensely engaging and entertaining. I have taken part in some of these “bitchfests” myself (and it’s not always fans vs. other fans; it’s also fans vs. the shows or the networks or particular storylines), and I’ll always remember those impassioned campaigns as really interesting, exciting times of my life. There’s something about the dedication and commitment that soap fans have for their shows that really infused the online fan experience with an intensity that many other Internet fan groups lack. It comes, I think, from the fact that, when the Web became a big part of soap fans’ lives, many fans had already been engaged with these soap story worlds for years – in many cases, fans’ involvement predated the Internet by decades. The Web, which permits for a really wide range of discussions and actions that can be micro-interventions or can go on for months or years, almost seems like it was specifically built as a platform for soap fans, who have decades’ worth of information and insight to discuss.

C. Lee Harrington: While soap viewers were among the first groups to migrate to the Net recreationally, as Nancy Baym discussed in Tune In, Log On, they were slower to create the type of user-generated content currently associated with media fandom, in part because the frequency (daily) and longevity (the average age of US soaps is 40 years) of the “primary”‘ text created less need for viewers to fill narrative gaps in between episodes or installments. Over the past few years, soap fans have become increasingly engaged in vlogs, video-sharing, fan fiction, podcasts, and mash-ups, while much of soap fans’ energy remains devoted to the ongoing daily criticism, discussion, and fan activism which takes place in online forums and the blogosphere.

Roger Newcomb: Fans are connecting on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter and continue to interact on various message boards. The fans seem to be more tech-savvy these days, so the number of message boards and Facebook pages has grown by leaps and bounds. In some ways, this has splintered the online audience, with more websites and social network sites dedicated to particular actors, characters, or soap couples. We Love Soaps TV receives almost 10 percent of our hits from Twitter and, in many cases, from fans who tweet and re-tweet our features. Twitter has become the fastest way of spreading information about soaps around the web.

Julie Porter: Be careful what you wish for! To me, that’s the warning label that should be placed on the desire to raise viewership at any cost. The race for ratings – and ad revenue – has had an unintended consequence along the way: a decrease of conflict in storyline. The intense competition for audience share gives soap viewers a powerful amount of clout in determining how stories are resolved – and, generally, they want favorite characters to be happy, and want to see their characters’ conflicts resolved. But is that what they really want? Accelerated storytelling satisfies the short-term viewer but weakens the long-term story. Conflict makes for anxiety, but quick resolutions make for an awfully boring soap, long-term. Once, it might have taken three years to resolve a complex story in a big reveal. That’s storytelling. But, these days, if the focus groups say to wrap it up – well, it gets wrapped up quickly, and there’s short-term satisfaction but a lot of opportunity for story and character development is lost. Faster-paced storytelling throws characters into a revolving door of reaction; the storyline rules, but deep character development is almost nil. And so the viewer who wanted a quick resolution also quickly loses interest. The willingness of networks to give focus groups and online campaigns a strong role in the decision process also leads to a bad end: It places creative control in the hands of executive management rather than writers, and fan feedback becomes the tail that wags the dog. The soap that has evolved into a marketing tool isn’t nearly as satisfying as one that does what soaps were intended to do: explore the feelings and lives of people, and their ups and downs.

QueenEve: I think, in the past, you might have a discussion with a neighbor or friend about the soap or the “girls” in the dorm, but fandom was fairly generic. Now, with the internet, you have both a gathering place and a divisive means of organization. That is, people generally check in on the internet to find fans of the characters or couples they like, to the exclusion of a more general audience. It has led to “board wars” in the past, between couple fans especially. The Sonny & Brenda versus Jax & Brenda fans of the 90s on General Hospital was a good representation of that, as were the Robin & Jason fans versus the Carly & Jason fans. So, on the one hand, the internet allowed fans to find each other on the internet and connect while, on the other hand, it leads to divisive and heated fights.

How do the teams who make these shows take into account the fans’ feedback and mindset, from your perspective?

Abigail De Kosnik: I know for a fact that the shows do pay attention to soap fans’ feedback, to some extent. The contributors to our book who work in the soap industry verified this, and I have heard soap actors often tell fans who want to see changes on their favorite shows that they must write or call in to the network to voice their opinions. One of my e-mails to ABC, urging them to portray professional women – the female nurses, doctors, lawyers – in a more positive light on General Hospital, got quoted almost verbatim by ABC Daytime exec Brian Frons in an interview he did with one of the soap magazines back in 2003. But, on the other hand, I think many fans, and I am one of them, are frustrated by the fact that, although the Internet permits for a much greater flow of feedback from soap viewers to soaps’ producers, the shows don’t seem to be able to take effective action in response. Several of our industry contributors have told us that, with soaps, time is a huge factor in this – of course, feedback on a storyline comes in well after months of that story are written and shot – but, also, I wonder if the case of soap operas, in which we see this enormous wave of feedback going to TV shows and not that much difference being made, just illustrates the fact that television is a creative industry and, probably on any television program, whether daytime or prime time or a miniseries, the writers just can’t care too much about what the audience thinks about a particular storyline or character. I mean, Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner doesn’t think about what fans want, or what they’ve liked about past episodes, when he puts a new season of Mad Men together, except in the most general way (I think he once mentioned that one reason for an increase in child character Sally Draper’s air time was that many viewers relate to Sally the most, she’s their “way in” to the show, since they were about Sally’s age in Mad Men’s time period.). So, maybe the frustration of soap fans is just indicative of the fact that online participation isn’t a guarantee that “the people” can influence the power centers that much. The Web gives an illusion of what others have called “participatory democracy,” but just sending a bunch of e-mails obviously isn’t the way to change the minds of the minority who are the decision-makers. However, I do think that there are probably ways to use online connectivity to influence power centers, both in soap operas and in other arenas, like politics. And maybe soap fans can pioneer ways to use digital technologies to share feedback that really creates change, and then political fans and organizations can learn from those tactics!!!

C. Lee Harrington: From what I can tell, soap opera creators have waffled back and forth on this. The production team rightfully knows a projected story arc in ways viewers do not, and there is a longstanding perspective of “trust us to tell a good story,” even when viewers are rejecting what they are seeing daily onscreen. The flip side of that is that, with the instantaneous feedback that the internet allows, production teams (or perhaps network honchos) can get too engaged with daily (or minute-by-minute) viewer reaction and respond accordingly, to the long-term detriment of the narrative. The heated debates about the usage of focus groups in…when did that start in daytime? Late 1990s?…preceded the current tension between short and long-term narrative and industry goals.

Roger Newcomb: I personally think, for the most part, the fan feedback online is disregarded. When there is a huge outrage over something (like the abrupt end of the Kyle and Fish storyline on One Life to Live), the shows and networks take notice, but, even then, it doesn’t necessarily change the outcome. In general, there are so many opposing views from fans on storylines that it is difficult to know which is the majority. I’ve also directly heard from writers and producers of daytime soaps that they believe the online audience does not necessarily reflect the perspective of the total viewing audience, even when the online audience number in thousands, a greater number than a supposedly statistically sound Nielsen sample.

QueenEve: From my experience, they couldn’t care less about fans’ feedback and mindset unless it feeds their agenda and own personal likes and dislikes. Occassionally, the feedback is strong enough that it can change things, but I have seen more often them using the feedback as a means not to change things but rather to force a story even more firmly down the fans’ throats. That is, if some new character is not going over with the fans but the show is highly invested, we’ll see even more of the character, and we will get overkill of stories trying to make this character more sympathetic and hearing other well loved characters “pimp” and “prop” the new character endlessly.

How has the trend of an aging soap opera audience impacted the soap opera industry in the U.S.?

Tom Casiello: The networks continue to look for new ways to entice younger viewers to their shows, as they’ve always felt (with good reason) that these shows survive when passed down from generation to generation. However, I do believe we are seeing the first signs of a possible shift in that thinking. Those audience members over fifty are consuming far more than their counterparts from half a century ago did. Consumers with more income in older demographics are proving to be just as valuable as younger demographics. The key is to find a way to welcome new viewers into the fold while trying not to alienate older viewers…and it’s a struggle all the soaps have faced for the last fifteen to twenty years, more so than ever as the generation gap grows wider.

C. Lee Harrington: As my chapter with Denise Brothers suggests, the aging of soap opera audiences had a major impact. The age of all television viewers is going up (as the global population ages), and soap viewership is no exception to this trend. However, the core demographic remains 18-49 year old women, which means soap viewers are rapidly aging out of network priorities. This is visibilized on-screen in terms of which actors/characters are prioritized (with vets moved to window-dressing or dropped from contract to recurring status), as well as the story content itself. The older viewers and actors we spoke with for our study are keenly aware of this trend and believe the genre is suffering for it. If soaps do not respond more fully to the aging of its viewership, an older demographic that is more economically powerful than the industry apparently appreciates, the genre will be in even more trouble than it is now.

Roger Newcomb:Obviously, the aging soap audience is one of the contributors to the decrease in viewers. As longtime fans have passed, they weren’t replaced by new fans of the genre. Even though the average age of soap viewers is the mid-50s, the shows have continued to focus on younger characters to a large degree. But there have been some shifts in the past year. Days of Our Lives features more over-50 contract actors today than ever in the history of the show. One Life to Live has recently shifted the focus to the veteran actors on the canvas. There seems to be a better mix between younger and older characters, and this may be due to the networks finally realizing who their audience is.

QueenEve: Not at all. The shows keep trying to write for an audience that isn’t there — 18 – 34 — and are losing the “aging audience” that they simply do not value. It’s insane really, because it’s not just the soap opera audience that has aged — it’s all of society now that the baby boomers are aging. Why that audience isn’t valued is a mystery to me.

What “surplus audiences” outside the target demographic should soap opera producers be paying attention to? What can they learn from these audiences?

Tom Casiello: Diversity is a major issue daytime needs to address. This isn’t just a Caucasian versus African-American issue. In a perfect world, these shows would also represent Latino characters, Asian characters, Jewish characters, homosexuals/bisexuals; there’s no end to the types of characters these shows should involve in their long-term stories–while always striving to find a balance between honesty and stereotyping, walking that fine line between truth and cliche. All of these demographics can play vital roles in front-burner stories and can present just as many interesting character dilemmas as a middle-aged, Caucasian, heterosexual character can…probably with an added layer of nuance, an original perspective that puts an entirely new spin on the storyline.

C. Lee Harrington: As I noted above, I believe older viewers should be repositioned from “surplus” to “core,” given demographic projections. To engage the US viewing population as fully as possible, soaps would benefit from greater diversity in characters and storytelling overall–more LBGTQ characters, more characters of color and immigrant characters, more characters of lower socio-economic classes etc. There are genre-specific risks to this, of course (I have published several articles on the generic challenges that gay and lesbian characters/stories present to daytime), but narratives that better reflect the US population as a whole may engage a wider audience. I also echo Radha O’Meara’s call below for greater attunement to audiences in other parts of the world, given the still-central role that serial narratives play in global import/export patterns. As Denise Bielby and I wrote in Global TV (2008), The Young & the Restless and The Bold & the Beautiful has been particularly smart in writing narratives for multiple geographic/cultural audiences, avoiding lengthy on-screen legal trials and certain types of humorous stories that may be perplexing to non-Americans, for example. I’m not sure the extent to which other programs are following suit, but, if not, they should.

Roger Newcomb: The soaps have targeted women 18-49 and 18-34 for decades. Men make up 20-25% of the total viewing audience, but you do not see commercials for men on any of these shows. African-Americans also make up a large portion of the audience, but characterizations of African-Americans are few and far between on daytime soap operas. Gay audiences, targeted by networks like Bravo, would have been a potential goldmine for soaps, but, with the cancelation of As The World Turns, there is only one regular gay character on daytime now–Bianca on All My Children. Targeting various niche groups would seem to be a more lucrative alternative for soaps than the current one-size-fits-all model.

QueenEve: I think the soaps should go back to the beginning and start writing compelling stories about characters of all ages and stop writing for the “sweeps explosions.” I think people like the soap opera genre. If they didn’t, the genre’s serial aspects would not have been adopted by primetime TV and be so successful there. It’s ironic because, as soap operas tried to be more like primetime with big explosions, fights, special effects, and adventure, they became less successful. While, as primetime became more like soap operas with ongoing stories that build throughout a season (Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, ER, etc.) they became more successful. Daytime soaps are bleeding viewers not because the soap opera genre is dying but because it is being executed so poorly, compared with primetime TV. People want a better product.

Radha O’Meara: I’m most interested in international surplus audiences for US soap operas, and my contribution to the collection was about the Australian audience for Days of Our Lives. I think that the focus on US audiences for US productions is particularly strong, commercially and critically. If producers and creators give more serious consideration to international soap audiences, they might learn from different strategies and priorities in scheduling, episode duration, and attracting niche audiences, including young people. This might help them to attract greater audiences globally and domestically. I find the strong focus on domestic distribution and audiences for US soap operas in American media studies a little troubling. Although US scholars are cognizant of international distribution and audiences, they seem to maintain a strong emphasis on the US as the principal audience. From an antipodean perspective, it seems American media studies could be more open to the implications of plural global audiences.

Given that many soap operas have long histories with international audiences, there is a wealth of experience and data on which to draw. The broadcast of US soap operas in international markets can highlight the potential of alternatives for scheduling and attracting niche audiences. For example, the most popular US daytime soap opera in Australia is The Bold and the Beautiful. It is broadcast on weekdays on the Ten network in the 4.30 p.m. timeslot. This has allowed the show to garner a significant number of young viewers, who watch it after coming home from the day at primary or high school. Since loyalty to soaps can be so enduring, this early attachment can lead to a lifelong connection. I began watching the show regularly after coming home from high school several decades ago and still enjoy it.

I suspect The Bold and the Beautiful‘s half-hour format is a significant part of its appeal as the highest-rated U.S. daytime soap in Australia, and indeed the world. This is a contrast to many other US daytime soaps which run for an hour, and particularly those which are screened in Australia (Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless, General Hospital). The half-hour format might be more appealing to Australian viewers, as Australian viewers are more accustomed to popular half-hour soaps made in Australia and Britain, such as Neighbours, Home and Away, Coronation Street, EastEnders. Throughout the long history of US soap operas, program duration has consistently expanded. Early radio and television soaps often ran for 15 minutes, including a single commercial break, but most television soaps expanded in the 1950s to half-hour and later to full hour programs. A few even tried 90 minutes daily. In today’s fast-paced world, perhaps US soaps could experiment with episodes of shorter duration. Rather than cancelling soaps with falling ratings, US producers might consider what shorter episodes could do for both international and domestic audiences.

Producers and scholars should consider what makes particular soap operas popular in different regions and the implications this has for definitions of soap opera as a commercially successful genre. Soap opera in the US is much more clearly defined by US programs and by local emphasis on the scheduling and audience distinction between daytime and primetime. These distinctions are much less significant for international viewers. Many Australian soap fans follow daytime and primetime US, UK, and Australian soaps. Despite obvious differences, they often have no trouble grouping them together as soap operas, which share common family traits. In fact, Australian audiences are often unaware of the “original” features used to define programs in the US: US daytime soaps have been broadcast here at midnight, and primetime soaps have been broadcast during the day; daily soaps have been broadcast weekly or bi-weekly, and weekly soaps have been broadcast daily. This means that producers and scholars can learn more about what audiences seek in soaps by exploring broader definitions of the genre and its audiences. According to Christine Geraghty, Australian soaps have influenced British soaps to integrate more male characters, young characters, and “masculine” storylines over the past few decades (Women and Soap Opera: A Study of Prime Time Soaps, Polity 1991). Perhaps US soaps might also consider such changes.

In my contribution to the collection, I wrote about an unusual rupture in soap opera broadcasting. After screening episodes of NBC daytime drama Days of Our Lives in a continuous sequence for over thirty years, in 2004, Australia’s Nine Network skipped approximately one thousand episodes. The Nine Network continued to broadcast the program daily, but most Australian viewers missed four years’ worth of episodes. An interesting tension arose from this fissure between those who understood the Australian audience as a component of a global, homogenous audience for Days of Our Lives centered on the US, and those who understood the Australian audience as a unique, local experience. Scholars and producers should both consider their positions on this tension. Similarly, this rupture of Days of our Lives for Australian audiences raised questions about the nature of soap audiences’ enduring commitment to particular programs. It highlighted how significant parts of the audience seemed to value their own history with and experience of the program more highly than a wider, communal experience. This deeply personal connection is something that producers presumably want to foster, and new distribution methods may impact on these experiences in even more divergent ways. These are some of the lessons US soap opera producers can learn from international audiences, and they may even help them maintain their domestic audiences.

The Survival of Soap Opera (Part Three): New Trends In Production and Distribution

The third section of the The Survival of Soap Opera examines how soap operas have been experimenting with both production and distribution, from new ways of taping and editing soaps to the use of transmedia storytelling. Below, several of the contributors to this part of the book answer some questions about these new trends for daytime dramas.

Ernest Alba is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin whose previous work on soap operas can be found at MIT CMS: The American Soap Opera and through the MIT OpenCourseWare initiative. He co-authored a piece for the book with Bernard Timberg, entitled “‘The Rhetoric of the Camera in Television Soap Opera’ Revisited: The Case of General Hospital.

Patrick Erwin is a freelance writer and journalist who has written for the soap opera genre for Marlena De Lacroix’s site and at his blog, A Thousand Other Worlds. His essay in the collection is entitled “Guiding Light: Relevance and Renewal in a Changing Genre.”

Racquel Gonzales is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California-Irvine and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin Radio-Television-Film Master’s program whose research into the soap opera genre includes reception studies of online and offline fan communities and industry history. Her essay in the collection is entitled “From Daytime to Night Shift: Examining the ABC Daytime/SOAPnet Primetime Spin-off Experiment.”

Erick Yates Green is an assistant professor of media production in the School of Communication at East Carolina University and a director and cinematographer. His piece in the book is entitled “The Evolution of the Production Process of Soap Operas Today.”

Deborah Jaramillo is an assistant professor in the Department of Film and Television at Boston University, where her research focuses on television as a complicated collocation of culture, aesthetics, commerce, and politics. Her essay in the book is entitled “It’s Not All Talk: Editing and Storytelling in As the World Turns.”

Elana Levine is an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has written about soap operas in her book Wallowing in Sex as well as in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Flow TV and in the anthologies Beyond Prime Time and Convergence Media History. Her piece in the collection is entitled “‘What the hell does TIIC mean?’ Online Content and the Struggle to Save the Soaps.”

Emma Webb is a doctoral student at the University of Kansas whose work focuses on fan influence and online message boards, including multiple academic projects on U.S. daytime soaps and soap opera fans. Her essay in the book is entitled “The Evolution of the Fan Video and the Influence of YouTube on the Creative Decision-Making Process for Fans.”

What do you feel have been some of the most successful or compelling experiments in telling soap opera stories, or distributing that content, in the past few years in the U.S.?

Patrick Erwin: I do think that the Guiding Light experiment I describe in the book was compelling and important. I’ve said before that it’s a case of “the operation was a success, but the patient died.” It may have been too much change for an existing show that had a very defined visual palette. But I believe it was incredibly important in terms of defining what’s possible. As we move increasing towards narrowcasting on TV and the Web, programming will need to be made on a more economic scale.

Racquel Gonzales: Two experiments I found promising and expanding the possibilities of the medium were the SOAPnet Night Shift series (as I’ve explored in my contribution to the book) and the popular, nostalgic past episode blocks featured on SOAPnet and most recently on ABC (though their “past” episodes hardly delve into the so-called “golden era” of soap history). These two share a key element crucial for contemporary resonance with audiences: acknowledgment and embrace of a rich soap past. Soap fans, more than any other TV viewer, can have years and even decades of memories with the same storylines, characters, fictional families, and fictional locations. So much soap viewing pleasure comes from those historical and memory ties between the audiences and the soap themselves and our ability to make those complex narrative connections with the texts. When the soap industry can bring about these moments of remembrance, even in experimental ways like the Night Shift spinoff, they can tap into a shared history of viewing and a soap viewer’s memory of watching. Of course, this can always create a backlash where, for instance, viewers watching a General Hospital episode from 1996 on SOAPnet lament the good ol’ days in comparison with current GH!

Erick Yates Green: The innovative webisode series entitled What If that was aired on ABC.com and SOAPnet.com that brought together central characters from different and established soap operas is innovative. Like previous webseries Imaginary Bitches, Family Dinner, Gotham, and Venice, What If was developed as a series (in this case, 10 webisodes) and was originally aired on July 12, 2010. You can find additional information on the series here and here. Like feature films and TV primetime broadcasting, the world of soap operas distribution is VERY dynamic in our contemporary media playing field. What If, at least, is dealing with the divergent media distribution venues not only with programming that goes first to the web as well as broadcast, BUT, interestingly, as they experiment with divergent distribution, they also experiment with bringing together characters from their different primary shows into an experimental melodramatic melting pot as well.

Deborah Jaramillo: I ran into a great Mexican telenovela this summer on Univision, which, as I sadly noticed at NCA, mass communication scholars continue to forget is a U.S. broadcast network. One of the most amazing things about this novela, Soy Tu Dueña (I Am Your Owner), was that it actually broke into the top 25 broadcast programs in the late summer of 2010. And Univision has recently been beating the English-language broadcast networks in the competition for 18-34 year-olds. Soy Tu Dueña would never have appeared on my radar had it not been for the World Cup in May. Even though the audience for the Mundial is probably more male then female, Univision still promoted the hell out of Soy Tu Dueña during the matches. Soy Tu Dueña features an all-star cast, including Lucero, who sings the title song with Joan Sebastian, and Silvia Piñal, a veteran of Buñuel films (“la primera actriz,” the credits boast). Soy Tu Dueña is actually a remake of La Dueña, produced by Televisa in 1995. This was the complete package–pre-sold product, big stars, an excellent theme song–that rode on the coattails of the biggest sports event in the world. Sports…not exactly novela territory. It was a great experiment, and it worked.

Elana Levine: I’ve seen a few particularly compelling experiments in recent years. One is . While the first season of the series seemed to stretch the GH writing staff too thin and resulted in boring, even unpleasant takes on the daytime program’s characters and stories, the second season (which used a new-to-daytime head writer) was truly remarkable. Drawing on GH history by including favorite actors/characters from years past, introducing a diverse array of engaging new characters, and balancing some hospital-centered, more episodic storytelling with serialized tales featuring the core cast, it was a pure pleasure for GH fans and, I believe, would have been enjoyable for new viewers as well. I don’t know that it was an economically sustainable project in SOAPnet’s eyes, however. In the more promotional realm of webisodes, I have found ABC/SOAPnet’s What If… webisodes to be a fun and engaging means of promoting the shows and appealing to viewers. These webisodes feature characters from different ABC soaps encountering one another, allowing fans to see new combinations of characters they know well but think of as existing in separate universes. But perhaps the most significant new development in distributing soap content in recent years is what has come to seem standard practice–the streaming of soap episodes online. Daytime soaps came to this distribution window later than prime time programming, but I believe that increasing viewers’ access to the shows serves their continuation well.

What have been the biggest failures?

Ernest Alba: I recently gave a lecture to a classroom of 50 undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin based on the essay by Bernard Timberg and myself in The Survival of Soap Opera. During the discussion, I discovered a few surprising things about young people and their relationship to soap opera – primarily that they think they know all about soap operas, don’t like it based on what they know, and they have several misconceptions about them. Based on the discussion of soap opera in that class, I would say that the biggest story is of the failure of soap opera to communicate its value as entertainment to a young audience.

When I posed to them the question, “What are some associations we have with soap people who watch soap operas?” I received several different responses: “Old people,” “My grandma and my grandma’s friends watch it,” “Anyone that has free time during the day watches soaps,” and my favorite: “Lonely people watch soaps.” This class of mostly freshman students associate soap opera not with their parents but with their grandparents! One student related that she watched them with her mother who watched them to learn English. It is clear that young people associate soap opera with people that they perceive as being diametrically opposed to them in their viewing habits and lifestyles.

Furthermore, it seems that they are confused about what soap opera is and how it can be an enjoyable experience. They seem to believe that soap opera is a less realistic form of storytelling than other television formats, like the primetime drama or the reality show. One student made the audacious claim that House M.D. is a soap opera. Immediately a cacophony of protests rose from the class. The way they distinguished their conceptions of soap opera from House was that House had better acting, less exaggerated plots, Hugh Laurie (a single, strong male lead), more comedy, and other things to draw you in as opposed to “sappy” and “exaggerated” drama. The student finally threw up her hands in defeat and said, “Apparently, a lot of people like House and don’t want it to be associated with soap opera.” Despite their acknowledgement of the fakeness of television drama in soap operas, they are unwilling to associate their dislike of “fakeness” with their favorite shows, which are also clearly scripted, staged, and unrealistic depictions of reality. It is this attitude of defining soap opera primarily as that which is antithetical to anything they value that allows them to participate in the tradition of denigrating soap opera as a form of entertainment.

If there is one thing that gives me hope, it is that only two students raised their hands when I asked who had never watched an episode of a soap opera. A full quarter (about 13 or 14 people) raised their hands when I asked if they’d regularly watched a soap opera at some point. One student listed four or five soaps she watched regularly when she was younger. The students know that soap opera exists and some understand it quite thoroughly, but many hold common misconceptions about soap opera because it doesn’t play a role in their life and plays a role in the life of people they don’t consider their peers. They use those misconceptions to further dissuade themselves from watching soap operas.

Patrick Erwin: For me, I think the change in narrative from a more character-based narrative to more of a traditional soap/action adventure hybrid is the biggest failure of the last decade. Even when GH had the Luke and Laura/Ice Princess type of stories, they worked because the narrative was still rooted in the reality of what happened to those people. Soaps have alienated their existing audience and demographic by chasing the youth demographic and have implemented closed-ended storylines that buy short-term attention at the expense of long term fan investment.

Racquel Gonzales: It is difficult to pin these down in a bullet point style, but, broadly, the soap industry has been disconnected with the desires of its audience for a while, and that gap has only gotten wider against the many TV and network changes throughout the 1990s and 2000s. On a very basic level, there are numerous cringeworthy experiments and sensational storylines whose aims were to entice new viewers and keep long-time viewers interested, but their results generated disinterest and audience ire. As a soap fan and scholar, the most disappointing and frustrating failures have been those manipulations of soap history and viewers’ investments for quick fixes on ratings because the soap audience investment in these various often fantastic storylines depend on character continuity, recognizable relational ties, and simply a day-to-day viewing that makes sense.

Deborah Jaramillo: With regard to As The World Turns, I was very disappointed with the quicker pace and the elliptical editing that made my program resemble an hour-long drama rather than a soap. I am not against formal experimentation in any genre–my piece in the anthology elaborates on this theme–but much of the pacing and editing decisions seemed to stem from an atmosphere of panic and not from artistry. I constantly complain to my students (especially when they started to get impatient with Lost several seasons back) that no one knows how to appreciate the beauty of serialized programming because no one watches soaps anymore. So many people deride television viewers’ short attention spans, but watching an old-school soap opera was a daily exercise in patience. We’ve lost those conventions that make us wait and anticipate. We’ve lost process in favor of product, and this has contributed to a spoiled audience.

Elana Levine: As my essay discusses, I think ABC’s character blogs revealed a poor understanding of fans’ investment in soaps. Because these blogs did not do much to expand or delve into the thoughts and experiences of their character-authors and so rigidly reproduced the preferred meanings of current storylines, they revealed themselves as baldly promotional efforts, with no real interest in exploring show history or character depth.

Emma Webb: The first is not distributing free content online earlier. ABC didn’t begin to distribute their soaps this way until 2009, even after they had been making prime-time shows available this way for over a year, and even though many of the networks had been partnering with Hulu since it’s inception in 2007. The second is the lack of investment in production of soaps. As Sara Bibel points out in her chapter in the book, as the ad revenue for each soap has gone down, costing-cutting measures like eliminating breakdown writers and the actors’ rehearsal time (so that each show can speed taping). This has resulted in a change in what I believe is most critical to soaps: the stories. The stories that now show up on screen often have continuity issues, focus on new characters that the audience does not know (as unknown new actors are significantly cheaper to feature than veteran actors that the audience does know), and actors (based on what has been said at personal appearances) are often confused about the direction of the story and their character’s motivation. It is a downward spiral. It appears, based on the rating trends, that, as soaps cut more costs, the quality of each soap goes down, and more viewers tune out, resulting in less ad revenue and more cost cutting.

What lessons can we learn from both these successes and these failures?

Ernest Alba:While I find it encouraging that soap operas like General Hospital and Young and the Restless still have strong ratings, I find it discouraging that old warhorses like Guiding Light and As the World Turns have been cancelled. The biggest failures of soap opera from my perspective are that they have failed to capture a new young audience. It is clear that many students are able to pinpoint some of the strengths of soap opera – emotion, drama, and multi-character narrative structures – but they perceive them as weaknesses. Still, other strengths – longevity of characters and complexity in family structure – are mysteries to them. In our essay for the book, Bernard Timberg discusses the ways in which the camera rhetoric in soaps conveys meaning to an audience. These camera movements and ways of editing and framing a scene are unique to soaps in that they are not the same ones used in serial dramas and do not convey the same meanings. In the way meaning is constructed by the camera, we have argued that soap operas have changed little. But, if the potential audience has changed so much that they are unable to decode the meanings in soaps, it might be time to change the way in which soap opera is filmed and edited so that new audiences who are used to reality shows and documentary-style filmmaking can decode the camera’s rhetoric and, if not understand the intended meaning of the narrative, at least understand the intended meaning of the shot. Some experimentation in this vein has obviously already taken place in several soaps, but the traditional way of filming and editing still dominates. My one suggestion is that we must look/research to ensure that audiences still understand how to decode the stylistic conventions of soap opera filmmaking or begin to encode meaning visually in a different way.

Patrick Erwin: I think it’s important that serialized storytelling return to basics, whether it’s classic TV soaps or new Web soaps. The audience may be smaller, and I don’t think we’ve quite figured out the equation that can make money on the Web, but, again, we need to move from broadcasting to narrowcasting, and soaps need to learn not to try to be everything to everyone….but rather be who they were, and are, proudly.

Racquel Gonzales: It is a difficult road to anticipate the current and future viewing audience, a road soaps have been on since they began on radio. And thinking about what does or doesn’t work right now in soaps really sparks wider questions about contemporary TV viewing in general, especially since seriality has been embraced as a potential element of current “quality TV.”

Deborah Jaramillo: If soap operas are on their way out–if everyone involved in As The World Turns knew the clock was ticking–why mess with the formula? Why try to attract an audience that isn’t going to come? Why not go back to your roots and just celebrate the genre, the form? This is not to say that all changes in soaps happened recently–all genres are static and dynamic–but, if you’re going to pander to an audience, pander to the one that’s stuck with you across generations.

Elana Levine: The first lesson would be the importance of story, of the writing. The second season of Night Shift worked because it was well written by someone (Sri Rao) who understood the rhythms and appeals of soap narrative and who respected and drew from GH history. This seems an obvious set of principles on which to base soap writing, but, too often these days, the insular community of soap writers ends up failing to take advantage of these core generic traits. The disappointments of the ABC character blogs further enforce this point. I believe that these platforms did not provide the kind of attention to history and the pleasures of soap narrative that they might have, and thus they turned off rather than drew in many viewers.

How has transmedia storytelling impacted the U.S. soap opera (or not)?

Racquel Gonzales: Soaps have been exploring transmedia storytelling for quite a while, particularly in print, with different characters’ “diaries” being made available in book form. While these avenues provide alternate revenues, they also create more fragments for audiences to piece together for storyline continuity.

Elana Levine: I don’t think transmedia storytelling has had an important role in US daytime soap opera thus far. Most attempts along these lines have been pretty obviously promotional and not particularly interested in expanding or further developing the story worlds in any substantive ways. Perhaps the current format of US daytime soaps demands so much of both the production staff (churning out so many episodes so quickly) and of viewers (watching five broadcast hours a week in most cases) that there is little time or interest in expanding those story worlds in additional ways.

Emma Webb: I think one of the failures of soaps has been the inability to successfully integrate transmedia storytelling into their shows. There have been attempts (as with Robin’s blog on General Hospital, as described by Elana Levine), and characters writing books (for example, As the World Turns‘ Katie Peretti “writing” Oakdale Confidential), but they don’t appear to have been successful. This may have been because, as Levine points out in her chapter, often times there is the temptation to move the character’s motivation and thoughts from the screen to another other media outlet, leaving viewers frustrated and confused at a character’s on screen motivation rather than providing an alternate entry point for lapsed or new viewers. However, while soaps’ attempts at transmedia storytelling does not appear to have been successful, fans’ attempts at transmedia seems to be more so. For example, in 2005, As the World Turns paired the characters of Lucy and Dusty together, and, in an attempt to help educate potentially new or lapsed viewers, many fans created video synopses of the two characters’ history and storyline together. These videos provided an entry point for those viewers who had not been watching the show. And this type of video could provide a way for lapsed or returning viewers to get a recap of a character’s storyline which could make it easier to catch-up.

How have alternate distribution outlets changed the way fans find and share U.S. soap opera content?

Racquel Gonzales: YouTube has been an amazing tool to bring together shared viewing memories, though I’m not sure the networks themselves appreciate the site like soap viewers. Moreover, in uploading old VHS recordings of soap edits on YT, soap fans have created an invaluable archival resource for fellow soap viewers and soap scholars. The medium makes it impossible to provide a simple DVD set of a soap. Just imagine how many discs would be required to just capture a month of One Life to Live from 1988. On YT, some of these episodes have been made available by fans for fans, while the comments section provides (as I’ve said previously) a shared space of viewing memory.

Debrorah Jaramillo: I’m going to continue with the topic of the Mexican novela on U.S. television, not to be stubborn, but because it presents an interesting complication with regard to transmedia fandom. Unless a novela is an original production of a network like Univision, it is being aired in the U.S. after it has completed its run in its country of origin (or it simply could be delayed by a few weeks). In both cases, it becomes nearly impossible to engage with the novela within the transmedia landscape. I’m terrified to search for Soy Tu Dueña online because I don’t know if it has actually completed its run in Mexico. I don’t want to know what happens, and I don’t want to run across fan commentary. My relationship with this novela is completely untouched by the internet and even print magazines. I feel like I’m watching this in the 1980s, even though the image is in beautiful HD.

Emma Webb: Making soaps available online (either through the network’s website, YouTube, or other sites) has been the biggest change to the way that fans share soap opera content in the last few years. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, this also means that fans don’t need to set their DVRs or watch the show’s broadcast in order to keep up with their favorite soap opera. Another interesting development is that, when the content is considered to be bad or uninteresting by a group of fans, fans often ask their fellow fans if “today was worth watching?” And there are alternatives for fans who don’t want to sit down and watch an entire episode. If a fan thinks that their favorite soaps are boring but still wish to see select scenes, they can easily go to YouTube and watch the scenes that interest them in what is often 10 minutes or less. With these new distribution outlets, it’s even easier for a fan to catch-up if they have become a lapsed viewer. Fans can easily go back and find key moments from a variety of sources. However, this also means that, because this content is available online, fans’ attention to detail about individual characters seems to have become more heightened. So, as soaps struggle with diminishing production values as they cut their budgets, the fans are even more likely to notice the slip in production values.

The Survival of Soap Opera (Part Two):The History and Legacy of Serialized Television

The second section of The Survival of Soap Opera looks at the deep history of the stories and characters on U.S. soap operas and the unique ways this genre draws on a show’s backstory (or, in some cases, does not make good use of such history). This part of the book includes multiple reflections on the similarities and differences between serialized primetime genres and daytime serials. Below, several of the contributors to this section answer some questions about how contemporary U.S. soaps relate to their backstories.

Kay Alden is co-head writer of The Bold and the Beautiful, a former consultant for ABC Daytime, and the former head writer for The Young and the Restless, a show for which she wrote from 1974 to 2006 and won four Daytime Emmys and two Writers Guild of America awards. The book includes a piece based on Sam Ford’s interview with Alden about what makes the soap opera genre unique.

Sam Ford is Director of Digital Strategy at Peppercom Strategic Communication, a research affiliate with the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT (where he conducted Master’s thesis work on soaps and taught a course on the genre), and an instructor with the Popular Culture Studies program at Western Kentucky University (where he is teaching a class on soaps) who has published work on the genre for Fast Company, Portfolio, and Transformative Works and Cultures. Ford co-authored the book’s introduction, “The Crisis of Daytime Drama and What It Means for the Future of Television.” He also wrote an essay for the collection, entitled “Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns‘ Tom Hughes through the Years.”

Lynn Liccardo is a longtime soap opera critic and active member of the online soap opera fan community who has written for Soap Opera Weekly and currently writes on the genre at her Red Room member blog. Her essay in the book is entitled “The Ironic and Convoluted Relationship between Daytime and Primetime Soap Operas.”

J.A. Metzler is a lifelong soap opera viewer who runs a boutique marketing and communications consultancy and formerly participated in a daytime writer development program. His essay in the collection is entitled “Did the 2007 Writers Strike Save Daytime’s Highest-Rated Drama?”

Christine Scodari is a professor of communication and multimedia studies and a women’s studies associate at Florida Atlantic University who has written numerous pieces of scholarship on issues of gender and age in soap operas, including her book Serial Monogamy. Her essay in the collection is entitled “Of Soap Operas, Space Operas, and Television’s Rocky Romance with the Feminine Form.”

Why is the history of U.S. soap operas so vital to their continued survival?

Sam Ford: U.S. soap operas may be one of the most hyper-serialized forms of storytelling in history, but it certainly does not “own” serialization. As many essays in our book point out, there are many ways in which primetime television and other types of storytelling are often “doing serialization” better than daytime serial dramas these days. Yet what sets the U.S. soap opera model apart not only from primetime serialized television shows these days but also from telenovelas and other adaptations of the soap opera genre is their history. As soap operas look to compete in an increasingly cluttered media landscape, the industry’s answer is often to adapt what they have to offer to what it seems audiences want: thus, we hear discussion about the MTV-ization of our culture or else reality television’s effect on audience expectations, and many people in the soap opera industry start thinking and talking about how soap operas need to adapt to these changes. My response is quite the opposite: that soap operas have to stick to their major points of differentiation in storytelling style, even as they change with the social stories of the times. In short, rather than trying to tell their stories more quickly to compete with primetime serialization, soap operas have to think about what primetime cannot do. Primetime shows can do CGI better than daytime dramas because they have bigger budgets. Primetime has a better chance to do location shoots these days. What primetime can’t do is tell stories with characters who people have been following for decades, with such complex backstories and generations of fans who have grown up watching these shows.

As soap operas concentrate on quick-fixes to jump start the genre instead of leaning on the history that sets the genre apart, these shows run the risk of distancing themselves from their very points of differentiation. For instance, my work has concentrated on the now-cancelled As the World Turns, a show that maintained one of its core families for its entire 54-year run and had multiple actors who had been in the same role for up to five decades. My essay in this collection focuses on the character of Tom Hughes, who audiences watched from birth in 1961 to the show’s cancellation in 2010. No other form of entertainment can accomplish that sort of storytelling, and the rich history and complexity such storytelling drives cannot be duplicated elsewhere on television. (I’ve made the argument elsewhere that narrative worlds like the super hero universes of Marvel and DC, the pro wrestling narrative world, or the “real” worlds of various sports leagues or political news might rival the “immersive story worlds” of soap operas in their longevity and depth.) In our collection, Jason Mittell’s piece points out the many ways in which primetime serialized television differs from daytime soaps, rejecting the notions of many who feel that complex primetime television narratives are a direct descendant of U.S. soaps. And, elsewhere, Jason writes about complex primetime television shows as having a high degree of “drillability,” with dense texts that have multiple layers of meaning to unpack. Soap operas achieve complexity as well, but–to Jason’s point–in a much different way than primetime shows. Rather than a (relatively) small number of episodes that are quite dense, soap operas achieve their complexity through accretion–by telling the daily stories of characters over the course of decades and thus relying on collaboration with their audiences in comparing any current moment in the text with the deep history of those characters. Primetime television shows cannot provide those pleasures, and yet daytime soap operas very rarely take full advantage of the types of stories only they can tell.

Have you seen examples of today’s soap operas in the U.S. taking advantage of their histories in powerful ways that you believe exemplify what the soap opera genre is supposed to do?

Sam Ford: There were certainly elements of the end of As the World Turns which played on the rich history of those characters and the show. In particular, bringing back longtime show favorite Dr. John Dixon after several years of absence from Oakdale was a fantastic nod toward fans, as was featuring several of the show’s most enduring faces more prominently in the show’s final months. Meanwhile, while I didn’t watch it myself, I heard many great things about Days of Our Lives‘ treatment of the death of show matriarch Alice Horton in 2010 after portrayer Frances Reid’s death. J.A. Metzler’s piece in our book highlights The Young and the Restless‘ renewed focus on longtime character Katherine Chancellor as a sign of how that show gained some traction by recalibrating its focus through the writer’s strike, and The Bold and the Beautiful writer Kay Alden writes in her piece about how that show has retained focus on four central characters from its premiere to the current day. These examples are stark reminders to fans of why they still watch soap operas in particular and the pleasures that soap operas provide that cannot be found elsewhere. My suspicion would be that it is these moments, periods, eras, and elements which keep millions of U.S. viewers still dedicated to a genre that is clearly in decline.

Why do these soap operas ignore or not properly make use of that rich history?

Sam Ford: Writers too often see the history of soap opera story worlds as a point of risk rather than a strength, especially as writing teams move from one show to another and thus have decades of history to catch up on. That leads to new writing regimes bringing in new characters and downplaying those characters they are afraid they can’t write so well. Rather than seeing fans’ desire for continuity as a way to engage with them and draw them in, it’s seen as a negative: to avoid fan complaining, writers just stay away from history they don’t know that well. I’ve had head writers of shows complain to me in the past about how difficult it can be to come on board a new show and try to catch up on storylines of years gone by, especially now that these shows have several decades of history. Much of the problem has to do with resources: many shows don’t have digitized or easily accessible archives to review history and, even if they do, there is so much history to catch up on, and writers are expected to write 260 original episodes each year. So, if you aren’t already steeped in the history of the show you write for, it’s extremely hard to get caught up. In my mind, that means knowledge of and history with the franchise should be a requirement for being hired to write for a soap, but it’s typically not.

J.A. Metzler: As ratings for all soap operas have eroded over time, I think that soap producers and writers have sought to find alternate ways to build a viewing audience. I think many producers/writers have been trying to “recreate the wheel” instead of relying upon the tenets that have long made serialized storytelling popular: character consistency; evolution of a character or set of characters over time; and a certain feeling of familiarity that comes with “visiting” with these characters on a regular basis. I think too many have tinkered with the older, more tested formula, ignoring their shows’ rich history and consistency in order to try and evolve to a new formula driven by a faster-paced, plot-based type of storytelling with a revolving door of younger, unfamiliar characters, in the hopes of engaging a new audience of viewers who they believe have a limited attention span for slower-evolving stories based on character and continuity.

In what ways are contemporary U.S. soap operas failing to use their history in compelling ways?

Lynn Liccardo: There was great excitement among As the World Turns fans when word leaked out that Julianne Moore would be briefly reprising her breakout role of Frannie Hughes. Her appearance was to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of Frannie’s father and step-mother (and aunt), Bob and Kim Hughes, which coincided with the show’s 54th, and final, anniversary this past April 2nd. As it happens, on April 2nd, I was in St. Louis, presenting my essay for The Survival of Soap Opera, on the Capitalizing on History panel at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference. You just cannot plan that kind of irony.

Had I not known of Moore’s appearance two episodes hence, and, had I not seen a clip somewhere online of her lifting a glass to toast her parents, the April 1st episode might have given me false hope for how the show would close out its 54-year run. The episode opens with Kim and Bob celebrating their anniversary over champagne at the Lakeview. Kim gives Bob a framed photograph of their cabin, which she had redecorated. She tells him that she’s made sure that his schedule was clear so the two of them could spend a long weekend together. But Bob’s schedule had changed, and he wants to postpone their getaway. With the conflict in place, the stage was set for the kind of story that could have – make that should have – been the linchpin for the show’s final months. Instead, it was all over in three short episodes that barely scratched the historical and emotional surface before all was resolved.

While ATWT had used the short-arc format extensively in 2008-9, after the show’s cancelation was announced in December 2009, the writers had returned to soaps’ more traditional narrative structure. Why the show chose the short-arc for Kim and Bob’s anniversary reveals great deal about TPTB’s attitudes towards both longtime fans and the show’s history. Before I get into why, a little bit of background about the couple. Bob Hughes was a young boy when ATWT began in 1956. He may well have been the first character to be SORASed (soap opera rapid aging syndrome) when Don Hastings took over the role in 1960. Kathryn Hays began playing Kim Sullivan (Reynolds, Dixon, Stewart, Andropoulous, Hughes) in 1972. The admitted doppelganger of ATWT‘s creator, Irna Phillips, Kim proceeded to seduce Bob, who was married to her sister (Frannie’s late mother, Jennifer). For more than a decade, Kim and Bob suffered the consequences of their indiscretion. But, by 1985, the couple was deemed sufficiently rehabilitated to marry and assume the role of tent pole characters previously occupied by Bob’s parents, Nancy and Chris.

In recent years, ATWT had abandoned its traditional intergenerational storytelling in favor of more isolated storylines (see here). So the flashbacks interspersed in the second episode of the arc filled in the backstory for newer viewers. For this longtime fan, it was an exercise in ambivalence: while I was delighted to see the show’s glorious past, those flashbacks were also a bitter reminder of just how much had been lost. The emotional depth so apparent in the flashbacks stood in stark contrast to the superficial, even trivial, manner in which Kim and Bob’s story was playing out.

There were no good guys or bad guys here. Both characters’ points-of-view were valid and easily understood. Bob was reluctant to give up his profession and concerned about the legacy he would leave; Kim, worried about the serious health issues both had dealt with the previous year and tired of playing second fiddle to Bob’s career, wanted to spend more time with her husband. In fact, the tension between Kim and Bob mirrored aspects of the tension between Bob’s protègè, Reid Oliver, and legacy character Luke Snyder as the two embarked upon their short-lived relationship.

This brings up another issue. When fans complain about soaps’ lack of intergenerational storytelling, TPTB often point to the budget restrictions that limit the number of actors per episode. Okay. But Kim and Bob were on fairly often in the final months, so the actors were already getting paid. However, with Kim and Bob’s problems so quickly resolved, the characters’ only purpose was to prop Reid and Luke and their son Chris. Tom was right when he said of his father and Kim, “If they can’t make it, what hope is there for the rest of us?” How much richer the story would have been if all the couples trying to find their way back to each other could have learned from Kim and Bob’s troubles.

And the conversations: Kim with her niece, Barbara, and daughter-in-law, Margo; Bob with his sons Tom and Chris and grandson Casey. The old rivalries referenced: Bob’s first wife and Tom’s mother, Lisa, and the impact being a child of divorce had on Tom, for instance, or Bob’s affair with Susan Stewart, the mother of Casey’s girlfriend, Alison. All of that could have been spread out and fully examined over the show’s final months. Instead, some of the interactions reduced characters to farce: both Lisa and Susan trying to seduce Bob as a test to prove that he really loves Kim. Really? Now, of course, maybe if this had been a facet as the story evolved the course of several months…

Not to belabor my almost morbid fascination with Executive Producer Christopher Goutman’s psyche, but I have to say that, like the train wreck that killed Reid Oliver; the first time Luke and his first love, Noah, made love, and the death of the show’s matriarch, Nancy Hughes, there was a perfunctory quality – even patronizing, and almost spiteful – about how Kim and Bob’s story was shoehorned into these three episodes. It was almost as though Goutman was taunting longtime fans: “Look how we remember the show’s history, and, yes, we actually do remember how to lay out this kind of story and write these kinds of scenes; but three episodes is all you’re going to get. So, be satisfied, and don’t complain.” And, for the most part, that was exactly the response from fans and the soap media. Other than a few laments about the story’s brevity, I don’t recall see any critical comments on the boards. It seems that fans have been conditioned not just to accept these crumbs, but to be grateful for them – even if TPTB make a mockery of the show’s history in the process.

Kim and Bob’s truncated story was a far cry from how ATWT‘s sister show, Guiding Light, closed out its 72-year run in 2009 with the marriage of Vanessa and Billy Lewis. Both were long characters, to be sure, but not nearly as deeply-woven in Springfield’s canvas as Kim and Bob were in Oakdale’s. And, while, as a couple, Vanessa and Billy had their fans, theirs was not a manifest destiny. In fact, there were a few on the boards who would have preferred that Vanessa remarry another former husband, Matt Reardon. But Kim and Bob were forever.

Funny story: I came across the questionnaire I filled out for C. Lee Harrington and Denise Brothers’ essay for the book, “Age and Aging in Soaps.” Here’s what I wrote back in 2007: “What I’d really like to see is a former love come into the life of a vet…(but) I’m not interested in seeing a marriage – Tom-Margo, Bob-Kim – threatened.” While I’m sure I meant it at the time, I would have so loved for As the World Turns to have ended its 54 years showing Kim and Bob fully confronting their conflicts, secure in the knowledge that they would, indeed, resolve them.

What is the relationship between these soap opera and other forms of serialized television drama in the U.S., such as reality television or primetime scripted dramas?

Kay Alden: When reality TV descended upon us, unlike some others, I did not view this development as the harbinger of the death of the soap opera. Instead, I argued that the sudden popularity of such programming increased the likelihood of the survival of the soap opera, in that these reality shows inherently draw their support from the innate human desire to know “what happens next,” which is our stock in trade in soapdom. I believed at that time that the enormous popularity of the reality shows would not sustain because of the lack of knowledge the audience has of the characters, unlike in soap opera, where viewers have known these characters often for many years. I believed that this type of programming is inherently formulaic, and, between that fact and the lack of well-known, well-drawn characters, I did not believe that reality TV, over time, could compete with what we do in daytime television via the scripted medium. I did hope, however, that seeing a new public interested in this type of serialized drama might somehow transfer to a new, younger demographic available for daytime serials. Regrettably, such transference has not occurred.

It is interesting to note that, in many reality programs, more attention is now placed on the characters – who these people are whose lives have been brought together for the duration of the program; who will form alliances; who will be the successful manipulators? Reality TV has learned the lesson well, that in order to succeed, an audience needs to care about the characters involved. Choosing the cast of Dancing with the Stars has now become a significant facet of the show, as producers hope to cement viewer involvement with their “characters” even before the season actually begins. Survivor promotes the characters in their upcoming season as the primary draw for viewers to tune in. Thus, I maintain, reality TV has learned what we must always remember in our soap opera world: daytime drama is a character-based medium. It is the characters, far more than clever plot twists, which keep viewers tuning in again and again. In reality TV, the plots are simple. The drama is the contest: who will win the game. But the relationships among the characters, the friends and foes that develop, the alliances, the manipulations…these are the facets that keep viewers involved. Now, the question is: what can we learn from this new venue that has so successfully entered our realm and captivated the viewing public? Immediacy, surprise, fresh plot twists…all these are important. On The Bold and the Beautiful, we have recently tried to find ways of adding more of the “reality” perspective, with our real-life shows among the homeless of Los Angeles and subsequent additional reality segments we will be featuring on the show. But, above all, we in soap operas must continue to concentrate on our well loved and well understood characters. This is where we in daytime drama have the supreme advantage, with shows that have been coming into viewers’ homes for years and characters our audiences know and love. In the quest to reach out and garner new audience, let us always remember that it is our beloved characters which provide our first and foremost draw for loyal viewership.

Christine Scodari: I’ve seen it dozens of times, whether I’m casually perusing online forums devoted to primetime dramas or systematically investigating them for my research. “Why must every show have a romance?” a fan queries. Another chimes in, “I’m tired of them shipping the male and female leads.” Then, almost like clockwork, there’s the rub: “This is not a soap opera!” Not only do such exchanges refer to something essential (but not unique!) to the soap opera genre (developing romantic relationships or, in fanspeak, “ships” between ongoing characters) but implicitly to another ingredient that makes the first one possible and, perhaps, probable–serialization.

Before 1978, when Dallas (CBS, 1978-1991) debuted, there had only been a couple of short-lived soaps in prime time. Except for these and one or two series in which the leads were married from the start, there were no developing romances between ongoing characters in U.S. primetime dramas during network television’s first three decades. Prior to the 1980s, nighttime dramatic series were structurally episodic, and save for maintaining the basic premise, setting, and slate of regular characters (anthologies, of course, didn’t even have these), each episode was its own mini-movie. Guest players entered and left the canvas within the hour, including villains and objects of affection for the primarily male heroes. Thanks to an amnesia-inducing reset button, whatever guest characters the regulars loved, or fought, or mourned in the previous episode would conveniently be forgotten the following week. Star Trek‘s (NBC, 1967-1969) Captain Kirk may have had his disposable girl-on-every-planet, but, while Della Street pined for the title character in the legal drama Perry Mason (CBS, 1957-1966) and Miss Kitty Russell eyed Marshall Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke (CBS, 1955-1975), these long-suffering regulars never got to first base.

The show most credited with ushering in the hybridized, serial-episodic primetime drama and the related phenomenon of developing romances between ongoing characters is Hill Street Blues (NBC, 1981-1987). However, neither it nor its many imitators are true soap operas. As Thompson notes in From “Hill Street Blues” to “ER”: Television’s Second Golden Age (1996), Hill Street‘s creators were ordered by the network to insert at least one plot each episode that would begin and end within the hour. And that they did, usually by bringing one or more professional storylines to closure while attenuating the personal ones. Such series were showered with Emmys and lauded as innovative and gutsy for their long-term character arcs and sink-in-your-teeth acting, with nary a nod to the much-denigrated genre that actually pioneered such storylines (albeit in low-budget fashion).

Since then, mushrooming media options and accompanying audience fragmentation have made serial and serial-episodic primetime dramas into riskier investments for the major commercial networks. Viewers who miss a week or two of complex plotting become frustrated and often drop off. As a result, such series fare worse in both first-run and syndication than episodic, procedural dramas such as those associated with the “Law and Order” and “CSI” franchises. Daytime soap opera viewership has, logically, declined for many of the same reasons. The new model for serial-episodic drama series in prime time is one that is more episodic than serial. Its epitome is CBS’s The Good Wife (2009-present), in which a long-term arc anchored in attorney Alicia’s troubled relationship with her politico husband and flirtation with a partner at her law firm very sparsely peppers each installment, while the “A” plot of each episode is one open and quickly shut legal case. Meanwhile, daytime dramas languish as their numbers dwindle, their business model insufficient to address today’s realities. In a spate of experimentation to see what, if any, primetime traits might be emulated in order to improve its prospects, daytime has lately dabbled in storylines sampling every dramatic subgenre from the occult to organized crime to high school musicals and forayed into reality TV territory, in part by incorporating talent and other contests into its plots. These gestures have one thing in common; they are efforts to nestle shorter-term storylines within longer arcs, just as competitive reality series tell a weekly tale of which contestant will be eliminated in the course of weaving a seasonal narrative about who the ultimate victor will be.

Even for soaps, then, it seems that serialization and the intricate, patiently plotted character stories it can engender are becoming suspect. The pivotal contribution daytime made to the development of “high quality” primetime drama has been persistently overlooked, and now this very feature–serialization–is one to be gingerly employed, if not drastically curtailed, wiped away like that soapy ring around the tub. Perhaps the anti-shippers need only wait–wait until soap operas themselves fade away and inflexibly episodic series are again so dominant in primetime that elegantly evolving relationships between regular characters are virtually impossible to assemble.

I, on the other hand, would mourn that eventuality.

Lynn Liccardo: My focus has been on the relationship between daytime soaps and primetime scripted dramas – hence the title of my essay for the book, “The Ironic and Convoluted Relationship between Daytime and Primetime Soap Operas.” So, it’s no surprise that, as my daytime soap viewership came to an end with the final episode of As the World Turns this past September, I was looking at several primetime shows to take up the slack, one in particular: the CW’s Life UneXpected. But as the wise Yogi put it so well, “It’s like deja-vu, all over again.”

Creator Liz Tigelaar’s experience as an adopted child inspired the story of sixteen-year old Lux, who seeks out her birth parents. The show surely would have resonated with soap opera’s creator, Irna Phillips, whose difficult relationships with her adopted son and daughter provided material for powerful stories on As the World Turns and Another World. Like Friday Night Lights and Mad Men, LUX (yes, the wordplay between the title and the title character is a bit precious) is one of those modest stories of the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. LUX was always a strange fit on the CW (a joint venture between CBS and the old WB), a fact the network acknowledged when the show premiered in January 2010:

The drama is unlike most of the CW’s current schedule, because it’s not about sexy high schoolers in Beverly Hills or sexy college students on the Upper East Side. Instead, it’s a mature, adult drama.

The show has more in common with classic WB dramas like Gilmore Girls and Everwood, dealing with the relationships between parents and children. Not only is it the best new show of 2010, but it’s certainly the best new show the CW has produced in its four years on the air.

Indeed it was, but that was then. Just before the second season premiere the very week ATWT left the air in mid-September, Tigelaar gave a candid – very candid (were that former ATWT executive producer Christopher Goutman as forthcoming about the network interference he had to deal with over his 11 years with the show) – interview detailing the changes the CW demanded before renewing Life UneXpected last spring. “I could tell tales about Baze and Kate and Lux and Ryan the rest of my life and not get bored. The CW would kill me and cancel my show, but I seriously could.”

And I would happily watch Tigelaar’s tales. Sad to say, the second season reminds me of what daytime soaps have become: a few beautifully written moments squeezed in-between what the network wanted from Tigelaar: “to introduce new characters, to provide more conflicts, foils, love interests to all the main characters.” In the words of The AV Club‘s Todd Vanderwerff, “Can we maybe get some more superficial conflict in here?” So, for its second, and likely final, season LUX morphed from “a mature, adult drama” to one more CW show about a “sexy high schooler,” in this case, having an affair with her teacher while thoughtlessly betraying her best friend.

Fan reaction was predictable. For ShellySue at TWoP:

Last night I was thinking, “This show is horrible. I can’t possibly watch it anymore. It used to be a good show with so much potential. What happened?” At that same moment ShelleySueTeenDaughter said, “This show is great. I can’t believe I ever didn’t like it. It was so boring in the beginning. I’m glad they made it more interesting.” So it’s clear to me that I’m hating this show because it isn’t written for me anymore (if it ever was). To bad, because I really used to enjoy it.

Tigelaar gets character – and she gets soap opera – “I love those conventions, I love those moments…I love those soap opera storylines…” She has worked on some of the primetime shows I’ve always believed embodied the ethos of your mother’s soap opera: “an ensemble of fully developed, multi-generational, middle-class characters shown in open-ended, inter-connected, intimate stories, where the actions of one character reverberated for all,” among them American Dreams and Dirty Sexy Money. Yes, yes, I know the Darlings were filthy rich, but, in the first season, the family relationships were grounded in emotional honesty. That is until ABC programmers started mucking around with the second season, then cancelled the show. The recent announcement that the CW was not ordering additional 2nd-season episodes beyond the initial thirteen suggests that Life UneXpected will soon follow suit.

The AV Club‘s Todd Vanderwerff speaks for many frustrated fans of these kinds of shows when he says:

If there’s one thing networks believe in the very pits of their stomachs, it’s that real life, life as it’s really lived, cannot make for interesting and compelling television, despite the fact that the entire output of Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (thirtysomething, etc.), Friday Night Lights, and even the shows of David Simon suggest that writing small-scale stories about people living mundane lives can be really, really fascinating when done right

But the truth is, for the broadcast networks, the numbers simply aren’t there for these kinds of small-scale stories. Friday Night Lights made it to five seasons only because of the deal NBC put together with DirecTV. Mad Men survives on AMC with fewer than two million viewers. So it’s not surprising that there’s a growing consensus that if serialized storytelling is to survive, it will be on cable – and not just premium cable.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Amy Chozick provides a clear and cogent explanation of how economics allow basic cable to take a chance on a show like Men of a Certain Age. CBS would have taken the show; after all, co-creator Ray Romano made the network a ton of money with Everyone Loves Raymond. But the network wanted changes – 30 minutes, more comedic – Romano was not willing to make. (For what it’s worth: as mentioned above, CBS is one of the owners of the CW, which might account for what’s gone on with Life UneXpected.) But Romano stood his ground, and Men of a Certain Age, which was well received by critics, returns for its second season on TNT on December 6th.

But it’s not just taking a chance on a show: it’s giving the show – and viewers – a chance. A cable show may get pulled after one season, but not before all thirteen episodes have aired – and in the same time slot. So, while a critically acclaimed show like Fox’s Lone Star might not have survived more than one season, the show would have gotten a fair shot instead of being cancelled after two episodes. Losing Lone Star so quickly was particularly frustrating because the show had a fascinating, if edgy, premise – a con man leading a double life while trying to break with his past – with a cast that included Jon Voight and David Keith.

Of course, while Fox’s decision to use Lone Star cannon fodder against ABC’s Dancing with the Stars makes sense in the real world of broadcast networks – put your strongest show up against the toughest competition – why, when it predictably failed to beat DWTS, Fox didn’t give the show a lifeline at FX is anybody’s guess.

This is hardly a new phenomenon: Sam Ford and I had this conversation in 2006. The economic realities that force the broadcast networks to move shows around and pull serials after a couple of episodes have created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy; many viewers who’ve been burned before simply don’t watch, or, if they do watch, don’t allow themselves to become emotionally invested.

So maybe creators wanting to tell “small-scale stories about people living mundane lives” should follow Ray Romano’s lead and not allow the broadcast networks to try to save any more of these shows by destroying the very qualities that make them so special. Had Liz Tigelaar gone to TNT or AMC instead of The CW when she was looking for a home for Life UneXpected, the show might be preparing for its third season rather than facing almost certain cancellation.

But, while cable offers hope for the future of serialized storytelling, there are challenges. The thirteen-episode cable season limits the depth of serialized storytelling. Fans on Television without Pity’s FNL board were hungry for more; marnyh‘s comment was typical: “As much as I adore this show, it really was harmed by the abbreviated season. There was too much stuff I wanted to see more of, and too many characters I wanted fleshed out.” As for Mad Men, on Ginia Bellafante’s New York Times blog, one fan posited, “I’m sure we can all agree that Congress should pass a law that this show should be two hours, at least 40 weeks a year. Rest up, Mr. Weiner.”

Then there’s the question of gender. Because FNL, Mad Men, and, to a lesser extent, Men of a Certain Age, are about, well, men, or at least, manly pursuits, these shows are able to escape the “chick” label and, as a result, attract more media buzz. Witness Charlie Rose, one of the few places where in-depth conversations about popular culture take place. Rose’s shows about FNL and Mad Men, have, with the notable exception of Connie Britton, have included only men. This is not to devalue the opinions of Matt Roush, Ken Tucker, and Bill Carter, but to suggest that people like Virginia Heffernan, Ginia Bellefante, and Alessandra Stanley, all of whom (and yes, I realized they’re all at The New York Times) have written with great insight about these shows, and others, would enrich the conversation around Charlie’s oak table.

Another example: Todd Vanderwerff’s posted his observations about Life UneXpected on The A.V. Club, the entertainment section of The Onion. The A.V Club is a reference to “the olden times, a school’s audiovisual club would be composed of a bunch of geeks…” Needless to say, AV clubs were largely populated by socially inept males. Hence, Michael Clayton’s response to the Vanderweff post: “I think I grew an ovary just reading the first 2 paragraphs. Seriously though, I’ve never heard of this show. Why is AVClub covering it?”

As serialized storytelling continues its transition, there are questions that must be asked and answered: Who’s the audience for these kinds of shows? How to identify potential viewers? And why is that audience so small compared to, say, reality shows? Since there is such and enormous range of serialized storytelling, exactly what do I mean by “these kinds of shows” beyond being “small-scale stories about people living mundane lives?” What about the web? I’m still working on that, so check my blog for the future of serialized storytelling, part 2…

The Survival of Soap Opera (Part One): The State of the American Soap

Soap operas have been a staple in American broadcasting since the dawn of network radio in the 1930s, yet at a time when several major soaps have been canceled, they seem to be an endangered species. A new book released this week, The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations For a New Media Era, brings together key thinkers about this embattled genre from the worlds of industry, fandom, journalism, and academia to share their reflections on the current state of the American daytime serial and to offer their suggestions on what tactics and strategies might allow it to thrive in a new media era. The book is edited by three researchers — Sam Ford (Director of Digital Strategy for Peppercom Strategic Communications), Abigail De Kosnik (assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Berkeley Center for New Media and the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies), and C. Lee Harrington (professor of sociology and a Women’s Studies Program Affiliate at Miami University) — who have been key contributors to the Convergence Culture Consortium (soon to be rebranded as the Futures of Entertainment Consortium). Ford is also the co-author with Joshua Green and I of my current book project, Spreadable Media, which we hope to release late next year.

This book does what the best contemporary media scholarship should be doing — tackling an issue which has enormous impact on the shape of our communications environment, brokering a conversation which brings key stakeholders to the table and reflects the diversity of perspectives around this topic, and making an intervention which reaps pragmatic rewards even as it sharpens our conceptual understanding of how television production emerges at the intersection between Broadcast networks and networked communications. The prose remains accessible throughout, in part because it is designed to reach an audience far beyond the university book store ghetto. There’s an immediacy about the project because it seeks to bring classic scholarly perspectives to bear on a very pressing set of concerns. And there’s a passion to the writing because everyone contributing feels a strong stake in these developments, because whatever else they are, they are fans of soaps as a genre and care about their long-term viability.

I have asked the three editors of the book to help organize a forum to be conducted in four installments through this blog, bringing together some key contributors to the book, to share their reactions to its four core themes. This material is at once a sample of what the book offers but also an extension of the book which is able to include some developments which have unfolded since the book went to press.

The first section of the book looks at the many challenges U.S. soap operas face today. Below, a cross-section of the contributors to that section answer some questions about the state of the U.S. soap opera industry today.

Giada Da Ros is a television critic for a weekly Italian newspaper who has published essays on a variety of primetime television dramas, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, The L Word, Lost, and Queer as Folk

Patrick Mulcahey, a current writer with The Bold and the Beautiful, has won four Daytime Emmys and three Writers Guild of America awards for nearly three decades of writing for soap operas, also including General Hospital, Guiding Light, Loving, Santa Barbara, Search for Tomorrow, and Texas. The collection features a piece based on Da Ros’ interview with Mulcahey which focuses on changes in soap opera writing contracts. 

Barbara Irwin, a professor of communication studies at Canisius College who has researched soap operas for more than two decades, has co-authored two books on soap opera The Young and the Restless and currently serves both as chair of the soap opera area of the Popular Culture Association national conference and as co-director of the Project Daytime research initiative. The collection features a piece based on C. Lee Harrington’s interview with Irwin and research partner Mary Cassata, focused on the state of U.S. soap operas today. 

Jaime J. Nasser is the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Film Studies Program; the Gender and Sexuality Program; and the Latin American, Latino and Iberian Peoples and Culture Program at Bryn Mawr College who recently received his doctorate from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts with a dissertation that focused, in part, on the emergence of the telenovela. Nasser’s essay in the collection is entitled “Giving Soaps a Good Scrub: ABC’s Ugly Betty and the Ethnicity of Television Formats.” 

William J. Reynolds is a published historian who writes about the Ossining, New York, area and U.S. presidencies and he researches soap opera history and actively participates in online and offline soap opera community events. The collection features a piece based on Sam Ford’s interview with Reynolds on memories of the soap opera The Edge of Night

Tristan Rogers is an actor best known for playing the role of Robert Scorpio for various stints over the past three decades on General Hospital and General Hospital: Night Shift and who currently has roles on both The Young and the Restless and online series The Bay. The book features a piece based on Abigail De Kosnik’s interview with Rogers about changes in the soap opera industry, audiences, and texts. 

Melissa C. Scardaville is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Emory University who has published her work on soap operas for American Behavioral Scientist and previously served as the Guiding Light editor for Soap Opera Digest. Scardaville’s essay in the book is entitled “The Way We Were: The Institutional Logics of Professionals and Fans in the Soap Opera Industry.”

For readers who are not soap opera fans, where do U.S. soap operas find themselves today?

Barbara Irwin: Soap operas today find themselves at a crossroads.  With diminishing ratings, intensifying scrutiny focused on the bottom line, and a new media landscape, questions are being raised as to their lasting power.  In the last year and a half, we’ve seen the cancellation of two long-time CBS/Procter & Gamble shows, Guiding Light (the longest running scripted series ever in broadcasting) and As The World Turns.  On the heels of these cancellations was the recent announcement that the Disney/ABC-owned cable network, SOAPnet, will end its run in January of 2012.  Viewership of soap operas has declined dramatically over the last 20 years, with three-quarters of the audience vanishing.

In their heyday on radio in the early 1940s, one could listen to as many as 65 different soap operas on any given day.  In 1970, there were more soap operas on television than at any other time – 19 in all.  Today, just six remain. Evolutionary changes in industry and storytelling have brought us to the present state of soap operas.  For their first sixty years (1930-1990), there was little change in soap opera storytelling, due in great part to the close ties the writers and creators had to the originator of the form, Irna Phillips.  Just less than 20 years ago, nine of the 12 soap operas on the air were being written and/or executive produced by individuals with a direct connection to Irna Phillips – what I would call the “second generation” of soap opera creators.  Most of these individuals have by now been replaced, and some have passed away, leaving the writers of today farther removed from Irna and her way of creating and writing soap operas.  The changes evident in storytelling reflect this distance.

Industry forces are also at play.  Today, even the most powerful headwriters are not insulated from the corporate executives whose job it is to ensure that their creative branches remain profitable.  The soap opera industry has made numerous attempts to reduce costs and at the same time regain or build new audience.  Some of the cost-cutting efforts are invisible to viewers, such as going to a 4-day production schedule. Reducing the size of casts and writing out long-standing characters played by high-paid actors, however, changes the soap opera landscape and potentially alienates viewers. Other cost-cutting measures that have affected the soaps include fewer sets, smaller production staffs, and the near elimination of the large production “roxie” scenes and remotes as stories climax.

New means of distribution have been implemented in an effort to regain lost audience and build new audiences.  SOAPnet, launched in 2000, provides same-day re-broadcasts of soaps and weekend marathons in an attempt to provide soap viewers with an opportunity to watch their shows at convenient times.  DVRs offer another avenue for time-shifting.  The Internet offers network soap opera sites, YouTube, and other platforms through which viewers can see full episodes, clips, and features related to the soaps.  But with these new technologies comes the end of habitual, ritualistic viewing.

Webisodes and online soaps represent an innovation in soap opera storytelling, though, with limited story arcs and definite start and end points, these diverge from the traditional soap opera.  This form of storytelling is in its infancy, but it does offer the possibility of driving lost viewers back to their network soaps and to build a new and different audience.  With the proliferation of mobile devices, delivering soaps to viewers on the go may hold some promise.

Advancing technology is something of a double-edged sword.  While it has the potential to help the ailing soap industry, it also has created an environment in which viewers have wide-ranging options on their televisions and an unlimited online world that has increased the competition for viewing soaps immensely.

How would you explain the shift of the soap opera industry’s popularity and place in U.S. culture over the past few decades?

Giada Da Ros: Soap operas, as a genre, are at a difficult conjuncture right now. Reasons are different. The main one, in my opinion, is that they are opaque and therefore hard to “read.” On the surface, they appear easy to follow. In reality, giving meaning to what is seen on the screen requires time and commitment to the program. I love the genre, yet the idea of following a new soap makes me cringe. I don’t care for it. I know that if I want to follow one, I have to give myself time, know to learn who the characters are and what the relationships are. Like in real life: love at first sight can happen, but, for the most part, you need time to care about someone and to learn what is that makes them special, when they are having a good or a bad day, what is the norm or the bizarre about them. It doesn’t happen instantly. The shift in people’s behaviors and the fact that they don’t give themselves time, I believe, reflects in the shift in the soap opera industry’s popularity. Soaps are always in flux, yet you must keep a zen-like quality of viewing: you are in the moment, always. You don’t know what the future holds. They say it takes at least six months to build a soap audience, and that is for a reason.

Also, viewers are more aware of TV genres and tropes and have expectations that they didn’t use to have in the past. They are more visually educated and critical. Trusting this knowledge and the expectations they often incur is a common misconception. Most viewers when approaching soaps expect to see Caravaggio, not Picasso, and they judge it accordingly. Despite appearances, soaps are more conceptual than mimetic. They do not portray reality; they use realistic elements to create a different reality: one of the mind, abstract and symbolic, which borders with the superficial “illusion of reality.” Several planes of reality intersect, and the emotional reality emerges. Conventions of the genre, narrative and of other kind (like recasting, being back from the dead, the twin sibling, or inside jokes) are proof of how an intellectual leap beyond reality is required of the viewer. Awareness of this gap comes only progressively. The occasional viewer mistrusts and misjudges these aspects that are specific of the genre. I believe this misjudgment was less likely to occur in the past because people had fewer expectations about TV in general.

What are the primary reasons for the decline in U.S. soap opera viewership in the past few decades?

Barbara Irwin: Two critical factors appear to be related to the decline in audience.  Most of today’s viewers, from the oldest to young middle-age, likely established their soap opera viewing habits directly as a result of their mothers’ or grandmothers’ viewing.  But, as the overall viewership declines, the likelihood of being “taught” soap opera viewing at the knee of one’s mother is diminishing.  If soap opera creators are to initiate a new generation in the habit of viewing, they will have to connect with them directly. And a second factor making an impact on the diminishing audience of soap operas today is the proliferation of alternative viewing options.  With the dramatic increase in the number of television channels available in US households and increased time spent online, competition for viewing time is fierce.

The soap opera audience’s awareness of alternative viewing options may be linked to the 1995 broadcast of the O.J. Simpson trial.  For thirty-seven consecutive weeks, the daily soap opera line-up was preempted and interrupted regularly.  The trial also received wall-to-wall coverage on cable’s Court TV (now truTV).  It could be argued that the real-life drama unfolding before viewers’ eyes was more dramatic than what the soaps had to offer. Many viewers did not return to their soaps after the trial ended, having discovered that the reality played out on Court TV and other cable networks was more worthy of their viewing time.

While the Simpson trial cannot be blamed for single-handedly causing a crisis in the soap opera industry, it points to the larger picture. During this time, loyal soap opera viewers became aware of the vast array of viewing options available to them, and broadcast and cable programmers noted the types of programming viewers responded to. Reality-based programming began to flourish, and the sordid lives of real people were played out on myriad talk shows, court shows, magazine, and tabloid shows, all competing for – and many winning over – the soap opera audience.

Giada Da Ros:  I truly believe two main elements work against soap operas and help their decline at the present moment: their cultural standing in the public opinion and the way they are sold to the audience. In the mainstream, the regard for the professionalism and skill of soap operas is quite low. In  a culture that relishes being media-savvy and hip, choosing soap operas is not desirable, quite the contrary. This is an obstacle insofar as, to go against the current, you must truly love the genre. Otherwise, it is simply not worth it, because you do not get “rewarded” for it; you get “punished.” Fans are bullied into thinking they are not cool and, for the most part, they are afraid to come out as defenders of a genre they love. Hence the decline.

Also, I believe the way soaps are promoted to be misguided at best. Promo ads are packed with the gist of twists: short, fast segments. This is the way it is done in primetime; this is the common sense. But I don’t think it’s the smart choice for soaps. It may bring a viewer to check out a soap, but it doesn’t guarantee you stay. You see fast; you want fast. I argue you should go the other way. Show just one segment: plain, ordinary, yet meaningful. Don’t go for what attracts; go for what pulls you in, for what ultimately lets you stay and gives you pleasure in watching soaps. Give a half-a-minute soap in the ad spot that leaves you with the idea that there is abundance, that there is more, and that you can have it by watching the program. You want two things from the audience you need to attract: that it craves the ritualistic, soothing return to the show and that it is able to see beyond the genre’s rhetoric and conventions and use them as tools to enjoy the narrative. You don’t want a viewer that is so fixed on the grammar and syntax of the genre that he or she is unable to understand it but rather one that speaks its narrative language. The only way to do that is to concentrate on what soaps do best without having them try being something else and being sold as something else. The way the industry is selling its product helps its decline.

Jaime Nasser: The shift of the soap opera industry’s popularity and place in U.S. culture over the past few decades is partly linked to the decline in U.S. soap opera viewership in the past few decades. There are two reasons that stand out which are interconnected: First, the increasing popularity and availability of  television programming on demand and DVD means that there will be a decline in viewership of programs of limited availability. By “limited availability” I refer to programming that is available only via traditional broadcasting such as the case with most soap operas. Second, the shift in prime time programming from primarily an episodic to serial format offers similar, or comparable pleasures to the daytime soap opera format. I am not saying that prime time serials are the same as daytime soap operas but they share strong similarities that increasingly blur the lines between daytime and prime time serials. The industry is able to provide high budget serials that are considered “high quality” and whose narratives are sufficiently self contained that allow for effective digital marketing (DVD and on demand), as opposed to the open ended and expansive nature of the daytime soap opera whose main feature is that it does not end. In conclusion, the increase in consumption and availability of contemporary high budget, serialized television texts on demand (DVD and the internet) partly explain the decline of the soap opera’s popularity and place in U.S. culture over the past few decades. An observation: The soap opera might have a comeback once technology catches up to the expansive nature of the format. That is, it becomes profitable to sell soap opera’s and/or make them available for on demand viewing.

Melissa Scardaville: Many people will say it’s because of the Internet, more choices in television programming, and the style of soap opera storytelling now being the purview of multiple genres. These are all valid reasons, and all played a role. What is often left out of the discussion are the Nielsen ratings. We never, ever accurately measured television audiences in the past, so it’s very difficult to discuss the decline. We don’t really know how many people watched, so we don’t know why they left and who they were.

That said, even if we can’t quantitatively devise an appropriate number, we can say qualitatively that soap viewership has declined. Why? Very simply is that the audience no longer trust the shows. They do not trust that their shows will stay on the air. They do not trust that, if they get invested in a storyline, there will be any payoff. They no longer trust there will be consistency. Your investment as a soap fan pays off because, if you watch today, you will get an even deeper understanding of the events of tomorrow. Audiences no longer trust that this will occur, so they stopped investing in the first place.

How have declines in budgets for these shows impacted their quality?

Tristan Rogers: It is doubtful that budget reductions have seriously been at fault when it comes to the soaps.  At day’s end, it all comes down to the way the shows are managed, and this started way before budget cuts crept in.  You can trace this back to the 80s.  For me personally, it all started on General Hospital when Gloria Monty stepped down.  She realized what was happening and had made a plan to get out.  Shortly after this, Capital Cities took over ABC, and many things changed, although, on the stage level, this was never evident.  At the managerial level, it was.  The “free wheeling” days were over.  Still, this was never an issue for the show.  The changes were made at a much higher level.  I never had the feeling there was a desire to preserve what we “had.” There was a constant desire to pursue the “heydays of the early 80s,” and they were gone.   Hence, the use of location shoots increased, something I felt to be a waste of time.  Better to go back to story and use what was happening “real-time,” something that has never been fully exploited.

Daytime has always been hampered by the restrictions that are put on what can be done and said.  I will admit things have changed radically in the area of speech.  You can say things undream’t of back in the 80s, but this looseness has not been extended to story. You still can’t get out there and really take a current situation and project it with the drama and edge it requires.  The point has to be “blunted.” And so we get this “merry-go-round” of situations and relationships.  I would love to have  a character evolve with a dark side that was “Dexterish” in nature.  But that just won’t happen.  Or, if it did, the character would have to be made “cartoonish” in order to be acceptable. Stories with that kind of edge and background are not the domain of daytime. And this is precisely what they need to be, or we are left with what we currently have.  Daytime needs to reflect more of what is happening in the world. I mean, apart from the luridness and drama of interpersonal relationships, which daytime does well and pretty much pioneered.  Everyone learned from daytime and then went on from there.  We need to be accorded “some” of that license. And this doesn’t require a bigger budget.  In the end, it all comes back to story,  not bigger budgets, gimmicks, or stunts.

Melissa Scardaville: If we trace the organizational linage of television to its radio days, we see that the medium is deeply rooted in theatre and literature. In the 1990s, television became a more visual medium as it adopted film techniques for the smaller screen. That’s not the say that soaps could not be visually stunning prior to 1990, but large-scale, technically complicated displays were usually reserved to advance major story. Over time, explosions, car wrecks, natural disasters, and location shoots became expected. Money was challenged to the visual elements of soaps.

The declining budget also meant a severe restriction in dayplayers, under fives, and non-contract players. Soaps only have one character: its community. When that community no longer has inhabitants, you lose the very fabric that ties it all together.

Third, in soap operas, characters are defined by their relationships. Not just romantic relationships, but who this person is as a parent, a co-worker, a best friend, a neighbor, etc. Declining budgets meant core characters could not be used as often, which weakened their ties to others and which diluted the character’s identity. Budget cuts also meant that it was more advantageous to use the same small set of characters who only have ties to each other and not the larger community. This approach conditions the audience to watch for specific characters and/or couples and to not be invested in the soap as a larger town. Thus, soaps developed a fractured audience where Pine Valley, Oakdale, or Springfield were defined by viewers in irreconcilable ways. Therefore, communities went from having multiple definitions and understandings to having rigid and fixed identities.

So, in short, the decline in budgets affected the:

a) Channeling of money to visual and away from storytelling

b) Loss of community ties

c) Characters with few ties

What are the chief differences between today’s soap operas and the soap operas of yesteryear in the U.S.?

Patrick Mulcahey: Formerly, soaps operas were to American small-town life what shows like Cheyenne and Gunsmoke were to the American West.  Our Springfields and Pine Valleys celebrated and mythologized the close-knit communities and families our viewers came from or wished they had.  For mothers home alone with children or single working women in the urban centers, the big canvas we worked on supplied an ersatz sense of community and of extended family, too, that was lost or imperiled in their real lives.  That Feels like home appeal is crudely explicit in the earliest radio serials.  Knowing your neighbors.  Fearing the town gossips.  Parents who never let go, of each other or you.  Seeing your siblings every day.

The strategies of serial storytelling itself have hardly changed since Homer.  But the insistence, by program and advertising executives from other genres and other media, on sex and fantasy romance as the soap’s raisons d’être represented a fatal misreading of what soaps were about that hastened us to our doom.  It was difficult enough to design big stories in a time when social attitudes toward sexuality and marriage were splintering.  But the network-prescribed emphasis on personal feelings, personal choices, loves-me-loves-me-not dilemmas existing in a vacuum because they’re now nobody else’s business; the unremitting emphasis on even individual bodies, gleaming and twisting in protracted candle-and-bedsheet scenes. All this spelled the end of what soap operas did best and made of us a cheaper, cheesier version of entertainments better done elsewhere.

William Reynolds: The soaps of yesterday, which were only thirty minutes in length, told more in-depth stories than today’s hour-long shows.  Today’s soap producers feel compelled to outdo themselves and their comeptition with large-scale special effects and exotic remote location shoots.  Soaps feel compelled to give us tornadoes,  floods, and explosions to draw the audience in.  However, sets do not have to be elaborate, nor do special effects have to be over-the-top. Soaps have lost their intimacy.  A longtime soap viewer like myself does not feel as if they are looking in our neighbor’s window and seeing two people converse over a cup of coffee and listening in on their conversation. Today, all intimacy is gone because the viewer knows that this is “big business,” and everything being done is on a large scale.

Finally, and this is strictly from my personal viewpoint, soaps have crossed the line and, in some instances, border on being pornographic.  I would normally tune into CBS in anticipation of seeing As the World Turns and would catch some of The Bold and the Beautiful, and what I would see on my screen would be something that I would expect to see in an adult movie. I also heard about a scene in which one of the genre’s grande dames, Robin Strasser, gave (the allusion) of giving oral sex to a male counterpart on One Life to Live.  I have the greatest respect and admiration for Robin Strasser and her career that has spanned four decades, but my skin crawled when I heard about this.  My heart ached for her when I heard this. And, on Guiding Light there was a male character, I think it was Coop, who had a conversation with his significant body part. Call me old-fashioned, but I remember, when I was only 4 or 5 years old, hearing Lisa on As the World Turnssaying for nine long months simply that she was ‘carrying Bob’s child.’  The soaps have come a long way since then, and, in my opinion, not for the better.

Melissa Scardaville: The differences between today’s soap operas and the soap operas of yesteryear stem from two discrete influences. First, changing business strategies in the television industry have affected both daytime and primetime. Overall, there is faster storytelling, quicker delivery of dialogue, more emphasis on youth and beauty, and less flexibility given to grow an audience. These changes negatively impacted soaps because the genre, contrary to popular opinion, is really about nuance, paradox, and multiplicity: hard concepts to convey in a very fast-paced environment. When one attempts to translate subtly and complicity into a fast-paced, visually oriented environment obsessed with immediate gratification, you lose the emotional authenticity key to soap operas.

Applicable directly to soaps is the increasing role the network plays in creative decisions and the declining resources soaps have to manage that feedback. Let’s be clear. Networks have always played some role, and soaps have always made some bad decisions. It’s not that there are more bad decisions now, but more people with more power over long-term story have the opportunity to make more decisions. Resources that soaps have long used to facilitate these decisions — multiple rehearsals, extensive writing staffs trained as writers, spontaneity born out of a show running short — have been eliminated. Soaps have turned into inflexible organizations where one wrong turn leads to a permanent break rather than a temporary re-routing. Together, in today’s current soap climate, this inflexibility and the overall change in business strategies affect what stories are told, who gets to tell them, and how.

DIY Media 2010: Fan Vids (Part Four)

An interview with Counteragent.

Counteragent is a vidder who is not only a fan of media sources, but of fandom and its discourses; she describes herself as a “fan of meta and fandom in general.” Consequently, Counteragent’s vids and artworks tend to be not only about television shows and movies, but about fandom’s responses to them. Her vids “Still Alive” and “Destiny Calling” are featured in the 2010 DIY show.

FC: What was your first vid and why did you make it/?

Counteragent: “Copacabana.” Because there weren’t enough Alias vids, and because I knew Yahtzee would like it.

FC: What do you remember about the experience of making the two vids of yours that are included in the show?

Counteragent: “Still Alive”: the agony! The structure was very difficult to craft. I wanted to criticize both the fandom and the show but ultimately wanted to make a vid about empowerment and squee. Finding that balance was really hard for me with the way the song worked. I really owe my betas on this one, especially Giandujakiss.

“Destiny Calling”: the desperate feeling of falling in love. I’d just met vidding and I was giddy with the flush of infatuation with the craft, the vids, and the vidders. I was shouting my love from the mountaintops.

FC: Have you seen any of the other vids in DIY program?

Counteragent: Yes, all. I’m a big fan. “I’m On A Boat”: Fucking fearless song choice. “Handlebars” is a perfect vid to showcase the power of a vid as critical commentary on the source, especially to nonvidders. Simple but really, really effective. “Women’s Work” is an institution. “Origin Stories” was gutsy storytelling both for the source and for the larger cultural commentary. Also a really great use of a tough song. “In Exchange for Your Tomorrows”: great abstraction. Is “Piece of me” more RPFiction or cultural commentary? Anyway, it’s all good. “How Much is that Geisha in the Window” is scaaaaathing. And I was too dumb to get “Art Bitch” the first time I saw it. Great use of outside graphics.

FC: What’s the best/worst thing about vidding?

Counteragent: Worst: the amount of time it takes. That it’s perceived as worthless by both people close to me and many cultural commentators. Best: the feeling of squee and empowerment. The community.

An interview with kiki_miserychic.

kiki_miserychic is a prolific vidder known for being experimental and for her use of unusual sources (e.g. movie vids, crossovers, etc.) She was the subject of Bradcpu’s first Vidder Profile in August, 2009. Her Star Trek reboot vid “I’m On A Boat” was featured in the 2010 DIY show. The below is an audio interview; click to play!