RIP Soap Operas?

Erica Kane, AMC and OLTL Logos, Victoria Lord

The recent shocking announcement  that not one, but two classic, long-running Soap Operas, ABC’s “One Life To Live” and “All My Children,” had been cancelled sent shock waves through the entertainment community and all who have watched Soap Operas over the years.

While I didn’t watch either of these shows (save for a brief time in the 90s when I watched “All My Children,” along with a few others), as a former dedicated Soap Opera fan, this stings.

It stings about as much as it did when my favorite Soap, “Another World” was cancelled in 1999.  And it surely stings as much as fans of the recently-cancelled “As The World Turns” (which I also watched for a few years in the mid-late 1990s) and “Guiding Light” felt when their favorite shows were ended.

It seems the death knell has truly been sounded:  Soap Operas, or Daytime Dramas– whatever you want to call them — are nearing the end of their lives.  And no amount of trickery or black magic can possibly bring them back.

Gone are the magical days of the 70s and 80s, when Soaps were required viewing for more than just the ‘typical’ housewife.  My mom’s favorite shows were always on NBC:  “Days of Our Lives,” “Another World,” “The Doctors,” “Somerset,” and “Texas.”  I remember my mom and my Grandma, sitting in my Grandma’s kitchen, talking about the Soaps over cups of coffee, and discussing the lives of the residents of Salem and Bay City.  The theme songs from those shows alone make me recall happy childhood days– about as much as “Sesame Street” clips and “Electric Company” sketches.

When my family bought our first VCR, viewings of  “Days of Our Lives,” “Another World” and “Santa Barbara” were part of our family time together.  We all were engrossed by the stories, and loved zipping through the commercials to see what would happen next.  As we grew older, we became part of the crowd of college students engrossed by the shows.  When I visited my friends in college, entire dorms would gather to watch “Days” and other shows.  It was just the thing to do.

But time went on and attitudes and viewing habits changed.  And now the Soaps are barely hanging on.

They’re being killed by cheaper television:  Talk shows, “Reality” shows, and “Lifestyle” programming.  Shows that don’t need writers or actors.  Shows that don’t need expensive sets or lengthy rehearsals and staging.  Shows that don’t have legendary names like Susan Lucci, Erica Slezak, Anthony Geary and Victor Braeden.

Actors on soaps spend the majority of their careers on the shows.  The longevity is unheard of elsewhere in the industry, mainly because the fans of the genre become so attached to the characters they portray; and many of them stay in the roles for 30 years or more.  Susan Lucci’s portrayal of Erica Kane has become legendary in the Soap world, representing the typical “so bad she’s good” character that audiences love to hate.  She has spent practically her entire acting career on one show.  There is really no place else where this kind of dedication and longevity exists in the entertainment world.

Soaps have ridden quite a roller coaster over the years.  From the early days of radio serials, to the first televised shows, which lasted for only 15 minutes each; to the boom of the 70’s where “Another World” actually expanded first to 60 minutes, then to an unprecedented 90 minutes; the stories, conflicts, dramas, trials and tribulations have kept viewers entranced.  When I was a kid, the typical Soap Opera scene involved two ladies sitting in a kitchen set, drinking a cup of coffee and discussing their problems with each other.  This changed when “Another World” started featuring love ‘triangles’ (Steve, Alice and Rachel) and the melodrama surrounding them.  Then the first “Supercouple,” Anthony Geary’s Luke and Genie Francis‘ Laura from “General Hospital,” epitomized the 70’s and early 80’s fascination with daytime couples and their storylines, and propelled Soaps into the mainstream media, with appearances on Time Magazine‘s cover and major, expensive promotional budgets.  And on “Days of Our Lives,” Marlena Evans Brady Black, was first possessed by the devil, then later  bewilderingly killed off matriarch Alice Horton in 2003 during the controversial “Salem Stalker/Melaswen” storyline; which prompted fans to get so upset that they nearly boycotted the show — until it was revealed that she had been sent to an alternate universe with the other killed residents, and nobody was really dead after all.

These are just examples of how entrenched in our minds these shows are, and always will be.  I’m saddened to see that the genre seems to be dying.  As our entertainment choices are further dictated by the Snookis, Real Housewives and gabfests of today, we’re slowly losing the culture that made TV what it was.  Pretty sad.

Favorite Soap Operas: Opening Sequences

Days of Our Lives

Another World (70s-80s)

Texas

Santa Barbara

All My Children

The Young And The Restless

In Memory: Frances Reid (Days of our Lives) 1914-2010

As of this posting, the media has not quite caught on, but I have learned from numerous sources on Twitter and We Love Soaps.com that Frances Reid, who played the role of Alice Horton on “Days of our Lives” from the show’s début in 1964 until the present, has died at age 95.

Frances was not just any ordinary actress.  She had the warmth of a grandmother and everyone loved her so very much, simply because of the character she played, day in and day out, on television.  On TV, she was grandmother, great-grandmother, and even great-great-grandmother to dozens of family members.  In real life, she was grandmother to millions.

As far back as I can remember, I recall my Mom and my Grandma watching Days of our Lives, and I remember seeing this radiant woman on the screen and I always knew I’d like her.  She reminded me of my Grandma in many ways.

As I grew, and I started watching “Days” with my family, I enjoyed her adventures with Bo and Hope, her wise advice and drugged donuts (remember that?), and her love of her Tom and her family.  As it turned out, she truly was everything I thought she was when I first saw her as a little kid.

We watched her as her kids grew up, and had kids, and moved away.  We watched her and cried with her when Tom Horton died (when Macdonald Carey died), and we watched her grow old and frail, but still with that sparkle in her eye.

We knew she’d be leaving us soon, but the loss still hurts deeply. She lived a wonderful, rich and amazing life. I’ll always remember her.

I think I’ll get some powdered donuts today to celebrate her memory.