Saturday, September 13, 2008

End of days?

Tom Casiello really has me thinking with a recent blog post, prompted by some recent scathing revelations by Victoria Rowell (in an interview with Daytime Confidential).

In it, he says, in part, "But here's what's interesting... after the strike, and the Days firings, and the "Real Greenlee" and Guiding-Light-Wants-to-Be-The-Hills, and the Bryce/McClain/Byrne firings, and the Nuke Ban, and the Higley/Scott/Corday debacle, and the Y&R Is-He-Or-Isn't-He-Still-EP mess, and then the Carolyn Hinsey firing... honestly I hear a scathing interview like Ms. Rowell's? And all I can do is shrug."

He goes on to say, "And I think a lot of people finally see that it's time to just come clean. To be upfront and honest and the hell with where it leaves them. Because there's a good possibility that everyone who even has a job now will be looking for a new career before the next decade is over....Cheerful, isn't it?...Actually, yes. It very well could be. If history has taught us anything, it's that eventually, you get that Renaissance. You get the Roaring Twenties, the Summer of Love, so to speak....Somewhere out there, there must be another William Bell - a man who can take all of these artists, all of these differences of opinion and creative disagreements, and channel them - funnel them into one driving force that can create the number one daytime drama for over two decades without compromising anyone's artistic integrity. I wish he or she would show up - we're long overdue."

Casiello concludes with this: "Because from what I've seen of this calendar year, I'm not so sure 2009 will be the saving grace we all want it to be. But they say it's always darkest before the dawn, and I truly wish that if the events of the last nine months have taught us anything, it's that if you push enough people down, they will eventually find each other, and rise up again."

So, I'm focused on this apocalyptic vision. Heck, I have shared it. I have (somewhat tongue in cheek) predicted (by similar linear interpolation of the falling ratings trends, across all soaps, and by the assumption that once ratings fall below 1.0 soaps are not viable) that the last soap (Y&R) will leave us in 2016.

At the same time, I don't think "the strike, and the Days firings, and the "Real Greenlee" and Guiding-Light-Wants-to-Be-The-Hills, and the Bryce/McClain/Byrne firings, and the Nuke Ban, and the Higley/Scott/Corday debacle, and the Y&R Is-He-Or-Isn't-He-Still-EP mess, and then the Carolyn Hinsey firing" or the Rowell interview are AT ALL symptomatic of the death of soaps.

Let me explain.

I think soaps are dying for myriad reasons that have relatively little to do with their creative state. These include (and have been mentioned many times before)
- women out of home
- lack of intergenerational viewing
- failure to move soaps to a time when people are home
- lack of off-network and out-of-daypart promotion
- general perception (from their beginnings, on radio) as soaps as uncool and for "ladies" with little better to do (the stimga phenomenon)
- growing cultural distaste (in all dayparts) for the commitment that serials require (look at the viewer attrition in Lost or ER)
- general decline of passive TV viewership in favor of video games, internet
- movement of TV viewership to downloaded torrents and youtube (which doesn't count in the ratings).

Many of these problems extend beyond daytime. Each of them (and others) contributes to the decline of soaps. I also think the magazines (revealing spoilers) kills soaps.

It is tempting to think that "the strike, and the Days firings, and the "Real Greenlee" and Guiding-Light-Wants-to-Be-The-Hills, and the Bryce/McClain/Byrne firings, and the Nuke Ban, and the Higley/Scott/Corday debacle, and the Y&R Is-He-Or-Isn't-He-Still-EP mess, and then the Carolyn Hinsey firing" represents some kind of Lord of the Flies...the abandoned islanders feeding off each other, driven to bloodlust.

But, honestly, I think the REAL issue in these events is "new media" and "the Perez Hilton effect" (these two are related). New media means that "news" is released INSTANTLY, unfiltered, around the protective walls of publicists. This sh*t ALWAYS happened...we just didn't know it because SOD/SOW etc. protected the industry.

Now, though, as the Hinsey Jossip thread shows, the stuff gets out there INSTANTLY. Under clever nom-de-plumes, SOD/SOW staffers allegedly got on the internet and told everyone what they were experiencing.

Think about it:

- Days firings. Many of us found out about that on a SUNDAY thanks to Toups at Soap Opera Network. In the old days, the magazines might not even have REPORTED this.

- Real Greenlee. Horrible, horrible, horrible. BUT...it was internet disgust--shared animus against that mean-spirited promotion...that made public rancor spread. I might have thought it was horrible...but it was only when an online community convinced me that I was not alone that my disgust grew...it wasn't just me

- Guiding Light. Well...that one doesn't have much to do directly with the internet. That is just bad :). (Sorry DonnaB...I know you love the show. But actually, I APPLAUD the experiment. Indeed, I think if the writing can become 'soapier' (something EP Ellen Wheeler apparently doesn't want) the new production model could work

- Bryce/McClain/Byrne firings...those would have been quickly forgotten "Comings and Goings" if internet communities hadn't brewed them into shared outrage. I say this EVEN THOUGH these were stellar veterans. It takes a community to create communal outrage.

- Nuke ban. Well, the no kissing was outrageous. BUT, let us not forget Roger Newcomb's campaign. He was masterful, with his colleagues, in exposing light on it via...the internet (and every print publication in the WORLD, it seemed). But I don't see how this one is a BAD thing. Fan outrage got us kisses. LOTS of them. I see no problems here.

- Higley/Scott. Internet. AGAIN, an internet venue (Canadian TV Guide) released the news on a Friday, with weekend updates. And ever message board in soapdom glowed red with outrage for a long weekend. The print media poo-poo'ed it.

- Hinsey firing. That is news ONLY on Jossip, and with the 2000 posters who went there.

My point is this: These events all seem more apocalyptic...but they really were only disseminated, promulgated, and reacted to in a narrow blogosphere. (Well blogosphere + message boards + a few online publications). To the broad "laiety" of soap viewership, they didn't even know it happened. To the passionate few hundred who haunt this soap-world, it was a big deal.

I am convinced this kind of chaos always happened (look at the headwriter parade at Another World)...but the "fan revolt" that surrounds it is localized to this weird internet community we are all in.

If I am right, then all this "chaos" is a chronic state (in most industries), and has few implications for the death of soaps.

The death of soaps, when it comes, will have to do with those plummeting numbers and that huge list of factors up above that nobody is attending to.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Mark - Great take on everything, and it gave me a lot to think about. It's definitely the flip side of the coin that I didn't take into consideration. And I think you might be right - being inundated with these kinds of news bulletins from all over the Internet definitely elevates the threat level from yellow to fire engine red... when in reality, maybe it's more of an orange.

You've given me much to mull over, my friend! Thanks!!!

--t--

P.S. (Now ya wanna take this outside? I'll take you down! :-))