Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another ratings reality check (or don't blame Ellen Wheeler)

Here, in the past, I have put up ratings graphs that show the ratings (household, per Neilsen) for our soaps in historical context. I updated the graph with season-to-date ratings. Showing only currently-living soaps, here are the ratings trends as of 11/2008:

If you ignore the 1950s (where rapid expansion of televisions and television options meant the ratings fluctuated widely, and really aren't so comparable to the "saturated market" ratings we've had since the 1960s and beyond), you see a very clear general trend of growth through the mid-1970s, and then a very clear decline trend ever since. Now, there are some interesting local peaks (GH in the early 1980s; Y&R in the early 1990s), but for the most part all the soaps have moved in lockstep, downward, since the mid-70s.

This is so relentless and universal a trend IT CANNOT BE BLAMED on the creative state of any show or any regime! We really can only blame things like the growth of tv (cable) and non-tv (internet, games) options, the movement of women out of the house, the reduction in intergenerational viewership due to multi-TV households, etc.

The eye does not lie. That is pretty much a STRAIGHT LINE, and it began in the late 70s or early 80s. THERE IS NOTHING SPECIAL about the decline we see today. It is nothing but a "dying off" process (loss of viewers without replacement, at a fairly steady rate) that began almost 3 decades ago.

Oh, if only I could have a nickel every time someone said "the creative state of soaps today is so lousy, and that is why we're losing viewers". Uh uh! The rate of loss is no more significant now than it was 20+ years ago--when some shows were thought to be at Marland-esque, Bell-esque etc. creative heights.

Oh, if only I could have a dime every time someone said "if only TPTB would do such-and-such, ratings would go up." (This probably includes promotion...although I think more promotion might be able to be the one thing that built slight audience growth). Uh uh. NOTHING--not even the blockbuster of Luke and Laura--could stem the trend. If you look at GH in the early 80s, you see that it definitely spiked TEMPORARILY due to that incredible storyline. It clearly brought new viewers into the system. But it COULD NOT LAST (and it didn't), because larger demographic trends were dragging the shows down.

And I want a dollar everytime someone blames OJ Simpson! If you focus your eyes on the early-mid 1990s in the graph above. I defy you to find any significant deviation in HH ratings decline trends! If OJ had not existed, the declines would have been EXACTLY the same. I'll try to show this more clearly below.

The table below tries to show the phenomenon in a different way. Averaging across all shows that were on at any given time, the figure shows the minimum and maximum ratings in each decade. Again, don't trust the 1950s data, because the new technology (TV) and explosive growth of households and viewing options really messes up those numbers

First, focus on second-last column, annualized ratings change. Note that, in every decade, the trajectory has been decline. Second, note that the rate of decline has been EXACTLY THE SAME in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The rate of decline DOUBLED from the 1960s to the 1970s, and it DOUBLED AGAIN in the 1980s. Since then, it has been a fairly CONSTANT loss of 0.15 per year.

From this perspective, it again reminds us THAT NOTHING SPECIAL is happening now. Soaps are not in some "sudden freefall". They are in a constant decline.

On the other hand, the far right column shows us the consequences of this steady viewer loss in the face of a smaller-and-smaller shinking base. This shows us the % of viewers lost annually in each decade. (In other words, of the viewers who started the decade, what percent of those viewers were lost, on average, in each year of that decade?). As you can see, because the number of viewers is smaller and smaller, the steady loss of viewers represents an ever larger proportion each decade.

The current decade evinces about an annual 5% loss...which means (in the 2000s) the steady viewer loss indicated that, of those who started the decade, only about half remained as viewers as we near the end of the decade.

We see this most alarmingly in another post I shared recently, that said GL/ATWT lost about 30% of their viewers in the last year. (Canadian TV Guide further added that GL lost about 21% of its desirable demo during the same period). Those proportions seem apocalyptic...but they are really only that large because of the steady rate of viewer loss over a smaller and smaller viewer base.

Does that mean, for example, that Ellen Wheeler is NOT the anti-Christ? Well, from a long-haul perspective, GL is not visibly declining at an appreciably faster rate than the other soaps. However, if you take a magnifying glass to that "yellow line" representing GL in the graph above, you see that GL was never really above the middle of the ratings pack, and tended to the bottom of the pack twenty years ago. Whoever oversaw THAT relative loss of ranking is much more responsible for where GL is today than Ellen Wheeler. On the other hand, if you peer at 2007-2008 with your magnifying glass, you'll see that the distance between bottom-ranked GL and the next highest soap has widened just a bit. GL has declined just a little faster than the other soaps. (From the beginning to the end of this year, GL lost 30% of its viewers, but Y&R lost about 25%). That doesn't actually seem like an impeachable offense.

Seriously, the overall market trends are driving this. I honestly believe Douglas Marland and Beverley McKinsey could return from the beyond, and GL ratings would still be where they are. The production model could have stayed the same or become more sumptuous, and still the ratings would be where they are. That is because demographic and social forces outside of soaps are causing all of this. In that sense, Wheeler's new production model is a bright strategy! By reducing the cost of producing a soap that would do no better if there were more investment, she at least keeps people employed a little longer.

Sorry for this long-winded post, but there are two final conclusions.

A. Follow the lines, and draw your conclusions. Those of us who love the soap genre MUST prepare to let go SOON. The trend is unmistakeable, universal, continuous, and is based in at least 30 years of history. If we want our soap fix, we'll have to find it online, or in primetime, or in books, or whatever. This TV business model for soaps is utterly unsustainable.

B. We have now reached the point where the ratings are so low, most soaps have needed to implement austerity plans. The cost-cuts are so deep that viewers are noticing (GL's production model, ATWT's minimal sets, ABC's 50% cuts, Days' 40% cuts and firing of its' signature stars).

It may be time to send a different, activist voice to the networks...which is to let our "loved ones" die. We understand that the business is no longer sustainable, and we'd much rather see our shows go out on a strong note, than dwindle into local-access-cable-amateur levels.

Even if active decisions to pull the plug do not happen, our soaps will be gone very-very soon. GL and ATWT are rumored to have 2009 contract extension possibilities (bringing them to 2010), but a September-2009 sayonara for GL is widely rumored. So, too, Days' contract renewal has been much publicized as going to September 2010, and Ken Corday seems very pessimistic about further renewals. It seems to be dependent on certain performance benchmarks that seem (given the figure above) unlikely to occur. If GL/ATWT/Days are all gone by 2010, that leaves us the ABC lineup and Y&R/B&B. With ABC is massive cost cutting (50% cuts and the cancellation of SuperSoapWeekend), these numbers strongly suggest that it hardly seems likely that they can lag much behind in cancellation.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Soap budget cuts: Salvation or sign of the end?

(Small non-sequitur: I have updated my cross-over list and GLBT list and image gallery to reflect some late-in-2008 additions)

So, this last week brought revelations that NBC required a 40% budget cut (from print edition of Soap Opera Digest) from Days of Our Lives for renewal, and ABC has recently asked for up to 50% budget cuts from cast and consultants. Guiding Light had much publicized budget cuts last year (e.g., 50% cuts in writing staff; hence, the new production model). I think this is not a sign of hope ("teamwork to save the show"), but the futile last gasp.

It seems that Y&R and B&B aren't going through such horrible cuts. Are they being "saved" by relative success on the foreign sales market? My sense is that the official story is that foreign sales are nice, but "chump change". They do not apparently offset the bulk of US production costs. At the same time, when I look at the two most popular international shows (Bell shows), I (and others) seem to see them spending MORE not less money. Their ratings (esp. B&B) are not high enough that they should be protected from this economic downturn. So maybe the foreign dollars do matter?

I also assume that the production houses may be willing to take less long as they break even...during a downturn like this. So, this leads me to conclude that ABC and NBC and P&G are not even breaking even on their soaps?

Could Y&R and B&B more quietly be asking for pay cuts from their actors? I wondered if this was what he was alluding to in a recent interview...saying "I am happier with the storyline, I have to say. Much happier. I really mean that. I'm happy along those lines; along some other lines, no. But that's a different story."

I worry, actually, that when the pay cuts hit Y&R, we'll lose many of our starts. In recent years, Braeden, Scott, Woodland, Case, Morrow (others?) have all walked when contract negotiations fell apart. Heather Tom left the show when her pay cut (reduced guarantee; used less) happened.

I fear there are performers on Y&R who will just walk. Therefore...all the headlines that "Drake and Dee" are getting now....I expect them to repeat for "Eric and Melody" before the day is done. With that, the heart of these shows is expunged...and there seems little value in continuing to follow the empty shells that remain.

On the other hand, maybe the sheer scarcity of roles these days keeps some actors as a captive force on their shows. Is there another game in town?

I was actually in a situation in the last year where the economic downturn led to the issue of across-the-board paycuts being DISCUSSED. It's one thing to say theoretically, but when you suddenly have to live on less's a hard pill to swallow. Especially if you have the same workload.

With that in mind, however, you're more apt to swallow this if there is no other game in town...and if your previous earnings have not made you independently wealthy.

So, unfortuntely, this becomes the classic "over the barrel" scenario: Do it, or have no job....and good luck finding another. That is essentially what Ken Corday said about his show: "Demonstrate teamwork or... goodbye".

For me, in the end, this all feels like we're closer to the end than I thought (for the genre).

We see this in many failing industries. The last step is "employee concessions". In some industries (like air or automobile) it CAN work because there is a hope for economic recovery.

Not for soaps. Sure, there may be more advertisers in the future, but the advertising game has changed. They value broadcast advertising less. AND nothing happening here will bring back soap viewers. They're gone forever.

I really thing the Days scenario describes where all of daytime is headed. These massive cuts will eke out another 18 months or so...and then the shows are gone. We've seen it at Days/NBC, we're seeing it at ABC now, and we saw it last year and before with CBS/P&G. Only the Bell soaps seem less publically to be going through this. (Years ago, Shaughnessy said they were doing significant cost cutting, but it was their goal for us not to notice it on screen. That began the era of use of fewer sets....but these days we seem to see MORE sets).

In that sense, I think all this cost cutting is heroic, but ultimately futile.

Remember, all soaps are going to end by 2016 anyway (insert wan semi-smile)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Barack Obama should learn from Lynn Latham

I hope that is not too provocative.

Yesterday in Chicago, Barack Obama announced more members of his economic advisory team. A large number of his team members served in the Clinton and even Carter administrations...prompting some critics to argue that this is not the "change" Obama promised.

To this, Mr. Obama replied, in part

The reality is is that sometimes policymaking in Washington can become a little bit too ingrown, a little bit too insular. The walls of the echo chamber can sometimes keep out fresh voices and new ways of thinking. You start engaging in groupthink. And those who serve in Washington don't always have a ground-level sense of which programs and policies are working for people and businesses, and which aren't.

This board will provide that fresh perspective to me and my administration with an infusion of ideas from across the country and from all sectors of our economy, input that will be informed by members' firsthand observations of how our efforts are impacting the daily lives of our families.

Later, he said

And I suspect that you would be troubled and the American people would be troubled if I selected a Treasury secretary or a chairman of the National Economic Council at one of the most critical economic times in our history who had no experience in government whatsoever.

What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking. But understand where the -- the vision for change comes from first and foremost. It comes from me. That's my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing it. I think that when you ultimately look at what this advisory board looks like, you'll say this is a cross-section of opinion that in some ways reinforces conventional wisdom, in some ways breaks with orthodoxy in all sorts of ways.

And that's the kind of discussion that we're going to want. We want ideas from everybody. But what I don't want to do is to somehow suggest that because you served in the last Democratic administration that you're somehow barred from serving again, because we need people who are going to be able to hit the ground running.

I am mindful of how much this sounds like early language from Lynn Latham at Y&R. When Latham first joined the show, it was sort of "under cover of night", first appearing as consultant, then later as one of three headwriters, then official top-dog headwriter, then later, executive producer.

In one of her earlier interviews, there was a respect for tradition, combined with a freshness of perspective, that was really inspiring (at least to me). Moreover, I found the energy she brought to early Y&R quite positive. I really liked that -- while she was new (but herself experienced) -- she was working with whole legacy team! Of course, history has since shown that she was not sincere about this...rapidly cutting loose her ties to the show's heritage, and creating an increasingly inconsistent mess with bad management.

But that early interview with Latham was great. In the 6/27/06 issue of SOW she said, in part:

Respect for history

1. Her "number one rule" in making changes was to "respect the history of the characters and the series". (Sadly, that seemed to have stopped later on)

2. It looked like she was working with the people in charge. In response to the new sets, moving cameras, actors walking and talking, Latham said many had created the changes. She said changes were initiated by Bill Bell Jr., Steve Kent of Sony, and CBS Daytime head Barbara Bloom. They wanted to pick up the pace in storytelling and production. Apparently, everyone was agreed on these changes, and worked together. (What I didn't pick up, at the time, was that key leaders like Kay Alden, Jack Smith and Ed Scott were missing from her list of collaborators)

3. She pledged to work with existing sets and team leaders, just reinvigorate them: She said that Bill Hultstrom had actually redesigned Newman Towers so that characters could be followed moving through elevators and offices. She also noted that they added the break room because she, too, has her best conversations with colleagues by the office microwave. (She also notes the break room is more upscale than Formica, hanging wine glases). (Now, in retrospect, we know that the Formica was probably as much a politically correct desire to get artificial and anti-green and poverty-encouraging materials off the set as anything else. Latham later expunged plastic water bottles, diamonds, and indoor fires for all the same reasons.)


1. The biggest change, she said, would be replacing traditional Y&R stylistic devices ("slow arcs and pans at the beginning of scenes") with more "dynamic blocking and camera movement". She said they would be cutting away sooner, without multiple reaction shots. She called this "Y&R Plus", because characters would get more air time in this active style. "I love the actors here so much, I always want to see them more!". On this note, she said they dropped the"waiter shot", where the camera follows a waiter until it finally settles on the actors. So, too, closeups of gorgeous floral arrangements are also gone. (Interestingly, on 12/27/2007, when the Bells reclaimed the show, lingering scenery shots immediately reappeared. As time has moved on, these are no longer as common as they used to be)

2. From the writing perspective, she said they would be writing more movement into the scripts, eliminating greetings and exits, and they wanted each day to end with a "tag" (mini-cliffhanger) to encourage more days of viewership. (In the end, the pace got so fast that...if you missed a were likely to say "huh? when did that happen? It didn't encourage more viewership...just more confusion.)

3. As a result, wardrobe was having to contend with many more costume changes.

In another interview from this era, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (7/16/2006) reported:

Latham, who took over at "Y&R" in the past six months, said she didn't do a full-scale housecleaning as some new daytime executive producers do.

"I have leaned very heavily on the actors, too, to help me fill in on the story," she said.

Actor Don Diamont, who plays Brad Carlton, said that's rare.

"To Lynn's credit, by the way, that's not something you'll come across? with every head writer," Diamont said. "Lynn said, 'Can we have lunch? I want to meet each and every one of you and hear what you have to say about the character you've been playing for 20 years. Who is he?'And that's a rarity."

By the end of Latham's tenure, just about EVERY legacy writer on the show (excluding, I think, Natalie Minardi Slater, Eric Freiwald/Linda Schreiber, and Sandra Weintraub) was gone. The new writers few through in a revolving door that...sometimes...bewildered even them (with a lack of writing time and minimal opportunities to get to know the characters she was actually writing for). Tom Casiello wrote (originally here, but that post now requires "friend" adds at Myspace). The point is that--by NOT relying on the benefits of experience--you actually burden and burn out the fresh perspectives. They NEED experience to lean on!

I chose Young and the Restless.

What I found when I started was a show in deep transition. It happens. I survived two transitions at As the World Turns, and one at One Life to Live. They're tough, but they're part of the nature of this business. Lynn Latham had just taken over EP duties (along with being HW), a lot of longtime Bell writers were let go (and many were rumored to be on their way out, so I only had a few weeks to pick their brains and learn all I could from them), there was a mandate to move the show into the next generation, and while all of this seemed thrilling and exciting, there was part of me that said: "What have I signed up for?"

While the fan in me wondered why you'd want to fix something that's not broken, the writer in me could appreciate and respect the desire TPTB had to amp up the watchability factor. So I thought to myself: "Self? For better or worse, you have to give this your all. Read up on the history, learn about these characters, give them what they're looking for, dive in head first. You may stumble now and then, but you're a writer. You can do this."

And I did. But then production fell behind... the writers fell behind... sometimes we'd have LESS THAN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS to write an episode. Whatever was going on at the top trickled its way down to all of us, and we were under a gun, blindfolded and typing madly in the pitch black. Sometimes completely left to our own devices. I spent most of my week sitting around waiting to find out what I was supposed to do while I read up on fan history pages, and the last few remaining hours doing more research than I've ever done -- but NOT on Y&R! On deafness, on epilepsy, on Judaism. Everything BUT the characters and emotional content in my episodes. I'm not foolish or arrogant enough to be able to say I know what caused this behind the scenes, but whatever it was, it led to me ripping out handfuls of hair on many a Saturday night at three o'clock in the morning.

I could clearly see that whether it was my fault or not, I would not last through my first cycle. Working under those conditions AND trying to learn the rhythms and practices of a show both behind the scenes and in front of it, was just too difficult a task. But this was not a complete loss, by any means. I'm very grateful for my thirteen weeks there because I met some pretty amazing writers who were kind, welcoming, and ready to help me with character, with motivation, with history. Writers who would respond to an e-mail immediately, or even answer a frantic phone call at eleven o'clock at night. Kay Alden, and Janice Esser, and Natalie Slater and Sara Bibel.

It led to a profusion of excellent viewer comments like this:

Just wanted to say that I think they've destroyed the show with the plot driven writing, full of continuity errors and characterizations which change depending on who wrote what episode and what story is being told.

I am a big fan of Lynn Latham from Knots Landing and Homefront, but she's not fit for daytime. Major events like Jill and Ji Min's first love scene or Mackenzie's abortion now happen during the commercial break. What we get on screen is endless drivel about Clear Springs, MEEthane gas or reliquaries.

It was a mistake to completely uproot the show instead of fine tuning it. Now nobody knows the history of the show or what made it successful. Bill Bell must be rolling in his grave.
So, how do I tie this all back to Obama? Because I really do feel (obviously in very different spheres...I don't mean to trivialize Obama's huge mission) that early Obama sounds an awful lot like early Latham...which is a good thing. He's trying to respect experience and to select the things that have worked in the past. At the same time, he wants to innovate, bring in fresh perspectives...and he cites HIMSELF as the genesis of many of those fresh ideas. Bravo! Work with old, encourage the new.

Six months after that Latham interview above, essentially all of the "old guard" were gone. Left to her own devices, without the benefits of experience, the show imploded. Let's hope that Obama tries to mix innovation with experience for the next eight years!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Will ATWT Brian's potential be realized?

I was excited to learn about the Brian story on ATWT. First, as Roger Newcomb has said, it is the kind of dysfunctional intergenerational mess that is at the core of soaps and ATWT. To have a gay element to that helps to end the marginalization of the show's "gay storyline".

But there are warning signs that this story is not going to be subtle, nuanced, or authentic. It seems Brian is going to be the sleazy guest villain of this quarter, bilking Lucinda while trying to shag Luke...which is already raising groans of disgust from the soap quarters I visit.

From cbs. com, here is the most recent beat of the story:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lily and Holden visit Lucinda at the hospital, where Lucinda and Brian have just confirmed that they’ll be getting married. Lily is alarmed at the news. Brian goes to call the judge and run some wedding errands as Lily has a moment alone with her mother. Lily explains her concern and Lucinda defends her actions. Lily understands that Lucinda doesn’t want to die alone. Lily wants ­Lucinda to be happy. Brian has Lucinda sign a pre-nuptial agreement to show that there are no strings. He gives her his Princeton class ring and they exchange vows. Lily and Holden are moved. Meanwhile, Noah helps Luke sober up. He gives him coffee at Java, then after Luke starts to insult him, Noah takes him home. Luke doesn’t want Noah to leave, but when Noah does, Luke goes after him. Brian, running home after his wedding to Lucinda to get her some clothes for tomorrow, finds Luke on the road, picks him up and brings him home. Luke cleans himself up but is a total wreck emotionally. Brian consoles him, hugs him, and finally kisses Luke. Luke’s out of it at first, then pulls away and staggers upstairs. Brian is overwhelmed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lily and Holden leave a message for Luke, then go see Lucinda for a wedding breakfast at the hospital. Luke wakes up hung over, flashes to Brian kissing him, and wonders if it really happened. Luke arrives at the hospital to see Brian toasting Lucinda with his parents there. In the corridor, Luke wants to know what the hell Brian’s doing. Brian plays it off, says he comes from an expressive family, and doesn’t want Luke to ruin this for his grandmother. Luke tries to tell Lily that this marriage is a mistake but she too wants Luke to let Lucinda be happy. Later, Brian and Lucinda exchange wedding bands as an upset Luke watches through the window.

Brian's denial and inauthenticity makes some fear that this is going to go in an almost-incest direction, where Brian tries to pluck the cherry from Luke's tender young tree, but then blackmails him (or whatever) into silence. If that is the tale...that's kind of yech.

It seems to me recent real life offers all kinds of really deep, moving possibilities for this story. I hope they have the courage to go in that direction.

1. Ted Haggard (villain storyline, wrapped up in fundamentalism and conservatism...plausible for a "foundation manager" or whatever) Haggard is particularly villainous because (a) he won't own up to his homosexuality, even when caught AND [cue standard fundamentalist narrative] (b) he claims he was "warped" by early sexual abuse that took 40 years to "ripen"


Earlier this month, a guest took the pulpit at Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill., a 350-member church surrounded by cornfields. The speaker was an insurance salesman from Colorado named Ted Haggard.

The former superstar pastor, disgraced two years ago in a sex-and- drugs scandal, had returned — this time as a Christian businessman preaching a message that was equal parts contrition and defiance. *Haggard linked his fall to being molested in second grade and apologized again.*

Haggard, 52, resigned as president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals and was fired from New Life Church amid allegations that he *paid a male prostitute for sex and used methamphetamine*.

Haggard said in 2006 he *bought the drugs but never used them*, confessed to *"sexual immorality"* and described struggling with a *"dark and repulsive"* side. He had risen from preaching in his basement to taking part in White House conference calls — and fallen so far that he became a late-night punch line.

He apologized for making his family suffer, acknowledged suicidal thoughts and chastised church leaders for missing an opportunity to use his scandal to "communicate the gospel worldwide." Haggard said he emerged with a *stronger Christian faith and marriage* than he'd ever had.

2. James McGreevey (a little more complex; probably not too much different from Haggard, although he ultimately acknowledged that he had been denying his homosexuality). But no matter what you think of him, READ how he writes about this. He talks about incorporating inauthenticity into his personality, and about that actually helping him in politics. He also talks about how he consistently made choices to deny his identity. Finally, he talks about the compartmentalization that make it all work for him. I'm here to say that is 100% gospel...that is NOT a set of bullsh*t excuses. That is the elaborate fiction such men create...and that is totally what Brian could be. With good writing....


I’ve never been much for self-revelation. In two decades of public life, I always approached the limelight with extreme caution. Not that I kept my personal life off-limits; rather, the personal life I put on display was a blend of fact and fiction. I invented overlapping narratives about who I was, and contrived backstories that played better not just in the ballot box but in my own mind. And then, to the best of my ability, I tried to be the man in those stories.

In this way I’m not at all unique.* Inauthenticity is endemic in American politics today. *

*Ironically, the dividing experience of my sexuality helped me thrive in that environment*. As I climbed the electoral ladder—from state assemblyman to mayor of Woodbridge and finally to governor of New Jersey—*political compromises came easy to me because I’d learned how to keep a part of myself innocent of them. I kept a steel wall around my moral and sexual instincts*—protecting them, I thought, from the threats of the real world. This gave me a tremendous advantage in politics, if not in my soul. The true me, my spiritual core, slipped further and further from reach.

There were moments when the ripping misery of this life became too great, moments when I thought about “becoming gay” and all that that entails.

My political potential was enormous. *I think I decided that my ambition would give me more pleasure than integration, than true love*. Coming to this realization made me feel not suicidal, exactly, but morose. It’s hard to describe how it feels to surrender your soul to your ambition.

Among other things, I was anxious about marrying Dina. I had met her at a campaign event—she was an uncommonly beautiful 31-year-old blonde in a red double-breasted suit. When the event was over I walked her out to her car and kissed her. *I’m still not sure what made me do it. Loneliness, I suppose. Maybe she just seemed like the perfect politician’s wife; it might have been that self-serving. Our romantic life was troubled from the start, but I loved her deeply as a friend and companion. And I did believe I was offering her some things she truly coveted: the stability of marriage, the prospect of a loving family, a chance to share a life of public service, political excitement in spades*.

3. Aaron. A married gay man, who has been honest with his wife. The thing is...he loves his wife, but he's gay. He wants to stay with his family, parent his child, and remain true to his (deep) faith. He struggles everyday with how to resolve the contradictions.

He calls his life "Paysage choisi", which means "chosen landscape".

Excerpt #1:

The name of this blog ("paysage choisi") comes from a poem by the 19th century French poet Paul Verlaine, which is in a collection called Fêtes galantes inspired by Watteau’s rococo paintings. Verlaine’s words have been set to music more than once, but it is Fauré’s setting that has been going through my head a lot lately. *I find the themes in the poem very close to home: wearing masks, going through the motions, hiding sadness, life’s sad beauty*.

Excerpt #2:

*Coming out of the closet and staying in the house*

I have been inching out of the closet for a long time now. I came out to my wife in a moment of crisis eight years ago, and her loving support and empathy were amazing. I think we both thought at the time that simply removing that secret from between us would strengthen our relationship and everything would be fine.

Although I had already begun the process of shedding the sense of shame I had been carrying so long, the experience of talking freely with the therapist, a gay man himself, was incredibly liberating. At the first session, he asked me where I wanted to go with the therapy — what my goal was — and I realized that I didn’t know.*I explained that I felt fully committed to my marriage and that this was about my inner journey of accepting myself*.

Strangely, though, in parallel with the sense of exhilaration I have felt as I have begun to be freed from the burdens of guilt, shame and self-doubt, I have also felt an increasing sense of isolation and loneliness. *For various reasons, I have been reluctant to find opportunities to meet other gay men. Yet my need to do so is like a lead weight on my chest. This feels like another barrier — another closet door*.

When most gay men come out of the closet, they are making a statement not only about who they are, but also about who they love and how they live. For me, though, it’s really just about what goes on in my head. And that seems somehow less significant and more private — not the sort of thing you share with most people. So, is it possible to come out of the closet and stay in the house? I think so, but I’m still trying to work out how.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Weekly decline %

Here is another shocking figure. Based on their 2008 maximums, what % of viewers are soaps shedding EVERY WEEK in 2008?

(I know that soaps go up and down from week to week, but when you look at the long-haul trend, what % of viewers were lost, on average, weekly in 2008?)

GL 0.70% lost weekly
ATWT 0.67% lost weekly
DAYS 0.58% lost weekly
GH 0.54% lost weekly
Y&R 0.52% lost weekly
B&B 0.47% lost weekly
AMC 0.41% lost weekly
OLTL 0.32% lost weekly

Makes me numb.....

GL is the new low

Earlier this week I reported that ATWT, with its 30% loss of viewers (between the maximum and minimum of the calendar year) was the biggest proportional loser of viewers in 2008.

Well, ratings released today at SON show GL hit a new household low rating of 1.4. With that, GL takes the "biggest loser" slot, with a loss of 31%.

I am not a regular viewer of GL, so I cannot comment on the show's creative state. Casual readers of the soap fan networks reveals that many long time viewers do not like GL's new production model, but more importantly, they feel the show has little narrative connection to its' history. Most fan favorites are gone or rarely seen, and some claim there are few intersecting stories with long-term payoff. I don't know if any of that is true.

I know that constant doom-filled signs for GL bring me no joy. Daytime's most venerable soap should not fade out like this. For a long time it has not been helped by less than 100% clearances on CBS and a wide array of timeslots (e.g, 10 am in New York).

At the point, with the clearly faster-rate-of-decline than other shows (ominous since the show was already at the bottom of the heap), it seems clear that fans have not accepted the new writing style or production model. While I applaud the experiment (I have in another post), if this were a drug trial, it would be time to say "stop--the experimental drug is killing the patient".

In contrast, two of the other bottom soaps (OLTL, AMC) have experienced much less proportional decline this year...and lately there are some hints of rebound

Now what, for GL?

There are signs that GL is trying some repair. Heralded returns of Grant Alexander, David Andrew McDonald might...just might...suggest that the show realizes it needs some anchor in popular legacy characters.

At the same time, the history of daytime soaps shows that when fans leave, they don't come back, and new viewers do not replace them (Jack Peyton axiom).

It really is like watching cancer ravage a loved one, and nothing can stop it. There comes a place when you pray for euthansia or merciful release. As a long-time viewer of another soap (Y&R), a piece of my soul -- really, I'm not being melodramatic -- will be lost forever when that show dies. But at some point I'd rather see that than what seems to be happening to GL now.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is Y&R the big loser of 2008? I think it might be ATWT

Roger Newcomb wrote last Friday that Y&R lost the most viewers in 2008. In absolute terms, he is right. But a different cut of the numbers tells a different tale...and suggests (to me) that ATWT is in the greatest jeopardy.

This is really an archive of two posts I did at Soap Opera Network.

When it comes to ratings, I am all about "the trend".

So, the week-to-week ratings are less interesting to me, except insofar as they speak to the larger trend.

Below is the SON/Toups' ratings from the first week of the year (beginning 12/31/07) through the present, in summary form. I did this table on the HH ratings, but you get pretty similar results if you use the # of viewers. I realize the 18-39 female demo is the important one...but I'm more interested in the total eyeballs watching soaps.

I started thinking about this in reaction to Roger Newcomb's post on Friday, where (in the process of chiding SOD for their endless Victor covers) he said, in effect, Y&R lost the most viewers in the last year (800K), so why over-promote that show?

I replied at his blog and in mine, but I really wondered about the true declines for all soaps this year.

So, in the table above, I looked at the highest and lowest HH for each show. I take this as the much more useful index of decline, acknowledging that the minimum may be a point lower than the "usual low" for some shows. But still...

Suddenly, it gets hard to say "one show declined more than all others". It is true, in absolute viewers, Y&R lost the most, but if you look at % loss, the real losers are ATWT, GL and Days, with Y&R and GH in close behind.

(Now, Days and ATWT have both rebounded a little from their lowest ratings of the season...but in general I believe each show's minimum is a good reflection of where they are headed).

This is gasp-inducing. Pretty much 20-25% (1/5 to 1/4 of the audience!!!) losses across the board!! In that context, the relative preservation of AMC/OLTL is interesting...and makes one wonder if those shows have bottomed out, and have reached a stable minimum.

Now, elsewhere, I have said that the encouraging news from Soapnet, DVR viewing, and (I numbers) online viewing suggest that these free-falls may not be quite as bad as they seem. Some of it may represent a movement away from broadcast.

But, with these numbers, our broadcasters and producers need to do a MUCH better job of following the people, and showing us where the people went. Because these numbers sure look like monotonic, unfettered decline!

With a quarter of the residual audience lost in a year, is it ANY WONDER that the networks have no interest in showing the Daytime Emmys anymore??


One more ratings-related post.

I thought it might be useful to look at the linear decline trajectories in the soaps this year. These are based on the maximum - minimum figures from my last post, averaged over the 45 weeks of season-to-date.

If you look at the raw ratings falls (first graph), it does look like Y&R experienced the most loss (and they absolute terms).

The second graph may be more meaningful, because it puts all the shows in a common metric, and shows the decline from their 2008 high proportionally. If you can get over how appalling the overall slope of ALL the lines is, it sure makes you want to be AMC or OLTL smile.gif.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Is Roger Newcomb right? Are there too many Victor covers at SOD?

Roger Newcomb has been, appropriately, beating the drum about too many Victor covers at SOD.

His latest post on this is here, and says in part:

I hate to beat a dead horse with this, but with daytime ratings in the toilet and subscriptions down, seeing Digest on the newsstand might be the only thing that piques a lapsed fan's interested. And so those people are left with the impression that the only things happening on the soaps these days are the same things that have been going on for decades. How about trying to reel in some new fans or win some old fans back?

And in case someone at Digest hasn't noticed, no soap has lost more viewers than Y&R in the past year (nearly 800,000 viewers since last based based on the Nielsen Ratings for the week ending November 7). Despite the improvement in quality, the ratings are sinking fast so all this promotion isn't helping. Yet THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS has been the main cover or partial cover of Digest in 14 of the past 19 issues (that's 74%). And Eric Braeden has been on the cover seven times (with Victor menioned on an eighth). Digest, it's time to turn your attention to the rest of the soap world for a while.

I posted a comment there that said the following:

I'm with a Y&R fan...except for that little bit of sophistry. "Y&R has lost the most viewers....promote other shows" (I paraphrase).

From the premise that there is Victor overkill (I agree...but it MUST be boosting sales, no?)

- Y&R remains that strongest show by most measures, so boosting it COULD serve to boost the industry "flagship". For example, on weeks where Y&R is down, B&B/ATWT/GL are often down too. So, saving Y&R might save the whole CBS lineup

- proportionally, all of CBS is in jeopardy, but Y&R is NOT the "biggest loser" when it comes to percentage loss. These numbers are taken from Toups' ratings archive at Soapoperanetwork:

SHOW, 11/03/08 rating, change since 11/07, 11/07 rating, % change since 07

Y&R, 4674000, -797000, 5471000, -15%
B&B, 3379000, -489000, 3868000, -13
GH, 2895000, -248000, 3143000, -8%
OLTL, 2693000, 34000, 2659000, +1%
DAYS, 2686000, 143000, 2543000, +6%
AMC, 2664000, 184000, 2480000, +7%
ATWT, 2551000, -419000, 2970000, -14%
GL, 2065000, -505000, 2570000, -20%

- From these numbers, GL is in "death trajectory", and GH is not statistically different from Y&R.

- If we're going to make these judgments based on numbers, we probably have to look at "volatility". Y&R is also more VOLATILE than the other shows, showing more week-to-week variation. So, not all weeks look this bad :-).

None of this takes away from your point! I agree that Y&R is getting too much cover time, and that SOD is failing to represent the genre as a whole!

But the argument for SOD to do differently should be conceptual...not on the basis of numbers. Y&R is the strongest show creatively, budgetarily, and in absolute numbers.

My guess is that SourceInterlink would reply that "these covers ARE based on numbers...what sells".

If that is true, how do we deal with it? Just like Soapnet can't afford to show soaps because the financials don't support it...apparently SOD has revealed that the financials now require Victor covers. If that is true...if they don't sell as many issues when other soaps are on the cover, what can we do about that??

Many fans are complaining about the bizarre developments at our soap venues:

- Soapnet is moving away from soaps

- SOD is moving to a Y&R-only format :)

I think we have to remember what is really happening here. The financials are driving these decisions. This isn't about "editor preference" or "bad editorial judgement" or whatever. I'll bet SOD doesn't even get to choose this: I'll bet SourceInterlink is mandating this.

The REAL lesson here is that we are going to have to let go of Soapnet and SOD. They're almost done.

Soaps are moving to the online that is more democratic and less commercial. Roger Newcomb himself is a perfect example: His soap AND his blogsite are terrific...and they are totally internet! That is the future. That is how we get around Madison Avenue.

When Soapnet goes, online broadcasts of surviving soaps will be the new "re-purposing". I expect we'll lose at least a soap a year, maybe more, for the next few years. When SOD goes, Roger and the many wonderful online sites will fill the a far more democratic way. This is simply emblematic of the larger future of broadcast, cable and print.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Did I say no hope? Scratch that...

While we sit here and lament the demise of soaps, CBS' Y&R is kicking ASS. Viewership approaches the classic days of yore...just in new ways.

1. Broadcast Neilsen ratings are at an all time low for Y&R on CBS. Last week's average household rating was an all-time low of 3.4. Surely I'm delusional? Not really.

2. Soapnet, in October, reported an all-time high. This ends up adding about 15% to the total number of Y&R viewers.

3. Sara Bibel says seven-day DVR plays of Y&R add almost 25% to Y&R's audience.

4. We don't know how many people are watching the many legal online streams of Y&R, but it must be a lot. Unknown numbers at, hulu, fancast, msn tv, legal Youtube...unknown, BUT think of this: EVERY WEEK, on their home page, CBS lists Y&R as one of their "most popular" streamed shows (no other soaps)

I have been as noisy as the rest of us about the "decline of soaps" and "the end is near" and all that jazz. But it is easy to look at these broadcast Neilsen trends and think all is lost. But when you ADD IN the numbers from these different venues, you suddenly realize that it is not out of the question that Y&R reaches 8-10 million people a day.

8-10 MILLION (and that could be an underestimate, since I have no clue what the online numbers are...that 8-10 million number could come from just Soapnet + delayed DVR views)!


What it says (and I can't speak to the rest of the daytime lineup) is that Y&R is still pulling numbers that aren't so far off from its' glory days!

It also says that if the chief revenue model still relies on same-day ad rates on CBS broadcast...well, then we're all f*cked.

If almost half your viewers are watching your show in other ways....they need to count...and you need to get the revenues from those other venues.

For me, meanwhile, I'm retreating from the doom and gloom a bit. These combined Y&R numbers are AMAZING...and they rival some of primetime viewership. The future is HERE. The audience is still HERE. Let's catch up with the business model!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Change? Hope? Not for everyone...

This posting is soap-relevant, I promise! It just takes a minute to get there :).

The election of Barack Obama has been heralded in many corners, as a positive sign of the evolution of America. Tolerance of racial diversity. Tolerance for a progressive social agenda. Adoption of a more conciliatory international stance. A liberal agenda that understands the need to spread opportunity to more people. Alas, there is a fly in this happy ointment.

The passage of a number of "defense-of-marriage" constitutional amendments (commonly referred to as anti-gay-marriage votes), including in a state as progressive as California, suggests that there is much more evolution to occur. As I write this:

  • In California, Proposition 8 (Ban on Gay Marriage) received 5,424,916 "yes" votes (52%) and 4,932,086 "no" votes. Lest we think this somehow suggests California is universally conservative, the same percentage (52%) voted AGAINST abortion limits.
  • In Arizona, Proposition 102 (Ban on Gay Marriage) received 1,078,495 "yes" votes (56%) and 835,013 "no" votes (44%).
  • In Florida, Amendment 2 (Ban on Gay Marriage) received 4,755,789 "yes" votes (62%) and 2,913,740 "no" votes (38%).
So, I won't go off on a soapbox here, about how vile this is. I won't mention that is suggests civil rights remains a joke for gay and straight couples who want to commit to and love each other outside of marriage.

What I will mention is these election results were no "poll". This is not a random selection of individuals, some small panel that we're not sure is representative of some larger population. This IS the population. Adding in the results from the 2004 Federal election, gay marriage bans have been supported more often than not. What that tells us is that -- even in a year where voters were willing not to ban abortion and to elect a person of color -- majority opinion is STILL against LGBT men and women.

How does this relate to soaps?

Well, as I write this, ATWT's Nuke STILL has not had sex. The latest obstacle to their union concerns a school election in which Luke stuffed the ballot box. Noah "can't lie" to protect it is clear the relationship is about to go through a rough patch. Objective viewers know this is just the latest in a string of unending obstacles for our boys. On the heels of a long dry spell before the men could start kissing, and Procter and Gamble phone poll about whether they SHOULD be on the has been a long period of frustration for viewers who wanted an honest portrayal of gay male sexuality. Not lascivious, but honest.

Suddenly, in the bright light of these polls, P&G's conservatism doesn't seem quite so malevolent. seems almost wisely self-protective. If the MAJORITY of otherwise progressive men and women in America still can't stand the thought of same sex unions...they surely don't want to see it on their TV screens. In the same week, Grey's Anatomy abruptly scuttled a lesbian relationship. All My Children, mercifully, seems to be doing a decent job with Bianca's latest story and relationship.

For some time, a number of us have been angry at P&G for, apparently, timidity in the portrayal of Nuke as a couple. Suddenly, P&G seems awfully courageous to me. America, apparently, doesn't want to acknowledge, condone, or support the existence of committed same-sex unions.

In the end, I think I've stopped being angry. Now, I'm just sad. It's funny how, on the heels of the Obama victory, I end up feeling more like "no change, no hope". In that context, I'll take Nuke in any form I can get it. It's practically an act of sedition, apparently, that they are even allowed to exist.