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Part 1: The Strange Decline of The American Soap Opera

“Derided by critics and disdained by social commentators from the 1930s to the 1990s, the soap opera is nevertheless the most effective and enduring broadcast advertising vehicle ever devised. It is also the most popular genre of television drama in the world today and probably in the history of world broadcasting: no other form of television fiction has attracted more viewers in more countries over a longer period of time.” –Robert Allen, Museum of Broadcast Communications

It has become painfully clear: the American soap opera is going the way of the dinosaur- dying a slow, painful, and to some, mysterious death.  In 2002, there were eleven American daytime “soap operas” on the air and now, less than ten years later, only four “soaps” remain.  What is happening to this “effective and enduring” medium?  If, as Allen states above, “no other form of television fiction has attracted more viewers,” why is it disappearing from our televisions?

I invite you to join me in my attempt to try and tackle what is no doubt a multi-layered and complex issue.  From the obvious to the ridiculous to what may seem outright mad reasoning, I think you will find here a number of ideas in this series of essays of which you will be able to relate.  Perhaps there will even be something to give you an “ah-ha” moment.  I am certain some of you will think my ideas are super obvious, and I apologize to those of you who feel perhaps I have wasted your time.  Thank you for reading and commenting all the same- I am a fan of spirited (but polite) conversation, so feel free to share even if you disagree.  It is the heart of the matter which counts, something that often takes more than one person to discover in full.  On a certain level, these essays exist for those of us who either made our living in this now disappearing medium, or those that once loved and lost it as a fan.  If you fit into either of these categories, welcome!

My investment in understanding the answer to the question, “what happened to the soap opera?” is both personal and professional.  As some of you in the TV viewing public might be aware, over the last twenty-three years I worked as a full time contract player on two soaps, As the World Turns and All My Children.  To the audience of All My Children, I was (and probably forever will be) “Dixie,” a clueless romantic who went on to fall in love with the town’s bad boy/local hero “Tad.”  I am very proud my contribution to “Tad and Dixie” helped my co-star Michael E. Knight and me to make the list as one of the top soap opera “super couples” of all time.  (Thanks Entertainment!)

However, All My Children was more than just a job to me.  It was my home during some of the worst years of my life.  I was a pretty stressed out teen- my father abandoned my family when I was twelve and five years later my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  Making a living by pretending to be someone else provided an important escape for me at the time.  Simultaneously, it allowed me to channel the enormity of my feelings onto a format that lauded melodrama, and my feelings were pretty darn humongous.  As a result, I ended up working on All My Children over twelve years, winning a daytime Emmy only two years after I began the show.  I left AMC in 2002 with the idea of going to college but was quickly lured back to play the role of bitchy businesswoman Rosanna Cabot on As the World Turns, culminating in a second Emmy- a proud moment for me.  Approximately seventeen years of employment gave me a fairly solid base financially (economy notwithstanding) and the ritual of meaningful work served to comfort me emotionally.  Long story short: I have spent a lot of time working to understand the medium of daytime soap operas.

I knew I was not alone in my need for the unique combination of consistency and fantasy soaps could provide.  For years I was daily joined by millions of viewers who embraced my characters make-believe life: her romances and family drama (with touches of adventure on the side) were fodder for conversations around the water cooler, campus and the living room.  The soap opera story structure was (and still is) a potent one: in 1995 the ratings for All My Children floated around 7.5, each point in that number representing 1% of the total number of television viewers for the year.  In 1995, there were approximately 100 million TV viewers for both daytime and nighttime television, so for the mathematically disinclined (of which I am one) this means in 1995, All My Children (which had already been running for over thirty years) had an audience of approximately 7.5 million.  That’s a lot of people, even in today’s world of 115.9 million television viewers.  So what happened?


Part One: NEILSEN.


The decline of the Neilsen ratings number for American soap operas usually tops the list of reasons as to why they are disappearing and for good reason.  According to the Washington Post, in 2005, “General Hospital averaged 3.4 million viewers, less than a third of the 11.8 million who typically tuned in during the year of the Luke and Laura wedding (a popular event marking a record ratings high in 1981.)  The Young and the Restless saw its ratings share drop from 10.3 million during the 1991-92 season to 5.3 million in 2005, while All My Children tumbled from 8.2 million to 3.1 million during the same period, according to Nielsen.  Today, the Young and the Restless is earning a 3.4 share of the viewing audience, a record low.  That said- in the Neilsen equation (which considers the overall number of viewers) they still pull 4.5 million viewers.

Unfortunately that number is not high enough for the networks or their advertisers.  They want to bring back “the good ol’ days.”  I can’t tell you how many times in my daytime years I heard an executive reference the “Luke and Laura” phenomenon and how their latest new idea was going to bring back the magic “eleven million.”  It was almost a chant, a mantra formulated to elevate those who signed the check.  Now I consider myself a practical woman.  I am aware I must consider this soap opera dilemma from the point of view of what might be called in economics class a “business conundrum.”  Certainly a company must grow and expand or the shareholders question its value and their investment in the aforementioned business.  This is why there are board meetings and charts and graphs and sales pitches- all to hold the interest of the original investor, aka the person who holds the purse strings.  Once upon a time, this investor could be counted on to employ within themselves a certain amount of flexibility and patience with their wavering product.  A compelling argument might’ve even been, “For goodness sake, even plants take a certain amount of time to grow!”  But times have changed, and oh boy have they.

The sad fact is, no one seems to want to ride out tough times anymore, which leaves us in a tough corporate environment- an environment that cannot call on loyalty or even quality as a factor used to convince shareholders or investors to stay put.  To illustrate: there are some in the business sector who deride the government bailout of the most American of businesses- the auto industry.  This is, in my opinion, a painful example of the current business ethos.  A certain sector (I’m not saying ALL, mind you) of the business class has somehow lost its connection to our shared humanity.  Greed and “slash-and-burn” tactics are rewarded while the very foundation of a business (or town) is left to rot and ruin.  I’m not saying life is easy and if we all just hugged each other at the end of the day everyone would have enough to eat.  However it seems no one wants to hear we cannot have what we once did, that the past is in the past and we must look at who we are now to make positive choices about how to proceed- how, in my opinion, adults deal with life.  Conversely, many of the corporations of America are behaving like impatient, indulged, greedy children caring very little about those they wound in their wake.  In psychological circles this kind of behavior is often defined as sociopathic… but lets not call one another names.  Let’s just agree it’s poor behavior and get back to the topic at hand.

The Neilsen rating, which is an outmoded, outdated way of judging the worth of a television show, is still considered viable despite huge technical errors and the invention of the DVR.  There are several arguments for its lack of viability, the main one being the chance for basic human error.  It’s a reasonable possibility some Neilsen families (those who fill out the report of viewing habits) may err deliberately or simply make a mistake.  Let us also consider these families are only a tiny percentage of the actual viewing public.  If you think about it, the Neilsen scores are basically a poll.  Watch any news program for a half an hour and you are going to hear at least one poll that makes you shake your head and wonder, “Who the heck did they talk to around here?”  Another factor is how easily these scores can be manipulated to create the desired effect- numbers can be skewed depending on what market you are looking at.

In short, the Neilsen’s are basically a flawed polling factory.  As far as I know, there have been no other companies whose polling efforts have even been able to compete with it.  This is an important point.  It is interesting to note how the Neilsen scores are used by the networks to make a case to cancel programs that had existed for decades (yes, the soaps.)  I wonder about this.  I am hesitant to say lest I be labeled a conspiracy theorist (of which I am one, okay, lets be honest) that this relationship smells dicey.  It is a relationship easily misused to benefit an individual preference.  Whose preference is a question I will leave up to you.  I wouldn’t mind working as an actor again one of these days.

My bottom line: TV is not a democracy.

Look for Part Two: Demographics, coming soon!  Whoop whoop!


56 thoughts on “Part 1: The Strange Decline of The American Soap Opera

  1. Cady —
    What do you believe is in the future for daytime-style Soaps? What are your toughts about the Prospect Park’s lead AMC transition to Hulu? Can they grow the audience?

  2. Cady,

    There are so many factors, as you have started to surmise. I am thrilled that you are tackling a multi-faceted approach to cause and effect on our beloved soaps! When soaps were moved from radio to TV, there was limited programming and choices of which channel, what genre. Story telling has always captured the human heart. Before radio, it was in print format. When it was radio, one could be doing laundry, etc (most women were at home). When it moved to TV you were glued to the TV because of the visual aspect. This was the beginning of immense societal changes as well.

    In general, the populace was more informed. They were exposed to more choices in their daily lives. As TV programming started to fill the air waves 24/7 with the big 3, the audience really had to choose what they watched when it was available. You could not record. The economy was booming. Advertisers and the big 3 went by what the viewers wanted.

    Then other networks dared to start up. Remember the way the big 3 executive thought those upstarts would never survive. Also we had turned into what I call the microwave society. We want it NOW and on our terms. The big 3 were perplexed and shocked when they started to lose their ratings. Exactly as you stated why Nielsen is totally inaccurate, entwined with the new business model of greed no matter the cost.

    Women were working first out of economic necessity, then because they discovered they liked it and it satisfied several needs for them. By then, even “poor” families had cable and more than one TV plus a means to record shows. We could still work and enjoy what we wanted and found the new networks were focusing specifically on our interests, whether it was sports, drama, music, food, science fiction, diy, etc.

    The new generation of executives method of handling this crisis was to tell the audience what they wanted to view, using bogus polls and ratings to substantiate their claims. But the noose still was getting tighter for them financially and they had to some how justify why they were charging so much per minute for advertisers. Add in the internet explosion and you have a lot of network sinking ships.

    They truly have no way to rate shows anymore for advertising or audience involvement anymore. They can’t admit that to share holders, hell they cannot admit it to themselves! Being of the mindset these people are, there is no compunction toward honestly saying we have too much competition to be pulling the big market shares we had in the 60’s – 80’s. Hence the you will watch what we want you to watch, and will justify it with false data and statements.

    They erroneously assumed the audiences were stupid and lazy. We noticed when they tried to tank our beloved shows with a change in writing teams to deliberately kill a show. They no longer let a new show they touted as a hit enough time to develop a loyal audience. They change the times and days they are shown. Sometimes weeks lapse between seeing an episode at all.

    Ok that was off track for the soap debacle. I think the outpouring of fans is proof enough the audience is there. They not only expressed their on the telephone, they used social media on the internet! How dare they!

    Viewers have not changed their love for watching and becoming attached to the serial story telling! It’s human nature. It’s the executives, the advertisers, the shareholders, the big money conglomerates, who have not changed their mindset. They have forgotten without viewers and their personal watching preferences they have NOTHING!

    While our lifestyles have changed, allowing us so many different formats to earn a living and yet not lose our pleasure of kicking back and getting lost in the story line of our soaps to forget about the BS and drama in pour own lives. Sometimes the storyline correlates to what is happening in our own lives and we find a different way of dealing with it.

    It angers me, that we soap lovers are portrayed as brainless zombies. That soap actors are less than other actors. That we now live in a world where we are told how we should live/think/feel. I don’t fit into any particular type box and no other human does either. I hate that journalists and news outlets have forgotten the principles of journalism and they think the bulk of us are applauding them and jumping on their train.

    I used train, versus band wagon for a reason. Years before I was born this same type thinking was pushed resulting into people being herded into rail cars to their death. Does this sound extreme to what networks have done to the soap genre? I do not think so. Once again we are being duped with the party line of this is the way it is. The soap genre, that a vast majority of us love, is just a perfect example of what is happening across the board.

    We, as viewers, need to continue using our voice and taking action as we did for AMC and OLTL. We need to do it on all levels in our lives. Like always the soaps reflects our lives!

    Okay off my proverbial soapbox!

    Thank you Cady for all you do to help us transition to this new format!


  3. Sorry if you are offended by this but you said in 1995 AMC was already on the air for over 30 years. The show premiered in 1970….. Besides that thanks for caring about the genre!!!

  4. Cady — Great piece. I saw your tweet about the haters and couldn’t resist going to find a terrific infographic I posted earlier this year. THEN, I recalled a piece I had written a few years back on the demise of As The World Turns and decided to throw that at the wall again as well. Here’s a link to all of the above.

  5. LOL did not realize when i started reading this that it was written last year LOL was thinking to myself, none of these people know the shows are back what in the world, then I read the date on one of the posts LOL so glad the shows are back!!

  6. Miss. McClain I love reading your blogs. I found this article very interesting and informative. I have never really understood how the NIELSON Rating System works.. They say people have them in their houses but I have never seen one. It was said that ABC took All My Children and One Life to live off because of low ratings, however I believe the shows they replaced them with have lower ratings than AMC or OLTL did when they were taken off. I have been a soap fan for many years. I used to watch All My Children and Young and the Restless with my grandmother and when I started school my grandmother Elly would record them on her VCR and we would watch them together when I came home from school. I have many fond memories of my grandmother getting so mad and yelling at Erica Kane or Katherine Chancellor when she saw them on T.V I am so thankful that Prospect Park took over for AMC & OLTL. Watching AMC helps keep my grandmother Elly memory alive. In a weird way AMC have become like a second family to me. I am a Huge fan of yours Miss. McClain, my grandmother loved you as Dixie I only wished she had the chance to see you as Rosanna. Keep up the Amazing work Miss. McClain and don’t let the haters get to you. You are an amazing inspirational woman. Love ya!

  7. Ms. McClain,

    Your narrative regarding “The Strange Decline of the American Soap Opera” was immnesly well-written and
    eloquent. I found it informative and engaging. Well-done!

  8. I sure would like to know, why soaps are declining, I have heard it’s the ratings, yet OLTL was higher in the ratings then GH when they canceled it..They need to update their system, I don’t know anyone with a Nielsen box, I have heard it’s expensive, well then how come Y&R manages to stay #1 for 27 years? Yes more women are working, but there is VCR, DVR Tivo etc internet, how do they count those viewers? I just get tired of them telling us what we want to watch, I don’t want watch a cooking show, or a millionth talk show.. I’m very thankful Prospect Park Took over the soaps, even though they have had bumps in the road, I didn’t like the cut back of episodes but it is better than nothing, I find myself watching them 6:00 AM one advantage to being online..:-) Thanks for the Blog Cady, keep being you… Love you lots.

    1. Ah yes, thank you for correcting my spelling error. Perhaps next time you might share your thoughts and not just your criticism. I can correct my spelling but I don’t think it’s as important as a relevant thought.

        1. Cady people like that hit every forum just to criticize someone.Think this one went to far with that remark.That’s the idiot to me.One thing about people like this will be at every blog just to be a smartass idiot.

    2. @McClainCanSMD : Calling someone a “f*cking idiot” for a minor spelling error seems counter-productive to anything. Perhaps you should lighten up and worry about more important things in life, or work on acquiring some class and etiquette…

    3. I am an Education Major and I must say calling Miss. McClain a f*cking idiot is a little childish and juvenile. If you did not like her blog you could of just used the “Golden Rule”..

      1. Maribeth, and “Education Major” would know that the correct term is “should HAVE” and not “should of”. Regardless, the attack on Cady was ridiculous. But please, don’t claim to be something you aren’t, Maribeth.

        1. . Thank you DeeAnna for catching that. I actually just finished my first semester of college with straight A’s and was honored to make the dean’s list. I am going for a degree in secondary education to teach math. Grammar was never my favorite subject so thanks again for catching the error. No bad feelings.

          1. Thanks for giving Cady your support.
            Please use Ms. instead of Miss (without the period)
            (Miss. is short for Mississippi)
            Ms. is like Mr. (it does not indicate if someone is married)

    4. Fucking idiot?!?! Really!?!? You could NEVER hope to have the brains Cady has! Let’s examine your short little sentence, shall we? You didn’t capitalize the first letter in the sentence, and the word is YOU not the letter u! Take a long look in the mirror! Seems to me the real idiot will be looking right back at you!

    5. Just a loser trolling the site who has no life . I have come across a few idiots like that on the soap boards over the years. I say consider the source, ignorant, crude and vulgar.
      Enjoyed the blog Cady. Top notch.

  9. I taped my soaps everyday and watched them at night or on weekends. I looked forward to having a day off so I could watch them. Sadly tv has gone downhill. I am not a fan of reality shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians (who are these people anyway?) or the little beauty queen show (Honey Boo Boo?) I only know about these shows from the internet. I hardly watch tv anymore which is sad. There is never anything on. I find it hard to believe that having 7.5 million viewers is a reason to cancel a show. That is not a small amount according to real people. I had hoped that someone would have stepped up and created a network to continue these soaps on. No such luck. Even Soapnet doesn’t play all the soaps. Soap operas dealt with real issues (sometimes they got a little strange and dealt with wild issues) but I honestly believe that some of the issues actually helped people who were watching. We grew up with these shows and got to know the characters and were comfortable with the stories. I don’t want another cooking show, reality show or game show on tv. I just wish they would bring them back. Many of us have great memories of sitting at home watching soaps with loved ones.

  10. Hi Cady – Liked your post! =)

    I think one of the main reason soaps have been on the decline is because for a while some soaps were practically putting nails in their coffin with unlikable couples and characters, and story lines that make you think “just get this over with already!” I mean, I think if you’re trying to have a successful soap you need to figure out what your VIEWERS like, and what THEY want to see. Some writers were re-writing history, some may have just been writing to piss their viewers off.

  11. You know people keep saying soaps are declining okay. ABC cancelled OLTL and AMC because of “low ratings”. But their replacements had even lower ratings. So someone tell me the logic in that? I am so so tired of people stating the obvious yes demographics are changing technology is changing times are changing we all know that. But for us millions of viewers who LOVE our soaps can we have them please! The 24 hour news shows, 24 hour sports channel, the reality shows (which aren’t reality) can have their times we just want our soaps. Why is that so hard to understand! No disrepect but really what point came out of The Revolution and The Chew? Really?! So if the soaps are a dying breed well then let the millions of us who love them stay in the ICU with them on the respirator and WE WILL DECIDE WHEN/IF TO PULL THE PLUG. I don’t watch any of the four on a regular basis except for Y&R but if anymore get again on the chopping block I will get involved. LET’S REMAIN RESOLUTE ! AMC and OLTL going off the air snuck me I am sorry to say (had alot of things going on). But it is never too late. ABC can admit they were wrong and bring them back. I am a firm believer in Hope and Never Giving UP. I will say this Cady and this is only because it is us family here on the blog. I wish AMC would have given us the fans to closing and the closure we so desperately needed. I did feel “cheated.” I understand maybe it was thought if it ended with a cliffhanger and so many unanswered questions it might help push it to be online. But after all these years I needed expect more. But still love AMC and miss it. I was glad to see Soap Net remain on air. SEE SOAPS STILL HAVE MILLIONS OF LOYAL FANS AND WE HAVE TO CONTINUE TO PUSH AND REMAIN RESOLUTE TO KEEP OUR SOAPS ON!! SOAPER FOR LIFE!!!

    1. Corporate America took over – bottomline rules. While the ratings are lower – and who didn’t see that coming? – these shows cost much less to produce so the bottomline aka profit for the network is bigger.

      And ICAM that a point came where the EPs and HWs starting making shows that pleased them audience be damned – never forget the show is just like a store. It needs customers. You please them not the manager of the store. Then you had the suits come in and start to dictate and micromanage – Angela Shapiro then Brian Frons starting announcing story changes because THEY did or didn’t like something. I’ve read it interviews from HWs like Megan McTavish and Ron Carlivati too. At that point might as well make home movies then and leave us out of it.. Creativity cannot be by committee or by the dicates of accountants looking at that bottomline.

      Back in the 1970’s thru the 1980’s shows – nighttime and daytime – were allowed to work out the kinks. Given time to build audiences. Change course if something wasn’t working. Now it’s the ‘Flash Gordon’ mentality of business. If you’re not IMMEDIATELY in the top 10 out of the gate they want to cancel you. Or a show just starts to build an audience and they start shuffling airtimes or changes cast and story because the newtork suits ‘have a good idea’ or ‘know better.’ It didn’t used to be like that. Granted they were only 3 major networks back then but there still are shows that only continue on because an audience has to fight for it. Shows like Dallas and Cheers would never make it past the first 6 week order these days. Dallas – the number 1 show for how many years were at the bottom of the heap the first 1 or so. I can’t think of any show since the new mentality took over that even touches its success. Something the current powers that be might want to look at.

    2. K.P. Smith I read your comment and I have to ask you, do you know that they are online? Monday and Wednesday on Hulu (free from computer) they play AMC and on Tues. and Thursday they show OLTL. Both shows are doing great too!! They are not the same as when they were on ABC but I can honestly say I like them better online!!

  12. Thank you Cady for a wonderful article. Yes times have changed. There are more woman working becasue of today’s economy. However that is why we record our soaps to watch once the kids are in bed and all is handled in the household. My children have been raised for many years and I have been a faithful follower of One Life to Live and All MY Children since the day they aired. Reality is what we don’t want. We have enough of that in our everyday lives. We want our escape, we want our soaps and we will fight for them until we get them back. Neilson needs to get modernized and figure out how to record the viewers who VCR or DVR their soaps. There are still millions of soap fans and the unity on the soap Facebook groups is amazing and we stand UNITED and will fight until we have a new home for the genre that will keep them safe and forever in our hearts, our life’s, and most of all our living rooms. We miss you Cady!

  13. What is killing Soap Operas is the unrealistic belief that women want to watch unrealistically glamorized versions of real life. That was not the original purpose of Soap Operas. They were meant to reflect real life and have characters women identified with for their strength and ability to cope.. When I started watching AMC back in the 70s the characters dressed much as I did. Their jobs were similar to the jobs of people I knew. Sure, there were some “haves” like the Tylers but there were also plenty of characters who had less than others. As the show evolved, everyone became suddenly wealthy. Then, they began wearing sundresses year round. They played with their ages and people who were older than me were suddenly younger. They became so unreal I no longer felt like they were people I would want to know. I have no clue how or why all of this happened but I do know that a lot of people just sort of gave up, the same way you finally stop calling old friends with whom you ahve nothing to talk about anymore.

  14. Thank you Cady for a well-written, informative essay. I look forward to reading the rest.

    When ABC announced its cancellation of the soaps, I knew very little, if anything about the television industry. This year has been a real learning experience. Thanks to the several Save the Soaps and Boycott ABC, as well as my own research, I’ve learned something about network programming, sponsors, demographics, etc.

    You right about corporate conglomerates and their stockholders. Today, their very essence is sociopathic. Disney, ABC and their stockholders are no different. They are driven solely by greed just as the companies that sponsor the programs. If they continue on this path, there will be fewer and fewer viewers. Since AMC and OLTL went off the air, I’m watching much less tv. Without my stories, I don’t miss it at all. I can find plenty of things to do with my time other than watching the mindless drivel they pass off as entertainment.

  15. Cady, I loved your essay so much that I printed it out and rode my bike home from the library. After rereading it, I circled 3-5 words per paragraph so that I could tell you what those particular words meant to me.

    SOAPS are FICTION television. The “in” thing right now with all the celebrity news is the “real” television with real people and real problems.

    One of my favorite all-time songs is the “ah-ha” song Take on Me. Take On Me (take on me). Take Me On. And it such a cool video. As I play my video games….

    I used to bake multilayered cakes when I was younger. I’ve always been a big sweet eater. Don’t pummel me Cady about it. My younger sister beats me up about it already. She can be a real bully!

    Michael Jordan’s number 23 was magical. He and the Bulls won 6 or 7 World Championships.

    Personally and Professionally you Love your co-workers, don’t you?

    The words that I chose in the paragraph preceding Part One: Neilson are words that fit my life perfectly. Job, home, 12, diagnosed and escape. Maybe one Day you’ll understand why I picked those words.

    In the bible, there is a book called Numbers as you well know. In my life seven and five are very important numbers… be continued

  16. When a person has all of the money the Executives of ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Disney, etc… have they don’t care about the average American viewer that has less finances likes to watch! They have the money for long vacations, lavish mansions or very expensive New York or Los Angeles apartments, fancy designer clothing, lavish expensive dinners out everynight if they wish, fancy chefs and this type of thing. They are not retired living on fixed incomes or working living on minimum wage or even working for the average American wage.
    Sorry but I have to add this comment they are rich spoiled greedy brats. The way technology is developing they could be out of jobs in a few years as television may no longer exist. None of these executives will have their jobs in 40 plus years like the soap operas did. Remember the longest running soap opera was Guiding Light and it was on somewhere around 70 years. They are killing an industry that is older than they are. Shame on them! Loyal happy viewers spend more money than unhappy viewers. Thank you for the opportunity to let my opinion be known.

  17. This is an excerpt from the article I wrote for The point of sharing this is to highlight the glaring inconsistencies in counting viewers the way Neilsen has done through most of the 20th century to present time.
    Back in 1995 even, there were more stay at home parents and grand-parents that faithfully watched our soaps.
    These days most all people, young and old have to leave the home and go to work and if Neilsen’s is the only ratings machine in the works that the Networks and Advertisers will accept, then they must come into the reality of the 21st century and count those of us who are “shifted viewers” and if they do not then how can we be counted accurately? And as I said in this excerpt if the DVR versions of the shows are not counted then, by default, no television show either day time or prime time could escape the ratings ax.

    Excerpt from Soap fight:
    “The Nielsen Ratings System used by Television Networks has not been counting what they call “shifted viewers” meaning viewers that record television programs to watch later.

    This ratings system has been recording viewer numbers with Nielsen boxes veritably unchanged for the last fifty years and whilst that may have worked in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and even the 1980’s, it cannot not represent every viewer now.

    America hasn’t looked like the first three quarters of the 20th century in a very long time, when Moms usually stayed home with the kids, did the housework and when possible watched the TV while someone else brought home the family finances.

    Those days are mere echoes of a bygone era, in the face of America now where most kids are in daycare and work shifts go round the clock.

    Fortunately though, for the millions who enjoy television, technology has also moved ahead.

    Since the latter quarter of the 20th century we have gone from VCR to DVR and as viewers have grown and changed as well, Cable, Satellite and the Internet affords us a multitude of different viewing options for soaps, primetime shows, movies etc., and since we cannot watch them all simultaneously, we employ the DVR and/ or other recording devices for our convenience.

    It is also well to mention here that along with recorded programs come the commercials in between just as when our DVR’s began recording them at their regularly scheduled times, meaning sponsor products are there as well… ever in our sight for us to pick and choose from according to our individual needs.

    If television networks do not begin to count “shifted viewers” just as they do people who watch programs at their regularly scheduled times, then by default there is no television program in either daytime or primetime that could escape the ratings ax.

    Additionally, if viewer counting remains the same, eventually the result could very well mean that the networks will have to pay the steep prices borne by the loss of television show after show.

    Soap Opera viewers combined stands at about seven million strong.

    That is a number that means leverage in the entertainment industry and other networks are keenly aware of that. They also know that wherever the soaps go, the viewers will follow, even if they have to buy cable to do it.

    Soap Opera fans are asking for the restoration of the “Daytime Triple Crown” of; All My Children, One Life To Live, and includes General Hospital which on April 1, 2012 will celebrate the show’s 49th anniversary on ABC.

    Barring that, the soap fans are hoping that the rights to One Life to Live and All My Children may be returned by whatever means, to their creator Agnes Nixon, in the hope of finding a new network home for them.

    What has become an imperative to save the soap operas “One Life To Live, All My Children and the Soap Genre as a whole is of great importance to the fans as many articles on the subject will attest.

    Such articles are filled with equally valid reasons, but here are mine:

    Soap Operas are beloved by passionate viewers that number in the multi-millions who have and continue to demonstrate loyalty and support with faithful viewing that over the last near five decades have generated billions of dollars in sponsor product support.

    Soap Operas also provide an invaluable service to the viewers in that they afford us a unique escape from our everyday lives for an hour or two and as the world becomes more complicated these days, that escape is needed more than ever.

    Within the confines of our soap operas we can check our everyday troubles at the door, sit back and relax while we cherish our vicarious visits, to the towns that never were but always feel like home, where we can watch the drama unfold with the people who never existed, yet always make us feel like one of their own.

    No other genre on television has ever accomplished that for the long haul of nearly half a century.

    Finally, Soap Operas are a unique time -honored American Tradition supported and loved for nearly fifty years by millions of faithful viewers, who hope to preserve the art, the dance, and the drama of the American Soap Operas that we hold so dear.

    Continue reading on Soap fight – Nashville TV |


    You taught me to kiss. You and Michael Knight that is. When I was a young woman, that is all I wanted
    to see. Grown ups Kissing. It’s something that the SOAPS got away from after my graduation in 1995.
    The stories became more about talking, long conversations, and less about love making. Love Making was
    Key and always will be………….to be continued

  19. Hello Kay,
    I have been an AMC fan forever! I miss it every day and will continue the fight by boycotting everything ABC/D except for GH. I have watched “Dixie” from the first she arrived in Pine Valley and yes “Dixie and Tad” are my favorite couple of all time! I have only one point. The soap opera’s are so different from anything that has ever been on tv because we “tune in every day” and watch the character one hour five days a week making these shows so real to the fans they become family. Where else does that happen on television? I remember my Beautful Grandmother would make comments that I would giggle about, like “that Maria Santos is such a good Catholic girl and you know she is a doctor.” Hehe:-) I’m sure when you are in the public people treat you as if your are really “Dixie!” yes people make fun of that but because we have watched your wonderful acting for years and have watched you litery grow up in front of our eyes! You are loved like family! So when they canceled AMC it has been like losing our family:-( for what greed and an old way of keeping up with viewers! People may think soap viewer are bonbon eating, uneducated, still in her slippers housewives. We are so much more! Just look at all the soap opera genre fighters! We want AMC and OLTL back. I want to personally thank you for the laughs, tears and wonderful entertainment you haven given me and my Gran all these years. She would be heartbroken to know “Dixie and Tad” “her stories” are not on. Still fighting 🙂

  20. Hello Cady! I thought this article was extremely interesting & thought-rovoking. As a huge AMC fan & an Soap Fan Activist period, it is so validating to read your perspective on the changing landscape of the Soap Opera Genre on Television. ABC/Disney needs to read these thoughts as well. I too have felt that the oudated & lack of “quality control” rating system (the Nielsens) no longer makes sense,. And as you put it, “this relationship between the networks & nielsens ratings is DICEY at best!” I so agree. It is an unhealthy relationship that no longer is valid with all of the many options viewers have to watch a broadcast at this time in our world. (DVR, Online, Internet TV, Smartphone, etc.) I sure miss seeing you & Michel E, Knight & the entire cast of “All My Children!” The character of “Dixie” was dear Daddys’ very favorite Soap charcter. He used to get a kick out of her/you! 🙂 I really admire you for coming back & playing “Dixie”this last time around, after your “history” with the powers that be. You are one classy woman! And so extremely talented. I’ll be looking looking forward to Part II – Soap Opera Demographics! Many Blessings to you! 🙂

  21. Many years ago, I was part of a Nielsen family. Most of the family was under 10 years old. We had 3 TVs, used as depending on age. I filled out all 3 books, as several members of the family had not learned to read or write yet. It was rediculous. I tried very hard to put everything down, but there were only so many hours in the day, and my children came first. Human error is a very real possiblity with Nielsen. I am sure the technology has improved since then. At least, I hope it has.
    Before the invention of the VCR, I would catch up on missed episodes in the newspaper. Yes, they had a soap beat. It took up one whole page. Now, my granddaughters IM each other. They like Star and Hope, and were very upset when Hope was killed in the car accident. These two members of the new soap generation are 11 and 12. Their brand loyalty is still forming and shifts often.
    I have heard many blame the Women’s Movement for the death of soaps. More and more women are working now. I worked. I VCRed, and now I DVD-R. You fit it in. You could blame Reganomics for the bottom line mentality of the modern executive. Too much business school, too little common sense. Once you start depending on statistics and charts, you forget about the human beings who are the real consumers of your product. I think there are too many channels with nothing to broadcast but repeats from the established networks. They simultaneously pay the networks, and drain viewers from them. Maybe ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW should quite selling their hard work to the competition.
    I miss my soaps. I watched One Life to Live for 42 years, General Hospital almost as long, and All My Children for well over 30. Some people believe that change for changes sake is a good thing. That could be the real reason for the demise of the soap. Executives want something bigger, brighter, with more bells and whistles, more dancing girls–and cheaper. Cheaper is not always better.

  22. This is so true! and so unfortunate! All the mindless TV offered these days… Bring back the well thought out, entertaining and teaching story lines of the Soap Opera!

  23. Thank you for a wonderful article. I remain a die-hard fan of the soap opera. I started watching both AMC and OLTL at the beginning, and I started watching GH in 1964. I am just sick over the cancellation of my stories. I have boycotted ABC/Disney except for GH.

    Thanks for all the pleasure you gave us on AMC.

  24. Nielsen Ratings should be used as ONE TOOL not the only one. There have been many shows, primetime even, that have been critically acclaimed, had a cult following, and yet didn’t draw the audience the network wanted. Case in point of a hidden gem that was threatened from the get go and is still around today? STAR TREK. Do you know how many bajillion dollars have been spent by fans on this show, now movie franchise? And I would also postulate that soap fans are very similar, we follow the actors’ careers, attend conventions (Super Soap Weekend, All Fan Luncheons), buy memorabelia and magazines designed specifically for our specific audience. There’s also a feeling of community among the fans. And just like Trekkies, we’re ridiculed too. 😉 Not everone is living in their parent’s basement, either, be you an AMC fan or a ST:TNG fan. There are many well educated, professionals among the audience for both. Yet, we’re all expendable to the network, run by execs who think like children – instant gratification combined with the grass is always greener elsewhere. Well, as we all know, if you water your own grass and feed it instead of withholding nourishment (budget, decent writing)… it would be just as green if not moreso.

  25. I watched AMC over 30 years and I think the main reason for cancelling is cheap substitutes so CEO’s can pocket more. I noticed Iger got a huge raise from someone’s budget. Neilson’s Ratings are antique. They should have been thrown out the door when the first VCR was in use. Adding viewers on Soapnet also didn’t help when they are not accounted for. I really wonder if many people are actually turning their TV on in the afternoon now. Sponsors should have a very cheap rate at this time. If they think recording took away from viewing their ads I myself was forced to look at every ad while FF. I don’t have to watch the ads with TV viewing…and I don’t.
    Well I got a lot off my chest…lol

  26. All shows have basically become serialized soaps. This is proof positive of the success and popularity of the genre. It breaks my heart that the daytime genre is dead. Speaking personally, and I bet many agree, we the viewers feel helpless. There is a definite conspiracy: P&G / Disney are all about profit. Period. There really should be a legit, non-Disney owned soap channel where all of our cancelled shows can be seen 24/7. At this point going back to old episodes seems like our best bet.

  27. Great first installment.

    Let’s talk about why network television executives are fighting against cable companies, trying to keep them from ‘airing’ shows on mobile devices such as phones and tablets. Let’s talk about why network television executives fought, and continues to fight, against YouTube and Hulu, putting a strangle-hold on what, when, and how shows are aired on those platforms.

    Why all the gnashing of teeth and stonewalling? Because network television executives are greedy and want more and more profit. They don’t want to share, not even with the companies that produce the shows. Let’s talk about network television executives cutting licensing fees to production houses such as Sony-Bell. Les Moonves, the most overpaid CEO in the country (according to Bloomberg) declared it himself: “The day of the independently produced soap opera is over…” or something to that effect. It’s over because TV executives such as Moonves said it was over; and all because Moonves wanted MORE money than the $60 million he earned in 2010 alone. Let’s say it again, Moonves earned $60 million in 2010 alone, that’s the same year ‘As The World Turns’ was canceled. I’m not against people making money, this is America after all, but how much more money does Moonves need? Bloomberg, by the way, states that at that dollar figure, Moonves is overpaid by a whopping $28 million.

    On to your other point about the Nielsen ratings system. The stalwart ratings giant said that it counts online viewing, but only ‘certain online viewing.’ I’m not even sure it counts online viewing for all shows, probably only ‘certain shows.’ Like any other corporate giant, Nielsen must protect its brand. In order to protect the brand, it has had to enter into cahoots with network executives. People watch as much TV, or more, on their laptops and cell phones than they do some square box in the living room. If Nielsen really wanted accurate results the company would go where the viewers are: On their desktops, laptops and increasingly on their phones and tablets. But no, network television executives don’t want that. Online viewing doesn’t count as much because people aren’t watching the ads. Online viewing doesn’t count as much because television executives can’t charge as much for the ads as they do for television ads. See… it always comes down to more money. Even shows on the network’s own websites don’t really count because the same ads airing during the online version don’t necessarily air during the daypart TV version. Even as I type, this line of logic doesn’t make much sense. But hey, if the likes of the all-knowing Less Moonves says it is this way, then this is the way it is.

    So, Nielsen won’t — or is slow — to come where the viewers are. Network executives won’t — or are slow — to come where the viewers are. So guess what, rather than go to where the viewers are, network executives in their infinite knowledge cancel the shows people record and/or watch online. Do they think because we can no longer watch the shows online that we, the viewers, will miraculously begin watching big-box TV again???? That’s funny. The world is going to keep turning, keep evolving whether the Les Moonves of the world like it or not. TV executives can’t stop technology, and they can’t control it. As the Motion Picture Association of America or the Recording Industry Association of America. Each tried and failed to innovate in this new media economy. When music and movie lovers were blocked from consuming the products of choice on their own terms, both the music and movie industry tried and failed to prevent the illegal copying of intellectual property. They are still trying and failing. I submit that intellectual property shouldn’t be copied– as a content creator I wholeheartedly agree that there should be protections. But if these industry giants would deliver the content the way consumers want it, then they wouldn’t have to worry so much about theft.

    Back to soaps. Sure, the quality of the product has declined, but that is fixable, if only the networks had an interest in fixing them. There was no interest when it came to my favorite soap, “As The World Turns,” and now I have a hard time mustering up enough interest to watch CBS, during the day or night. Besides, when I get a yankering to watch CBS’ ”The Good Wife,” I can easily find it online. Luckily it airs on Hulu, but even if it did not, I would still find it. Where there is a will, there is a way. I’m off the grid, uncounted. Les Moonves doesn’t very much care anyway. He’s too busy county his extra $30 mil.

    Looking forward to the next installment Cady!!!

  28. Like Gary says, with hundreds of additional cable and satellite channels all taking slices of the ratings pie, and DVRs, etc… of course ratings were going to go down. At the very least, ABC could have considered maybe morphing the show into a weekly primetime drama. Sure, we’d miss character development that can come with five hours a week, but at least the multiple generations of devoted fans would still have a portion of their connection to their Pine Valley family. Even, the concept of an internet version of the show had me intrigued. AMC was always breaking new ground working various time sensitive social issues into the storylines, so to make the conversion from network TV to the Internet could have been an amazing feat. (or a giant flop, but it would have been nice to see an attempt).
    I started watching AMC when I was 4 years old (with my stay-at-home mom) in 1970. I literally grew up with the show. Sure I had a few years break every now and then – due to things like poor antenna reception of ABC in a college campus surrounded by mountains, but I knew Mom could always catch me up. I knew Pine Valley was always there. Reading 140 character tweets for an hour every week day is no way as satisfying to me as a daytime drama like All My Children that had worked it’s way into the fabric of my daily life. I have been faithfully boycotting The Chew (and that other show that replace OLTL) every afternoon – hanging onto a shred of hope that somehow someone will bring a little Pine Valley back into my life someday. I can’t help suspecting that I am not alone in feeling this way.

  29. As for the Neilsen ratings for as long as they’ve been around I don’t know one person whose every been asked to participate. As far as I’m concerned they are useless. The people they should be targeting they don’t really want to hear from. To Garyg nope you are right they will never reach those numbers again. But I know I watched them. For as far back as I can remember. As did my mother, sisters, aunts, grandmother, etc. and a few men I know. Truth be told I would rather watch them then some of those choices you talk about on television now. but I guess I will settle for watching them now on the internet at night or on weekends because (I work) or watching reruns of them on soap classics!

  30. Hi Cady, thanks for your invaluable commentary on this topic.

    I live in Australia, and have watched American Soaps most of my life, but I’ve also watched the Soaps we have here, as well as UK ones. I think the basic trappings of modern life have decimated the base of viewers for daytime television in general. With more women returning to the work force, differing working hours for all, and, as Gary G mentioned wisely above, the proliferation of choices, especially with the rise of reality TV, there’s a wave that’s very hard to rise against.

    I am totally in agreement that due to the ratings system, we’ll never get a fair and accurate representation of the remaining Soap viewing audience.

    Perhaps, were the United Kingdom differs, and how their Soaps remain viable, is that they air at night when the majority of people can watch them live. And I believe they have additional arrangements, as we do in Australia, pertaining to a government mandate on the amount of UK based shows that must make up content for any given network. I know here in Australia, to keep a certain amount of Australian made content on TV, there are subsidies etc.

    I think now more that ever, the genre does have a support base, and we’re seeing that with the various web episodic shows cropping up, but they traditional way they were once delivered is just simply not economically viable anymore. Unfortunately, with most things, it comes down to the cash.

    Cady, we had AMC on here briefly in Australia, and when they took if off, I continued to watch on-line. It was great to see you working with Michael at the end. All the best, Rachal.

  31. As far as the ratings, I find it to be very interesting to look at the ratings for the prime time shows. What is now considered to be a well-rated show, ten or fifteen years ago, would most likely have been yanked off the air. But it seems that the executives won’t apply the same consideration to their daytime counterparts. Do as many people watch as they did during the magical Luke and Laura years? No. With the proliferation of choices for peoples viewing entertainment, the network shows will never reach those numbers again.

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