Back in 1976, Time magazine described daytime television as “TV’s richest market.” Today that market nears bankruptcy. The mid-70s were the salad days for the main entrée of daytime television, the soap opera, as the typical thirty minute shows expanded to hour long dramas, blanketing the tube.
However over the last twenty years ratings for soap operas have been in a precipitous decline, from an average of 6.5 million viewers per soap during the 1991-92 television season to 1.3 million per soap in 2009-10. And with this ratings decline the number of shows have followed suit: this season only six daytime soap operas are scheduled to air on the three major networks, down from 12 in 1990 and a high of 19 in 1969. By early next year that number is down to four.
Yesterday ABC announced the cancellation of “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” leaving NBC’s “Days of Our Lives,” CBS’s “Young & the Restless” and “The Bold & the Beautiful,” and ABC’s “General Hospital” as the current survivors still holding a tenuous grasp on existence. Time television critic James Poniewozik mused yesterday about which will happen first: a network drops its evening news broadcast or its final soap opera. My money is on the last soap dropping first.
Television is never at a standstill; it is ever evolving. The death of the daytime soap and the rise of its replacements, roundtable gabfests and reality tv, is in the end all about the money. As you tune out, the nets will find something else to get you to tune back in.