On April 14, ABC announced the forthcoming cancellation of two of its long running daytime soap operas, One Life to Live, which will air its last episode next year, and All My Children, which will end in September. Loyal fans of OLTL and AMC are already mourning the demise of these two soap franchises, while the remaining roster of soaps is getting smaller. 

Can you name the remaining four soap operas? (Answer below)

We suspect that most of the readers of the MayoSeitz Media Monitor neither watch soaps nor care much about the demise of these two long running shows. That may be, however the truth is that while many of us at MayoSeitz Media were not frequent soap opera viewers, we nonetheless respect the longevity of these shows and the power of soap operas to deliver audiences in the TV world of yesteryear. As media professionals, media is in our blood, so to speak, therefore the passing of long time programming is worthy of reflection.

Those who study the origins of soap operas know the soap opera format was originated on radio, and the “soap” connotation came from the sponsorship of packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble as well as Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers. These cleaning product behemoths were the producers and sponsors of the original “soap operas” broadcast on radio during weekday daytime slots; “housewife time” as it was known in that era.

In the 1950’s soap operas became staples of the daytime TV programming of the broadcast networks. Originally aired as 15 minute segments in the early 50s, P&G revolutionized the TV soap with the debut of half-hour programs As the World Turns and The Edge of Night in 1956. By the 70’s and 80’s most soaps had expanded to hour-long formats. The soap opera genre shared similar techniques - shot on videotape, interconnected story threads, ongoing characters, romance, infidelity, a dose of unknown children, and the ever present “pregnant pause” and close up.

In the late 60’s there were 19 soap operas that aired concurrently while only 4 will air next year (Answer to question above: The last remaining four soaps will be: The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of our Lives, and General Hospital). Even as late as the early 90’s soap operas had more than 6 million daily viewers, while today there are little more than 1 million daily viewers.

The reasons for the decline of soaps are plentiful. Among the reasons are:

1. Women in the work force, reducing the mother-child “generational pass along viewing”

2. Cable TV offering alternative daytime programming

3. Less expensively produced game shows and talk shows

Even OJ Simpson is credited with the demise of soaps in the 90’s when his murder trial changed daytime TV viewing habits.

In the end, the decline of soap operas, as with network TV news, late night and other broadcast TV cornerstones of yesterday, represents another example of the rapid change in the media world, where nothing stays the same for long, and the only thing that one can count on is that “Change is the Status Quo”.