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Yet, the six shows on the air still draw in millions of viewers a week for five weekly episodes with no off-season. soap opera viewer and fan but a good portion of the past five-and-a-half years researching, writing, teaching, and arguing about what scholars, students, marketers, viewers, and media content creators can learn from a genre too often maligned as being unable to produce anything of artistic or cultural merit.That’s 260 episodes or so a year, with the “youngest” soap on the air (CBS’s ) being almost 25 years old and broadcasting more than 6,000 episodes to date. In the process, I’ve met a variety of other scholars as fascinated as I am, personally and professionally, with these immersive story worlds which enthrall generations of viewers with stories more frequent and enduring than any other type of narrative.That television would require watching might make the shows less palatable to the busy housewife.
They have weathered a significant population shift of women into the workplace, the proliferation of cable television and an unending number of other entertainment options, and they survived the devastating impact of the O. Simpson trial (when the shows were all preempted for a significant period of time, all permanently losing a substantial portion of their viewers when they finally returned to the television line-up).
Now, as we enter a “digital era,” soap operas are struggling in the ratings.
That’s what we have sought to do with , for instance: to use “the anthology” as a way to start a conversation of particular relevance.
As academics, the soap opera industry, and critics and fans alike all debate where soaps are at, our hope was to archive some of the most compelling arguments of the moment, not to “write the book” on soaps but rather to show that the genre is still a vibrant part of our popular culture and a place worthy of continued study and focus.
That’s what led to myself and two colleagues–Abigail De Kosnik at UC-Berkeley and C.
Lee Harrington at Miami University–to put together a collection called (released late last year), bringing together the perspectives of academics, industry practitioners, critics, and fans to look at the plight the soap opera industry finds itself in today but also what makes the genre unique and important to our culture and areas of promise or potential for seeing the soap opera continuing to thrive.
Sam Ford is Director of Digital Strategy for Peppercom Strategic Communciations, a research affiliate with MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium, and an instructor with Western Kentucky University’s Popular Culture Studies program.
Ford was previously the MIT Consortium’s project manager and part of the team who launched the project in 2005.
Just as marketers have become fascinated with and its depiction of the “golden age” of television advertising, a study of soap operas can help brands, storytellers, scholars, and fans alike understand this “digital era” everyone is trying to wrap their heads around, through the perspective of a genre that has adapted and changed through every evolution of mass media since the beginning of the 1930s.
For more on what we might learn from “the soaps,” see my prior pieces here and here.