Eighteen minutes

By now you’ve read my comments on the recent Soap Opera Digest interview with CBS daytime chief Barbara Bloom and As The World Turns executive producer Chris Goutman. You may have also read the comments on Snark Weighs In, We Love Soaps and Sara Bibel’s blog.

I think many of us had the same reaction – a negative one – to most of what was said in that interview. But I have to admit that as defeatist as Goutman’s statements sounded, I agree with him in one aspect: I don’t think people have the time to watch five hours (or more) of soap opera a week.

Today, Nelson Branco’s column is speculating that there are discussions about taking ATWT and sister show Guiding Light to three days a week.  What I am at a total loss to understand is this: Why are shows not returning to their roots – their half-hour timeslot roots?

I’ll be honest – it IS a challenge to shoehorn 5 hours a week of soap viewing into a busy schedule. And it may well be one of the biggest challenges facing the shows today. Tech-savvy younger viewers are less likely to watch a whole show, or all the selections on a single network, when there are so many channels and technological platforms where they can access content.

In the 1970s, increased budgets and changing storytelling styles expanded the canvases of every show and eventually expanded their timeslots to 60 minutes (and for a time, 90 minutes). Why aren’t the shows changing and evolving as they did before?

Of course, these changes would have an impact on the people who work at the shows. Producing half the product you used to means fewer crew members, fewer writers and fewer actors as well. But I think this may be the kind of business decision that can save the genre and the industry. The same sort of changes have happened in other industries.

I also think it would be a boon for the shows creatively. They may have to pare their casts down (to 15 or 20 core actors), but I think that the changes could inspire new ideas – or perhaps give network heads an excuse to hire new blood. In the best of circumstances, it would allow the shows to jettison extraneous stories, and focus on core families and couples that we want to see.

The other main reason I would love to see this happen? Because shorter shows would open up time on the network’s schedule. And that’s time I’d like to see filled with NEW half-hour shows.  (More on that in my next post.) I think growing new shows and planting them on-air is the only way we’ll be able to keep the genre alive.

We are, as I’ve said before, at a tipping point right now. We have two shows (DAYS and GL) that are in danger of cancellation. The cancellation of either one would set off a domino effect. One thing that would almost definitely happen if GL was cancelled? CBS affiliates would ask for the 3 PM hour back (if they haven’t already – GL airs in the morning in many markets). And once one network surrenders time to affiliates, a second will have to do so to be competitive – and so on.

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3 thoughts on “Eighteen minutes

  1. claire labine would agree. she’s been quoted (where and when i don’t recall) that moving to an hour marked the beginning of soaps’ downfall.

    i, for one, love the idea. i tape and watch both episodes of “ryan’s hope” five days a week. (of course, ff through almost all of atwt frees up a chunk of soap watching time:)

    but whether it’s 30 minutes (okay, 18) or three, four or five times a week, none of it much matters if they don’t address the writing.

    as roger newcomb put it: “Why can’t anyone confront Goutman, Bloom, Frons, Corday, etc. on the fact that the lack of interesting and imaginative writing is the biggest issue with these soaps?”

    Lynn, I couldn’t agree more, and thanks for reminding me about Roger’s comment, because I wanted to mention it – he couldn’t be more on the money.

    I would hope that writing for a shorter show could lead to a more focused, smaller writing team, which I think would be beneficial for many of these shows. But yes, TPTB need to put creativity in a position equal to the economics of the show.

  2. Back in the late 90s, when it was becoming increasingly obvious that Another World was going to be canceled, I kept wondering if reducing it to 30 minutes would have saved it. We’ll never know. But it would have been ironic if the first show to expand to 60 minutes had cut back to 30 minutes.

    And of course, AW was the show that proved nobody wanted to watch 90 minutes of a show 5 days a week.

    Frankly, cutting ATWT and GL and Days to 30 minutes each would make a lot of sense. Well, I only watch about 15 minutes of them anyway, thanks to the trusty FF button. And hopefully it would get the writers focused on the stories/characters that are working and jetison the rest. All three have plenty of fat that could easily be trimmed.

    But I have to agree with Labine. Expanding to 60 minutes was the beginning of the end for the genre. Suddenly there was too much time to fill and too many characters on the canvas. Created lots of burn-out among writers.

    Agnes Nixon resisted expanding AMC for several years until finally bowing to network pressure in 1978. And Y&R was the last to expand to 60 minutes, in 1980. That obstensively was because there wasn’t room in the CBS schedule until they canceled Love of Life. But Bill Bell wasn’t a big fan of the idea either.

  3. My issue with going back to half an hour comes mainly from a producer’s perspective; generally it is cheaper to produce more than less, with the economies of scale.

    Yes, you would cut down actors and probably a few sets, but the amount of crew, the amount of studio etc would be unlikely to change very much and therefore still be costing a similar amount to producing an hour but with the licence fees for the non-ABC shows being halved.

    I also think that it’s a lot harder to go to half an hour from an hour than the other way around.

    But as the others have said, if the writing’s good it shouldn’t matter how long the show is.

    Valid points, Zara, but I also think with the shows being half an hour some of them could combine taping schedules and sets (ATWT/GL and AMC/OLTL being the obvious candidates.)

    I still think making space and encouraging growth of new shows (without canceling the old ones) is the way to go. But as Snark points out, we may be 20 years too late to take advantage of the idea.

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