I’ve been away from this space for a while. The official reason was that I went on vacation with my partner to see friends and family for Easter. (And it was a great trip, thank you for asking.)
The unofficial reason? I desperately needed to disconnect from the whole soap mindspace. This is not a fun time to be a soap fan.
There’s so much happening that makes me angry. Truly angry. Flames-on-the-side-of-my-face angry.
gratuitous mention of the magnificent Madeline Kahn
One of the things that really has me pissed off is how cavalier the reaction has been in the mainstream media to the news that CBS dropped Guiding Light. There were a few media outlets who had at least some respect – or a sense of the accomplishment that GL made by surviving for 72 years. Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times had fairly complete coverage.
But one big truth is that soaps are hard to understand out of context – and therefore easy to make fun of. And most of the rest of the media has had a field day reporting GL’s cancellation.
CBS – the very network that didn’t mind siphoning millions of dollars in profit from the show when it was a cash cow – hasn’t given the show much respect. It was briefly mentioned on Sunday Morning, albeit in a tone suggesting the show was simply about torrid sex. The Early Show made a brief mention, too, but its anchors were completely disrespectful and laughed at the clips shown, making fun of them and of Dave Price (who appeared on GL). It’s a shame, since The Early Show studio is in the same building – and the perpetually low-rated show has been the target of its own cancellation rumors for years.
But the response that really, really had me completely pissed off was the comments on the Web site WowOWow.com. WowOWow is a Huffington Post-esque site aimed at women over 50, and there are so many people involved with this site who I admire and respect. Jane Wagner! Mary Wells! Candice Bergen! Lily Tomlin! Whoopi Goldberg!
The site’s main conceit seems to be that a news item will be posted, and some – or all – of the ladies will comment. And many of them did – negatively. The basic tone was the same one soap fans have heard for years from non-fans: “I don’t watch soaps – I have a life.”
I was surprised to see this negativity from Bergen, who was a beneficiary of the daytime moneymaking machine when her nighttime show ran on CBS for a decade (about three years longer than it should have). But soaps apparently make her “nauseous”.
And Mary Wells Lawrence – who was an advertising pioneer and one of the first women in that arena – also dismissed the news. I thought that was ironic, since it was advertisers and ad agencies that created and molded the genre.
When my friends learn that I write about soap operas, they shake their heads in confusion or dismay. This always makes me laugh, since many of my male friends are comic book aficionados. What are comic books but serialized stories on paper?
They laugh at the very idea that I’d follow characters through the chapters of their lives, all while they voraciously devour Twilight or the Harry Potter books, all serialized stories set in their own narrative universe.
I hear people dismiss soaps as complete melodrama, yet these same people watch shows like Desperate Housewives, Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy and Brothers and Sisters, all soap operas at their core.
People watch soaps for different reasons, and amidst all of the wacky stories and tawdry sex (which is, admittedly, fun to watch), I’ve always watched for the sense of love, family and community. And yet, the network programmers keep taking those choices away, insisting that I watch forensics, death, and darkness – or worse yet, reality where the “realism” includes F-list celebrities and rich kids with an enormous sense of entitlement (and absolutely no redeeming qualities).
It’s so frustrating – heartbreaking, even – to watch the shows we have all loved flail like a drowning man in the ocean. I’ve been a fan of GL for over 25 years, but the last six months ranks, for me, among the finest of the show’s run. How any network could cancel a show that’s so on fire at the moment is beyond me. But it’s happened.
I’ve been an ATWT fan for more than 20 years, and I want to see that show survive and thrive. But in trying to survive, it keeps trying on new identities, and it’s been hard for me to find any part of the story I’m interested in following.
It’s a challenging time to be a fan. I’m not sure these stories will last another thousand and one nights.
So you’ll have to forgive me if I am at a complete loss for words.