Many soap fans have had a contradictory relationship with soap magazines.
On the one hand, they were, for many years, the ONLY place we could read about our shows, or the performers who appeared on those shows.
On the other hand….well, how do I say this nicely? They didn’t aim very high. It was mostly recaps and, if you were lucky, an occasional interview. Many interviews came right out of the publicist’s playbook. Yes, I love my character. Yes, we are all one big happy family! Yes, yes, yes…..
I’m thinking about this and writing about this because Soap Opera Digest (SOD), the grande dame of the magazines, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.
It’s the one with the longest history, perhaps, but its main history, let’s face it, has been as a promotional program guide for soaps.
It has, over its long life, featured criticism, but aside from some Carolyn Hinsey’s former column, and a few other earlier voices (Michael Logan, if I remember correctly), that criticism has mostly been whispered, not shouted.
Why do I say this?
I could have told you in 1996 – twenty years ago – that Days of Our Lives, General Hospital and The Young and The Restless would be three of the last soaps standing.
That’s because SOD, for most of the last 25 years, has had a laser focus on promoting those three shows.
It was so ridiculous in the mid-and-late 1990s that I often referred to SOD as Days of Our Lives Digest. Some variation of a handful of characters (Bo, Hope, Billie, Sami, Austin, Carrie, John and/or Marlena) were on the cover almost every single week.
There were rumors of a Digest/DAYS squabble, and a time where DAYS called a turf war with Digest precisely because it wouldn’t feature those stars all the time.
This rumor reared its head again a few years back, when the word was that a certain Y&R leading performer would not talk to Digest unless they were guaranteed a cover. (Which explained the omnipresence of said performer on Digest covers around that time.)
This dovetails quite closely with the time period I’ve talked about before with P&G, and how the P&G shows started to falter.
Granted, Guiding Light, Another World, and As The World Turns never had that sort of sparkling promotional spotlight that the above shows had.
ABC had a fierce promotional machine, one forged in the white heat of the Luke and Laura phenomenon at GH. Y&R had a broad audience, and DAYS had a serious fanbase that eclipsed their actual ratings performance (and often still does).
But I can say as someone who bought Digest nearly every week for thirty years that, at least in those early days, GL and ATWT (and to a lesser degree, AW) were in rotation for covers.
The chicken or egg question is whether GL started to slip, started to be moved to mornings, etc. because it stopped getting covers…or whether the move to the print magazine back burner was because GL’s star was falling.
I tend to think the magazines had a big impact on the fortunes of the shows. How could they not?
It’s telling that, outside of a show anniversary, one of GL’s last full-page covers was for the notorious clone storyline.
Even the esteemed Weekly had DAYS’
Patch and Kayla as their first cover. (Updated to add: I stand corrected thanks to a reader comment, pointing out that the cover was Patch and Marina – see comments for details.) They knew what would catch the eyeballs at the checkout line.
Weekly was, for much of its life, head and shoulders above Digest in talking about all the shows, between the features and Marlena DeLacroix’s “Critical Condition.”
I miss Weekly’s editorial voice, and its array of stories, though I’ve encountered a small but vocal group in online communities that believes Weekly was too generous with spoilers, and damaged the shows as a result.
But even it fell in its later years into a narrower focus, and eventually became redundant to sister publication Digest.
It’s a reminder to me that, for all of the work online by bloggers and sites like We Love Soaps and Daytime Confidential (where many people get their news now), there’s still a core, measurable audience — of the audience that still watches — who was probably captivated by those early stories, their attentions captured by what the magazines promoted to them.
And it was THAT combination of story, and subsequent advertising, masquerading as magazine content – that’s kept them watching.
For a genre essentially created by and for advertising, we sometimes forget to make that connection.
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