I’m going to make this short and sweet.
Silas Kain, BlogTalkRadio host of Delibernation AND a Soapbox1 contributor, is on a mission….
He’s on a mission to save the soap genre.
HE HAS A PLAN…A DETAILED PLAN…
And He’s attracting A LOT of buzz from some very influential people…
So, without further adieu…
Here is the plan that Silas unveiled on his show Wednesday night.
By Silas Kain
BACKGROUND & PURPOSE
Procter & Gamble, a major global corporation, began in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1837 as a soap and candle manufacturer. Over the course of 173 years, Procter & Gamble has become a major influence on American culture and family life. In 1878, P&G introduced White Soap which came to be what we know now as Ivory Soap – a product trusted by mothers for over 100 years.
In 1911, P&G introduced Crisco – an all vegetable shortening which would forever change the course of American eating habits and food preparation. Since that time P&G has manufactured and distributed hundreds of consumer products from disposable diapers to toothpaste enhancing the lives of Americans and citizens around the world. Just how did a small soap manufacturer in Ohio achieve such success?
When one looks to P&G inquiring about its rich and diverse history, one main ingredient in what fueled the company’s growth is absent – the genre known as the “soap opera” or daytime serial. P&G along with other consumer products companies invested in the daytime serial as a way to showcase their products. These serials were known as “soap operas” and began in radio before transitioning to television.
Soap listeners and viewers were introduced to new products during their “stories” and, as a result, these companies became giants in the marketplace fueled by consumer demands. In effect, the soap companies and consumers/viewers have had a reciprocal relationship for over half a decade. With the demise of many popular soap operas, the landscape of daytime television has been inextricably changed by the influx of reality programming in the guise of game shows, talk shows and “news” shows.
This assessment or “Soap-osal” is a way of presenting ideas that haven’t been discussed in the public forum. In our communications in with daytime fans from communities all across the nation these last few months, we have found a common sentiment – the reason for the demise of “soap opera” is not for lack of demand. As technology improved since the 1950’s, there has been a definite shift in the paradigm of the typical American family. More households found them being forced to choose between a stay at home parent or having the resources to keep up with the advances. As more women went into the workforce, soap opera viewership of first run episodes reduced giving way to recording devices such as the VCR and DVD-R.
Though there seems to be little information on viewer habits in that area, advertising executives and corporations purchasing advertising have decided that viewers of recorded programming do not factor into the popularity of daytime dramas.
We believe, and continue to strongly maintain, that there is a market for quality serial programming. In this document we will attempt to introduce new ideas into the conversation. Our goal is clear – we want to forge a way to reinvigorate the landscape of daytime programming. And in presenting our case, it is our intention to show that a series of missteps by all parties in this conversation led to the present condition. We want to change the dialog. We understand that producing programming is business. And, in conducting that business, we will attempt to underscore the fact that P&G in particular owns thousands of hours of programming which could be taken and placed back in the market thereby giving stockholders a better, more equitable return on their respective investments.
What is “Soap Opera”?
WikiPedia defines “Soap Opera” this way:
A soap opera, sometimes called “soap” for short, is an ongoing, episodic work of dramatic fiction presented in serial format on television or radio. The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Lever Brothers as sponsors and producers. These early radio serials were broadcast in weekday daytime slots when mostly housewives would be available to listen; thus the shows were aimed at and consumed by a predominantly female audience.
In 1976, Time magazine published a piece in their Television section titled “Sex and Suffering in the Afternoon”. (i)
“The networks lose money on many of their prime-time shows; they need the daytime profits, which are now expected to show a healthy increase, to finance the more expensively produced evening programs. A show like Kojak costs $250,000 to produce but brings in revenues of only $200,000. To make one week of Days of Our Lives costs NBC $170,000; daily advertising revenues are $120,000.”
Citing a paragraph from that article: From a Fan’s Perspective
In a piece (ii) published on Blogcritics.org and in Abbotsford Today, author Silas Kain opined:
Since my introduction long ago, I learned a lot along the way. I learned about the tribulations of soldiers returning home from Viet Nam thanks to Tara and Phil on All My Children (AMC). I came to understand my great grandmother’s stoic Irish Catholic view on life thanks to Maeve and Johnny Ryan on Ryan’s Hope (RH). I came to appreciate art because Victoria Wyndham was afforded the opportunity to expose her art on Another World through her alter ego, Rachel Cory. I came to understand the dynamics of inter-racial relationships because of the courageous writers of One Life to Live (OLTL). I learned how important nurses’ roles are in health care thanks to Carolee Simpson Aldrich on The Doctors.
The bottom line is “soap opera” can be defined in many ways. But, for the American experience, soap opera is more than just entertainment. Based upon comments by network executives and even studios, it is apparent to most in the soap viewer community that the definition of “soap opera” by today’s standards is in opposition to its’ true nature. Ironically, prime time television series in this modern age have adopted many of the soap standards such as continuity of stories from week to week. This phenomenon, based on the popularity of such shows as House, Smallville and even HBO’s True Blood, proves unequivocally there is a demand in the market for quality, plot driven programming.
The Relevance of Soap Opera vs. Reality Programming
Of great concern to viewers in the market which have not been addressed by networks or studios is the lack of well-written episodic comedy and dramas. The main television networks have populated their prime time schedules with a significant amount of “reality” programming. While it is noted several cable stations have adopted the same approach,, i.e. MTV and TLC, the bottom line remains the same. The pool of acting and its related talents dwindles daily. Part of the problem is that the programming which is available today does not inspire children to enter the acting profession. We believe the degradation of the worth of teaching the arts in our public school systems across this nation has directly contributed to this turn of events in programming. Children are no longer inspired to become like some of the acting greats we knew at the first half of this century. Reality television is destructive to those who participate in shows as well as to viewers who find themselves becoming voyeurs of inappropriate and bad behavior as opposed to watching well-written television which entertains, inspires and/or educate.
SAG & AFTRA – The Failure of the Unions & a Profession
AT the same rate, the daytime fan base is also concerned about the complete lack of respect given to daytime professionals. Their acting careers have been minimized and marginalized by their own peers. One could argue that since “soap opera” was once developed to primarily be programming for stay at home women, one is left concluding that the general membership of both unions is exhibiting a bit of gender bias. Since “soap opera” is deemed silly and frivolous by most, fellow union members outside the Daytime community continue to ignore their own.
In the scheme of the collective bargaining paradigm, Daytime actors are treated worse than any other union member is any other profession. The truth is clear. Among members of the acting community, no other segment of entertainment produces more job longevity and secure employment than that of daytime. It’s fact. It’s truth. And these unions have continually benefitted by these members’ steady employment all these years. It is time for the union leadership to address these issues in the public forum. It is most certainly time for union management to step up to the plate and make a commitment to its members who choose to execute their respective professions in the soap genre.
RATINGS & COMPETITION
There has been plenty of debate about demographics and that which is “desired” and not. Viewer habits have changed with the advancement of technology while media pundits and ad executives continually fail to create fresh, new approaches to marketing. There is a talent vacuum – not only in the arts but across the board. Part of this has to do with viewers but the majority is directly attributable to the lack of arts in public school curriculum across the nation. In the United States less emphasis is placed on music and the arts in general. As a result our children are less educated, not inspired and have come to believe that the behaviors they see on reality programming is acceptable. While network executives may scoff at the notion by placing the blame on parental controls, there is an underlying truth which continually is ignored. Children are our treasure. They are the future of the nation and the world. Unless we inspire and provide them well-rounded, comprehensive educations which include a significant increase in the study of the arts, the pool of future thespians and creative talent shall be dry and, in the final analysis, demographics will matter not.
Complicity of Soap Media
Unfortunately, the “legitimate” soap opera media has played its part in the demise of soap. What has evolved since the inception of Soap Opera Digest and Soap Opera Weekly is a series of stories more about spoilers and promoting shows than discussing the issues of the day and how they relate to the genre. We are not placing blame on the soap press – what we are saying is that the studios have manipulated the soap press much in the way studios manipulated Hollywood press in the early days of film. As in all segments of journalism, the soap press should be free to express opinions and report facts. Instead they have been stifled, suppressed and beholden to studio executives who would cut access to cast and crew with any story printed that did not have the imprimatur of studio heads. While that is a reality in journalism in all sectors, this is not the intent of soap opera.
Creating a New Paradigm in Broadcasting
In the 50’s and 60’s there were silent rules in place for programming standards. While on the surface such standards seemed contrary to the intent of the framers of the US Constitution, there have always been standards in place for what is acceptable in broadcasting. All the standards notwithstanding, the quality of programming in those times continues to outshine that which is produced today. The popularity of TV-Land’s Hot in Cleveland starring the 88 year old Betty White has proven that there is demand for quality programming which includes characters outside the “desired demographic”. Reaching 33 million viewers (iii) around the globe, TV-Land has proven with Hot in Cleveland, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that quality programming is in demand and reigns as the viewer’s choice.
SAVING A GENRE – A NEW APPROACH
So, what do we do to save a genre? Daytime fans feel helpless. They are of the opinion that their voices are not being heard. What network executives have completely failed to understand is that the relationship between daytime programming and the viewer is a completely different dynamic from the rest of programming. We are of the opinion that boycotts, threats, and just plain “whining” will not solve the problem. As a result, we’ve come up with a new approach. We want to work with the networks, studios and P&G to come up with a vehicle for reinventing soap opera and restoring some luster to its surface.
One of the downsides of producing a serial has been the amount of time involved in production. What we suggest is a 26 week schedule. Much of soap opera today is immersed with superfluous material to take up the programming slack. By committing to a 26 week shooting schedule, costs are reduced significantly. AQ cable network can continue to broadcast a serial but in a different paradigm.
One way of accomplishing this kind of schedule would be for a cable network to produce two soaps. Each soap could have its own 26 week schedule. Both soaps could share common resources, i.e. crew, production staff, etc. Writing staffs would remain independent as well as acting talent. First rune shows could be aired on staggering weeks. And, if the writing returns to the traditional stories which propelled soap opera to its heyday in the 70’s, Friday “cliff hangers” would entice viewers to “stay tuned” to the following Monday. Of course, from the actor’s perspective one would wonder about the remaining 26 weeks of a year.
Prime Time Guest Spots
Therein comes the idea of cross branding. Like P&G has done with Febreze and a host of other consumer products, P&G has proven that cross branding is a successful mechanism in achieving sales goals and fulfilling investors’ desires. The same could be accomplished here. By freeing up daytime actors for availability in prime time roles or guest roles, prime time production costs could be significantly reduced in some cases. Though many in the acting profession hesitate to applaud the value and contributions of their fellow thespians, it is well known in prime time programming that working with a soap actor in a guest role is a joy for cast and crew alike. Soap actors are traditionally trained and easily learn scripts. They understand the nuances of filming, positioning and lighting better than most because they are involved in all aspects of filming on a daily basis. Another benefit of this cross branding is that it would reintroduce familiar soap actors to prime time audiences thereby enticing viewers to return to their own respective soap roots.
Giving Back – Reinvigorating Local Theater in Communities
Another facet of what we are proposing is encouraging resurgence in promoting the arts on a local level. Since we have accounted for 39 weeks in the year, there remains another 13 weeks to provide actors with work. In most cases actors take 4 weeks per year as vacation time if not more. For those actors who wish to work in these periods, we propose a bold, new initiative which allows actors, writers and crew an opportunity to work with local community theatre groups across the country. We would encourage a new program – “The Irna Phillips Initiative” which brings Daytime actors in touch with local theater groups in collaboration and the spirit of promoting the arts one community at a time.
Under the Irna Phillips Initiative, the Daytime industry would become closely involved with independent theatre groups perhaps through the auspices of The American Association of Community Theatre. Working with this group, soap actors and writers would be given an opportunity to work with up and coming actors, writers, producers and other crew in honing their respective crafts. Over 7,000 theater groups today belong to the association which entertains an audience of 86 million people with 1.5 million volunteers. (iv)
Among these are many non-profit groups which may qualify those who participate for significant tax credits or discounts. We believe that the Irna Phillips Initiative could generate renewed interest in the arts at the local level while exposing daytime fans to their favorite daytime actors. Simultaneously, the experiences of community actors will be enriched by working with acting greats who have the skills, training and talent to teach the craft which they know so well. This Initiative also serves as a great tool in corporations, studios and all the rest in giving back to the community.
We are not stopping with aact. We believe that under this initiative, we can encourage the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (EMMYS), Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (OSCAR), and The American Theatre Wing to join the cause. Each organization awards funds to community theatres and production companies every year. We feel that active participation from these communities is pivotal in creating an atmosphere which would encourage a renewed interest in the arts from Louisiana to Washington State.
Each of these organizations have members which came out of Daytime. These members have a keen understanding of what is involved in producing daytime serials. At the same time, these organizations also recognize that there is a serious lack of initiative in the arts. We believe, to use the vernacular, that this is a “win-win” relationship across the board.
Why Oprah’s OWN Network First?
As Oprah Winfrey enters her 25th and final season on The Oprah Winfrey Show, we believe Ms. Winfrey would never have achieved her astounding success were it not for the soap opera fans who tuned in to her show after watching their favorite serials. Together with Oprah, fans have learned so much in this journey about themselves, each other and the world. All of that would not have been possible were it not for the daytime fan. The stories told on Daytime opened doors and led to discussions in homes across the land. Daytime dramas opened our minds to alternatives and possibilities.
The core message Ms. Winfrey has imparted during these 25 years is empowerment, encouragement and respect. While she has contributed significantly to the national dialog in many areas, we believe that Ms. Winfrey is in an even stronger position now as she begins the launch of OWN – The Oprah Winfrey Network. In the last few months, subscribers to the OWN Insider have been asked for opinions about what they would like to see on her network. For us, the answer is clear – well written serials. We’re not asking Ms. Winfrey to turn her network into the new SoapNET – quite the contrary. What we’re doing is asking Ms. Winfrey to practice that which she has “preached” during her career. By taking an active role in the Irna Phillips Initiative, Ms. Winfrey’s new network could easily be the conduit we seek in promoting the arts on a local level.
SONY & Soap City
Before SoapNET was launched by Disney, there had been rumors that Sony was interested in launching their own soap cable channel “Soap City”. Once SoapNET had been placed in the market, the Soap City concept seemed to wither away. Sony Pictures continues to have a vested interest in daytime with Bold & the Beautiful, Young & the Restless and Days of Our Lives. Sony continues to own Soap City. Sony’s Soap City was supposed to be the new paradigm in soap opera by offering online airing of serials. We strongly believe that there remains a compelling reason for Sony to consider the resuscitation of Soap City.
Other Cable Networks
The bottom line is that there are many cable networks in the market today who could adopt that which we are proposing from Lifetime, TNT, AMC and more. We believe that networks which are airing quality programming such as the aforementioned Hot in Cleveland, Mad Men, The Closer and more could take advantage of the restructured soap formula. Again, using daytime actors in prime time episodic television may be a cost effective measure.
P&G and the STOCKHOLDERS
Finally there is the issue of rights to programming. Soap fans get it. We understand all too well that P&G wanted out of the soap business. It’s understandable. Producing soaps these days is a costly endeavor which P&G stock holders may not relish. But that doesn’t take away from the simple fact that none of what P&G has accomplished would have been possible without the homemakers they entertained from 1937 through today. Procter & Gamble itself has stated: (v)
We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers. As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit, and value creation, allowing our people, our shareholders, and the communities in which we live and work to prosper.
P&G has consistently provided exceptional products at great value not only in the United states but around the globe. Were it not for the pioneering consumers, P&G may very well have been unable to achieve the level of success they celebrate today. P&G has been “rewarded” by consumers consistently throughout its long, stellar business history. Now, what we are doing is asking P&G to remember its roots.
Stockholders, Assets & Goodwill
P&G currently owns what could be a million hours in soap programming. We believe that by allowing these films to sit in a vault, P&G stockholders are losing a valuable commodity. There is an apparent desire for seeing some of what P&G has produced transferred to DVD for consumer
purchase. We believe, especially in the aftermath of Guiding Light, that there could be a demand for commemorative DVDs highlighting the high (and low) points of every P&G soap. We also understand that P&G management has avoided the entire daytime debate deferring to MediaVest and TeleNext. The bottom line is that TeleNext(vi) may proclaim production “victories” with Guiding Light and As the World Turns. The truth, quite simply, is that TeleNext failed in their contractual obligation to P&G and its stockholders to create more effective and creative ways to market P&G produced serials. TeleNext failed in their mission, and the soap viewers are left as unwitting victims.
We have encouraged our own members to inquire to their pension funds managers and mutual fund managers about the amount of P&G stock in their respective portfolios. This is not a malicious attempt to pressure P&G. This is business. We get that. For every pension or mutual fund holder who has an interest in P&G stock, there is a personal vested interest to insure that P&G capitalizes on that which has already been bought and paid for. What we are trying to prove is that this is the time for all parties to forge a new alliance which promotes and encourages creativity in communities while continuing to provide serial programming to the viewers. Unless there is reciprocity, there can only be stalemate.
We are appealing to the better natured management people at P&G to consider that which we suggest. Release the films. If P&G does not want to incur the expense of producing commemorative videos – turn them over to film and journalism schools. Let the young actors and journalists pour through the archives and develop the productions. It means better dividends for stock holders, an enhanced education for students and the satisfaction of consumer demands. We don’t believe that P&G will reap significant financial rewards; however, we do believe that this exhibition of goodwill will be a start in getting past soap operas’ transition into a new paradigm.
First of all bringing back a hybrid of P&G soaps can only begin with the cooperation of Procter & Gamble. So, we appeal to P&G management to make available that which is stored away. We respectfully request that they consider our ideas. We’re not asking them to get back into the television production business. What we’re doing is asking them to fulfill their own vision of giving back to communities. Good will goes a long way in a world filled with cynicism and doubt.
Second, we appeal to Oprah Winfrey to consider our ideas. Most pundits say that Ms. Winfrey doesn’t care about soap opera. In fact most pundits say that networks and studios will continue to ignore soap fans in the expectation that as shows are canceled, the viewers’ collective frustration will wither away. Ms. Winfrey’s success began with those soap operas that were her lead in. As she communicated her message of empowerment and giving back to the community, we appeal to her own message by presenting a plan that not only revitalizes soap opera in a dynamic new paradigm but also serves to give back to communities in a revolutionary new manner.
Finally, we appeal to the actors unions and community theatres across the nation. We have at our disposal hundreds of seasoned daytime actors, producers, writers and more. These are professionals who excel at their crafts. They possess gifts and wisdom which is being lost on film students today. This is an initiative which brings the arts to the forefront. It will serve to tap into the creativity of our young and perhaps inspire parents and school officials in school districts to reconsider their apathy toward arts in the schools. Stifling creativity leads to failing students. Failed students lead to unskilled labor and the loss of our treasure.
Today, the United States stands at a precipice. We can move forward and renew the American Dream or we can remain silent and watch the fabric of our lives disintegrate before us. For 70 years serials have served to inspire listeners and viewers to think outside their own worlds. Without soaps, American society may not have achieved such a swift advance in gender and race equality. Were it not for soap opera, many homemakers would not have been exposed to the rapidly advancing technological age. Were it not for soap opera, we would not be here today asking P&G and other principals to consider that which we present.
This entire proposal is dedicated to the seven generations of viewers who came before us rewarding soap companies by buying their products. It is also dedicated to all the fallen greats of Daytime starting with Irna Phillips, Helen Wagner, Frances Reid, Frances Heflin and countless others.
i “Sex and Suffering in the Afternoon”. Time (Time.com). January 12, 1976.
ii “Leisure: Farewell To A Matriarch As Guiding Light Dims And The World Turns …” AbbotsfordToday.ca June 23, 2010
iii “Hot In Cleveland’ Stars Set to Turn Up the Heat in Cannes” sys.con Media September 7, 2010
iv “about aact” American Association of Community Theatre
v “The Procter & Gamble Company” FundingUniverse.com
vi “Splash Page” Telenext Media