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The End of Daytime Drama (But It’s Probably Not What You Think)

Ah, as the world turns. It’s time to come clean on Soaps. And the news is…good.

Soaps are back. Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Soaps are steady. And that’s something that couldn’t be said just a couple of years ago. In 2010, none other than Tim Brooks, the industry’s historian of all things television, said: “…the daytime serialized drama is an artifact of the past.”

Granted, there are only four left now, down from a staggering 19 in 1970. But after years of a Soap Opera exodus, the attrition has subsided. The numbers have stabilized; the strong have survived.

CBS has two: The Young and The Restless, and Bold and The Beautiful, while ABC and NBC each have one – General Hospital on ABC and NBC’s Days of Our Lives. National ratings are showing a slight uptick versus last year – Bold and the Beautiful showed a 7% gain in Women 25-54 Live Plus Same Day ratings and Days of Our Lives was up 9%.

The national rating for General Hospital was flat, but when you look to the local markets, there are pockets of real success. Jackson, TN delivered an 8.6 rating – a 79% increase over a 4.8 from last year. Springfield, MO saw a 360% increase to a 2.3 rating. There were strong gains all over the map – including LA, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, Buffalo and more – so it’s not just a small-market phenomenon.

And there’s significant time-shifting of the Soaps. For example, Days of Our Lives gets a 38% bump in Live Plus Same Day Women 25-54 ratings over the live rating – and 63% higher at Seven Days. So we see both a watercooler effect as well as binge viewing of Daytime Dramas.

The genre still thrives elsewhere, especially in Network Prime. ABC’s Scandal is the latest primetime Soap Opera must-see, but there’s also Grey’s Anatomy, Parenthood, Vampire Diaries and Nashville, among others. 2011 cancellees All My Children and One Life to Live are even getting a new life, both online and now on a cable network run by a woman who owns a very famous couch. You might even make a case that the drama social media provides can be a surrogate for Soaps at times. So the interest has never really gone away.

Is this a renaissance of a once indomitable genre? No, society – and the media landscape – is just too different now. But for a genre that’s all been written off as a relic, it’s showing that it might just have one life to live after all.

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