Let’s not pretend. Everyone has watched a soap opera regularly once in their life. Whether it was because your grandmother/babysitter “made” you, as part of a group of friends, or in shameful hiding; whether you watched it live or taped it to watch after school or work; everyone’s done it. But the fact is, much of the soap-viewing set has gone missing. Blame it on aging fans, competition from other midday offerings, or simply viewer ennui following increasingly desperate story lines (demonic possession on Days of Our Lives and cloning tangents on Guiding Light spring to mind), people are not tuning in, and some are permanently tuning out.
Guiding Light is arguably doing the worst of the lot. And so, facing declining viewership—particularly in that most-coveted youth demographic—producers apparently watched a bunch of YouTube clips, sacked a bunch of staff, and opted for a makeover intended to appeal to what a bunch of baby boomers think us kids are into. That long-overdue makeover will be revealed to the GL faithful tomorrow, like yet another ham-handed plot twist.
The soap that started as a radio drama in the ’30s and made the transition to television in the ’50s sits at the bottom of the ratings heap (and has for years). Several years ago, it faced budget cuts that not only eliminated actors but forced many of the characters to live in a hotel to save on the cost of maintaining actual sets. This time, however, budget cuts are being framed as “a break from a production model that has been utilized in daytime television for over 50 years.”
That “break” includes hand-held digital cameras, completely enclosed interior shots, increased outdoor locations, and simultaneously digital editing. And it feels, well, broken. It actually served to strongly remind this reviewer of her alma mater’s student-run soap opera. The premiere episode relies heavily on full-frame close ups of the actors, feels incredibly claustrophobic, and serves to highlight rather than distract from the wooden acting one often expects from soap operas. It looks less revolutionary than it does cheap—which it is.
The real question that producers and writers need to consider is why people get addicted to soaps, and how they might become so again. Soap operas—daytime or primetime—are escapism. They’re not reality or realistic, and the best storylines have always revolved about flamboyant people doing flamboyant, if somewhat unrealistic, things. And it’s all done in flattering lighting and occasionally in soft-focus and on film which makes the whole enterprise itself look expensive. Who doesn’t want to wear nice clothes and costume jewelry and be wealthy and sought-after and always be seen under perfect lighting? Especially if, hypothetically, you sit home all day by yourself in your pajamas writing or something. If I wanted to see real sunlight and realistically flawed people, I’d probably leave the house.