Deep Soap: Conspiracy Theory

by | May 11, 2009 at 8:38 AM | Deep Soap

Sinister Plot

There’s a theory I keep hearing: the networks are deliberately tanking soaps so that the ratings will go down and they’ll be able to cancel them.  I have read it on message boards, and speculated about it with friends in the industry.  It’s amusing to imagine a group of powerful businessmen sitting in a smoke filled room making the daytime PTBs an offer they can’t refuse: get the shows canceled and they’ll each get ten million dollars and ownership of a remote tropical island where they can live out the rest of their days in luxury.   But, based on my experiences in the industry, I don’t think it’s true.

The networks don’t have to drive down the ratings in order to cancel the soaps.  They don’t have to justify canceling any of their shows.  Passions was one of the top shows among young viewers when NBC shipped it off to DirecTV.  CBS was willing to piss off the Moonlight fans by canceling the show when its ratings put the show on the bubble.  If ABC wants to wipe out its entire daytime line-up in one fell swoop, once whatever contractual obligations they have to the shows and its employees are satisfied, the network would be free to do it.  What’s stopping the Mouse House?  The fear of mass riots that will bring America to its knees?  Yes, there would be public relations issues, and inevitable threats of boycotts.  But, as the response to the recent cancellation of Guiding Light shows, the general response, outside of the blogosphere will be, “That’s too bad.  I used to watch in college. Oh well.”

Why, then, are soaps consistently written to give the audience the exact opposite of what it wants?  Doesn’t everyone in daytime want to keep viewers happy, so the ratings will be strong, and everyone will remain gainfully employed?  Here’s my crazy theory: TPTB aren’t trying to please viewers.  They’re trying to please the people who sign their paychecks.  (In fact, I think that’s true of every single person in the entertainment industry, myself included.) You don’t keep your job by pulling a Howard Beale.  Daytime is a tiny little fish in the network/studio ocean.  Disney and CBS/Paramount are huge entities encompassing broadcast networks, production companies, and cable. Daytime’s PTB are in the position of selling their products to people who, in all probability, have little knowledge of the genre.  Non-soap watchers tend to think of soaps as silly shows where people are always coming back from the dead and being possessed by the devil.   I imagine the meetings with the higher ups are full of questions like, “How are you going to make these old shows appeal to 21st century TV viewers?”

“It’s like The Sopranos meets The Hills” or, “Lots of young, hot people,” is something that a non-soap watcher thinks will appeal to viewers.  Explaining the importance of veterans and history is far more difficult.  (Though, I’d like to think that if I were in the position to do so I could come up with a bang-up Powerpoint presentation that would persuade all the doubters.)  In theory, “An 80 year old grand dame finds love with another senior citizen who runs a bait and tackle shop” doesn’t sound like riveting television that will appeal to demographically desirable viewers. (Counter intuitive Fact: Y&R’s ratings have actually gone up this year among Women 18-24, maintained in Women 18-34, and declined among older women.)  On the other hand, “A hot young blonde is willing to go to any lengths to steal her sister’s fiancee” sounds appealing out of context.

If the conspiracy theory were true, executives would be actively working towards the elimination of their own jobs.  Without soaps, the networks would, in all probability, give much of the day part back to their affiliates.  Nobody wants to get laid off.  The conspiracy theory gives everyone too much credit.  The people who say boneheaded things in interviews, can’t keep track of when actors contracts expire, and let spoilers leak all over the internet are not masterminding a brilliant fiendish plot.  Although, it would be the most interesting storyline in daytime if they were.

Botulism Is The New Black

Apparently daytime writers are fans of botox.  Maybe they’re inspired by the numerous actors who seem to use it on a regular basis.  How else to explain that Friday’s two soaps had plot points that hinged upon uses of botulinum toxin that would not pass muster with the FDA.  It seems The Young & The Restless’s Adam is faking blindness by injecting the stuff into his eyeballs.  (I hope this storyline doesn’t get any more graphic.)  Over on One Life To Live, Powell and Rebecca have sent everyone botulism-coated invitations that have temporarily knocked out and paralyzed the recipients.  My opinions on the stories aside (Adam=interesting but disgusting, Powell= enough with Marty’s rapists), it’s a strange coincidence.  Botox already freaks me out because it does too many things.  The same substance shouldn’t be able to make wrinkles disappear and prevent migraine headaches.  Now I know that it can also cause temporary blindness and immobilize people.  Perhaps it’s a strange form of product placement.  Soon we may learn that Bo from Days of Our Lives suddenly became psychic after Lexie accidentally injected him with Restalyne.  Perhaps Stefano will forcibly lipsosuction Victor Kiriakis’s stomach.   I look forward to seeing all the future ways daytime will use cosmetic medical procedures to creep me the hell out.