Deep Soap: What Soaps Can Learn From ‘The View’

by | October 15, 2010 at 7:58 AM | Deep Soap, The View

The View (ABC)

The View (ABC)

It was the scandal of the Thursday news cycle:  Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar stormed off the set of ‘The View’ after guest Bill O’Reilly claimed that people were opposed to the new Mosque in lower Manhattan “because the Muslims killed us on 9/11!”

The clip of the incendiary moment went viral.  Every entertainment site, as well as shows like ‘The Insider‘ covered it.  As it has so many times before, ‘The View’ penetrated the awareness of people who rarely watch daytime television, making itself part of the part of the national conversation and enhancing the show’s reputation as an exciting, controversial program.

I would bet money that, while everyone involved was expressing their sincere opinions, the show’s producers did everything that they could to egg them on and create a must-see moment.  I suspect that almost everyone in America can name all of ‘The View’s’ cohosts, even if they have never seen a complete episode of the show.  When was the last time anything that happened on a daytime soap similarly permeated the public consciousness?

O’Reilly’s View On Muslims Makes Cohosts Storm Off Set

The gay media has embraced daytime’s gay characters, with sites like AfterElton documenting every twist and turn in Nuke and Kish’s storylines — not that there are any current gay or lesbian romances in daytime.  But they attracted little notice outside the bubble of gay fanboys and fangirls.  I think the last time soap storylines really became a part of the larger popular culture was in the 1990s when Sheila switched from ‘The Young & The Restless‘ to ‘The Bold & The Beautiful,‘ Marlena was possessed by the devil on ‘Days of Our Lives‘ and Luke and Laura returned to ‘General Hospital.’

It is no wonder that ‘The View’ regularly outperforms soap operas among key demographics or that CBS is attempting to emulate it with its new series ‘The Talk,’ which premieres in ‘As The World Turns‘ old timeslot next Monday.

Watch O’Reilly’s Debate With The Ladies Of ‘The View’:

Instead of lamenting the changing of the television guard, soaps need to find a way to make as much of an impact.  The networks are trying.

‘General Hospital’ hiring James Franco for a longterm arc along with all the other daytime stuntcasting in recent months created hype in advance of their appearances.  Unfortunately, there has been little notable about the actual shows.  Franco’s scenes played like parodies of soap operas.

The moments that are must see television for people who watch every day — ‘The Young & The Restless’s’ Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott) falling off the wagon, ‘General Hospital’s’ Robin (Kimberly McCullough) telling off Patrick (Jason Thompson) for cheating on her– make no sense out of context.

Viral clips are an increasingly important way to generate television viewership — and all that matters is the content of the clip.  Funny local news stories can generate millions of hits.

The Amazing Race‘ premiered to high ratings this season because of a video of a contestant getting hit in the face with a watermelon.

Video: ‘Amazing Race’ Contestant Gallaghers Herself With Watermelon To The Face

Cable dramas like ‘True Blood‘ generated the same sort of attention with must see scenes like King Russell’s (Denis O’Hare) epic rant when he took over a television studio.

Soap operas need to come up with moments that are so exciting, jaw dropping, hilarious or perplexing that everyone will want to see them and a few people will be inspired to watch the actual show themselves.

I realize that this is a difficult task.  Most network primetime dramas do not have individual scenes that play well out of context.  But these are desperate times, and I believe that soap writers and producers are up to the task.  As loathe as I am to praise his sensationalistic writing, if YouTube had existed during James Reilly’s first stint as ‘Days of Our Lives’ headwriter, Marlena levitating above the bed would have been an online sensation.

I think daytime writers need to aim to be bigger drama queens than Bill O’Reilly and Whoopi Goldberg.

Who Do Late Night Writers Love ABC Daytime So Much?

Tuesday night David Letterman proclaimed ‘General Hospital’s’ Patrick one of Obama’s biggest enemies as part of his nightly Top Ten List.  Both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have referenced GH and ‘One Life To Live’ on their shows.

Watch: Letterman’s Top Ten Entries On Barack Obama’s Enemies List

Clearly there is one group of people who are still watching soaps on a regular basis: late night talk show writers.

They are actually doing a better job of generating the sort of mainstream buzz that I was just ranting about than soaps themselves.

It is a curious phenomenon.  Late night writers are far from typical soap viewers.  They are almost all white males under the age of fifty.  Other than having jobs that require watching a lot of television, there is no reason why they should be expected to have any awareness of soap operas.

Perhaps soaps are a nice break from the cable news channels that are the source of so much of the shows’ material.  Maybe they have fond memories of watching soaps during college, and occasionally check them out during lunch.

Since the hosts are never going to invite soap stars on as guests because they are too low profile, I propose that the networks go guerilla and send some of the most outspoken soap stars to Washington D.C. on October 30th for Stewart and Colbert’s dueling Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, which will be covered live on Comedy Central.  I think that actors like Nancy Lee Grahn, Kim Zimmer, and Eric Braeden might be able to get on camera and become more than just the punchline to a joke.