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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Love and drama in the afternoon
Romance, twisted plots, characters keep viewers tuned in
Published Wednesday, June 26, 2013 10:00 am
by Amanda Raymond

clientuploads/v38n13photos/Sean Blakemore as Shawn Butler_300.jpg
Sean Blakemore plays Shawn Butler in the ABC-TV daytime drama "General Hospital."

Luke and Laura. Jack and Erica. Nash and Jessica.

If you're a fan of soap operas, you know these are legendary TV romances Americans couldn't get enough of.

Though viewership is not what it once was, daytime dramas continue to keep audiences captive after more than 80 years on air.

Soap operas, which debuted in 1930 in Chicago, started on radio and got their name because they were first sponsored by soap companies. The programs went national in 1931 when NBC Blue Network broadcast "Clara, Lu and Em."

Originally targeted to stay-at-home moms, soap operas found a fan base among men as well and their popularity often ran through generations of families. Many viewers remember watching “the stories” with their mothers and grandmothers or at least being hushed when the shows came back on after a commercial break.

Brandy Henry’s mom was such a fan, she named her daughter after a character in “Edge of Night,” one of her favorites.

Henry, a cashier at Books-A-Million in Concord, said she first started watching soaps with her mom. Although she doesn’t watch as often as she once did, Henry said she continues to catch an episode every now and then.

“It’s nice to have a kind of escape,” she said.

So what keeps fans hooked on soaps after all these years?

According to life123.com, good daytime drama has three essential elements: melodrama, scandal and romance. The storylines seem to go on forever and the plots usually involve characters with amnesia or that die and return from the dead, evil twins and murder.

These bogus storylines do not bother Henry.

“That’s just what made it really good,” she said.

But others, like Amira Alexander of Raleigh, say they are just too much over the top.

“I tried, but I couldn’t stick with it,” she said. “It was too corny and the acting is horrible.”

Dwindling viewership

The demand for daytime soaps had decreased drastically over the past two decades. Many have gone off the air.

According to Nielsen, one of the longest running soaps, “General Hospital,” went from a high of 7.1 million viewers in the 1993-94 television season to 2.4 million viewers during the 2011-12 season. Other soaps that remain on air, such as “Young and Restless,” “The Bold and Beautiful,” and “Days of Our Lives,” aren’t doing much better in the ratings department.

Like Henry, Jessica Geruschat began watching with her mom, but she no longer watches because most of her favorites are off the air.

“I used to, like 10 years ago,” she said. “None of the good ones are on anymore.”

Playing the part

Not only were soaps popular with viewers, they were also favored by actors like Ray Dooley.

Dooley, who runs the Professional Actor Training Program at UNC-Chapel Hill, worked as a day player on daytime dramas back in the 1980s. His credits include being featured on “One Life to Live,” “Guiding Light” and “The Doctors.”

As a day player, Dooley often played one-time roles, such as a doctor delivering news to a family. Once he played a CPA giving news to the head of a corporation.

He said soaps are great training grounds for actors who want to hone their skills.

“It’s like boot-camp for camera-acting,” he said. “The focus is on confidence, not necessarily on brilliance. Once the confidence is there and the confidence in working with the camera is there, then as an actor you’re much more able to allow inspiration to hit and do something that is really interesting. It’s a great way to instill confidence and basic acting skills.”

Though soaps don’t have the abundance of viewership they once enjoyed, Dooley said it is the writing and intertwining connections between the characters that keep people watching.

“The appeal, I think,” he said, “are the compelling stories, the interpersonal relationships that are followed.”



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