"I think soap operas are the form of entertainment closest to real life. Everyone's life is a soap opera. Some are more interesting than others, and of course there are no new stories. But everyone's life is a journey. Each time something dramatic happens for the first time, in a way, the story is new because it's never happened to that person before," Agnes Nixon made the point to the 'Los Angeles Times' in 1991. 

Associated Press observed, "More than any other TV form, successful serials create intense loyalty among their viewers." Of the 79 TV series on prime time in the 1985-86 season, the four most popular soap operas were 'Dynasty' (shown on Wednesday night), 'Dallas' (Friday night), 'Knots Landing' (Thursday night) and 'Falcon Crest' (also Friday night but up against the 'Miami Vice' phenomenon). 

John Sisk from the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency pointed out at the time in a typical four-week period, only 8% of the viewers of a non-serial would watch all four episodes, while 25% would be faithful to their soap. His point: "They're (the soaps) not dying; they're just declining. They're still powerful TV entertainment, particularly for women 18 to 49, who are the principal target for many advertisers. For reaching that group, the four soaps have 35% higher ratings than the average TV program. These shows always take time to build audiences. We forget that 'Dallas' struggled on Saturday and Sunday before it finally clicked on Friday night." 

Len Berkman was a theater professor at Smith College told 'The New York Times' in 1991, "It's just as valid a form of theater as any you're going to see. There are areas of internal and interpersonal character exploration that are remarkable. Like Shakespeare, soaps must appeal to a spectrum of audiences from the intelligent to the least intelligent."

In the days before the Internet of Things (IoT) on TV, if something went down (such as soap operas), something else went up (such as sitcoms). At the time 'The Cosby Show' was a runaway hit. At the same time, prime-time soaps did well during its first run but poorly in reruns and in repeat syndication. By 1991, Dennis Swanson of ABC noted, "But this isn't 1981 (when 81% of the total daytime television audience were soaps viewers). We weren't sharing the screen then with other viewing alternatives as we do now, like cable. And network daytimes share of the total television audience has eroded just as much as nighttime, weekend and sports (to 61% in 1991)."

Jack Smith started writing for 'The Young and the Restless' in 1979. Speaking to 'The Honolulu Advertiser' in 1988, Jack Smith made the comment, "Every single episode has got to stand out on its own. You can't be building towards something and say, 'OK, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll fill in the scenes – and Friday will be the big splash.' It doesn't work that way. Each show has to be self-contained.

"The other daytime shows are owned by the network – or Proctor and Gamble – and there are tight controls. 'The Young and the Restless' and 'The Bold And The Beautiful' are owned by an individual, William Bell, and he's just an incredibly wonderful person to work for – handing over artistic freedom to me, pretty much. I write as I please. I don't have the problems that are so common in regular television – the problem with artistic control.

"And I can go and do it wherever I want – which is why I write from Hawaii. My usual schedule – when there's no strike – is writing every day and sending scripts via courier service to Los Angeles (for production). I started writing 'The Bold And The Beautifiul' last year (in 1987) and one of the reasons I moved here to Hawaii is to get away … I can't afford distractions – or I don't get my work done … I write early in the morning, and early in the afternoon ... I write half of the shows for that series.

"A lot of my friends in L.A. always asked me – don't you feel removed from everything? Of course I do – but I love it. On Mondays, I have a conference call with my other writers with 'The Young and the Restless' talking about stories, about where we're going to go in the next couple of weeks. When I get off the phone, my co-head writer and I split up the next week's shows, and either outline them or write them ourselves.

"Both shows ('The Young and the Restless' and 'The Bold And The Beautiful') are very highly relationship-oriented shows. Some of the daytime shows – like 'All My Children', 'General Hospital' and 'Days of our Lives' – are campier. They go in for a lighter approach. Our shows are dealing with what we call the human equation. Relationships between family members, relationships between people. I think that, along with some of the glamor, is what people watching our shows are looking for.

"The soaps don't go off the air – not like nighttime shows but you have to be able to really get inside characters. That's the key of daytime soaps. That's probably the biggest weakness of American movies – character development. In most movies, you usually see a lot of action – but not much character development. And you become a real expert on deft and subtle re-establishing techniques, without sounding repetitious.

"You have to respect the person who watches it every day, repetition would get them bored. At the same time, you have to realize that most people don't watch every day; that if they watch only once a week, they can still pick up on what's going on. And there's no such thing as writer's block in this business. People ask me, what happens if you wake up and are not motivated? You wake up and you start to write; it’s like action first, and then motivation.

"You write, and then you're motivated to write more. You never start out a day by asking yourself, 'Gee, will I write today?' Never. One day, almost verbatim, one of our (Jack and wife Norma) arguments wound up on one of the shows. If I didn't use what happens to me in my everyday life, I wouldn't get my work done. Thus, if I have a particularly good day, I end up with a particularly loving script. The rule of thumb on soaps is never kill off anyone (any characters) and you stay away from recasts – audiences don't like it. Killing is too final. If someone (the stars) decides they want to go off and make movies, you stay prepared. He may come back one day, so you keep the options open."

Bill Bell told 'The New York Times', "Issues work in daytime because it's a way to show characters exist in today's world. They're not off in some never-never land." Agnes Nixon maintained, "Daytime is the only place where we have the time to most fully explore these problems." At the Chicago Museum of Broadcast Communications for the 'A Summer of Soaps' in 1991, Agnes Nixon told the crowd, "Soap operas have come of age. Today men as well as women are involved in watching them, people from the ages of 8 to 80. We are more sophisticated than ever before. We inform as well as entertain."

Ruth Warrick, 68 in 1985, remarked, "Agnes Nixon, who created 'All My Children', wants it to be a multi-generational show and I think it's paid off, because we never lose viewers. If the real audience ratings were taken, 'All My Children' would always be No. 1. Millions of our viewers are never polled because Nielsen only goes into homes. Being on in the middle of the day, our show is watched by so many people who don't get surveyed – college students, people at offices, cafes, bars, what-have-you … We are the Cadillac of soap operas."

Wally Knight worked full-time at Brown County Veterans Service in 1979. He made the confession, "I have a one hour lunch break from 12 to 1. I hurry home to let the dogs out and watch the soap, but I only get 15 minutes." The other 45 minutes Wally said he talked about what went on with his daughter who could fill him in. Wally insisted, "I am involved in it. Sometimes I can't wait to get home. But I really don't take it to heart." 

Victoria Mallory played a pianist on 'The Young and the Restless'. She spoke to 'Copley News Service' in 1980, "There are some people in the Middle West who think our show is 'risque'. That may or may not be. But we do have a reputation of being the most glamorous soap opera with lots of romance. We have a young cast and they have chosen some beautiful people – the men are all good-looking and the women are glamorous, and everyone seems always to be involved with someone. It's that kind of show. 

"Seven years ago (in 1973) when 'The Young and the Restless' first came on the air, the producer wanted a distinctive appearance, a 'look', and he got it with lighting effects. A scene is usually quite dim except that a light focuses on the face and, particularly, on the eyes. We have an awful lot of close-ups so that viewers know every freckle. It’s practically all close-ups! 

"Close-ups demands so much concentration because they always go to the eyes. The eyes don't lie. If you don't mean it, the eyes will give you away. The character I play not only has amnesia, she's also heading for another nervous breakdown. Absolutely. Before she got amnesia, she was married to the brother (Lucas) of the man (Lance) who got her pregnant but who was married to her (half) sister (Lauralee). And before that, she was married to a psychiatrist (Brad Eliot) who went blind. She divorced him and fell in love with Lance. You might say she's quite, uh, vulnerable. 

"I get recognized on the street and in the supermarket and the people call me 'Leslie'. They know that what's happening on the screen isn't real but they like to pretend that it is, in a way. They know your character's most intimate feelings. They say things like, 'Please don't tell Lance about the baby!' They warn you about what other characters on the show may be plotting. And they do all this because they seem to care about you. They regard Leslie Brooks Prentiss as a victim of circumstances. They think of her as the kind of good person that bad things happen to, which is fairly typical of the soaps."

Blog Archive