In a changing landscape, daytime TV continues to move away from soaps
Viewers can look forward to more talk TV in the future
There's room for creativity, but that's a risk networks aren't likely to take, analysts say
What could happen is a traditional show being redone in a smart way, TV observers say
Let’s address the soap opera fans upfront: The past year has been tough for you. Yet industry analysts say it’s probably going to get tougher in coming years – only perhaps less so if you also happen to be a huge fan of talk TV.
Daytime is commonly thought of as the soaps’ domain, but it’s been shifting and will continue to do so this fall with the debut of four new talk shows. While “ratings for the soaps have been dropping for years,” says Marc Berman, editor-in-chief of TV Media Insights, last year’s cancellation of ABC’s “One Life to Live” and “All My Children” was a real blow.
It not only ticked off fans, Berman says, but it also “really shook up the whole daytime landscape, because the daytime soap opera genre is becoming more extinct as the years progress.”
Those tremors of change can also be seen in the awards show that celebrates the efforts of daytime TV as the 39th annual Daytime Emmys gets ready to air Saturday on cable rather than network TV. CNN’s sister network, HLN, snapped up the Daytime Emmys.
It also doesn’t help that, as those two favorite soaps left the airwaves, so did daytime TV’s best friend, Oprah Winfrey, as she drew the “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to a close in 2011 after 25 years. Add in the challenges that networks are facing any time of day – a fragmented audience, competition not just from other channels but also from other screens – and you have what Berman calls “a changing landscape.”
There was a period in TV history when college kids, a youthful audience that was candy for advertisers, were tuning in to daytime soaps, says Tom O’Neil, editor of GoldDerby.com, a site devoted to show business awards, including the Daytime Emmys.
But with a diverging and aging audience and the financial burden of running a daily drama on the scale of a soap, he says, something has to give.
“With the proliferation of so many channels, the challenge that daytime TV faces is branching out from its traditional format, and it hasn’t done that,” O’Neil says. “They’re just creating one more talk show, one more ‘Judge Judy’ rip-off, one more home decorating show, one more food preparation show. They need to be creative and have a sense of urgency in the meantime.”
Creativity can be done within the soap genre, of course – there are opportunities to “play with the format, (and) maybe the genre itself needs to be retooled to be more hip,” O’Neil says, pointing out that’s how “Days of Our Lives” is staying afloat.
There really are only so many types of shows likely to be on daytime in the first place – talk and game shows, legal programs and the like – but O’Neil argues there’s still room for ingenuity, pointing to the wealth of talent found on the Web.
“They need to go fishing on YouTube,” he says. “There’s a lot of talent out there – people doing compelling video that they need to give a voice to in daytime TV and break these genres.”
Unfortunately, that may be easier than it sounds, says Ben Grossman, editor-in-chief of Broadcasting & Cable.
“If you want to succeed in television, you have to bet big. The game-changing programs have always been groundbreaking. But that’s easy to say and hard to do, and that’s why everybody’s so cautious,” he says. “People are afraid to take big bets because they cost a lot of money.”
So what viewers are left with, Grossman says, is a lot of repetition as networks try to figure out what works.
“They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery — there’s more flattery in the television business than anywhere. If one thing works, everybody sprints in that direction,” Grossman says. “When ‘The View’ got a little bit of traction, suddenly you had ‘The Chew,’ ‘The Revolution,’ ‘The Talk’ – every other word you can think of that started with ‘the.’ … (Networks) are just searching.”
And this fall, they’re searching for that next bankable personality with shows from daytime veteran Ricki Lake, “Family Feud” host Steve Harvey, “Survivor’s” Jeff Probst and Katie Couric. They’re all set to bow in September.
Interestingly enough, the audience tuning in to this programming hasn’t really changed, says TV Media Insight’s Berman. “What has not changed and what will not change is the target audience in daytime are females, pretty much age 25 to 54, and 50-plus,” he says, noting that the former category is more desirable.
“Ultimately, the audience profile is the same,” he says. And “once a viewer finds something and they like it, they’ll stick with it. The challenge is to keep the interest as the years progress.”
Whether networks will meet that challenge with the slew of new talk programs, or if they’ll have to break the mold eventually and go for something fresh remains to be seen. TV tends to be cyclical – as soon as you say something’s dead, there it comes, rising from the grave.
“One thing about TV is that it’s shown an ability to reinvent itself,” Broadcasting & Cable’s Grossman says, pointing to the charge “American Idol” led in prime time. “Certain shows have come on and really changed the game. We thought on broadcast television in prime time the sitcom was dead, and then came ‘Modern Family.’ “
For daytime, “is it going to be someone doing something traditional (but) a lot better? Perhaps. It could be the right game show that comes and gets everyone back in that mold,” Grossman says.
At the moment, networks “are searching, trying different things,” he adds. The one certainty is that “as soon as (something) hits, there’ll be copies of it, so be ready.”