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Daytime Soaps Enjoy a New Surge in Popularity

The soap bubble that was supposed to burst is still very much intact.

A couple of years after “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” brought to five the number of daytime dramas axed by the networks over a five-year stretch, the genre is flourishing.

Ratings are up at the four remaining soaps — “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful” on CBS, “General Hospital” on ABC and “Days of Our Lives” on NBC — and, in this DVR era, any kind of gain is cause for celebration.

One reason for the increases could be the simple fact that there are fewer shows to compete for the pool of fans. Today’s soaps live alongside game and talkshows such as CBS’ “Let’s Make a Deal” and ABC’s “The Chew,” and a bigger variety of programming for viewers to choose from seems to be helping all the networks.

But if it were simply the same viewers moving from one show to another, the gains would be only among the core, older soap opera fan base — and that’s not the case. It’s clear that some new blood is being pumped into the genre.

“General Hospital,” for example, has grown from last year by 9% in total viewership (to 3.32 million) but it’s also up by 19% in women 25-54 and by 11% among those 12-34, according to Nielsen. As a result, its median age of 55.5 for the current season is down from 56.1 a year ago.

“Days of Our Lives” is up 10% (to about 3 million viewers), but its biggest gains are among females 12-34; its median age of 57.8 is nearly one full year lower than last year.

It’s this expansion of the audience that most encourages Michael Maloney, a contributing editor for Soaps in Depth magazine and the author of “The Young and Restless Life of William J. Bell.”

“The grandmother used to pass it down to the mother and so on, so one of the reasons (that soaps) took a hit is because mom is out there working,” Maloney says. “But that seems to be coming back, and audiences are responding to a multiple-generation canvas of characters. Any soap that has just young people isn’t going to make it.”

Maloney thinks the recent shuttering of some soaps created a surplus of good actors out of work. And this has resulted in some all-star rosters.

Indeed, turn on a soap you remember watching years ago, and there’s a good chance you will see a lot of familiar faces.

“Soap is the only genre with that kind of throughline, and the shows are taking good advantage of that,” Maloney says.

The CBS soaps skew older, but they’re also the most popular overall. “Young and the Restless” averages 5.3 million viewers daily and “The Bold and the Beautiful” bags nearly 4 million.

Maloney credits Angelica McDaniel, head of Daytime at CBS, who is active in social media and “a great cheerleader for the genre.”

He also notes that Vicki Dummer, an exec VP of series and specials at ABC Media Group, has been supportive of the strong vision of “GH” exec producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati. And Sony Pictures Television, NBC and Corday Productions have kept “Days” vital even though it is on a daytime island at the Peacock.

“What the soaps seem to have is terrific support from the network,” Maloney says. “The right people are running them, and each of the remaining shows are doing a great version of their show for their
core audience.”

Maloney thinks it’s unlikely we’ll see a new daytime soap anytime soon, but he doesn’t rule it out entirely.

“There are Web soaps out there like ‘The Bay,’ and with ‘Beacon Hill,’ Crystal Chappell has a handle on a Web series that can make a profit,” he says. “People in broadcast are definitely keeping an eye on the Web.”

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