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Network ratings- rises and slides

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Digging into the available ratings archives, one can point to the years when networks had a particular surge or slide in their ratings. Very this was driven by one event or one soap, but often more than one soap were able to get their stuff together at the same time. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that the rise or fall in the fortunes of a particular soap has a knock-on effect on the network's entire Daytime lineup. So here goes:


NBC's Golden Age, 1970s- up to the late 60s, CBS were completely and totally dominant in the field of soaps. However, as the 70s began, this would start changing and NBC was the first to make a serious dent into CBS supremacy with its lineup of Another World, Days of Our Lives and The Doctors. By the 1973-74 ratings season, Days and AW tied with ATWT for first place- and The Doctors were a very close 4th. This was also, arguably, the all-time high for soap viewership which went into what was in effect a gentle decline.

ABC's Surge, late 70s-early 80s- ABC enjoyed mixed fortunes in the 70s. By 1976, only All My Children was in the top half of the ratings chart whilst General Hospital (who had a few good ratings years earlier in the decade) and One Life To Live were struggling in the bottom half. This all changed with Gloria Monty and Douglas Marland at General Hospital, stabilising ratings. By 1979, AMC had reached the top whilst GH finished second- and in 1980 GH had reached the top, where they remained for the majority of the 1980s.

In the early 1980s, it was very evident that the rise of GH had an effect on the entire ABCD lineup- OLTL was enjoying new highs in the ratings, and Ryan's Hope was also doing well. Even the Edge of Night prolonged its existence by a few years. In fact, the week of Luke and Laura's wedding in 1981 showed that AMC, OLTL and RH all garnered very strong ratings and even EON rated above ALL NBC soaps that week! ABC's big three soaps remained there or thereabouts for the remainder of the 80s. But EON would be cancelled and A change in timeslot between Loving and Ryan's Hope in 1984 had the effect of virtually sealing RH's fate... whilst Loving enjoyed its best ratings years in 1984-86.

NBC Silver Age, 1980s- NBC was really in the gutter in the early 80s, which will be explained below. But by 1983 things were looking up even though picking up Search for Tomorrow had halved that show's ratings compared to what it got on CBS. Both Days of Our Lives and Another World saw their ratings make something of a miraculous recovery compared to their post-1980 lows. Santa Barbara saw their own ratings slowly climb and by 1987-88 that three-hour soap block was looking like NBC's strongest Daytime lineup since the Golden Age of the 70s. Unfortunately, that didn't last.

CBS on the other hand never really had such dramatic surges and slides, only the wavering fortunes of individual soaps (see below). Overall their lineup during Daytime's golden years was fairly steady bar the odd bad decision- e.g. the change of scheduling in 1972 saw Edge of Night's ratings take a dive, ditching Search for Tomorrow when it still had decent ratings. Capitol garnered reasonable enough ratings during its run, and B&B has the extreme fortune no other more recently-created soap had, by being sandwiched between Y&R and ATWT.


NBC's Catastrophic Collapse, 1980

Partly because of the rise of ABCD but not entirely because of it, NBCD saw its ratings decline in the latter half of the 70s. Another World fell from its hitherto habitual top two in the charts but remained NBC's highest-rating soap- and contrary to popular belief, the short-lived 90-minute did not adversely affect its ratings either since they were declining before then.

So what exactly happened? In 1980 the following things happened: NBC for one was reeling from the Supertrain failure and the Olympics boycott. The "massacre" over at Days in which longtime stars were axed and a slew of new characters nobody cared about came on (only Gloria Loring as Liz Chandler had any staying power), causing the show's ratings to tank. Beverlee McKinsey left AW for its spin-off Texas (which also ended the 90-minute experiment), which also failed dismally but also caused AW to lose more viewers due to McKinsey leaving. Meanwhile, The Doctors changed timeslot once more, effectively killing it off. So all these events caused a catastrophic collapse in NBCD's ratings, and with the exception of the Silver Age they would never again have a truly competitive lineup compared to CBS or ABC.

ATWT and GL, 1995-97

The untimely death of Douglas Marland in 1993 was a blow to ATWT and Daytime generally. The show for the couple of years was written by Juliet Law Packer and Richard Backus, and then Richard Culliton. However, Caso remained in charge as EP and it can be said that everyone expected the show to come down a bit in this period and it did, but that period is generally not viewed negatively in retrospect considering what followed. Meanwhile Guiding Light under Jill Farren Phelps was reeling from the departures of Ellen Parker (Maureen) and Beverlee McKinsey (Alexandra)... however, take out those events (though very damaging to the show) and JFP's four-year tenure at GL was rather good in terms of quality.

In 1995, however, Proctor & Gamble made some stupid decisions that did a great deal of harm to all of its shows. JFP moved from GL to AW (Michael Laibson, whose five-year stint at AW with Donna Swajeski writing was well-regarded, took her place), and we all know what happened there. John Valente moved from AW replaced Laurence Caso at ATWT, and was repportedly bitter about the move as subsequent events would reveal. Of course, we all know what happened. The effects of the changes on all these shows was unspeakably bad. Especially on ATWT under the reign of terror of Valente, Black and Stern, making the show (according to one source) "the worst on TV" at the time. To see the decline of such great shows (as with anything else) in a remarkably short period is truly horrifying. But to the credit P&G, the realised what was going on and fired all those responsible, starting with Kenneth Fitts as executive in charge of production.

Even though all soap ratings were in steady decline (and the impact of the OJ trial is, as I see it, generally overstated), ATWT and GL suffered sharp drops in ratings during 1996, a slide which did not halt until about 1998.

ABC's Fall, 1998

ABCD's ratings in the 90s remained strong, though obviously not at the levels of the 1980s. AMC was already doing well when Megan McTavish became HW first time round in 1992, and was lucky Felicia Minei Behr was in charge. GH entered a new era with Wendy Riche as EP, and Claire Labine would become HW. Whilst OLTL had Michael Malone as its HW. In any case, all this changed in by middle of the decade. Malone left OLTL, Labine left GH, whilst Broderick took over at AMC and the show still garnered much acclaim under her before McTavish returned for a second stint. And JFP, having received stinging criticism for her actions at GL and AW, would become EP of OLTL.

By 1998, it was obvious that the changes at AMC and OLTL were having a negative impact. AMC had enjoyed a solid place in the upper echelon of the ratings charts for many, many years- starting in the 70s when it was often ABC's most consistent performer in that regard. There were substantial ratings losses for GH, AMC and OLTL during 1998 at a time when Y&R, B&B and Days were leading the ratings. AMC's ratings would sink to their lowest in years, and OLTL saw very poor numbers as well, and even GH would fall away from the above-mentioned top three. Meanwhile, ATWT and GL had seen their ratings stabilise and even climb that year.

So there you have it. I see these as the most significant rises and falls as far as I know. I'll also add that Days' rise in the 90s under JER doesn't really count in this, because it didn't have a clear knock-on effect on the rest of the NBCD lineup as Santa Barbara had already been killed off, Sunset Beach never really got off the ground, and AW didn't improve its numbers even though they were doing comfortably better than the worst-rated soaps.

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Didn't OLTL actually climb to the top of the ratings before GH did--however briefly in the late 70s (maybe only a few weeks according to the Soap Encyclopedia)? Around the Karen Wolek story?

What has always fascinated me is during OLTL's last true golden era--the Gottlieb/Griffith/Malone area the show was consistant 6th and 5th in the soap ratings--its lead in AMC being always 2nd, GH still doing well (and we won't mention poor Loving) seemed to play no part. But ABC seemed (rightly) happy with the awards and good press OLTL was getting regardless.

As for AMC it being up against DAYS in many markets affecte dit before 1998 I think--the reason FMB was fired was due to slumping ratings (and then by 98 or so when Mctavish was rehired was due to the continual slump--ironic as it prob had little to do with quality of material and things tumbled MUCH faster after). OLTL started to suffer worse by the time Griffith and Gottlieb left and Malone got lost in an intrigue storyline and then abruptly left (one thing abotu ABC in their early 90s era of really high quality soaps was it wasn't just good writers--it was great producers)

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No worries everyone. I think the whole point of history topics anyway is that the figures are out there, it's just the job of historians to explain how and why those figures came about. ;)

In all seriousness, we can argue that AMC suffered a much sharper ratings slide during McTavish's second spell- to the point that at one stage, it was below both ATWT and GL. Similarly, OLTL endured a dreadful period under JFP, who it's thought was even de facto HW at one stage. Back in 1998, Broderick had taken over at ATWT and while her tenure wasn't brilliant, it did stabilise ratings and represented a definite improvement on the miserable 1996-97 years. GL on the other hand were riding the wave of the clone storyline- never mind some astonishing performances that year and prior by Cynthia Watros.

ABCD's problem in more recent years has been Frons' totalitarian control over the shows. He seems to have an urge to control every aspect of ABC's soaps, creatively or otherwise which is normally the mark of a totalitarian. And just as totalitarians are marked by prejudice- be it nationality, class, race or religion- ageism and misogyny have been evident at ABCD. Phelps and McTavish also proved that even females can have misogynistic urges, judging by their decisions down the years. Just my observations.

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As a kid/teen I used to often get SOD (OK I lie, I used to get my twin sister to get it cuz I was too embarassed) and was so used to seeing AMC right there second to top. By 95-96 according ot Waggert's book it was suddenly 4th after Days and B&B, and then by the next year 5th. I was shocked lol (especially since by 97 it was still in really great shape)

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It'd be cool if we could find out about demo changes--i know all soap books from the 70s ac surprised that AMC had a remarkable high number of male watchers with 30%. I imagien that was parlty because from the early 70s (according to the Dan Wakefield 1976 book All Her Children) it was one of the first soaps to become a college dormitory phenomenon.

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The average household rating around 1990s was somewhere in the mid to high 5s, by the end of the decade it was approximately 4.0, and by now it's in the low 2s. Which proves the argument I've put forth for a long time that far more people have left Daytime this decade than any previous decade.

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The major movements by CBS were as follows:

1.Scheduling Change, 1972: The Edge of Night suffered due to the loss of its traditional timeslot, which attracted a particular demographic up to then. Its move to ABC three years later failed to halt that slide.

2.Love of Life: After The long-running Secret Storm was cancelled in 1974, Love of Life was left as the weak point among the long-running CBS soaps. However, in the years 1974-76, it enjoyed a brief resurgence in the ratings but this was also squandered.

3.Young and the Restless: Enjoyed a meteoric rise, from bottom at its debut to 9th by 1975 and 3rd by 1976, becoming a force from that point on, and expanding to 1 hour in 1980.

4.Search for Tomorrow, Capitol and Bold & the Beautiful: the demise of Love of Life in 1980 left CBS with just four soaps- ATWT, GL, Y&R and SFT- all of whom were on solid ratings ground even though they were being overshadowed by the meteoric rise of ABCD. Even though SFT was now the lowest-rated soap on CBS, it was still doing well and comfortably better than any NBC soap... so the genial idea of moving to NBC had the effect of halving its ratings. Part of the reason was that some NBC affiliates never picked up SFT, while many more dropped it after a while- similar to what happened with EON. Capitol never got SFT's numbers but its numbers were competitive throughout its run, which brings us to B&B which is the only soap created in the 1980s remaining on air.

The fact remains it was always difficult for newcomers to the soap genre from the 70s onwards to establish themselves. After AMC debuted in 1970 and Y&R in 1973, the next long-running show to debut was Ryan's Hope which like Y&R was bottom in its first season and really took off after a year. Lovers and Friends and For Richer, For Poorer failed abysmally for one. Texas, likewise, also failed but was not born in a climate that helped it. Neither Santa Barbara nor Loving sparkled in the ratings, but both did reasonably well to stay above "cancellation levels"- i.e. there were always a few soaps rating much much worse. That trend continued through the 80s and 90s- e.g. AW and even Port Charles were quite comfortably above Sunset Beach, and Port Charles was IIRC above Passions for a year or two.

So what enabled B&B to survive in such a tough genre to break through as Daytime soaps? The fact that it was a Bell creation might be cited as a factor, though some creations of other successful writers- Lemay with L&F/FRFP, Nixon and Marland with Loving- were not smash hits. It was more the fact that B&B had from the start an extremely favourable timeslot between two popular shows (Y&R was edging in on GH, ATWT undergoing its resurgence under Marland) that the show got lucky and were able to do well from the start. And it wasn't until the early 90s crossover that B&B's ratings really catapulted to the top 3.

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Interesting thread,thanx 4 posting...

Looking back at NBC's 73/74 success,a number of factors come into play.

Firstly the shows themselves.Days had Bill Bell at the helm,with the Doug/Julie,Bill/Laura/Mickey stories constanty evolving.

AW had Rauch/Lemay putting their stamp on the show.Iris had been introduced and Steve/Alice/Rachel were still strong.

DRS was slotted between these shows.I think the Pollocks were writing at the time.Mike/Toni,Steve/Carolee and Nick Althea were central.

The CBS moves of TEON,TGL.LIAMST etc must have changed viewer habits.

The schedule in those days was of course very different with shows at 30 min it wasn't always soaps on the 3 networks.

Here's how things looked around that time.


CBS Love of Life

NBC Hollywood Squares

ABC Brady Bunch



NBC Jeopardy(replaced by Jackpot in Jan 74)

ABC Password



NBC Who What Where (replaced by Baffle in Jan 74)

ABC Split Second


CBS Local

NBC Local




NBC 3 on a Match(replaced by Jeopardy in Jan 74)

ABC Let's Make a Deal




ABC Newlywed Game




ABC Dating Game(replaced in July 73 by The Girl in My Life)


CBS The Price is Right




CBS Hollywood's Talking(replaced in July 73 by Match Game)

NBC RTPP (replaced in Jan 74 by HTSAM)



CBS SS(replaced in Feb 74 by Tattletales)

NBC Somerset

ABC Love American Style(replaced in May 74 by $10,000 Pyramid

Interesting to see that none of the shows following AW had nywhere the ratings success of the first 3 soaps on NBC's line up.

Also NBC made a lot of changes to gameshows in 74.I think ultimately it all failed and was the beginning of a decline at NBC daytime that hit hard in the late 80's.

Lin Bolen was the daytime head at NBC at the time and she was very controversial.I think the boards would have gone wild about her if we had internet then.

Does anyone have more info on her and her impact at NC daytime?

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NBCD's ratings remained competitive through the 70s but they were slipping towards the end of the decade- it was only 1980, for reasons mentioned at the start of the thread- that the big collapse happened, rather than the late 80s (by which time NBC had its best lineup since the 70s).

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