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How did P&G lose its way?


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Here's a question that I don't know the answer to (which is obviously the reason why I'm starting this thread): How did P&G go from being the dominant player in the soap opera industry to near extinction?

Back in the 50's, 60's, and & 70's, P&G soaps were the cream of the crop, both commercially and creatively. SFT, GL, ATWT, EON, & AW were massively popular amongst viewers of all ages. Yet, beginning about thirty years ago, P&G soaps lost their "IT" factor as viewers flocked to the flashy California soaps.

For whatever reason, P&G was unable to compete with GH, Y&R, AMC (which obviously isn't a California soap), and DOOL as their popularity surged. Although the company didn't go from first to worst overnight, both EON and SFT were on their last legs throughout the early-80's. And, while P&G was able to save both soaps from cancellation the first time, the company could not do so again in the middle of that decade, and instead chose to give them up without much of a fight.

Following the cancellations of EON and SFT, things at least begain to stabilize at PGP. Ratings at AW and ATWT finally started to improve circa 1983-84. (GL--which was the sole P&G soap to thrive in the early 80's--continued to do well in the ratings.) Morover, each of the remaining soaps had a creative rennaisance: ATWT had one under Marland, AW had one under Swajeski, and GL had one under Curlee/Demorest/Reilly/Broderick. Unfortunately, even with all of this, PGP was still not able to regain its first place status.

By 1994, however, each remaining P&G soap began a steady decline that has led to cancellation (or near cancellation, in the case of ATWT). It is almost as if the top executives at P&G really did decide to give up on the entire soap industry (thinking it no longer served any use for the company), and were willing to do anything it took to dismantle their soaps. First on AW, then on GL, and finally on ATWT, decisions were made that alientated long time viewers and made each soap unrecognizable from its glory days.

Again, like I wrote in the opening paragraph, I don't exactly know how the decline of PGP happened. My only theories are that (1) P&G failed to be agressive in promoting its soaps (and left the promotion entirely up to the networks, which was a big mistake since the networks were mainly interested in promoting Y&R, B&B, GH, AMC, and DOOL), or (2) the company was completely clueless and believed that long-time viewers would stick around regardless of the quality of its soaps.

Before concluding, I just have to say that the decline of P&G soaps seems to almost exactly parallel the decline of General Motors. Like PGP, GM was the dominant industry player for such a long time, whose executives eventually became complacent and felt that loyal customers would purchase anything they manufactured. Both P&G and GM were unable to make a comeback once the competition overtook them, and both companies experienced slow declines that were thirty years in the making. And now, the once-unthinkable has happened: GM is in bankruptcy, and P&G only has one soap left on the air (which itself will soon be cancelled).

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All the soap honchos since the mid-90s have been in a mode which drags their shows down. Not just P&G, but also those at ABC, and in recent years, Sony. I don't know if they are all trying to get their shows canceled, but I don't know if it was a great conspiracy by any of them, including P&G.

P&G stood very solidly for a way of life which began to fall apart in the 70s, and they struggled to adapt. ATWT and GL did adapt (I don't count AW because AW was in its own little universe, in its years of success it was not a show where a Hughes or Bauer type of family were at center stage), and managed to outlive many other soaps from their era which would have died off. I don't believe they just wanted their shows dead starting in 1994. If they did then they would have been off by now.

The death of EON had more to do with poor choices in timeslots and then when they moved to ABC, death by affiliate.

I think the people who knew and understood soaps left P&G in the mid-90s. I also think that MADD, who did have some success to her credit at ABC, was a horrible, wretched, terrible boss who did a lot to hasten the demise of all the P&G soaps.

I think your GM analogy would work if the P&G soaps were the ONLY soaps which were near extinction. The entire current genre is near extinction.

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1994 was the year Ed Trach retired as PGP's Executive In Charge of Production I believe, Marland died in 1993, and 1993 was also the last full year Nancy Curlee remained at GL.

I think these losses, coupled with PGP's EP shuffling in 1995 was deeply problematic for all these shows. I think it was definitely the beginning of the end for the PGP soaps. They became worse and worse after this, albeit there were some brief moments of goodness, but it wasn't sustainable.

Starting in the early 80's, AW was always the most problematic PGP soap behind the scenes, it seemed to get a new EP and HW every year, until Swajeski, but even her time at AW wasn't comparable to the renaissance AW's sister shows were experiencing at the same time, the show continued with these backstage turnovers until its death. ATWT and GL weren't immune, but they were slightly more stable than AW during the 80's and 90's.

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Carl, I still feel the GM analogy is a very good one for yet another reason: while both the auto industry and the soap genre are experiencing major difficulties, GM and P&G are at the very bottom of the pack.

GM cannot attribute its current state solely to the fact that the auto industry is in tough times. Otherwise, how would that explain the fact that Ford is in so much better shape? Similarly, P&G cannot excuse its last place performance by stating it is the result of a declining soap genre. Although the genre itslef is clinging for life, one wonders why P&G is still in so much worse shape than Bell, Corday, and ABC.

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Carl, I still feel the GM analogy is a very good one for yet another reason: while both the auto industry and the soap genre are experiencing major difficulties, GM and P&G are at the very bottom of the pack.

GM cannot attribute its current state solely to the fact that the auto industry is in tough times. Otherwise, how would that explain the fact that Ford is in so much better shape? Similarly, P&G cannot excuse its last place performance by stating it is the result of a declining soap genre. Although the genre itslef is clinging for life, one wonders why P&G is still in so much worse shape than Bell, Corday, and ABC.

I don't think they are. I agree P&G soaps are in pathetic shape compared to what they once were, but for the current genre, their ratings are close to on par with all the ABC soaps. ATWT and GL also aren't known for going overbudget, which has happened to AMC and GH over and over. Y&R is its own success and has been ahead of the other soaps by a wide margin for many years, and B&B benefits from that success. DAYS itself was nearly cancelled several times, and is now breathing slightly easier because of a much needed cast cull and bringing in a stronger guiding hand.

I think they are in a worse position in terms of cancellation because CBS does not own the shows. ABC owns their shows full out, which means the poor ratings aren't as much of a concern for them.

I think Y&R is the only success on daytime at the moment, although the people in charge seem to be bound and determined to wreck it.

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ATWT and GL also aren't known for going overbudget, which has happened to AMC and GH over and over

Guiding Light went overbudget when John Conboy was around. I don't think we'd have the neutered production model now if it wasn't for him.

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Don't forget that in pop culture, older is never better.

Right now, we have really some shows born in the 50s (ATWT, GL), in the 60s (GH, DOOL) and in the late 60s/early 70s (AMC, OLTL, Y&R), with one 80s show (B&B).

It's not a perfect association, but the older shows seem slated for cancellation sooner than the younger shows. (I realize GH kind of messes up that relationship...but partly that's because the show was reinvented TWICE...once in the early 80s...once in the early 90s; I also realize DOOL may have more life in her than she seemed to).

When soaps were in their heyday, each next generation apparently wanted shows that spoke to her generation. Hence, the old gave way to the new. (Nowhere does it seem this was more strategically done than at CBS).

ATWT/GL = Lawrence Welk

GH/DOOL = Elivs

AMC/OLTL/Y&R = Beatles

B&B = Madonna

Those aren't perfect cultural matches, but you get the point.

When you look at it that way, you sort of can see what happened. Things just age "out of style" and out of the culture.

The fact that no successor has survived post-1987 is an indictment on the relevance of the whole genre. We EXPECT old cultural products to die (and maybe be remembered as "classics"). We also expect new cultural products. And that is where daytime has failed.

At least NBC and ABC kept trying through the 90s! CBS gave up in 1987! Unfortunately, P&G soaps since the AW cancellation have more or less been stuck with CBS...the network that gave up.

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The fact that no successor has survived post-1987 is an indictment on the relevance of the whole genre. We EXPECT old cultural products to die (and maybe be remembered as "classics"). We also expect new cultural products. And that is where daytime has failed.

At least NBC and ABC kept trying through the 90s! CBS gave up in 1987! Unfortunately, P&G soaps since the AW cancellation have more or less been stuck with CBS...the network that gave up.

I don't think CBS gave up. I think CBS believed that due to past success soaps would continue to thrive with multi-generational audiences. You have to remember, CBS has throughout the history of television, ranked as number one more times that ABC and NBC (probably combined too). With that concept, it gives them the idea that by creating a smart lineup like they did in 1987, Y&R would continue to thrive, B&B would collect from that and it would all filter out through ATWT and GL. Unfortunately, the unexpected happened in the mid-90s and they were unable to overcome that. They did try. If CBS gave up, Guiding Light would have ended in 1999. CBS has always had a very dominant and intelligent lineup.

ABC and NBC kept trying because they had so many failures. The new comers always want to outdo the old guard. That is what ABC and NBC did for years. ABC gave up in 2003 and NBC gave up when Santa Barbara was canceled.

I personally always felt that if ABC didn't buy out Ryan's Hope and destroyed it, the show would be on the air today. Remember, it was ABC's first soap to win the award for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing twice and four times respectively before GH even won best show in the early 80s. Had RH never been moved and canceled, ABC's daytime lineup would be exactly as it was in 1978:

12:30 Ryan's Hope

1:00 All My Children

2:00 One Life to Live

3:00 General Hospital

Just as CBS' has remained unchanged since 1987. However, CBS knew they had a show that could potentially become successful and they were right. B&B has been number 2 since 1999. ABC on the other hand couldn't let Ryan's Hope just continue on the way Labine and Mayer wanted.

Also, with the success of Y&R in the early 80s, ABC would have been smart to do this:

12:30: All My Children

1:30: Ryan's Hope

2:00: One Life to Live

3:00: General Hospital

We should remember AMC was the second highest rated soap throughout most of the 1980s and all of the early 90s. That would have caused a lot of shake ups for Y&R and CBS.

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I also want to add some things in regard to how P&G went from first to last place:

When soaps began, it was the infancy of television.

Search for Tomorrow was number one for about 4 years, Guiding Light was number one for about 2 years. As the World Turns was number one for nearly 20 years. We must remember, this was the infancy of television. We must also remember that for most of As the World Turns' run as number 1, ran unchallenged. The P&G soaps, for the most part were the first. They had their formulas. They had their writer's, who of course branched out and created their own soaps, Agnes Nixon and Bill Bell. Their influences were deeply rooted in their own creations which defined a new age of soaps. We now would have One Life to Live in 1968, All My Children in 1970 and The Young and the Restless in 1973. Restrictions Nixon and Bell may have faced at P&G may not have surfaced at their new shows as they really had the creative control to write as they wanted. With newer soaps becoming more popular, the older P&G soaps would face a handicap which would hinder their continuing success. They would have to make some changes to their shows which could have really hurt their shows respective identities. Doug Marland stayed true to As the World Turns. Pam Long did not with Guiding Light. We should note that under Pam Long, GL really thrived as a top soap on CBS during the 1980s. ATWT which had a creative renaissance, did not come close to number 1 as GL did in the 1980s. The opposite effect could take place here. With GL, moving away from the core of the show and introducing new characters and rich storylines worked for that time, but eventually had long term repercussions. ATWT stayed true to it's identity and although it didn't attain close to number 1 again, it remained consistent and as GL would fall in the 1990s, ATWT wouldn't as much. In a sea of soaps embracing new ideas, it made it harder for the older dramas to keep up. P&G did, however, they were able to keep up a strong fight. They may not have remained number 1, but nothing lasts forever. I personally think the only way to keep a soap on top today is to stick with it's central questions, the main theme it's creator introduced and mix that into themes that are popular today.

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Lots of insightful posts here.

Also, with the success of Y&R in the early 80s, ABC would have been smart to do this:

12:30: All My Children

1:30: Ryan's Hope

2:00: One Life to Live

3:00: General Hospital

We should remember AMC was the second highest rated soap throughout most of the 1980s and all of the early 90s. That would have caused a lot of shake ups for Y&R and CBS.

I never understood why ABC did not shift its soap line up to take on Y&R head on. Perhaps the affiliates were the problem. I have always thought that it was smart to start the soaps at 12:30 p.m. in the middle of the lunch hour. I think that this is one main reasons that Y&R has been able to hold on to more its audience than other soaps. When I was in college, the tv in the lounge area was always on Y&R during lunch so you were forced to watch it even if you got there around 1:00 p.m. It was only after Y&R was over, could we then insist on switching it to ABC to catch the 2nd half of AMC.

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ATWT/GL = Lawrence Welk

GH/DOOL = Elivs

AMC/OLTL/Y&R = Beatles

B&B = Madonna

It's terrifying how much sense this makes.

I don't understand why it's "how did they lose their way", as opposed to "its time has passed". I know we all are trained to believe from an early age these shows will last forever - but really, this is the only TV-show (besides the news) that people believe that about. What made anybody think P&G soaps would last forever in the first place????

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GH was a very conservative show in its early years. I think DOOL had more in common with the psychosexual acid trip atmosphere of the mid/late 60s than Elvis. I think the more brazen and unique shows of the 50s and 60s, aside from Dark Shadows, that were different for daytime and could have shaken it up didn't have success, didn't change soaps the way Elvis shook up music,. Y&R was also very different in tone from OLTL or AMC. Both of those shows had their share of young love but also social relevance and (OLTL) racial integration. I would put Y&R more along the lines of the pop/soft rock era of the early/mid 70s, Carpenters, Carly Simon, etc.

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