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1975 NY Times article on the state of Soaps


Paul Raven

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Cathy Craig was a teen‐ager who experimented with drugs and was cured of her incipient habit at Odyssey House. She went on to become a reporter for her hometown newspaper, the Llanview Banner, and wrote a nationally syndicated article telling nice people what to do when they get venereal disease. She turned some of her newspaper experiences into a best‐selling book of short stories that won feminist praise. She has borne a child with‐ out a husband but is enthusiastic about being a “single parent” rather than an “unmarried mother.” On a national television talk show, she looked meaningfully down at her bulging belly and asked the interviewer, Melba Tolliver, to call her “Ms.”

Cathy Craig is not a real‐life feminist but a character in a soap opera, ABC's “One Life Live.” Its recipe for dramatic entertainment includes a large dose of realism, ranging from reallife drug treatment centers like Odyssey House real‐life television personalities like Melba Tolliver. It makes quite a contrast with the classical canon Of daytime television drama embodied in CBS's “As the World Turns.”

There, in the town of Oakdale, Kim Dixon is still punishing herself for one night of love years ago with her sister's husband, Bob. Their briet encounter made her pregnant and she married the devious Dr. John Dixon to give her baby a name. She lost the baby and tried to leave John, but he blackmailed her into staying by threatening to reveal the father's identity to her sister, Jennifer. Kim talks about it, not on national television but with her friendly minister, after praying for divine guidance. Finally Kim tells her sister and finds that Jennifer knew all along because Bob had babbled the secret in a delirium after being hit by a car. Jennifer, loving her sister and her husband, had forgiven both. Kim decides to leave John. When she tells him, he falls downstairs chasing her and has to be hospitalized for his injuries. Kim agrees to stay with him until he gets well, not knowing that he is delaying his recovery, consciously or unconsciously, in order to keep her.

The contrast between the two programs shows that what James Thurber once called “Soapland,” like American society as a whole, is torn between the need to keep up with changing realities and the desire to stick to tried‐and‐true formulas that have never expressed reality—to tell it like it isn't. The search for relevance has led daytime drama to deal with social issues like drugs, venereal disease and the Vietnam war, to take feminist positions on questions like abortion and women working, and to bring blacks and ethnics into the WASP population of Soapland.

Of course, only some soap operas make such efforts to keep abreast of change, and they do it only some of the time. Soapland as a whole has little resemblance to the America of the nineteen‐seventies. The old‐fashioned, classical canon, which is still dominant, sounds unreal even in terms of the America of the nineteen‐thirties, when the form was invented on radio, or the nineteenfifties, when it was translated to television.

Some people believe that this never‐never land is truly the fantasy of American women, presuming that the fantasy of American men is the violent world of Kojak, Cannon and Harry O—the world of nighttime television. Victoria Wyndham, who plays Rachel on NBC's “Another World.” says, “The majority of letters I get are from women whose lives are simple to the point of dreariness. They are lonely. They want to see beautiful clothes and houses, the story of a girl who had nothing and gets everything, not a bunch of Archie Bunkers.”

Other daytime TV people add that the fantasy includes an unbelievable number of handsome, available men who drop in at 2 in the afternoon to talk over their problems with the women they know. An actress who once quit a soap because she thought it refused to face reality has since been converted to the belief that audiences “really want petty intrigue, the titillation they can't find in real life. People's lives are so traumatic they don't want to turn on the TV and be preached to.”

Change and constancy, realism and fantasy all testify that, soap operas make up one of the main currents of American culture. So does their appeal to some of the feminists who have done so much to start society on the road to change. Some like the new ideas in daytime drama and don't like to see anything that appeals to millions of women treated as a joke. Further testimony can be found in the soaps' appeal to college students, professors and psychiatrists, and in the employment and training that the soaps give to scores of actors who also do “serious” films and theater.

The clinching evidence comes from the figures.

There are 14 soaps now on the air, watched each weekday by 20 million to 30 million people. Although each soap has been half an hour long since 1956, “Another World” recently expanded to an hour and “Days of Our Lives” will follow suit next month—possibly initiating a trend the others will follow. The average program is 6.7 million viewers according to the A. C. Nielsen research organization, and the number is growing as recession keeps more and more unemployed people at home. More than 11 per cent of the viewers are men. The households break down economically and educationally in proportions similar to the population as I whole—51.4 per cent with household incomes under $10,000, for instance, and 23.9 per cent with incomes over $15,000. About 24.8 per cent of household heads have only an elementary school education, while 56.2 per cent have a high‐school education or better. The 14 serials cost more than $50‐million a year to produce; actors make a minimum of $211 per half‐hour show and go up to a maximum of $100,000 a year, while a writer makes a minimum of $310 a show, and a good head writer makes $3,000 a week after paying his subwriters. The programs gross more than $300‐million a year from the makers of soaps, deodorants, cake mixes and other household products, providing a disproportionate share of network profits though nighttime budgets are much larger.

This money pays for an art form the prime goal of which is dramatic entertainment, whether it mixes realism in with its fantasy or keeps the fantasy pure. Paul Rauch, once a vice president at CBS and now producer of “Another World” at NBC, refuses to admit that classical soap opera is fantasy, however. He worked in the Midwest for 10 years—for Proctor & Gamble, which sponsors six daytime dramas—and insists that his program truly reflects middle‐class, Middle‐West culture. Its characters are realistic, believable, do things that a lot of the viewing public do.”

In the reflection of reality on “Another World,” only four of the 14 women characters have jobs, only one of them because she needs the money she earns. Sex is frequent enough but seldom talked about, and social issues are seldom mentioned. The real Midwest has other dimensions. In Peoria, the stereotype of Middle America and a real town about the same size as the program's fictional Bay City, women have moved from secretarial to assembly‐line jobs at Caterpillar Tractor and have taken over the leadership of the airline clerks' union local. They have set up an abortion clinic despite determined opposition and have created an atmosphere in which an elementary schoolteacher can appear on television to talk about her abortion and her husband's vasectomy.

Even the liberated characters on socially conscious soap operas don't go that far. Two have had legal abortions in order to pursue their careers —the kind of development that has become a symbol of the new relevance in Soapland. Erica Kane, the bitchcharacter of ABC's “All My Children,” had television's first legal abortion in May, 1971, so that her pregnancy would not interfere with her plans to work as a model. The writers presumed that Middle America would be shocked, and Erica was duly punishedby getting septicemia from the abortion. Susan Lucci, who plays the role, says her fan mail contradicted the presumption of shock; she got letters applauding her decision and urging Erica to take the modeling job despite the objections of her then husband. The Catholic Youth Organization, on the other hand, withdrew an invitation to Miss Lucci to preside at a prizegiving ceremony.

Planned Parenthood activists expressed disappointment that the Soapland abortion trail was blazed by an unsympathetic character. They were placated when Cathy Phillips, the young heroine on “Search for Tomorrow,” had a legal abortion because a child would have interfered with her career as a lawyer. Then she quit her job in a small law firm because she was getting only menial legal tasks while her husband, with no better qualifications, was given more important work. Her husband was shocked at first but later came to approve her decisions in both cases.

The most significant thing about this example of the new kind of soap opera may be that it occurred on “Search for Tomorrow,” which started 23 years ago and is the oldest soap opera on screen. The classical canon reasserted itself over Soapland feminism, however, when Cathy left her husband because he had had an affair with a woman he later defended on a murder charge, and because he refused to tell his client that the affair was over lest it send her off her mental rails while she was still in jail.

“One Life to Live,” which seems the most consistently innovative soap opera, has a recurring feminist story line in the adventures of Cathy Craig. Dorrie Kavanaugh, who plays Cathy, feels that the program has not gone far enough, even though she regards it as the best on the air from the feminist view point. She says the best script she has been given was her childbirth sequence, alone in a snowbound resort cottage with a male newspaper colleague. When he sees her in pain, he says, “Be a brave girl.” Between deep contractions, she replies indignantly, “Don't call me a girl! I'm a woman.”

Miss Kavanaugh is only half pleased that Cathy could go to bed with another male character, Joe Riley, without being in love with him. “Before, we couldn't say ‘Yes,’ now we can't say ‘No,’” she commented. “That has nothing to do with human liberation. play a character as though she's liberated, but she's 28, she lives with her parents, she went to bed with a man once in her life and got pregnant—is that liberated?”

Illicit sex does not always result in pregnancy on today's soap operas, or even in the overpowering guilt and insanity that used to be the standard alternatives. Elizabeth Hubbard, who plays Dr. Althea Hamilton Davis Bellini Morrison on “The Doctors,” objected to that trio of classical consequences, and jokes that the writers gave Althea a different punishment for her sins: she had to undergo psychoanalysis twice.

Paul Rauch, producer of “Another World,” interprets this change by saying his characters “are too intelligent to get knocked up.” The program is not so liberated that the characters mention contraceptives on the air, however. The word “contraceptives” was actually uttered last December on “How to Survive a Marriage.” A character who practices yoga and eats health foods was complaining that her husband insisted on her using contraceptives so she wouldn't have the baby that she wanted and he didn't. The word “intercourse” followed shortly thereafter on the same program, when gynecologist Max Cooper told a married character to stop having it because there were complications in her seven‐month

Sex has even begun to be seen on screen as well as mentioned in the new kind of daytime drama. Last fall, Nick Davis and his former wife, Ann Tyler Davis Martin, reuniting after many vicissitudes on “All My Children,” fell into an embrace in which he unzipped the back of her dress down to her waist in a very convincing show of passion that was more heated in the final taping than it had been in rehearsal. It threw the network censor into a passion of another kind, but the ultimate decision was that it was not a grave enough violation to warrant the expense of retailing. All these changes add up to the fact that people are managing to have unmarried sex with minimal consequences on at least four soaps, a dozen years after the start of the sexual revolution in real life.

Racial attitudes are also changing, a dozen years after the peak of the civil‐rights movement. Many programs have one or two black characters to put the networks' employment of actors in compliance with Federal law. “One Life to Live” has gone one step further by making its black characters really important in the story line. Ed Hall, a black police lieutenant, has been written out temporarily because the actor who played him, Al Freeman Jr., went to Hollywood. He will be replaced. Ellen Holly, who plays his wife, likes the Ed Hall role because it calls for a black who comes on like Cary Grant instead of the macho gangsters — like Superfly who have become models for black children. Miss Holly has been described as a mixture of three racial strains, and there was no doubt that she could pass for white when the story called for it. In the process of deciding to admit she was black, she had romantic involvements that required her to kiss first a white man and then a black, making a Southern red‐neck equally ndignant about both when he wrote in to protest. Usually, daytime drama shows only two or three blacks in an all‐white world, and their problems tend to be classified as human rather than racial. The amount of realism remains a matter of dispute.

“One Life to Live” also tries for a greater degree of realism in having an important set of characters who are both bluecollar and ethnic, whereas most soap operas merely drop in an occasional Italian or Jewish name to add what is thought to be a desirable touch of the exotic. “One Life” also had a Jewish‐Christian marriage (until the Jewish husband “died”) with one‐liners about Christmas and Hanukkah.

The blue‐collar couple on this program also provide something else that is a rarity in the old‐fashioned kind of soap‐opera humor. It tends toward slapstick, as In a scene in which they test a water bed when they set out to buy furniture for their new home. But even the middle‐class WASP's in “One Life” are capable of wit by Soapland standards. Joe Riley is painting the carriage house that he and Victoria Lord Riley Burke Riley are remodeling. When Vicki applauds his work, Joe says, “Michelangelo, eat your heart out!” She deadpans, “I thought he only did ceilings.”

“One Life to Live” and “All My Children” were both created by a woman who cheerfully takes credit for much of daytime drama's new willingness to face social issues—Agnes Eckhardt Nixon. She attributes her penchant for realism to the fact that she is a Bryn Mawr, Pa., housewife who raised four children while pursuing her lucrative career at home, whereas other writers inhabit the fantasyprone worlds of New York and Hollywood.

Mrs. Nixon's first effort to sneak a solid issue into the interstices of TV serials came more then 10 years ago, when she was working for Procter & Gamble on “The Guiding Light.” A friend of hers had died of cancer, so Mrs. Nixon sent a character, Bert Bauer, for her first checkup in years. She turned out to have uterine cancer, and the doctor gave her a very plausible lecture on the need for a semiannual Pap smear. Despite objections from P&G and CBS and orders not to use words like “cancer,” “uterus” or “hysterectomy,” the story went on for six months. Several viewers wrote to say they were alive thanks to hysterectomies following medical examinations they would never have had if they had not watched “Guiding Light.”

Mrs. Nixon likes to introduce into her soaps not only such relevant issues but scenes and people from real life. One of her favorites was the Odyssey House sequence when Cathy Craig went for her drug cure on “One Life to Live.” Doris Quinlan, the producer of “One Life,” still speaks proudly of that story. The show spent five days on location at the real Odyssey House in 1970. The cameras shot Cathy with the black and Puerto Rican youths there, and the writers spread the footage over a summer's worth of episodes intended to deliver the message to young people home from school or college. Actors on the show speak of the excitement in the fan mail of that period, and the ratings went up slightly. (Ratings have actually gone down when other soaps showed less realistic drug sequences.) Amy Levitt, who then played Cathy, says the management thought the Odyssey House youngsters interfered with the entertainment values of the show. She resented what she regarded as a diversion of the story from the ghetto kids to a blue‐eyed, blond hero with whom Cathy was made to fall in love. Miss Quinlan says, however, the sequence lasted its natural life, ending at the same time as the summer and the Odyssey House footage.

A venereal‐disease sequence followed some time later. Dr. Larry Wolek spoke on the subject at Llanview High. which made it only natural for Cathy, his stepniece, to write an article on the subject for The Banner. wrote the “article” herself from research with William D. Schwartz of the Communicable Disease Center of the U.S. Public Health Service in Atlanta. Mrs. Nixon says that more than six thousand people wrote to ABC for copies of the article—an enormous response, especially considering the fact that “One Life” subordinated the V.D. theme to the continuing, disease‐free romances that are the living matter of all soap operas.

There was another huge response to the first episode of a child‐abuse sequence that Mrs. Nixon introduced into the one serial she still controls, “All My Children.” She had Ann Tyler Davis Martin get involved with COPE, modeled on a real Philadelphia organization called CAPE, for Child Abuse Prevention Effort. The Philadelphia station carrying the program ran a “ribbon” across the bottom of the screen advising viewers to call CAPE for information. There were 46 responses, remarkable for a one‐station effort, including one from an abusing parent asking for help.

Mrs. Nixon put the ultimate contemporary reality into “All My Children” with three sequences related to Vietnam. When the program went on the air five years ago, it generated publicity about a character called Amy who belonged to the peace movement. Some viewers thought the sequence was a cop‐out because tight budgets prevented the dramatizing of antiwar demonstrations, and there was little more than talk about Amy's activities. Rosemary Prinz, who played Amy, went off the show to fulfill other commitments and was not replaced, though replacement is a common practice. Mrs. Nixon bristles at the charge of copout. She followed Amy's departure with a sequence about the return of a Vietnam P.O.W., and she drafted Phillip sent him to Vietnam. Last year, “Children” reconstructed a Vietnamese village on the banks of the Connecticut River for a story line involving Phillip and two Vietnamese, a woman who cared for him and a man who had lost his legs in a bombing. Both Vietnamese characters were played by Vietnamese.

“All My Children” and the other socially conscious soaps remain dramatic entertainment, of course, full of the romantic fantasy that keeps the audience coming back for more. Erica Kane of “Children” was recently carted off to be treated for the delusion that she was pregnant when in fact she had had a miscarriage (as all the audience saw). Erica's pregnancy had turned her from a bitch into a cloyingly happy housewife. Her return to Soapland “reality” may also mean a return to bitchery and a breakup husband.

Soap operas can do such things because their action never ends, but runs on from day to day. They are serials, and in both the new liberated and the old classical soaps, the charac tern, like those in serials by Charles Dickens, are much more important than the plot. They live in their emotions, and their conflicts are more psychological than physical. They can succeed or fail. They can change jobs, spouses, personalities. They can develop. They can die. That gives them a family resemblance to the characters of “David Copperfield” and “Pickwick Papers.” It makes them different from the characters of nighttime television. Can Mannix die? Can Kojak take a bribe? Can Cannon sleep with one of those charming women for whom he meals?

Alas, no. But equally unthinkable things do come to pass on daytime drama. Soapland is full of female villains. The nastiest and most celebrated in recent years has been Rachel Davis Matthews Clark Frame of “Another World.” She caused Stephen Frame's current wife, Alice, to flee Bay City twice rather than face the tactics by which Rachel sought to recapture Steve. Victoria Wyndham, who plays Rachel, has been adding dimensions to her character since she took the role three years ago. Rachel is no longer merely a girl who turned bitchy because she grew up poor and fatherless. She is now visibly capable of real affection and love, and her marto wealthy older man has impelled her to acquire tastes for Mozart, Matisse and Chateau Margaux. She will undoubtedly get nasty again the next time she is deprived of love. It will be a challenge to Miss Wyndham and to Harding Leay, the head writer of “Another World,” to keep the acting and the writing improving then as they have through Rachel's mellowing.

Some of the improvement in daytime drama has no doubt been caused by the infusions of realism. It must be easier to write and act well when some of the more ridiculous contortions of classical soap opera are eliminated. Certainly “As the World Turns,” the least realistic of all soaps, is also the worst theater on the air despite the presence of such genuine acting talents as Henderson Forsythe and Eileen Fulton. Their abilities cannot overcome the show's lethal combination of woodenness and melodrama. The formula apparently works, however, because “As the World Turns” is the most popular daytime serial on the air, with more than 10 million viewers and a 37 per cent share of all television sets

Watching “As the World Turns” provides a good view of the classical conventions of soap opera, which used to be as rigid as those that governed Greek tragedy. The prime convention is the centering of each soap on two or three families. As the Athenians knew the house of Atreus and the house of Laius, so the viewers of “As the World Turns” know the Hugheses and the Stewarts. Grandpa Hughes was a farmer, his son Chris is a lawyer, Chris's son Bob is a doctor, and Bob's son Tom is a young lawyer. Judge Lowell is the grandfather of Ellen Stewart, whose husband David is a doctor, as is their son, Dan. Dan Stewart has two daughters, so the audience has come to know five generations of Stewarts and four of Hugheses. (This is possible because soap‐opera time is flexible. Children can be written out for months and return years older, even while it takes half an hour to close a door in a particular episode.) Other characters are either related (Kim Dixon, remember, is the sister of Bob Hughes's wife, Jennifer); divorced (Lisa Miller Hughes Shea was married to Bob long enough to give birth to Tom), or involved (Grant Coleman is Chris Hughes's partner and Dan

One result of this endogamy is that many women in Soapland almost practice polyandry, collecting one husband after another from each of the clans, or choosing a brotherin‐law for a lover instead of the new mailman. That's why so many women characters in this article have multiple family names, one for each husband. Concentrating on a few families helps keep the payroll down and saves the viewer from the strain of having to meet new people too often.

On “As the World Turns,” as on many daytime serials, law and medicine are the most populous professions, in keeping with the fact that most of the people of Soapland are upper‐middle‐class WASP's. Of course, a character who started on the wrong side of the tracks helps show how truly middle‐class everybody is. (This does reflect reality: most people in America label themselves middle‐class.) On “As the World Turns,” this function is fulfilled by Jay Stallings, who grew up rough and now runs a construction company. Jay asks Carol Hughes to help him overcome his deficiencies of taste in furnishing his new office. She objects to a couch but he likes it because “you look at it and you know it's expensive. I want to overwhelm people . . . ” By the program's standards, Jay

“World” follows the classical soap‐opera convention that says women are stronger than men. The women create and solve the majority of problems (like Kim Dixon's incestuous misdeed and her sister's forgiveness). They discern moral imperatives through the dramatic haze and forgive masculine sins. They also provide most of the villainy. Lisa Shea fulfilled this function for years on “World” but, as she grew older, she and the attitudes of the other characters toward her both grew mellower. The villain on the program is now Susan Stewart, Dan's ex‐wife and a doctor herself—and a mother who neglects her child to pursue both her work and her former

Many viewers love to hate these sexually conscious manipulators, and the actresses who play them have been slapped and cursed by strange women in public places. Eileen Fulton, who plays Lisa Shea, was one. Sometimes the reactions are quieter. Susan Lucci, who plays Erica on “All My Children,” was saying her penance after her real‐life confession in a New York church just before Christmas when two fans noticed her alone in the pew. One said, “Good heavens, look! Erica's actually praying.”)

Despite female strength and female villainy, the women are strangely submissive to the men when it comes to the fundamental questions of society, like a married woman's working. On “As the World Turns,” no woman who is living happily with her husband has a job. On “Another World,” Lenore Delaney gave up her job when her husband said she had to choose between the job and him. But the forces of change are at work: It is already obvious that Lenore is headed back to work and her marriage to a breakup, though not necessarily in that order. Paul Rauch, the producer, claims a personal interest in this story line because his marriage broke up partly over his wife's inability to work while they were conforming to Procter & Gamble norms in Cincinnati. ('As the World Turns” is also Procter & Gamble, and four of the six P&G soap operas seem to me to be the least realistic of the 14 on the air, with the least liberation for Just as the god issued from the machine to resolve crises in Greek drama, so trauma and catastrophe leap from the forehead of the writer to shift plots in soap opera. Soapland trauma no longer runs to epidemics of hysterical blindness infecting one serial after another, as it did in James Thurber's day, but the medical encyclopedia begins with accidents and amnesia and runs on through exotics like the real syringomyelia and the pseudonymous Ubanda fever. Soap writers love illness, partly because it is so full of dramatic potential for the characters and their friends and families, partly because the audience includes many people in hospitals or at home besick.

Apart from illness, a single copulation on serials like “As the World Turns” usually leads to the trauma of instant pregnancy, as it did with Bob Hughes and Kim Dixon. The rate of illegitimacy in this part of Soapland is still astonishingly high. Abortion is unwelcome. When Lisa Shea was just considering one, actress Eileen Fulton received a letter from an Iowa woman saying, “Don't you dare! If you must lose the baby, fall down the stairs or have a car accident.” In this case, it turned out to be a hysterical pregnancy, and no abortion was necessary.

Crime is another common trauma, usually committed in such a way that an innocent person is charged and must be tried and cleared, as happened last year in “Search for Tomorrow.” The only evils that seldom befall soap characters are those caused by war, politics and economic crisis, but several soaps—including “As the World Turns” —have been making one‐line references recently to high prices and bad business conditions.

“World” also provides some of the best examples of a convention common to both the classical and the modern varieties of serial—the high rate of lies and concealment. Lies can, of course, provide a basic vehicle for conflict. It's just that so many lies on TV seem silly and unnecessary, and are far too easily discovered. Why did Susan Stewart tell her boy friend, for instance, that she was going to do night work in the lab when she was really talking to her ex‐husband about their child? It was hardly an illicit errand, and the lie was discovered in the same half‐hour episode in which it was told—unusually fast action for a soap. Concealment, like Kim's and Jennifer's mutual attempt to hide knowledge of Kim's affair with Jennifer's husband, makes dramatic irony one of the principal techniques of soap opera: the audience knows something that most of the characters don't. The tortuous ways they find out are major ingredients in maintaining suspense from day to day.

If lies and concealment are much more frequent than in real life, the time devoted to work and housework is much less. Nobody goes hungry for lack of money, but you seldom see people really at work, as distinct from talking about work. Doctors carry stethoscopes on “As the World Turns,” but hardly ever use them. Similarly, homes are so clean and neat that a viewer might think every family has a maid—but one never sees anyone make a bed. Exceptions usually provide a motif for a character. Nancy Hughes, the good wife and mother on “As the World Turns,” frequently bakes as she disadvice.

These characteristics may explain why “World” has a much larger proportion of older people in its audience than the average soap opera, and a smaller proportion of young people. Producer Joe Willmore says the demographics are changing, but despite its overall popularity, “World” has a long way to go before it can catch up with “All My Children” and “The Young and the Restless” with younger viewers.

“All My Children” has apparently become the favorite soap opera of college students —despite its realism, rather than because of it. George Forgie taught a seminar on the history of pop culture at Princeton a year ago. At the start, he asked the students what they thought about the syllabus. They told him he had devoted too much of it to “kid culture” and suggested that he include a soap opera because of its mass audience. They voted overwhelmingly for “Children.” Forgie says their motivation turned out to be the appeal of gossip, the desire to get involved with the lives and emotions of people close to their own age and outlook—without having responsibility for them. Susan Lucci, who went down for a session of the seminar, called it “a way of going home again without the pressure of really going home.”

Forgie says that the students expressed a dislike of the social issues on the program, except for women students concerned with women's issues. Yet most were activists concerned with social issues in real life, not victims of the passivity and privatism reportedly widespread on today's campuses. Similar reactions to “Children:’ have been reported from as far afield as Northern Illinois University and U.C.L.A.

University interest, in any case, is part of the evidence that soap opera has achieved a secure place in American culture. Henry F. Schwarz III, an anthropologist at Ohio State University, is sponsoring a conference on “All My Children” jointly with colleagues from the departments of theater and comparative literature in the belief that soap operas may fulfill the same functions for Americans that folk tales do for other peoples—providing models of problem‐solving and behavioral norms. Professors at M.I.T. and Stanford have confessed to being scheduling their classes around it.

This may only be proof of the addictive nature of the art, of course—a possibility noted by adults in various professions who claim that soap opera is mind‐rotting even as they tune in regularly. Dan Wakefield is returning to nonfiction after two best‐selling novels to write a book about “All My Children.” “The best thing about it,” he confesses with a small grin, “is that it makes it legitimate for me to do something I would do anyway.”

Even addictive fantasy has a kind of realism, according to Dr. John R. Lion, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland Medical School. He includes daytime TV drama among the techniques he uses with his patients, along with psychotherapy and psychodrama in which the patients can see themselves afterward on videotape. He believes that soaps enable viewers to see human beings “in a very emotional way, the way they really are,” and recommends them to patients with an “overglamorized view of the

The viewers, of course, have no doubts about the central place of soap operas in their lives. Most of the mail that actors and producers talk about comes from people who have nobody to talk to except the characters they see on the screen. They tend to prefer the old‐fashioned morality of the classical soap and object, for instance, if a character who is a minister drinks a glass of beer on screen. They give high rankings to dramas that stick close to the classical canon, so that “As the World Turns” and “Another World” top the Nielson ratings. The three soaps with the highest proportion of realism in their fantasy ranked fifth, 10th and last on the list of 14 at the end of 1974.

But there is another audience, one that stimulates Soapland to change as American society changes. A poll taken by the Screen Actors Guild in 22 daily newspapers in different parts of the country drew 10,079 responses. More than 86 per cent who responded said they would like to see actresses portraying women in professions. More than 68 per cent said they did not think that the images of women presented on TV were truthful and believable, and more than 85 per cent said they did not identify with women on soap operas. They wanted more realism.

So did the Harlem widow who wrote Lin Bolen, NBC vice president for daytime programs, asking her to keep “How to Survive a Marriage” and “Somerset” on the air despite ratings difficulties ('How to Survive” will be dropped when “Days of Oul Lives” becomes an hour‐long show). Both shows have characters who are widows, and this woman wrote, “Widowhood is one of life's realities. I believe serials must become more contemporary and deal with today's world.” So do a lot of other people, from Agnes Nixon and Dorrie Kavanaugh out to the viewers raising their consciousness in Peoria. They are all ready to keep on bucking the soapopera tradition. ■

 
 

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Edited by Paul Raven
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Excellent!

It hurts my soul to see ATWT and AMC pitted against each other as they often were in articles at this time. It annoys me because we spent so many years complaining of how interchangeable the soaps were and how they no longer had individual identities anymore. There was just no need for ATWT to change its ways because realism and social relevance was the hot thing.

The Odyssey House storyline on OLTL and the Vietnam storyline on AMC are two of the most woefully lost stories. How dare they disrespect the work Agnes and company were doing in the way.

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It seems ironic that P&G owned the six shows but there is no mention of whether the changes in stories effected the sales of P&G products.  There is always so much reported conjecture from P&G about stories but I've never heard if more sex or less violence actually had an impact on sales.  We know the changes in ratings over time but it is still left untold if the soaps have had actual lasting effect on our buying habits.  Did P&G sell more Prell, Draft, or Ivory when Rachel was married or single?  This is the type of marketing research I want to read.

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What an excellent article! Even though there is a clear bias against ATWT 

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The 300 million that soaps brought in revenue, is 1.375 BILLION in 2018 dollars!  

 

I wonder how much revenue the current soaps bring in.

 

 

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4 hours ago, j swift said:

It seems ironic that P&G owned the six shows but there is no mention of whether the changes in stories effected the sales of P&G products.  There is always so much reported conjecture from P&G about stories but I've never heard if more sex or less violence actually had an impact on sales.  We know the changes in ratings over time but it is still left untold if the soaps have had actual lasting effect on our buying habits.  Did P&G sell more Prell, Draft, or Ivory when Rachel was married or single?  This is the type of marketing research I want to read.

So true. We always hear about (in those days) the tons and tons of letters for or against different storylines and characters but never anything about the bottom line. I guess by the 60s/70s, the soap business had been around long enough for TPTB to know that you didn't want it to go any further than letters.

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