Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From the land of soap research

Just read Barbara J. Irwin's 1990 dissertation, "An Oral History of a Piece of Americana: The Soap Opera Experience,” which I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't seen before. It's a valuable document, full of material from her interviews with many soap industry folks, including now late greats like Bill Bell and Doug Marland. But I wanted to share a couple of quotes, and contrast them with something more recent, from network daytime execs:

From Judy Jenkins, Director of CBS Daytime:
"Our job is to allow art to happen. To protect and nurture and allow art to happen . . . " (p. 177)

From Jackie Smith, head of NBC daytime, and former VP of ABC Daytime:
"My job is not to think of it too much as a business. I have millions of people around me reminding me of the money and the ratings. My business is to think of it as creative. I'm being paid not to think so much about the other things. To be aware of them, but to really think about creating a novel and helping those people that are working, writing, and producing these shows to be more creative than they might be on their own . . ." (175-76)

Contrast these with this from Brian Frons, currently head of Disney-ABC Daytime, from a 3/31/08 Broadcasting & Cable article:

“I want to look at our business as a studio business,” says Disney-ABC Daytime President Brian Frons, who oversees the daytime shows, Soapnet and the Buena Vista studio. The division produces some 1,000 hours of original programming per year, including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Ebert & Roeper.

“Our job is to get as many people watching us as possible—daytime, Soapnet, international. It's a more holistic revenue-driven model and gives people the confidence to know we're sticking around. Advertisers do like having this platform to reach women on an efficient basis, so they need to know that.”

I know, I know, different contexts --Frons was speaking to an industry trade paper while Jenkins and Smith were speaking to an academic--but I found the differences in perspective quite striking nonetheless. Is it possible that the network execs responsible for daytime have abandoned all investment in creativity, art, storytelling in exchange for a a focus on "holistic revenue-driven models"? How much might conglomeration have to do with this (e.g. Frons is now a Disney exec managing a number of brands rather than a network employee responsible for a daypart)?

Even more sad? Irwin's interview with then and now Days of Our Lives executive producer Ken Corday about the future of daytime -- again, from 1990, folks:

"There is a law of diminishing returns here, and the handwriting is on the wall . . . I would say, in my heart, I hope it's on 25 more years, but realistically speaking, I can't believe it's going to make it that long. I can't believe there's going to be a market for soap operas in 20 years, or even in ten years, that there is today . . ." (191)

We're at about 18 years since Corday said this. Like sand through the hourglass . . .

No comments: