Cheaper Clothes And Shorter Stories: On Soaps, Strange 'Days' Indeed

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It's not easy being one of the last soaps standing, as Neda Ulaby reports on today's Morning Edition. For fans, the shuttering of iconic shows like All My Children and Guiding Light has upended routines that, for some, date back to childhood. When I was in high school, my soap of choice was Days Of Our Lives, which Neda says has changed a lot since that era — well, it's changed and it hasn't.

Kristian Alfonso, who talks in the piece about the impact of stopping every day in wardrobe and seeing the clothes go from designer to off-the-rack, has been playing Hope Williams Brady (with some breaks while Hope was falsely believed to be dead) since 1983. Next year, that will be 30 years. Thirty years. She and Bo were a "supercouple" when I was 16, and they still are.

But despite all that continuity, Days has had to adapt in ways that go beyond the clothing budget. Writer Marlene McPherson tells Neda that story arcs used to stretch out for up to a year, and if you ever watched the "Marlena's demonic possession" or "Cruise Of Deception" stories, you know what she's talking about. Now, they try to wrap things up in shorter chunks. It's interesting that as nighttime television finds more space for long stories and serialization, soaps have to move faster to stay alive.

At least one of those adaptations seems very positive, though: Sarah Brown (who I didn't even know was on Days Of Our Lives now; I think of her as Carly from General Hospital, because I am years behind) says that you no longer have to stand around explaining everything that happened yesterday, partly because the show now assumes that people who are confused because they missed something can hop online and figure it out. It's been a while since I watched, but this hopefully means less of people staring out of windows and talking to themselves.

The economics that are affecting daytime soaps are a spin on the economics affecting the rest of television: more competition, cheaper shows (particularly personality-driven talk shows), different audience habits that make live viewing less likely and delayed viewing more likely ... it's an environment that's already killed off several giants with decades of history.

As we've talked about in this space before, soaps are easy to make fun of until you realize that for years, they inspired loyalty from viewers that your average high-profile prime-time show would envy. As Days producer Ken Corday says, and as Agnes Nixon talked about when All My Children was ending, daytime also used to have a role in breaking social taboos, though it's diminished with time.

For now, Days is on through the fall of 2013, when its contract will run out and we'll learn whether those sands are going to keep sprinkling down through that hourglass or not. Until then, fans still have ... well, Hope.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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