I get a huge amount of Email in any given week. Through talking with many users of the site, I've learned that I often receive more Email in one day than most people receive in a month! It's through all of this communication that I've gotten an inside look at the typical soap opera fan. Unless you want to argue that soapcentral.com visitors aren't average...
It's a safe assumption that almost everyone who visits the SOC site is a fan of soap operas. Some users watch just one soap while other watch nearly all of them. That's an incredible nine hours of soaps each and every day! Then, there are some fans who, for one reason or another, cannot keep in tune with their favorite soaps.
Of those fans that watch their favorite soaps religiously, I find that a good three-quarters send off some sort of grumble about their show at one point or another. Some of the complaints are about slow moving storylines, loud background music, a dislike for a particular character or even complaints about the time a particular soap airs. But above all else, fans seem to want to have a say or influence in the way their soaps' plots unfold.
"If I were a writer," said one recent message I found in my Email box, "I'd scrap all the storylines and start over." It sounds like a good idea in theory, but would anyone really watch a soap that had no history or plot intricacies. I think that it's this reason that so many of the newer soaps have failed; it's not that the writing or performers are bad, it's just that many people don't have the years to invest into a show before it takes off. A recent Soap Opera Central poll seems to confirm this statement. Only a scant 11% of all poll applicants have been watching soaps for less than 15 years. The remaining 89% indicated that they've been watching soaps for, one average, 27 years!
Days of our Lives opened a new can of worms this week with the introduction of a fan-picked storyline. Fans of that show were told that they could choose which of two men fathered another character's child. The voting took place on the Internet and, from all the word I've heard, raked in thousands and thousands of votes. After the voting concluded, the writers busily worked on writing a storyline based upon the fans' choice. Now the level of input that the fans have had is misleading --- at least I think so. The writers had already laid the groundwork for whatever decision was made. It wasn't as if the viewers could have picked a character from another soap or Brad Pitt or President Clinton. So regardless of the decision made, the writers had to have already had ideas in their heads if not on paper.
So that brings about the question of whether or not fans should be given the chance to directly influence major storylines on a more radical basis. To that, I have a one-word reply: NO!
First, soap operas are extremely limited by what can be altered on the spot. The shows are taped and take about three weeks to be edited and become ready for the air. Because of the huge amount of time, it's just not feasible for fans to be able to greatly change storylines.
One thing I've noticed is that soap opera fans really like to have things their way. I cannot begin to count the number of messages I've received from fans who state that they will stop watching a given soap if X doesn't happen. Those same fans write back a few months later --- still watching the shows, I must note --- with another complaint. I understand fully how frustrating certain aspects of certain storylines can be... we've all be there. However, the ease at which people "threaten" to quit watching soap operas troubles me. It's my belief that if fans had it their way, storylines would be flying by at breakneck speed and there'd no longer be a reason to "tune in tomorrow."
Like it or not, the writers hired to write soaps are extremely competent. Sure, they make a few mistakes here and there. Haven't we all been in this situation --- maybe choosing the wrong outfit to wear to a party? And maybe we don't always like what they come up with for storylines, but we can't always like everything that's thrown our way. It's not an easy job writing so many episodes --- primetime shows film maybe 20 shows per year (and that's being generous). Soaps produce five shows a week nearly every week of the year!
To say that I do not want fans to be able to control the storylines is not to say that I don't think we're an incredibly creative and inventive bunch. I've patrolled the message boards on Soap Opera Central and I have seen some excellent ideas for storylines. If I may be so bold, I've even had a few of my own from time to time. Fans of soaps need to remember that the shows are entertainment; they strive for perfection just as any other program does. Soaps try to remain believable, but they also need to have creative license in order to keep us tuning in day after day. As for fans of soap operas, we need to remain patient and allow the writers to work their magic. Our relationship with the soaps is typical of any soap opera relationship. Maybe we're unfaithful on occasion and watch a talk show or another soap. Maybe we get jealous because a particular character isn't on as much as we'd like or a storyline seems to be getting more attention than another. In the end, though, we love our soaps and we have to be willing to stick it out --- for better or worse, in good times and in bad.
Dan J Kroll