The death of soap operas: What does it say about television?

ABC has pulled the plug on the dramas "All My Children" and "One Life To Live" in favor of cheaper, unscripted shows. Here, 5 theories why the change has come

The last of the dying breed: "All My Children" (top) and "One Life To Live" (bottom) have fallen prey to a cultural shift.
(Image credit: Facebook)

ABC announced Thursday that it's pulling the plug on two of its three remaining soap operas, All My Children and One Life to Live. They are being replaced with food-centric chat show The Chew and makeover-themed reality show The Revolution. When One Life to Live goes dark next January, there will only be four English-language daytime soaps left: ABC's General Hospital, NBC's Days of Our Lives, and CBS's The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful. Why is the venerable TV genre dying? Here, five theories:

1. Networks are cheap (and cruel)

It's no coincidence that The Chew and The Revolution are "much less expensive, unscripted programs," says Marshall University's The Parthenon in an editorial. The networks are all ditching daytime dramas with "costly actors, directors, and writers... talented enough to create gripping story lines" week in and week out, claiming the public prefers disposable TV trash. "That's just cold," says Jaime Weinman in Maclean's. Soaps are "among the most immersive and personally involving forms of broadcasting," with lifelong, hardcore fans.

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2. There's better TV out there now

Oh, come on, says Linda Holmes at NPR. A makeover show with Tim Gunn? A foodie show with the "absolutely delightful Top Chef contestant" Carla Hall? This is good stuff. Besides, soap operas have outgrown their usefulness. "There's so much serialized drama on TV that's really good now" that it's hard to justify five-day-a-week melodramas. The shrinking number of stay-at-home women can now "watch reruns of Law & Order on cable," or TiVo, or the internet. Those are options "the first audiences of All My Children and One Life to Live didn't have."

3. Soap isn't advertising on daytime TV anymore

Don't forget why they're called soap operas, says Phil Villarreal in The Consumerist. They were created as "advertising vehicles for cleaning product manufacturers to promote their goods to homemakers," and the final nail in their coffin came when Procter & Gamble decided to scrap soap opera ads in favor of social media efforts. With no sponsors, the soap opera's "time is now slipping away like sands through the hourglass."

4. ABC's making room for Katie Couric

Still, these shows' replacements "sound kind of vague, kind of hastily-assembled, right?" says Megan Angelo in Business Insider. "This is pure speculation, but our first reaction was: This timeslot could go to Katie Couric." She's leaving the CBS evening news, and has been "hinting for weeks that she might move on to a daytime talk show next." It's a good bet that Gunn and Hall are just "keeping her seat warm."

5. "Real life" overtook soaps

The draw of soaps is "becoming immersed in the details and drama of a set of people's lives," says James Poniewozik in TIME. Well, thanks to today's "larger tabloid culture," we can get the same kind of "serial storytelling, personal intrigue, and schadenfreude" by gawking at Lindsay Lohan or Charlie Sheen or "the likes of Kate Gosselin or the Kardashians." Soap operas are "running out of lives to live."

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