During this holiday weekend when the focus is supposed to be on gratitude and giving thanks, social media seems to be buzzing with fans sounding off on how the soap operas (that are left) are letting them down. But there’s a good reason for that — and it has fundamentally had to change the way soaps tell their stories.
Special Report: Why Soap Operas Are Letting You Down
The answer isn’t shocking nor is it revolutionary. Like most things in life, it comes down to money — or a lack of it. Gone are the days when soap operas were cash cows for the network, helping them fund primetime endeavors and the like. Now they are more like money pits, costing more than these entities want to shell out — and it shows.
The biggest constraint is on actor salaries. No one wants to watch their paychecks go down in size as their experience increases. But this phenomenon isn’t unique to soaps — just ask your relatives if they’ve seen their paychecks increase lately.
This has been happening for many years as actor contract negotiations have repeatedly come down to the wire or just plain gone south. Beloved vets make soap operas better but rising salaries make their presence almost impossible. But today’s soaps have found a way to try to deal with this, which they deserve credit for doing.
Enter the shorter story arcs, rotating in beloved vets — and then rotating them back out. Days of our Lives is probably the best known for doing this, especially with Alison Sweeney’s Sami Brady. She’ll come in to stir things up for a few weeks and then off she goes again. Think about all your faves who’ve returned for a short time and left again.
Better Short Than Nothing
General Hospital seems to be doing something similar. Finola Hughes always takes a break from Anna for the summer but this year’s break was around six months — that wasn’t business as usual. But it did provide an opportunity to see fan-favorite Rebecca Budig (Hayden).
While no one would go on the record saying that’s the reason why Budig has been rotated out again, an off-the-record source doesn’t believe we’ve seen the last of the popular character, despite her need to go underground. Fans can also look forward to beloved vet Jane Elliot having a quick visit as Tracy. These visits mean a lot to longtime viewers.
Keeping Casts Stable In Number
The Young and the Restless appears to have to keep a tight lid on its cast size so Mishael Morgan (as Amanda this time) and Melissa Claire Egan (Chelsea) return, while Ana (Loren Lott), Lily (Christel Khalil), and Cane (Daniel Goddard) take a powder. Ditto The Bold and the Beautiful, which has rare casting changes, keeping the cast size as is.
Networks are more interested in lowering the soaps’ licensing fees, not increasing. This gives those in charge of the budget less to work with when negotiating everyone’s salaries. So when a big star wants a deserved pay raise, that might cost someone else their job in order to make it happen. You can’t blame a big-name actor though — they want what they are worth.
Not Just The Casts On Soap Operas
In this day and age with shrinking ad revenue, as much as the show may want to accommodate, it’s hard to make that happen. And that lack of money doesn’t just affect who you see on camera but also where you see them.
Money for new sets is tight, of course, but soaps also have rotating sets and it costs money to put them back up. You may have a set on stage for a few days, so now the shows need to tape out of order to accommodate all the scenes for that location.
This can make things tricky for writers, who have to figure out how to tell their story, already made difficult by their access to certain actors only a certain number of days per week — making storytelling more like puzzle-solving.
Add to that network notes, which weren’t as numerous back in the days of beloved head writers like Douglas Marland, Agnes Nixon, and William J. Bell, who were basically left alone to work their magic, and it’s a miracle they’re still able to give us new episodes every day of the week each year. But thank goodness soap operas still do — and that’s something for which to be grateful this holiday season.
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