Soap Opera Digest Confronts the End of TV Soaps

“I think that they were created during a time with a lot of women at home,” said Stephanie Sloane, editorial director of American Media publication Soap Opera Digest, of the television shows her magazine covers. “They served a very specific purpose then–a stay-at-home mom has other activities during the day, and it became a very big commitment. But you can grow out of the habit.”

Indeed, viewers are getting close to a television landscape in which the habit will become, forcibly, less entrenched. The final episode of All My Children is to air on September 23 on ABC, and of One Life to Live (the final soap still produced in New York) in January 2012. (The shows’ future, given the possible involvement of production company Prospect Park to air them online, remains under discussion.)

“I started watching soaps in 1980, and I got the job [at American Media] in 1990,” said Ms. Sloane, who recently was promoted to editorial director in place of the departed Lynn Leahey. “I started watching when I was 12 years old. I started watching in the Luke and Laura days, the days of summer storylines, when soaps became this big part in the 1980s of entertainment consciousness.”

What, then, is Soap Opera Digest to cover in an era when many shows are leaving or have left the air, and none are so culturally all-encompassing? “We’ll cover the shows on the air [including the not-cancelled General Hospital] heavily. And since The Guiding Light and As the World Turns went off the air, they still have a special place in viewers’ hearts and readers’ hearts, so we’ll do historical spreads.”

As that content indicates, these days, the greatest splash soaps have made in some time is with their cancellation. Ms. Sloane said, “It’s harder to get a new audience, now, but there is the potential to get the last viewer back. When they have a baby and were at home they would watch the shows on [cable channel] SoapNet. Since the characters stay the same, that audience is likely to come back.”

But SoapNet, part of the Walt Disney Company’s TV holdings alongside ABC, is going off the air in 2012. Is there a future for the soap? “I feel confident,” said Ms. Sloane, “that the people who read this magazine are just as confident as the people who watch these shows.” And is there a future for Soap Opera Digest?

A heretofore silent publicist jumped into the phone call. “We’re going to have to hang up now.” :: @DPD_

Soap Opera Digest Confronts the End of TV Soaps