How Long Will Daytime Soap Operas Last?

You have a lot of time to think when you’re sick. I didn’t actually watch much television, but it occurred to me that if I wanted to, I could watch soap operas all day. With the exception of one misguided summer when I was, like, 11, I’ve never actually watch daytime soaps.

In this frenetic, multifarious media landscape, and with more families where both parents work, I wondered about the longterm prospects for these shows. Who’s watching them? I guess there’s always the young and the old, and TiVo for keeners. Plus, TV has experienced an extraordinary leap in quality (in every respect–storyline, acting, budgets, HD video, and so forth), where-as I gather the soaps have remained the same.

I went looking for an article on the state of the daytime soaps. I found this New York magazine piece, which blames reality TV for the soaps’ decline:

The villain in this piece is the reality show. When veteran soap-opera producer Mary-Ellis Bunim created The Real World for MTV in 1992, soap opera’s exclusive grip on emotionally manipulative programming began to loosen. “They’re closer cousins than most people realize,” says TV historian Ron Simon. “If you look at the Internet chat boards for soaps and reality shows, the audiences are asking the same question, ‘Why is the character doing this?’ They’re both a way to measure your own life.”

How far have soap opera ratings fallen? This Wikipedia article has the answer. In 1998, the top show, “The Young And The Restless”, averaged 7 million viewers viewing households a day. Today, it receives just 3.6 million households. That’s a serious drop. And what’s particularly interesting is that the numbers have been in slow decline from the very beginning. In 1952, “Search For Tomorrow” averaged 16.1 million households, at a time when the US had roughly half the population it has today.

Apparently one way soaps have cut costs is by firing a lot of costly veteran actors. That seems to make sense. If this trend continues, I wonder how many daytime soaps will be around in 2018?


  1. Soap operas have this weird, seamless yet episodic feel to them, like a rolling fever dream where the boundaries between events is felt but never really seen. A friend I talked with just this week commented that you can watch a show for a long time, drop off for weeks or months, and then step right back in. Given that, it seems like a ripe format for webisodes, like mental snackfood that watchers reach for in idle moments. If they pivot into more online watching, I think soaps can come back and actually thrive.

  2. As a former avid soap opera watcher, I think soaps will be around in the future, as long as there isn’t anything more compelling that will replace them in daytime programming—the advent of “nighttime” daytime talk shows I thought would have made a dent in soap viewership, but I’ve noticed that stations purposely program it such that soaps never have to compete with talk shows. Stations would lose a lot of ad revenue if soaps disappeared.
    Soaps auto-populate themselves by creating multiple legit and illegit children for their main characters, so firing actors isn’t a big deal, unless that actor is well-loved.
    I only stopped watching soaps because I’m not at home during the day anymore—a job, which makes me wonder if the number of stay-at-home moms are decreasing overall.

    General Hospital is so much better than Young and the Restless! Had to say it.

  3. Hi Everyone–I have been covering soap operas for some time and most recently over at The ratings have definitely been in a downward spiral for years but soap fans are fiercely loyal and I don’t see the genre ever going away completely. Several prime time shows have modeled themselves after the daytime serial drama but they seem to fly into re-runs earlier and earlier each season.

    Aside from those flashbacks the soaps love to do, at least there are never any re-runs. Sigh, if this medium does die, I could be out of a job!

    Thanks for letting me vent!

  4. I will not be disappointed if soaps, immediately recognizable by their angelic but cheap yellow glow, disappear completely. Them and bad talk shows were the bane of my sick-at-home childhood existence. Full of evil, backstabbing adulterous people and bad acting. Ah, who am I kdding, most TV shows are crap anyway. 😛

  5. It’s sad that reality shows or game shows are what TV execs think the public wants. I enjoyed Guiding Light and As The World Turns. It’s the short attention span which would make following a soap or a mini-series somthing we wont be seeing on the networks anymore.

  6. This article has some inaccurate facts in it. I do not watch Young and the Restless but in the article it states that that shows ratings have dropped tpo 3.6 million viewers. That is the household rating figure not the total amount of viewers. Y&R always averages at least 5 million each day of every week. The rating 3.6 is the percent of tv households that were watching. That number was around 98 million total households that had a tv in 1988, now in 2009 there are 114 million. So if there were the same amount of households today as in 98 that number 3.6 would be more 6.2 which is a much lesser amount than the primetime network shows are down in the last ten years. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT PLEASE!

  7. The reasons and excuses for cancelling Guiding Light and As The World Turns were the most stupidest and shelfish ones i have ever heard. So what that there wasn’t as many household viewers as there used to be that CBS or whoever wanted. Nowadays in a household it takes two incomes so yea there is less women sitting at home on there butts watching soap operas while their husbands or boyfriends are at work but it doesn’t mean that the women aren’t watching there favorite soap operas anymore or that anyone in a household isn’t watching them anymore. Did anyone ever think maybe they were recording them during the day so they could watch them when they got home or that maybe they watched them on soap net, oh but that’s right, soap net so happens to only show one CBS soap, one NBC soap and all of ABC’s soaps so the As the world turns and Guiding light fans that didn’t have a way to record or forgot to record the shows during the day couldnt watch that days episode they missed on soap net and like the Young and the restless, All my children, One life to live, General hospital and Days of our lives fans can everyday when they miss episodes. And even the bold and the beautiful fans can’t watch there missed days episodes cause soap net doesn’t show that one either. So the household viewers ratings excuse for the cancellation of the two soap operas is STUPID AND UNFORGIVEABLE! Who honestly really wants to watch let’s make a deal i know i don’t! I hope there will never be another cancellation of another soap opera cause you think the household viewers ratings were low when Guiding light and As the world turns were still on, watch how there’s no viewers ratings at all when no one tunes into CBS, ABC and NBC during the daytime at all if all the soap operas are no longer on air!!!!!!!

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