I have watched “General Hospital” since before I was even born.
My mom watched the soap opera when it debuted in 1963, and continued while she was pregnant with me. Many afternoons later, when I was supposed to be napping, I sat beside her, engrossed in the activity onscreen.
In December 2008 we tuned in again to watch the character Dr. Robin Scorpio marry Dr. Patrick Drake. Robin is a friend of the family. We saw her come to Port Charles as a little girl in 1985, mourned the presumed deaths of her parents in 1992 and sat beside her through a positive diagnosis for HIV in 1995. Why wouldn’t we be there for her wedding?
Soap operas are important. We live and grow alongside their characters. They’ve seen us through our own turbulence, promising to battle evil twins, recover from amnesia and, in my favorite soap opera cliché, return from the dead. That their lives are utter chaos is an oasis of comfort during our own hard times. We need only tune in tomorrow.
Novelist Michael Malone, a former head writer for One Life to Live, believes, and I agree with him, that Charles Dickens would be writing for soaps if he were alive today. Dickens made his living in the 1800s telling serialized stories to enthusiastic audiences.
Soap operas are the only place in entertainment where an event can occur and reverberate 20 years later, and we get to see every step along the way. Just like real life.
I aspire to be a soap opera writer. I’ve even written a novel about a guy who lands his dream job, writing stories for the show he’s watched since he was a baby.
So far, literary agents aren’t nibbling, partly because soap operas aren’t the phenomenon they were when Luke married Laura nearly 30 years ago.
Today’s soap operas are struggling. Ratings are down, costs are up and networks are desperate to attract viewers, promoting mob violence or sacrificing the characters they built their legacies upon instead of focusing on romance, families and friendship.
In getting away from telling stories with heart and intelligence, many believe the daytime drama is dying.
Remember my favorite cliché? Even Robin’s parents survived that boat explosion off the coast of Venezuela to attend their daughter’s wedding.
Soap operas will survive. They may ebb and flow, but the necessity of such programming will prevail. New talent will mix comfortable tradition and fresh innovation, ultimately edging out those unimaginative showrunners who target the lowest common denominator.
It may look like soap operas have run their course, but like their characters, I suspect they will not occupy their grave for very long.