Monday Morning Stepback: The Location of the HEA

The Weekly Links, Opinion, and Personal Updates Post

Links of Interest:

I don’t have too much this week. Either I was very picky, or the content wasn’t there.

If you are interested in soap operas at all, check out the fascinating four part series (part 1 here) at Henry Jenkins’ blog, in which he interviews the editors of a new book on soaps (h/t @jafurtado):

The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations For a New Media Era, brings together key thinkers about this embattled genre from the worlds of industry, fandom, journalism, and academia to share their reflections on the current state of the American daytime serial and to offer their suggestions on what tactics and strategies might allow it to thrive in a new media era.

I don’t watch soaps, but in reading through the discussions, I saw a lot of overlaps between concerns of the romance community and the soap opera community. Unlike romance, though, soaps are in decline. What do you think of this possible two pronged explanation:

I truly believe two main elements work against soap operas and help their decline at the present moment: their cultural standing in the public opinion and the way they are sold to the audience. In the mainstream, the regard for the professionalism and skill of soap operas is quite low. In  a culture that relishes being media-savvy and hip, choosing soap operas is not desirable, quite the contrary. This is an obstacle insofar as, to go against the current, you must truly love the genre. Otherwise, it is simply not worth it, because you do not get “rewarded” for it; you get “punished.” Fans are bullied into thinking they are not cool and, for the most part, they are afraid to come out as defenders of a genre they love. Hence the decline.

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A Guardian article by a writer named Edward Docx, Are Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown a match for Literary Fiction? generated a lot of heat over the weekend. You can tell how DocX answers the question by how he asks it. It’s not new, well written, well argued, or even interesting, except for the fact that, inexplicably, it got published. Scathing responses in the comments, as well as by Ed Champion, and The Left Room.

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Carolyn Crane’s guest blog over at The Book Smugglers for their month long Smugglivus celebration was hilarious.

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Angela at Save Black Romance has popped up with a post on The State of African American Romance. Short and to the point summation of her current thinking on the topic, including this bit:

I stopped blogging because I was preaching to the choir. Plus, the fire lit beneath the so-called movement of authors and readers has largely died due to apathy. Who wants to fight for inclusion when the majority of those segregated don’t care to rock the boat? Also, my reading tastes have veered in the paranormal and mystery arenas, of which AA authors make up a very tiny percentage. But mostly, because I didn’t feel honest waving my pom-poms for a “genre” which honestly, has yet to give me what I need.

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Jane at Dear Author changed gears on Sunday to do a non-tech post, All About the Excerpt. I don’t even read excerpts, but I was very interested in the post, and the many comments.

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If you have been sitting around wishing more people would write manifestos, you are in luck. Check out this very uplifting, short, free read on What Does It Mean That Your Life Is Perfect? by cancer survivor and author Michale Ellsberg. I especially appreciated his focus on the importance of love.

On the Importance of Place in the HEA

I have been thinking about writing a blog post on those HEAs in which the hero and heroine end up back at the physical spot where they first met, or fell in love, or consummated their relationship, or which has some significance to the relationship. The major example I came up with the Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Match Me If You Can, when Heath finds a missing Annabelle at the lake house where they consummated their relationship.

Any other examples?

Personal

Grading, grading, grading.

But my friend Elizabeth and I are working on a joint presentation for campus in the spring on a comparison/contrast between public perceptions of what women read late in the late 18th (Minerva Press) and 21st centuries (romance). I am really looking forward to it!

In sad news, our tuxedo kitty Goalie (with double paws) followed my husband and I as we walked to a neighborhood party Saturday night and has not been seen since. He often follows us when we walk the dogs, or go anywhere in the ‘hood, waits, and then walks home with us. Weird, I know. But he’s never been away this long. Keep your fingers crossed!

Look for an insightful and moving Behind the Lines post tomorrow by Shannon Stacey. And those m/m reviews I owe you!

HAPPY WEEK!

27 responses

  1. But my friend Elizabeth and I are working on a joint presentation for campus in the spring on a comparison/contrast between public perceptions of what women read late in the late 18th (Minerva Press) and 21st centuries (romance). I am really looking forward to it!

    Hmm, I’m intrigued and wait with bated breath for your eventual post. You will be posting about this right? Either before to get input or afterward to get feedback.

    I hope the kitty comes back soon. My friend has a cat that likes to go for a walk with the dogs too. My mom’s cats have mostly stayed inside lately due to the weather.

    Excerpts
    I like a teaser except and then, if I like how the author created tension, I like to read the opening. The only time I don’t read an excerpt is when I already know the author and have been desperately waiting for the darn book to release.

    segregation in publishing
    At this point, given all the changes happening in publishing, I’d have to say the best bang for the buck is to find a way to get direct access to the buyers who are online. With all the independent bookstores which are closing, the lackluster results of Borders, plus the explosion of e-books (and many other factors), I’d venture that finding the online niche would be a better return on investment because it’s possible that once success is found online that could be translated to the physical brick and mortar stores as well as how publishers choose to promote. Regardless, it’s a very, very difficult battle. One that doesn’t appear to have made much progress since I started reading about it on Karen Scott’s blog. Then again, I’m hardly out and about these days so my impression of the issue may also be out of date.

    Soaps:
    I just saw something on soaps. Last week on either Stewart or Colbert about using direct product placement in order to survive. And it was laughably bad, direct product placement. I think on Days of Our Lives. Then again it might just work. Didn’t read the article you linked to though. I will admit that about 20 years ago or so that I used to watch the occasional soap. Then get hooked into a storyline. The problem was that they’d drag the darn storyline on for like years. I think that some of those storylines are absolutely ridiculous (just like some romance novel storylines and mystery and so on). What’s amazing is that they were able to keep them going for so freaking long. I suspect that part of their decline is that they dragged out some storylines for too long and all the competition for viewers. When I started watching them we basically only had network tv (abc, nbc and cbs) so there wasn’t much competition and the sexual tension without fulfillment was very very high. (My high schooler brain tells me this. Can’t say how accurate it is.)

    Guardian article:
    I think there *might* be something in what the guy says but I didn’t find his argument very persuasive as written. It seemed more rantish. Although if the Lee Child quote is close to accurate, it was extremely condescending. I’m also surprised that Patterson didn’t get thrown into the mix since he has the biggest “churn them out” genre writer that there is today. (No, I do not have an opinion on Patterson’s writing since I’ve never in fact read any. Nor was that meant to be a dig at Patterson.)

    **edited to add** it is interesting that I don’t typically seek out literally fiction although I have read it. But it probably wouldn’t qualify as literary fiction to Docx so I suppose that doesn’t count. I do find it telling that when I had to majorly weed my bookshelves that my genre fiction books made the cut more than my literary fiction books. Am I a bad reader?

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  2. Soaps: My books have been described as soap operas, as in, the evening variety. I’m never sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, there’s that addictive quality and my profitability depends on the number of junkies I can get hooked on my brand of heroin. On the other hand, there’s that phrase: “soap opera.” *shudder*

    IMO, the soap opera has morphed into evening crime dramas such as L&O (Jack & Claire, Elliott & Olivia), CSI (HoCaine & his cougar-ish bromances, Danny & Lindsay, Mac & Stella or Jo)–and those are just the ones I DON’T watch and I’m still aware of the ongoing soapish storylines (aka subplots). Then there’s Desperate Housewives, Sons of Anarchy et al. Ibid. don’t watch but still know what’s going on. They also moved to HBO and Showtime: The Sopranos, Big Love, Weeds et al. Ibid. don’t watch, but still know what’s going on. Reality TV serves this purpose, too.

    So they never went away nor are they going to. People like to get to know (and love or hate) the characters as people and want to see what happens to them.

    Last note: I was introduced to soap operas when I was a toddler with my babysitter who watched them all day long while she went about her house idly cleaning (which was never dirty to begin with). She couldn’t drive (her husband drove her everywhere). She had never worked outside the home. She didn’t read. She didn’t sew or have any other hobbies. She had no children. She went to the beauty shop to have her hair set once a week and to the grocery store occasionally (we walked). She had nothing else to do.

    As women went into the workforce (and never really came back home), the daytime soap opera suffered a natural decline, whereas the evening soap opera arose (Dynasty, Dallas) and carried on the banner of long-running character-based storylines. Now they’re all wrapped up in the respectability of “crime drama.”

    And it still lives on in Romance: It’s called a series and sometimes, The Neverending Series.

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  3. That piece on soaps was interesting but I can’t believe not one of them offered as a reason for decline that more women work outside the home. Is that taken for granted, or being overlooked?

    Good luck with the grading (it must end) and the kitty. We’ve had more than one miracle kitty return in our family.

    I was thinking the other day about how important houses often are in romance: finding, making, restoring a home as part of HEA. Kind of related to your thinking about place, perhaps.

    Got to work to find a colleague had stuck the NY Times piece on romance and e-reading in my mailbox. I guess I’m more “out” at work than I realized!

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  4. Moriah/Liz:

    I never thought about the women in the workforce angle. Not because women entered the workforce but because that’s what VCRs were for. LOL I had friends that used to have viewing parties back in the day.

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  5. I missed the soap opera era but I got all of the first season of Dallas from netflix and watched it in a trance. That was a great show.

    In Betty Neels’ Not Once But Twice the HEA occurs on the beach where the main characters had their first date. I’m pretty sure it was Not Once But Twice and can double check when I get home. In the end, the heroine thinks that she and the hero will be separated forever and buys a bus ticket to the beach where she was once so happy. The hero thinks she has returned to England and is frantic, then gets a tip she’s still around and guesses she’s at the beach. He finds her, they clasp hands, roll credits.

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  6. Re soaps, in the UK Coronation Street just celebrated its 50th anniversary:

    Nearly 13 million viewers tuned in to see half the street go up in flames and the fate of several characters hang in the balance.

    The dramatic scenes have been planned for months and tributes have been coming in fast for the world’s longest-running soap opera.

    The Radio Times called it “the single most significant achievement in British television history”.

    The Guardian described it as “the greatest TV show on the planet” and Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies said it was “the best writing school in the world”.

    For the programme’s makers, this must come as a refreshing change because, for much of the past 50 years, the show has been widely sneered at. (BBC)

    BBC Radio 4’s The Archers is coming up for its sixtieth anniversary and

    The everyday story of country folk, which had its first national broadcast on January 1, 1951, gained 376,000 listeners in the second quarter of 2010, giving it a weekly total of 5,050,000.

    The rise may reflect the allure of some potboiling storylines including the 17-year-old Pip Archer’s dalliance with older man Jude.

    These are the highest ratings for the show – which will celebrate its 60th birthday in six months time – since the current method of measuring radio audiences was adopted in 1999. (The Telegraph)

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  7. My fingers are crossed for your cat’s safe return.

    But my friend Elizabeth and I are working on a joint presentation for campus in the spring on a comparison/contrast between public perceptions of what women read late in the late 18th (Minerva Press) and 21st centuries (romance). I am really looking forward to it!

    I am really looking forward to hearing all about it!

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  8. I hope that Goalie makes his way back very soon! That’s anxiety-inducing. (As if the grading part of the term didn’t already have you at top anxiety/frustration.)

    On location and HEA – the first thing that sprung to mind was Balogh’s The Gilded Web (if I’m remembering it properly) where the hero has a sort of a private cabin that the heroine has pledged never to invade (although he wants her to – oh how he wants her to invade!). And (I know this will shock you) at a culminating moment in the novel, where else should he find her but….

    I hope memory is serving me right there.

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  9. Thanks for the Ellsberg article. I think it’s a common reaction to going through cancer treatment or any other experience that reminds you you won’t be here forever. It definitely changes you, usually in ways that help you to see the value of having gone through it.

    I hope your kitty comes home safe.

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  10. @Laura Vivanco: The first time I visited my British-Canadian in-laws, my future mother-in-law invited me to watch her favorite show, Coronation Street (which American me had never heard of). There was an amnesia plot going on, and I said “Oh, it’s a soap opera.” She kept saying, “No, it’s not really like that, it’s about working class life.” (I didn’t mean it to be insulting, but she obviously took it that way. I think I am still living that remark down 20 years on).

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  11. @Laura Vivanco: Thanks for the clarification Laura. Indeed, the posts focus on American soaps, and while there is some discussion of global distribution, the claims about decline pertain to the US.

    I continue to be fascinated today by the comparison b/t soaps and romance. As in this bit from a later post:

    Ernest Alba: I recently gave a lecture to a classroom of 50 undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin based on the essay by Bernard Timberg and myself in The Survival of Soap Opera. During the discussion, I discovered a few surprising things about young people and their relationship to soap opera – primarily that they think they know all about soap operas, don’t like it based on what they know, and they have several misconceptions about them. Based on the discussion of soap opera in that class, I would say that the biggest story is of the failure of soap opera to communicate its value as entertainment to a young audience.

    When I posed to them the question, “What are some associations we have with soap people who watch soap operas?” I received several different responses: “Old people,” “My grandma and my grandma’s friends watch it,” “Anyone that has free time during the day watches soaps,” and my favorite: “Lonely people watch soaps.” This class of mostly freshman students associate soap opera not with their parents but with their grandparents! One student related that she watched them with her mother who watched them to learn English. It is clear that young people associate soap opera with people that they perceive as being diametrically opposed to them in their viewing habits and lifestyles.

    Furthermore, it seems that they are confused about what soap opera is and how it can be an enjoyable experience. They seem to believe that soap opera is a less realistic form of storytelling than other television formats, like the primetime drama or the reality show. One student made the audacious claim that House M.D. is a soap opera. Immediately a cacophony of protests rose from the class. The way they distinguished their conceptions of soap opera from House was that House had better acting, less exaggerated plots, Hugh Laurie (a single, strong male lead), more comedy, and other things to draw you in as opposed to “sappy” and “exaggerated” drama. The student finally threw up her hands in defeat and said, “Apparently, a lot of people like House and don’t want it to be associated with soap opera.” Despite their acknowledgement of the fakeness of television drama in soap operas, they are unwilling to associate their dislike of “fakeness” with their favorite shows, which are also clearly scripted, staged, and unrealistic depictions of reality. It is this attitude of defining soap opera primarily as that which is antithetical to anything they value that allows them to participate in the tradition of denigrating soap opera as a form of entertainment.

    I think you could say exactly this about romance, as @Moriah Jovan: has commented – it is ok, when it is in romcooms, or songs, but not in the romance novel. I know it was my experience when I taught a romance novel last semester.

    @Vi:

    I’m curious now. If you don’t read excerpts, what factors persuade you to purchase a book?

    Recommendations from other readers, either in formal reviews or on twitter, reading more by the same author, free Kindle books, and cheap books at the supermarket used book bin which look interesting!

    @Ariel/Sycorax Pine: Thank you!

    @Liz: The working outside the home bit is important, I agree, although soaps have tried to fix that with Soap TV or whatever it is, rerunnning episodes at all hours. There are other reasons other contributors mentioned, like that the soap opera narratives have found their way into cop shows, medical dramas, etc. The quote above, where the students are saying House isn’t a soap, would support that idea.

    @Victoria Janssen: @aq: Yes, I will let you know how the project progresses. We have been talking and just kept finding so many similarities between the reception of the books and the public opinion of the readers.

    And, I agree little headway has been made in AA romance. I think it is a mistake for Harlequin to have a separate line, because I won’t normally seek it out. I like what e-presses or erotic presses do, just publish whatever.

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  12. Wow – I think Moriah might be on to something with her soap opera/crime drama/reality TV theory.

    I grew up on The Young And The Restless and The Bold And The Beautiful. Then in college, one of my roommates got me hooked on One Life To Live and General Hospital. I would never watch all four every single day (Hello, in college. I had classes, a job, bars and frat parties to drink at!) – but I’d set my VCR to record whatever soap was “going good” at that moment. That all changed when I graduated and got a “real job.” I gave up soaps. Episodes weren’t online yet, and by then I discovered the romance genre with it’s guaranteed happy endings….and I let soap operas go. Although I will admit that when my Mom comes to visit and HAS to watch Y&R, I get dangerously close to getting readdicted. But then I go back to work – and the universe rights itself :)

    I hope Goalie comes home soon! Any chance he might have scurried into a neighbor’s attic or crawl space to keep warm? My cat did this once when I was a kid – and was eventually rescued when the neighbor in question removed a plywood door to the crawl space via his garage. My cat – smart enough to get up there, too dumb to figure out how to get out.

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  13. I hope your little cat is found safe and sound, Jessica.

    I was thinking as I read the soap opera discussion in your post and the comments above that American soap operas are always about how everything connects – people to each other – past actions to the present – the future to what has gone before and that in a way the stories are the way this is expressed. They have no beginnings, middles or ends, they are like the ouroboros snake with its tale in its mouth. So in a way I don’t think day time soaps are like the newer programs such as Law and Order because there is a difference in their intention and self reflection. In L&W, Olivia and Elliott and the other detectives remain the same while the events around them change. We look at them from a distance, though a window. I have to think about this a bit more but House (which I hate) might be closer to the soap opera idea as the young student suggested but I think this is emerging as the seasons progress.

    In soap operas beloved characters become serial killers, change partners and the villains are the people we marry. It is the ensemble story of many threads which all share in the same en;d no one is held to account and almost anything can be forgiven. I think American soap operas are not the same as the English ones. It seems to me that they reflect a strong cultural drive for making new lives from old and suggest that in the mess, uncertainty and powerlessness of our lives being changed by things we can’t control that the only constant is family – for better or worse. What is also interesting is how place-based they are; every one always comes home to Salem and there are Brigadoon-like boundaries that define the scenes of action. So in one way I wonder if the soap opera is a reflecting mirror for the lives lived in the suburbs? One that shows us that messy lives are OK? Is there is a cultural shift in that we don’t want to settle for our messy lives, we want to star in our own dramas (using House and L&W as examples with their primary and secondary characters)?

    Now I will have to go and read the links! Thanks for the food for thought. Can you tell I have been stuck at home for a while and seen a few episodes of Days of Our Lives?

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  14. @Wendy: Bars and frat parties?! Wait, you mean you weren’t in the uni library shushing fellow students and reshelving books? ;)

    One of the things the editors said about soaps is that contrary to the belief that the storylines are superficial, and it is is easy to dip in and out, the narratives are very long and very complex, and it takes a lot of energy to be committed to a soap.

    I feel that is a bit like romance. Sure one book is easy enough to pick up and read, but what those of us who are steeped in the genre get out of each book is multiplied many times over by the knowledge we have of the other books, and the traditions in the genre.

    @Merrian: Wow! Thank you so much for that thought provoking comment. Love your suggestion that US soaps hold out the promise of constant reinvention and second and third chances.

    @aq: Oh, funny. I love Stewart and Colbert, but unfortunately am usually asleep by 11!

    ps. kitty came home late last night, wet and very hungry. Yippeeeee!!!

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  15. On The Importance of Place in the HEA

    In E.M. Forster’s Room With A View Lucy and George end up in Florence, where they met. The novel’s title is an indication of the importance that Forster assigned to place.

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  16. Good news about Goalie Jessica. What a relief for you and your family! :)

    There are few (perhaps more) Mary Balogh books (I’m having a glom at the moment) where the HEA occurs at a special place – in First Comes Marriage (Huxtable #1) Elliott tells Vanessa he loves her in a field of bluebells near the dower house where they spent their 3 day “honeymoon” (and which had at the time been covered in daffodils). In Snow Angel the HEA comes also in a field of daffodils (I’m sensing a theme…) where the couple had stood one day realising that their love could not be. Is that what you were after?

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  17. @Pam Regis: Great example, Pam. I have only ever seen the film. Good to know it was, IIRC, true to the book.

    @Kaetrin: YES! those are great example. I think JanetNorCal gave me a few more Balogh examples on Twitter. Boy, one could write a whole post on this topic using Balogh.

    I just wrote a review of a contemp, Shannon Stacey’s Exclusively Yours, which provides another example. the heroine ends up holing up in the cabin where she spent 2 weeks with the hero and his family. That’s where the HEA takes place.

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  18. re On the Importance of Place in the HEA

    I didn’t realise until now that I usually notice that in films, not rom novels. I thought Linda Howard’s After the Night and realised it wasn’t exactly right (they first met outside a shop in their home town, didn’t they?).

    Oh! There is a category romance with hero and heroine meeting in a tree house when they were children – she punched him for ‘stealing’ her tree house, causing him to fall and break his leg [edited: arm] – and it ended with hero proposing to heroine in the same tree house when they were adults. I can’t remember who wrote this. I can still recall the cover, though. So useful(!)

    I’m so glad Goalie is home safe and sound.

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  19. Hey Jessica–thank you for the shout-out about my manifesto! I appreciate it.

    LOL, I certainly HOPE there are people sitting around wishing people would write more writing manifestos–because that’s what I write!

    Glad to have found your site. For research on my next published non-fiction book I’m actually going to be reading some romance novelsnso at some point I may ping you back for some recommendations, I’ve never read one before! :-)

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  20. Latin American soaps tend to be a lot more like romance novels in structure than their American and British cousins. They don’t go on forever (less than a year, usually, a bit more if they are extremely popular), and they focus on one couple, rather than be ensemble pieces.

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  21. Thanks, everyone, for a really interesting discussion from a different angle on the soap opera genre. I’m one of the co-editors of “The Survival of Soap Opera,” the book that blog series was based on. The book brings together people who work in soaps, academics who study soaps, and critics and fans who care deeply about the genre to talk about why U.S. soaps in particular have fallen into decline, what is still unique/powerful about the genre, etc. Just wanted to address that the book does talk about the most oft-cited reasons why soap operas declined in the States: proliferation of media choices (some of you noted you only had broadcast networks to watch at daytime once upon a time and they mainly just showed soaps); women entering the workforce/the change in composition of the daytime audience; and one you all didn’t mention, O.J. Simpson. When the U.S. became utterly obsessed with O.J.’s trial, all the soaps were taken off the air for several weeks. By the time they came back, they all had lost a great deal of viewers that never returned.

    Our book takes a slightly different track: that all of these are major reasons but that we should also look at what the soap opera genre might have done wrong. Our argument is that U.S. soaps were built on a model of transgenerational fandom: like sports franchises, etc., people handed soap operas down from generation to generation. When shows started losing ratings as cable came along and as women were going to work, etc., they became fixated on one target demographic: women 18-49 (and really women 18-34 in particular) and started devaluing older female audiences. In the end, if that led to grandma and mom tuning out, what the soaps didn’t think about was that they thus lost their recruiting mechanism to gain and keep daughter and granddaughter interested. Soaps are very social by nature (primarily about community relations and built so that communities of viewers can discuss/debate what’s happening). When you destroy the communal nature of the fanbase, it disrupts the long-term franchise (even if it helps short-term ratings; think of the big college boom of soaps that seemed to work for a while in the 80s). In any case, now there’s a generation who has grown up not watching soaps and are unlikely to start as adults without having been introduced to the characters/stories/families earlier in life.

    BTW, several pieces in the book focus on the relation between soap opera serialized storytelling and complex primetime genres, as some of you all have raised…

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  22. @Sam Ford: Thanks for sharing this. The O.J. point is really interesting. I wonder if it also catalyzed “reality” tv, which now provides a lot of the ongoing drama people once got from fictional serialized narratives.

    We’ve noticed in the romance community that the internet has provided a significant communal fan site. Many of us do not have mothers who read them, or friends who do, but the online romance community is where we go to nurture the fandom. Online communities have also, it seems, been significant in mobilizing the fan base of tv programs about to be canceled. I wonder what the relationship is between regular and internet fandom in the soap world.

    Will have to check the book out. Thanks again.

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  23. That’s exactly what has manifested in the soap opera world, where the daily viewing has facilitated a lot of daily viewing boards who discuss what happened on the soap that day, sometimes in real-time, sometimes between episodes. Perhaps not surprisingly, longtime viewers play a crucial role in those communities, perhaps as the stand-in for the knowledge mom or grandma (or dad or grandpa) would have provided in a pre-online era, for more dedicated soap opera fans. Seems that those types of activities are the ones that soap operas should really actively embrace in order to maintain the relevance of daily viewing, etc. I’ve heard many soap fans say that, even when they felt a little disconnected from the material on the shows, they kept watching in part because the show acted as fodder/material for important interpersonal relationships they’d developed on forums with fellow soap fans…

    Really appreciate your interest in the book and would love your thoughts on it! Perhaps not surprisingly, there have been some comparisons/tie-ins between the study of soap opera fans and the study of romance fans. Have you ever read Janice Radway’s “Reading the Romance?”

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