With news that CBS plans to terminate As The World Turns next fall, leaving the network with two soap operas, it seems that the genre is dying a slow death, while game shows are gradually making a comeback on network television.
After Guiding Light ended 3 months ago, it left World as the last soap produced by Procter & Gamble's television arm, and now, P & G, maker of equally iconic products such as Ivory soap and Secret deodorant, is leaving the genre it founded during the golden age of radio. CBS' lone remaining soaps are Young & the Restless, which is closing on its 40th anniversary, and Bold & the Beautiful, which has been around since the 80's. NBC has just one, Days of Our Lives, a network staple since the 60's, but within striking range of the cancellation ax the last few years. Rather than build their daytime schedule around Days, NBC gives the time in between it and Today to network affiliates, suggesting that they have no interest in getting back into the game show business, other than their night-time hit, Deal or No Deal. ABC is holding firm with their top-rated lineup.
CBS filled the Light void by reviving Let's Make a Deal, now 1 hour instead of a half-hour, and rumors have them bringing back Pyramid, which was last in syndication just a few years ago. Of course, another network staple from the 70's, Match Game, has been talked about, but trying to mount a new version without the late Gene Rayburn is a difficult task in and of itself. Not only that, but it was talked about a year ago that cable's TBS was in the running to revive Match, so a return to CBS is not 100% certain.
So what has killed the soap opera? Too much tinkering with the formula, in an effort to keep it relevant for younger viewers, or so it would seem. I know from watching General Hospital on a part-time basis in the 80's that it had reinvented itself to appeal to fans of James Bond and cliffhanger serials of the Golden Age, then gradually reverted back to a more traditional format. Nowadays, it seems as though the idea is to try to draw the same people that are watching the "trendy" prime time shows by including once-taboo subject matter as same-sex relationships, things that just weren't allowed on radio way back in the day.
Can soaps make a comeback? I am not entirely certain. Maybe releasing the old classics on DVD could spur a revival, but I don't see that on the horizon right away.