'As The World' Stops Turning, Are Soaps Dead? Forty years ago, there were 18 soap operas airing on the major networks; today, there are only six. Next month there will be one fewer when As the World Turns signs off after more than five decades on the air. Why don't we watch them anymore?
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'As The World' Stops Turning, Are Soaps Dead?

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'As The World' Stops Turning, Are Soaps Dead?

'As The World' Stops Turning, Are Soaps Dead?

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Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

And I have a confession: I'm addicted to television soap operas. My favorite is "General Hospital," and maintaining that addiction for the last 20 years hasn't been easy. These days, I'm down to reading transcripts on my BlackBerry. Now, most women have just given up. In the last 30 years, the number of soaps has dwindled from 18 to just six. And one of these shows, "As the World Turns," signs off next month after a 54-year run.

Peter Brash is a veteran of the soapy small screen, and until last year he was a staff writer for that show.

Peter Brash, welcome to the program.

Mr. PETER BRASH (Former Staff Writer, "As the World Turns"): Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Tell me, why do you think soaps are dying?

Mr. BRASH: Well, I think in large measure, I think soaps in general have become victims of their own success. The serialized format has spread out just about everywhere you look. You know, from reality TV to shows like "Mad Men" and "The Sopranos" and any talent show or reality show, it's all branded to hook you in to tune in tomorrow or next week.

CORNISH: Also, there are just fewer people at home to watch.

Mr. BRASH: Oh, absolutely.

CORNISH: Or I should say fewer women at home.

Mr. BRASH: Right. It was all about women. In fact, in years past, if a woman heard I was on a soap opera, they'd be all over me. They'd want to know what shows have your written, what characters, oh, what are they like in real life, oh, tell me the storylines. Oh, please. Now, it goes over with a thud.

CORNISH: How much of an impact do you think that reality television has had on this medium in particular?

Mr. BRASH: I think that was an especially difficult situation for soap operas. There's something about reality shows now that the soap operas in themselves are just real.

CORNISH: Right. There's a leading man...

Mr. BRASH: Yes.

CORNISH: ...there's often a vamp, there's often a...

Mr. BRASH: Right.

CORNISH: ...turncoat kind of character or a villain.

Mr. BRASH: Right. And it's always outrageous as the soaps are, too, in larger-than-life-characters and the crazy goings-on and cheating.

CORNISH: Right. And right down to the catfights, I think.

Mr. BRASH: Right. So, you know, the audience is savvy enough to know that they're watching one that's real - oh, she's really pulling her hair, and oh my God, she might hurt her - and the other one is staged. So which one becomes more compelling?

CORNISH: You left "As the World Turns" last year. Any - what's your most unusual storyline?

Mr. BRASH: Once I was responsible for having two naked people fall from a meteor shower and they seemed to be...

CORNISH: That's awesome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRASH: ...yeah, they seemed to be from another planet and they ran around naked one summer in Salem. I probably should have told the audience right away that the mad scientist in town had just, you know, put them up in a rocket ship and they really weren't aliens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRASH: It's always better if the audience is in on the joke in that way. But it was kind of fun to see this brother and sister - the Gemini twins -running around naked around Salem all summer.

CORNISH: And Peter, culturally, what kind of loss do you think this is to this landscape?

Mr. BRASH: Well, you know, in a funny way, I don't really think it is a loss. It's not that soap operas are dying; it's that soap operas are kind of lending their DNA to the rest of the entertainment, media world, and that includes dramatic and reality. So I don't think it's a dead medium, it's just morphing into different things.

CORNISH: Peter Brash was a staff writer on "As the World Turns" and the co-head writer on "Days of Our Lives." He joined us from our New York bureau.

Peter Brash, thanks so much.

Mr. BRASH: Thank you.

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