I have a confession to make. Despite being a relatively active consumer of media, I have never watched a single soap opera episode in its entirety. It is not that I have anything against soaps per se, it is just that I rarely have the opportunity to watch daytime television. And even on the rare occasions that I do find myself in front of a television at say 1 p.m. on a weekday, it is very difficult for me to not give my Nielsen ratings to such riveting programming as The Price is Right or Judge Joe Brown.
Now while my personal lack of interest in the suspense filled, plot twisting adventures of such shows as Days of our Lives, and The Young and the Restless is certainly nothing to give network executives cold sweats in the middle of the night, the overall decline that the soap opera genre has experienced over the last decade is. Once the undisputed leader of daytime television, soap operas are now struggling to keep pace with the ratings of unscripted daytime talk shows like Dr. Phil and court dramas like the aforementioned Judge Joe Brown. With virtually no new series in production and the list of running soap titles getting smaller and smaller, the genre now finds itself not only struggling for rating but for survival.
For a genre that is characterized by the longevity of its creative work and the fierce loyalty of its audience, how did we get to this point? A convergence of a variety of factors, from shifts in the makeup of the modern workforce, to the rise of online content alternatives, the decline of soap operas can really be explained by one simple fact. While the American audience has changed, soap operas have not. More than just a reliance on decade old themes and cinematography techniques, soap operas have failed to appreciate the shifts in the cultural make up of their existing audience and of the American population as a whole. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the longstanding lack of African American representation both in front of and behind the Soap opera camera. Despite statistical evidence collected by organizations such as Conde Nast stating that African Americans make up nearly 40% of the audience for such marquee soap operas as The Young and the Restless, the portrayal of black characters in leading roles remains slim at best.
It is with the issue of soap opera diversity in mind that actress, author and soap opera veteran, Victoria Rowell looks to create her own solution with her new project, The Rich and the Ruthless. An independently produced soap opera, The Rich and The Ruthless looks to provide the diversity in talent and content that Rowell believes audiences have been craving. A longtime diversity advocate, Rowell has spoken on numerous occasions about the importance of soap operas being reflective of the changing audience they serve and audiences being critical of the soap operas they support. Having launched an Indiegogo campaign to crowdfund her new show on August 29th, Rowell is literally putting that what she preaches into practice.
Now while it is unclear if Rowell will succeed in raising enough funds online to launch The Rich and the Ruthless in the immediate future, it is still a significant venture in that it once again highlights the ability of marginalized communities to take ownership of the creative content they enjoy. This is an issue that is not limited to African American audiences or to soap operas as a genre, the lack of diverse representation in media is something which can be changed if it is continually challenged through ventures like Rowell’s.