One of the less appreciated benefits of the female workforce revolution is the fact that women no longer have time to watch daytime soap operas. This week another long-running American serial, As The World Turns, went down the plughole, bringing the number on three networks down to six — more than enough, heaven knows.
At its peak in 1978, ATWT had 10 million viewers a week hooked on the loves and losses (not to mention the silliness and sins) of the folks in Oakdale, Illinois. In the 1990s it was still pulling in six million but this season it is down to 2.5 million and half its viewers are over 58. Advertisers are not terribly interested in women about to retire on a pension; they want to reach the younger women, who are more likely to be watching programmes at night.
Not that there aren’t lots of people watching daytime television still — unemployment resulting from the recession must be boosting the numbers. But taste these days seems to incline towards game shows, reality shows, talk shows (think Oprah Winfrey). Gail Collins comments in the New York Times:
The real problem may be that for younger viewers, the desire to watch an ongoing drama involving very average people who talk endlessly about their feelings is filled by “Big Brother” and “The Bachelorette.”
Regrettably, these versions of “reality” leave us no better off than the soaps — maybe worse off because people are actually trying to live fantasies rather than just act them or live them vicariously and then return to the real world. Either way, if television is the alternative to employment, women are better off at work any day.