And Then There Were Three: The Decline of Soap Operas on Broadcast TV

Days of Our Lives - Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn
Deidre Hall and Drake Hogstyn of 'Days of Our Lives'

In these Days of Our Lives, daytime dramas just don’t grip broadcast TV executives like they used to. Last week, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming announced that the long-running soap opera Days of Our Lives would be moving to Peacock after nearly 57 years on NBC.

That shift, scheduled for September 12, means that fans will have to start paying at least $4.99 per month, the current price of a Peacock Premium subscription, to watch a show that used to be available for free. It also means that NBC will be the first of the Big Three television networks not to have a daytime drama on its airwaves, with General Hospital still making its rounds on ABC and The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful still holding down the fort on CBS.

And to think that in 2010, there were still seven daytime dramas on broadcast TV. At the start of the millennium, there were 10. And in 1990, fans had a dozen options to choose from. See how daytime dramas have petered out since 1990 in the chart below (blue indicates the years the series spanned between ’90 and now).

Soap Operas Broadcast TV Since 1990 chart

Speaking to BBC News in 2019, Miami University sociology professor C. Lee Harrington pegged the beginning of the end of the soap opera genre to the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, the coverage of which interrupted regular soap opera airings. Then, cheaper, unscripted TV shows became popular. Viewers have since developed shorter attention spans that are ill-suited to daytime dramas’ years-long storylines. “People just wanted shorter narratives, they wanted shorter books,” Harrington added.

Plus, as NPR reported in 2011, there aren’t as many stay-at-home parents for advertisers to target as there were in the mid-20th century, and those who remain can now watch anything, thanks to streaming and on-demand television. Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that Procter & Gamble had transitioned from producing soap operas to advertising on social media by 2010, per Consumerist.

In any case, TV Insider commenters are already mourning Days of Our Lives’ impending move to streaming. “It’s terrible how our regular stations are taking away our shows and charging us for them when we already pay high cable prices,” one wrote. “Taking Days of Our Lives away from seniors [who] have watched from day one really is not nice.”

Another person wrote, “Yet another bad, bad decision by a major network. You are taking a show that has had a loyal fanbase for 57 years off the platform where it built that fanbase. How do you possibly think this could be a smart move? It just proves that senior citizens are irrelevant to corporate America.”

We’ll soon see how many folks tune into Days now that it’s on Peacock, and as for the fate of the remaining soaps, time will tell.

Days of Our Lives, Streaming Premiere, September 12, Peacock