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TV Notes: Soaps tweak formula to rebuild

Wednesday, August 01, 2001

Babies are born, disappear and come back a couple of years later as troubled teen-agers. A Latino fashion designer is introduced into an all-white cast. A doll becomes human.

These recent plot twists on network soap operas were designed specifically to expand an audience that gets older and smaller every year.

A report out this summer provides fresh evidence of how steep the challenge is for an industry older than television itself. Not only have ratings declined -- 28 percent for the most popular soap, "The Young and the Restless," since 1994 -- but so has the soaps' ability to deliver the young female viewers sought by advertisers.

Over the last 10 years, the median age for viewers of daytime dramas has gone up an average of seven years, according to the advertising agency MindShare. The median age of those who watch "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" was 36 in 1991-92. Now it's 45.

Advertisers used to consider soaps a reliable way to reach young women, and cheaper than prime-time. No more.

"I don't know if it's a dying genre, but it doesn't bode well for advertising dollars flowing into the marketplace," said Steve Calandra, senior managing director of MindShare.

With more young women working and the ones at home having more choices about what to watch, there are fewer people for soaps.

"How do you get that next generation?" asks Lucy Johnson, president of daytime TV at CBS. "That's all we've talked about for 20 years."

There are experiments taking place across the soap spectrum.

Taking note of census figures showing a burgeoning Hispanic population, and the popularity of Spanish-language soap operas, CBS has begun Spanish translations of "The Bold and the Beautiful." It also introduced the character of Antonio Dominguez, Latino fashion designer.

ABC has also tried using the structure of Spanish-language soap operas on the show "Port Charles." In contrast to American soaps, where different story lines weave in and out and can take years to finish, Spanish-language soap stories begin and end over two months.

"What we've heard over the years is, 'I just don't have the time to invest in another daytime show. I'm afraid I'm going to get hooked and have to watch the show for three years,' " said Felicia Behr, senior vice president for daytime programming at ABC.

NBC's "Passions" is designed exclusively for young people. Some of its wilder plots -- such as the lifelike doll and a bride killed by a poisoned ring -- should resonate with viewers of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," said Sheraton Kalouria, NBC daytime president. NBC also sent six teen-age characters on a Puerto Rican trip reminiscent of "Temptation Island."

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

Steelers on TV

KDKA-TV will air all the Steelers exhibition games. Due to late scheduling, the first game did not appear in the July 29 edition of the Post-Gazette's TV Week.

The complete preseason schedule, posted on the Steelers Web site yesterday, is as follows:

Friday: Pittsburgh Steelers at Atlanta Falcons, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 16: Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings, 8 p.m.

Aug. 25: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m.

Aug. 30: Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh Steelers, 7:30 p.m.

(Susan Banks, Post-Gazette Staff Writer)

More mass

Low-power station WBGN (Channel 59) began broadcasting Mass from St. Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown, on weekdays earlier this year, and beginning this weekend the station will add broadcasts at noon Saturday and Sunday.

The weekday Mass is 30 minutes in length, but the weekend Masses will be carried for a full hour.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

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