Watching My Stories

As indicated by the title of my blog, I am no stranger to soap operas (though ironically, I never watched As the World Turns). While I don’t currently watch any soaps, I do have a long, if not sporadic, history with the genre. Soaps are a dying breed; many have recently been canceled or have had to substantially cut cast and introduce product placement to stay afloat. They have slowly been replaced by talk shows which are much cheaper to produce. So it brought a smile to my face yesterday when it was announced that ABC was not cancelling their last remaining soap (and my personal fave), General Hospital, as many feared would happen when Katie Couric’s new talk show debuted. I’m sure the show is running on borrowed time, but it nice to know that the Spencer, Corinthos, Webber and Quartermaine families will be around a little longer.

My mother didn’t watch soaps, so my first exposure to them was at a friend’s house. During one summer I spent most days playing over a neighbor’s house; there were four daughters in the family and they had a pool table and air hockey table, which was pretty much like the Playboy Mansion when you are 8. The girls always had friends over so the house was usually bustling with activity (and estrogen), but every day at 1 pm the whole place ground to a halt when Days of Our Lives started. It didn’t matter what we were doing, as soon they heard “Like sands through the hourglass” everyone ran into the living room and plopped in front of the TV. I’d never seen anything like it. Thankfully, they were very patient with a soap newbie and didn’t mind my endless questions about what was going on and who everyone was (and how they were related to one another). At first I was pretty annoyed that playtime was getting interrupted, but after a while I came to kind of enjoy the show, even if I never truly mastered what was going on and never watched it on my own. It was just too much back story for my young brain to process. Once we went back to school, Days was pretty much forgotten.

A few years later, Santa Barbara debuted. Unlike Days, which had years of storylines before I ever tuned in, there wasn’t as much to catch up on with Santa Barbara. Though I didn’t watch the show from its inception, I was once again exposed to the show over at a friend’s house and started watching when I was there. Santa Barbara had the added advantage of airing at 3 pm, around when we were getting home from school, so we could watch the show year round as VCRs weren’t yet prevalent (and DVR hadn’t even been invented). With a more limited history, it was easier for me to jump into the show and I would occasionally sneak and watch Santa Barbara at home, which meant I was escalating. I kept up with the show more or less until there was a fairly brutal rape storyline that scared me. After that, I pretty much quit the show cold turkey.

Night time soap operas were also pretty popular during this time period, but didn’t make much of a lasting impression. I was only 4 when “Who Shot J.R.?” was the talk of the country, but I do vaguely remember it (though I think I may have thought that J.R. was a real person). Mostly what I took away from Dallas, Falcon Crest and Dynasty was that it would be pretty cool to have a fight in a pool. Was this how grownups settled their disputes?

Like most questionable habits, it wasn’t until college that I became a regular soaps watcher. Once again, it was my friends who got me into it. It was partially a matter of convenience – I was one of the few people in our group of friends who had a TV/VCR combo in my dorm room and I was willing to tape their soap of choice, General Hospital, every day for my sorority sisters. With everyone in my room on a daily basis, I really had no choice but to start following along. But what really captured my attention was that General Hospital had organized crime story lines. I’m a sucker for mob movies and I think this is what ultimately made me commit to the show and causes me to keep coming back over the years.

Once my friends were comfortable with my command of the story lines on GH, they graduated me to Days of Our Lives, which they viewed as more complicated. Although GH actually had been on the air longer than Days, it was far more grounded in reality (well, as grounded as any soap opera could be). Days was just coming off its “Marlena is possessed by the devil” story line, which really took things to a whole other level. My soap watching had come full circle and I was now officially a soap opera devotee. I don’t know if this was normal at other colleges, but pretty much everyone at my school dabbled in soaps in some capacity — even the guys. The basketball players were especially partial to Days. Go figure.

I stuck with Days of Our Lives a little after graduation, but maintaining two soaps was eventually too much of a time commitment and since I preferred General Hospital I decided to focus on that one and continued to watch pretty regularly through most of graduate school. At some point, however, I even eventually stopped watching GH regularly. But I’ve found that I can’t quit the show completely. If I’m home sick I’ll check in on the good people of Port Charles to see what they are up to and I’ve been known to scan Soap Opera Digest while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. On a really slow Saturday I’ll tune into Soapnet for their weekly marathons. A lot of my sorority sisters also still keep up with the show to varying degrees, so I’ll have them catch me up on what is going on. And I became a regular watcher again during James Franco’s first stint on the show. Curiosity just got the better of me, but I managed to walk away again when I felt I was getting too sucked in. I just am way too busy to devote myself to a daily show, but I just can’t fully cut the cord either. I guess I’m a functioning soapaholic.

So though I’m not currently up-to-date on what is going on in the halls of General Hospital (is Robin really dead?), I’m slightly relieved that I still have the opportunity to go back to the show if I want to. And after this little trip down memory lane, I have a sneaking suspicion that somehow next week my DVR is going to start recording ABC daily at 3 pm. At least for a little while.