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Home Features Inside the Bubble Soap Summit VII: The Role of Women in Daytime

Soap Summit VII: The Role of Women in Daytime


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Writers and Producers Gather to Address the Role of Women in Daytime Dramas

CDC Sentinel for Health Award for Daytime Drama Presented at Soap Summit VII

On October 25 and 26, 2002, producers, writers and network executives from daytime dramas gathered in Los Angeles for Soap Summit VII. The Soap Summit annually brings together the individuals responsible for the content of the ten American daytime drama serials. The purpose of the Summit is to heighten the awareness of the creative community as to its importance in shaping attitudes and behavior in this country.

Soap Summit VII covered the roles of women as seen on television and in reality. Arianna Huffington, author, nationally syndicated columnist, and on-air personality opened the Summit with a keynote address at the St. Regis Hotel in LA. Huffington presented her perspective on the status of women in America.

The Soap Summit is a program of Population Communications International (PCI), an organization founded in 1985 to encourage people to make choices that lead to better health and sustainable development via its production of carefully researched and culturally sensitive radio and television soap operas worldwide. “The Soap Summit provides key individuals involved in America’s ten major daytime dramas with an opportunity to reflect on their roles as mass communicators,” said Sonny Fox, Senior Vice President, PCI. “We do so by offering passionate testimony as to the health value and educational potential of interweaving accurate health and social content into soap operas and consequently encouraging the soap community to meet that challenge.”

The Soap Summit continued on Saturday, October 26, 2002 at the Century Plaza Hotel in LA. Dr. Florence Haseltine, Director, Center for Population Research at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Founder, Society for Women’s Health Research, discussed the uniqueness of women as exemplified in health issues. Dr. Haseltine was instrumental in bringing the issue of research on women’s health to the attention of senior federal officials and prominent members of the media and by doing so, placed it on the nation’s priority research agenda.

Martha Nochimson, author of “No End to Her,” examined the unique definition of women as developed on soap operas. Nochimson postulated that by challenging the male-dominated Hollywood formulas and inventing strong, active female characters, soap operas have created unorthodox narratives of femininity and women’s desires.

“The open-ended format of soaps has led to portrayals of women that are unique to these daytime dramas,” said Nochimson. “Instead of the neat wrap-up in a movie, which most often ends up with women playing more or less traditional roles in society, soaps have had to continually invent new places for their female characters to go. By the very nature of open-ended format, the soaps present strong women who resist their roles in male hierarchies and articulate instead a feminine power of inclusion.”

Tracy Melchior as Kristen in B&B's On Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented the 3rd Annual Sentinel for Health Award for Daytime Drama. The award recognizes exemplary portrayals of daytime dramas that inform, educate, and motivate viewers to make choices for healthier and safer lives. The health storylines selected as this year’s finalists by topic experts at the CDC are “Tony’s HIV” from Bold and the Beautiful, and “Ashley’s Breast Cancer,” from The Young and the Restless.” USC Annenberg School’s Hollywood, Health and Society Program has been working on behalf of the CDC to provide the Summit with CDC speakers on significant health topics and to host the Sentinel Awards at the Summit.

Collectively, soap operas command nine hours of network time and reach between fifteen and twenty million viewers a day. Over many years, these series have built up an identification with their characters that allows their behavior and actions to have a substantial impact on the attitudes and behavior of the audiences. CDC analysis of data from a 1999 Healthstyles survey indicates that nearly half of viewers who watch soap operas at least twice a week report that they learned something about a disease or how to prevent one from watching a soap opera. More than one-third of these viewers took action as a result of this knowledge.

The CDD has recently funded the first year of a unique 2-year research project that will be undertaken by Population Communications International (PCI), Ohio University, University of New Mexico, and USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center to determine the impact of health storylines in American daytime dramas on foreign audiences.


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