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Sam Ford


This piece originally appeared on Feb. 6, 2006, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

The soap opera As the World Turns has begun a new story arc over the past several weeks. The son of one of the prominent longtime couples on the show, Holden and Lily Snyder, is gay, and he doesn't want to tell his parents. The son--Luke Snyder--is in high school and communicates his problems over the Internet on a blog, although he does not openly admit in the blog that he is gay but rather that he has secrets that he doesn't want his parents to find out.

The blog became part of the story when Luke's father learned about it and snuck onto his laptop while he was gone one day and stumbled upon the main page of Luke's blog. He then confronted his son about it, and privacy issues became an issue, as Luke did not expect his father to ever read the blog. (Holden doesn't seem to be that much of a whiz with computers.)

The same day the episode ran first mentioning the blog, a new blogger joined blogger.com--the same Luke Snyder, who has been updating his blog every day, corresponding with some of the events happening on ATWT. The blog makes no overt reference to ATWT, and the only direct connection is that a moderator on the official Procter & Gamble Productions message board included a link to the blog in one of her messages.

So far, the blog has attracted comments from people who do not realize that Luke Snyder is a fictional character and who are reacting to his troubles. ATWT fans have found the page and have joined in on the fun as well. Now, someone is blogging as one of Luke's friends from school, and several people have assumed the identities of characters no longer on the show but who are related to Luke--Luke's biological grandmother, Luke's uncle who was a child the last time he was on the show years ago, and several other characters from ATWT, many of whom have been gone from the show for years.

Sure, there are some people who feel really sly making reference to the writers of the show or something to destroy the suspension of disbelief, but the blog is an interesting way in seeing how integrated storytelling could potentially unfold for a daily drama like any of the daytime soaps.

Would it be permissible for someone to police the blog and eliminate any references that destroy the fictionality of it? I am not really one for censorship actions, but it seems that it might make all the difference to allow this to be a space for fans to roleplay as characters they have invented that fit into Oakdale or as former characters who might read the blog.

And, again, what are the implications on transmedia storytelling with a project like this? Right now, the blog is completely ancillary--But how easy would it be to have Holden stumble onto the blog but not say anything about what it said--so that viewers would be really curious and potentially seek out further information, only available in this form?

This relates to my previous post on Oakdale Confidential, as well as past posts on As the World Turns.


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Sam Ford This piece originally appeared on Feb. 6, 2006, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.


As the World Turns is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary--What can one of the longest-running shows on television do to celebrate its rich history? There is always a struggle between ratings and "doing the right thing" when it comes to anniversary shows like this...Long-time fans want to see a lot of old clips celebrating ATWT's history, while TV executives are worried about retaining newer viewers and not losing ratings on an overblown tribute to the past.

So far, ATWT head writer Jean Passanante has made it clear she wants to do more than one stand-alone episode, and two such episodes are planned--one that will be a parody or fantasy celebration of the show, while the other will include a lot of old clips, etc. There will likely be some storylines running during the spring that also feature the veteran actors a little more than usual as well.

Most interesting of all, though, is plans for Oakdale Confidential, a novel that is planned for release the week of ATWT's 50th anniversary. Apparently, the novel is going to be worked into the narrative of the show in some way.

Fans are already trying to figure out what the book might be. One of the characters on ATWT, Emily Stewart, run a tabloid-style magazine. Could the book be a novel released by her giving the dirt on all of the residents of Oakdale? Or could the character Emma Snyder, who long-term fans remember dabbling in fiction writing several years ago, release a book of some sort? Or could it be a character not even on the current canvas writing a tell-all about some of the more prominent residents of the town?

Whatever the case--this is another step in the right direction, if done well. How can a novel become a piece of transmedia? If done well, the television plot will in some way hinge on the contents of the book, so that the television show promotes the book but also requires viewers to read the book to understand the full implications of the impact the book has on the residents of Oakdale.

The show has been very tight-lipped about what Oakdale Confidential is, and Amazon's page on the book has next to no information about the contents...Which makes all of the fans all the more determined to find out what's going on. There's great potential here for an interesting experiment in transmedia storytelling.


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Sam Ford


This piece originally appeared on Feb. 6, 2006, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.


Recently, the NBC soap Passions had a sequence that was done in Bollywood style. Passions is known as the fantasy soap, a show that is self-referential, a parody of sorts of some of soap opera's conventions, and the most popular soap amongst younger viewers, particularly teenagers. It revels in its excess, but it can hardly be lumped in the same boat as some of the cheesy-but-don't-openly-know-it soaps and more serious and well-acted soaps, like As the World Turns. (Is my bias showing again?)

I found the show to be a good example of what our fearless leader Henry Jenkins calls pop cosmopolitanism--(the link will take you to a splendid audio interview with Henry on Forbes about the concept). Basically, people are learning more about the world and being "cosmopolitans" today through popular culture--And what better example than a Bollywood-influenced sequence making its way into an American soap opera?

Bollywood and Passions is a perfect fit--They are both campy, celebratory of excess, and require the viewer to lower their expectations of realism. And, not surprisingly, the episode was a major success in that it garnered a lot of press for the show and a lot of feedback from the audience. NBC's daytime site has even devoted a section particularly about the Bollywood sequence. You can watch the Bollywood sequence, read reaction, backstage interviews, view photographs, etc.

Some of you all may remember a post I made a couple of months ago about a Passions episode that featured an animation sequence as well. At the time, I mentioned that the show is a great example of genre-mixing being very successful as well. By incorporating an international influence in this latest experiment, Passions is showing not only the value of mixing genres but also by mixing cultures in new and innovative ways.

If some of you all have the time, check out the Passions Bollywood site and let me know what you think...


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Sam Ford This piece originally appeared on Jan. 19, 2006, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

For those of you who follow this blog even semi-regularly, you've probably caught a lot of my posts on the world of soap opera. In fact, my thesis here at MIT involves the soap opera industry's adaptation to new ways to communicate with their fan communities and instances of transmedia storytelling.

With that in mind, the soap opera I am a fan of, As the World Turns, officially began podcasting this past week, with the podcasts available for download to MP3 players. The podcast is the dialogue from the show without music or background noise and with an audio narrator to transition scenes.

The show began the service on Monday. Its Procter & Gamble Productions sister show, Guiding Light, has been offering podcasts for a few weeks now and are now including daily commentary from various actors on the show, as well as features on certain characters on certain days.

This is all a part of the CBS Netcast initiative. The network even provides an Internet-only talk show about soaps called CBS Soapbox.

It's a little too early to know where this is going, but the trend is an exciting one to help transition one of television's oldest genres into the 21st Century.


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Sam Ford This piece originally appeared on Dec. 21, 2005, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

Over on Michael Gill's Media Domain Board for As the World Turns, one thread of the discussion has focused on product placement in soaps. Since my thesis project at MIT involves looking at the soap opera industry and ways in which the companies can change their methods of advertising and storytelling based on changes and new trends in television and entertainment, I found the discussion to be illuminating.

Everyone who posted on the thread were in agreement that product placement would be more effective, more natural, and possibly the only way for soap operas to survive, longterm. The majority of the argument singled not on if but on how product placement should be done...As several of the posters pointed out, product placement in soaps, where most of the scenes take place in people's homes or in public spaces, would be easy to incorporate into the show. The local coffee place could become a Starbucks or some similar chain. And kitchens could be filled with actual food products.

When this is a serious discussion in the fan communities and seems to be widely accepted, one has to wonder why CBS and P&G have not embraced these opportunities. I'm going to look into this very issue much further in my research over the next couple of years, but what do you all think? Is product placement the logical next step for soaps regarding advertising?

You would think a company like P&G would be better at naturalistic product placement than they are. Thanks to MaryHatch for starting this discussion, by the way.


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Sam Ford This piece originally appeared on Dec. 12, 2005, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.


NBC soap opera Passions had an interesting week from Nov. 11-Nov. 15, running a series of animations as part of a fairy tale storyline throughout each episode during the week.

Becuase Passions has framed itself as a fantasy soap, with storylines including vampires and all sorts of other supernatural situations, fans seemed to accept this major break in soaps-as-usual.

The episodes were critically acclaimed and seemed to indicate potential new avenues for soaps. The move got quite a bit of press for the show, which is the lowest rated of the nine daytime dramas in overall viewers.

The success of the episode reminds me of one of our reserach partners at the consortium Jason Mittell, in his book Genre and Television. Jason looks at the TV show Soap and the cartoon The Simpsons as examples of genre crossovers. In this case, the soap opera managed to do quite a bit of genre crossing, ironically using the same company that produces The Simpsons for the animated sequences.

What do you all think of the potential in moves like this, if done occasionally? Is it groundbreaking from a transmedia perspective?


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Sam Ford This piece originally appeared on Dec. 9, 2005, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.


Procter & Gamble soap As the World Turns has taken a novel approach to promoting--surprising, of course, since soaps usually do very little to promote themselves other than on daytime television and through soap opera magazines, preaching to the converted, so to speak.

However, the soap is hoping to show its artistry and complexity in a way that breaks out of the conventions of soap opera; several of the actors filmed a dance video that is currently airing on 1,400 movie screens before films, promoting the CBS show.

The dance video will be set to Evan Olson's "Take the World."

Several of the ATWT fan boards have members asking where these videos are airing, as most of them have not seen them.

Is this a good idea? Will it really lead to increased viewership? How can a traditional soap opera like ATWT break through the stereotypes that soaps have against them?

Actor Michael Park, who plays Jack Snyder, says, "Any time we can transcend different mediums, that's the name of the game. We're trying to reach as many people as we possibly can."

The show has featured many actors over the years who have gone on to do well in Hollywood--Meg Ryan, Julianne Moore, Parker Posey, James Earl Jones, , Jason Biggs, John Wesley Shipp, and myriad other actors began on the show. The current cast includes Michael Landon's daughter Jennifer and a lot of young actors who have great possibilities for the future, as well as very accomplished television and film actor Tamara Tunie, accomplished stage actors like Scott Holmes, and veterans who have been on the show up to...well...50 years.

Nevertheless, is there anything that soaps can do to draw in viewers who already have such preconceived notions about them?

And what are the benefits to the crossover with Evan Olson?

Any thoughts?


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Sam Ford This piece originally appeared on Dec. 6, 2005, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

Since I study the soap opera industry regularly, I thought I would post something about the partnership between Tyson Foods and As the World Turns, the soap that I "study" (am an avid fan of).

Barbara Ryan, who has been a regular character on the show played by Colleen Zenk Pinter since 1978, is one of the most recognizable stars on the show. In the past couple of years, her character--who has long been the neurotic head designer of fashion company BRO (Barbara Ryan Originals)--has gone of the deep end and has become a soap villain of sorts.

Tyson, a regular advertiser on the CBS daytime lineup, somehow borkered a deal with the producers of ATWT and shot the following commercial:

Barbara walks into the kitchen of her aunt and uncle's home (Bob and Kim Hughes, the core family of the show), on her cell phone and says the following:

"What did I do today? Well, I took the kids to school, foiled a kidnapping attempt, took my son to his psychiatrist's, picked up the drycleaning, divorced my eighth husband, went to lunch and played bridge, recovered from the explosion, went to the grocery store, and sabotaged a fashion show. You?"

At the bottom of the screen, Tyson's logo appears, along with its new catch-phrase "Powered by Tyson." These were a great departure from the more conventional "families powered by Tyson" commercials, but the fans of As the World Turns began talking about the commercial regularly.

Later, Tyson featured Barbara Ryan's character in a second commercial with similar results, as she walks into the same kitchen and says:

"What have I been up to lately? Well, I flew out of a second-story courtroom window, confessed to a murder that I didn't commit, foiled an attempt to brainwash my son, sent my enemies to a Swiss spa and aged them 40 years, and crashed my car into a mental institution? And you?" Again with the Tyson information appearing.

As opposed to blatant product placement within the show, the fans have accepted this spot as brilliant and regularly bring it up on message boards, etc. I think this is one way that producers could market their products along with entertainment in intriguing ways. The spot cost nil to produce, as it was filmed on the show's set with one of their regular actors, and yet it created a much stronger link between the fans of the show--As the World Turns--and the product. Now, Tyson seems to be a "hip" product in-line with what soap opera is really like, rather than a frozen food and chicken company trying to hock its products at the stereotypical housewife.


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Sam Ford

This piece originally appeared on Nov. 30, 2005, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

NBC's longtime soap opera Days of Our Lives may have just celebrated its 40th anniversary last week, but there is talk, evidenced by an article in this week's Soap Opera Digest, that the show could end up on the cutting block around this time next year.

According to the article, the soap may soon have to consider other distribution options. The President of NBC Entertainment, Kevin Reilly, addressed the cast and crew at the meeting, claiming that Corday Productions and their partner Sony Pictures Television should consider other options, like Video iPod feeds, mobile phones for distribution, etc.

"We're going to be working very hard trying to figure out how we will keep this great franchise alive," Reilly said, noting the constant flux of the main networks these days in trying to keep content fresh that involved constantly shifting lineups.

NBC indicated that they were in constant conversation with Sony about alternate distribution methods should the show be taken off the network but said it was Sony's decision, since NBC doesn't own the show.

Ken Corday signed with NBC in 2003 for a three year deal with a two-year option, meaning that the end of 2006 may see DAYS attempting these new forms of distributions we have been discussing in the consortium.

Other talk, such as a discussion on the Media Domain message board for DAYS, indicates many believe the "great franchise" could end up on ABC, FOX, or the cable network SOAPNET.

These rumors come at a time when soaps have settled into a much lower ratings than they had 20 years or even a decade ago, as cable competition for daytime programming proliferates. DAYS remains a fairly popular soap in comparison with its competitors and almost always does better than most in the key young female demographics.

However, these threats reflect an overall downsizing of the soap opera industry with lower ratings than in former times and what many perceive as a major drop in quality of the DAYS show in particular.

What do you all think? What are the implications if a major TV franchise like DAYS, with a 40-year history, starts using the iPod or mobile phones as the primary means of distribution?


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Sam Ford

This piece originally appeared on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

I recently saw an interesting trend while watching As the World Turns, the CBS daytime serial drama.

One of the longtime characters on the show, Lucinda Walsh, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the show has frequently covered the real risks and medical procedures associated with the disease, followed by ending the show with a public service announcement.

In another recent case, a character who smoked and worked two jobs while pregnant followed several episodes with an ending PSA urging viewers to visit a Web site which detail the dangers of not taking care of one's self while pregnant.

This past week, the writers of ATWT went a step further in working a PSA directly into the storyline.

Dr. Bob Hughes was met at the hospital by his wife, Kim Hughes, who runs one of the major television stations in fictional Oakdale. She explained to Bob that she was had stopped by the hospital because she wanted to work on a PSA announcement for her station and needed a medical expert for the spot, clearly indicating her husband. She then went on to tell Bob that she was concerned about the continued epidemic of AIDS in Africa and had some startling statistics, which she read off to him.

Bob replied by saying that the numbers startled him and that, for the price of a cup of coffee, most Americans could probably make a real effort into testing and prevention education for these countries.

Kim said, "Now, if only I could have you come down to our station and say that on television. That's exactly what our viewers need to hear."

The self-reflexivity of the scene made me think that this might be more effective than just an end-show PSA announcement. Viewers wouldn't be able to as easily fast-foward through it, yet it was still worked effectively into the characters and their various stories.

While PSAs are different in advertisements in their purpose, they both still face continued danger of not being seen by consumers. So, similar to product placement in the fictional worlds, these embedded PSAs may start to take the place of the traditional end-show PSA announcements.


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Behind the Scenes on Days of our Lives: Hair and makeup

"Hey! It's a rough job, but somebody has to do it." That is how Nicky Schillace, head of the hair and makeup department at Days of our Lives, sums up his job.

And what a job to have! One can only imagine what it is like to do hair and makeup on some of the most beautiful women like Deidre Hall (Marlena) or Kristian Alfonso (Hope), or those hot guys like James Scott (EJ) or Galen Gering (Rafe).

Schillace has been with Days of our Lives for about nine months, and incidentally he is the real-life husband of Lauren Koslow (Kate). Oh yes! He whimpers that he never instructs her what to do with makeup, and why should he? She is a stunning natural beauty.

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