This piece was originally published as part of an entry on February 09, 2008, on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.
Last April, I wrote about the intriguing deal NBC struck with DirecTV to move its soap opera Passions over to the satellite provider as exclusive content, after the network had decided to cut the soap opera from its daytime schedule to make room for another hour of The Today Show.
The show ended up getting a run that lasted from Fall 2007 until Summer 2008, when the last episode of Passions is currently set to air. Fans and critics alike knew the deal struck with DirecTV was an experiment from the start.
Back when it happened, I wrote:
Now that DirecTV is picking up Passions, it is great news not just for Passions and its fans but for soap operas in general. Perhaps this alternate form of distribution will provide an alternate type of discourse not about the inevitable cancellation of soaps but a continued Long Tail model of soaps that lives on, in traditional TV distribution, even if not on one of the main networks.
Of course, I have some problems with the exclusivity of the DirecTV deal, in which those fans who will not or cannot get DirecTV will not have access to Passions. I can see the value in creating a deal over time where the show will be released on DVD or through online digital initiatives, on a time delay, that will allow the product to disseminate further, and perhaps DirecTV and NBC Universal can come up with a deal long-term that will allow for those continued form of distribution after the initial DirecTV viewing.
While I was interested in seeing what would happen with the deal and excited about another form of distribution, I thought Passions was particularly difficult to sell with this proposition both because it was consistently the lowest-rated soap opera by far of American daytime serial dramas, and because the audience it was most popular with were teenage girls and young adult girls, two demographics I figured would be particularly unlikely to switch to DirecTV, both because they don't have the purchasing power to do so in teenagers' cases and--for a significant number of young adults watching the show-they likely live in a dormitory or apartment setting where choosing to get a satellite dish might be a decision they are even allowed to make.
The news came out in early December, with NBC's official announcement buried in a paragraph about a new order for the show. After the initial order was up, DirecTV opted to air the series three episodes a week (previously four), Monday-Wednesday, with a marathon of episodes running on Thursday. The announcement was worded this way:
We are pleased to announce that DIRECTV has ordered an additional 52 episodes of Passions so that fans will continue to enjoy brand new episodes of the show through Summer 2008 when Passions will conclude its run on DIRECTV. We're excited that we can continue to bring more drama and excitement to fans and give them a chance to keep up with the intensifying storylines as they unfold over the next few months.
Find more about the announcement here.
However, Passions fans are still dedicated, and the network seems to remain interested in keeping the show alive as well. Josef Adalian with Variety notes that "with UMS having reduced the budget on the show significantly, there's talk that 'Passions' might find yet another life elsewhere. Newly acquired cabler Oxygen might make a good fit. Peacock could also turn the skein into an Internet-based sudster."
Now, keep in mind that Josef gives no sources for these rumors, so they may be little more than that, but it would be interesting indeed if America's "ninth soap opera," which launched in 1999, ends up getting another new lease on life after the unlikely DirecTV deal was struck last year. As far as I know, launching Passions on either a cable channel like Oxygen or on the Internet would be a groundbreaking move. While soaps have switched networks in the past (The Edge of Night, for instance, moved from CBS to ABC in 1975, where it remained on the air until 1984.)
To my knowledge, ABC's Port Charles is the only other soap opera cancelled so far this decade, and I find it a good sign that so much energy has gone into keeping Passions, especially since it is--ratings-wise--the most expendable daytime serial drama, especially now that it's been on DirecTV for several months. As the DirecTV run comes to an end as the spring progresses into summer, and amidst this ongoing writers strike, I'll be interested to see what the fate of America's youngest soap opera is, as the rumor mill keeps it on life support. It's ultimate fate will make for a key case study for the television industry, television scholars, and fans, as to viable alternate modes of distribution and the ways in which a show that draws a dedicated, if small fan base, might sustain its life.