Thursday, April 2, 2009

Popular Things Do End

CBS announced the cancellation of the soap opera (“daytime drama”?) Guiding Light. If you count its radio incarnation, the soap has been on for 72 years.

File:GuidingLight2008logo.jpgAmong people I know, this development is more curiosity than anything else, but GalleyCat Ron Hogan has wisely picked up a few interesting broadly applicable themes in his Twitter feed: “A lesson in perspective for authors? CBS is cancelling Guiding Light because 2.1 million regular viewers isn't enough to make a hit show.” And then later: “NYTimes says Guiding Light already has digital cameras, handheld equipment ( Why not revamp as 15-min online soap?”

Firstly, if there are that many viewers, I imagine there are quite a few people who are as concerned about what this means for daytime TV as my friends and colleagues are about, say, the future of the book.

I think the key “perspective” here is that a media form’s appeal has a different lifecycle, independent from media content’s, and an audience’s enthusiasm for the content may not survive the obsolescence or lack of appeal of the form. Newspapers are a case in point, of course. The very name is an unnatural union of content and form, each of which is headed in a different direction.

Ron also asks “Why not revamp as a 15 minute online soap?” I think there’s another lesson for books there. While this seems look a good idea, I wonder if it’s too late. Don’t you need to use the last useful moments of your old platform to promote the new one? If there’s a gap, I think, it would get filled with something else in the audience’s attentions. Does this prove that you can’t jump to a new ship after the old one has sunk (which is, I suppose, not quite the case here, since the show is on until September).

The end of Guiding Light is also notable in that its beginning coincided with the beginning of something near and dear to the hearts of book people: the mass market paperback book, which appeared first in the UK from Penguin and later in the US from S & S in the mid-late 30s (assuming you trust the Wikipedia article*). Interesting to contemplate the parallels here.

However you look at it, though, the lesson seems to me to be that media cannot become complacent about the delivery forms it chooses.


* Speaking of demises. Wikipedia killed Encarta this week, too.