Published on: November 25, 2008by Michael Sansolo
If you’re anything like me, last week was a tough week as we watched the increasingly sad fate of some American institutions. Of course, I don’t mean General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Rather, the stunning announcement that Marlena and John were both fired from “Days of Our Lives.”
Now in the name of honesty I have to admit that I know nothing about “Days of Our Lives.” (FYI…Kevin made me watch the show just for this column. And, wow! A lot of stuff happens in seven minutes...which is about all I could bear to watch So much bad news, uncertainty and tears occurred that I thought I was watching the nightly news Wall Street report.)
But apparently the big news is this: “Days of Our Lives” is an institution pre-dating television itself and the firings of two cornerstone characters were necessitated by budget cuts. And the problem at “Days” isn’t isolated to a single show. The entire genre of soap operas is having issues.
Much of this, of course, is caused by the societal changes that we are all familiar with. Apparently the majority of women now in the work force are seeing enough drama during the day to avoid wanting anymore on television. What’s more, many of the women (and men) at home during the day now have the benefit of 2,000 channels of endless choices.
Now you can watch real drama on any of the non-stop news, sports or relationship shows on the air instead of a masked gunman, a woman battling cancer, an unspecified emergency pregnancy, a complicated murder charge and a big time love triangle - all of which came up in my seven minutes of “Days.” (Maybe I should start watching…)
There are great parallels here with the problems many of us face in industries that are also American institutions. We can question whether the soaps changed sufficiently to meet the desires of a new audience. We can ponder whether the story lines were relevant, the casting in step with today’s diversity and if the entire industry properly understood the impact of new competition. (Thank you, Ellen DeGeneres.)
Incredibly enough, we can find some easy answers from another television show and one that prided itself on never giving lessons: “Seinfeld.”
It might shock you to learn that “Seinfeld,” the show about nothing, has been out of production for a decade. That means the last time there was a new episode, Bill Clinton still had two years to go in the White House and the Yankees were world champs. Some other stuff changed, too, or so I’m told.
The reason it seems that “Seinfeld” never left is its constant presence in re-runs. But that’s not the story. As reported in the New York Times this past weekend, “Seinfeld” has managed to stay one of most popular re-runs on television and is now reaching out to a whole new audience.
To draw today’s college students into the world of “Seinfeld,” the program is marketed heavily on college campuses, including the use of a tour bus/museum to highlight some of the show’s more famous episodes and props. (Fusilli Jerry anyone?) A quick check of Facebook.com found more than 500 groups devoted to “Seinfeld,” many with more than 5,000 members.
The result is continued popularity for a show 10 years after it produced its final episode. (One could say that “Seinfeld” remains the master of its domain. Not that there is anything wrong with that.)
It has to make you wonder if other institutions could win with similar marketing efforts.
Could supermarkets possibly re-introduce themselves to the younger generation by reaching out to them in new ways?
Could new energy and unusual marketing excite new customers about stores and products?
Are institutions condemned to crumble or could they be repositioned to win into the future?
Will anyone ever catch the masked man on “Days of Our Lives”?
I hope so. I just love a happy ending.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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