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Is daytime TV in decline, or just getting ready for the next ‘big thing’?

Daytime soaps are dying and Oprah is leaving, sort of, so where is daytime TV headed? With changing demographics and women's evolving tastes, it's not yet clear where the next hit will come from.

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Back in the 1980s when Oprah first started, he says, “who could imagine she would become as powerful a media force as she has?” he asks. For a brief moment in that same decade, he says for instance, it looked as if David Letterman’s morning show might lift off and become a daytime hit, “but that didn’t happen,” he says.

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Shifting demographics and changing tastes

The lesson of so many new ideas such as the chatty foodie Rachel Ray or the doctors such as Dr. Phil is “you never know. Sometimes the idea is so simple you just smack your head and say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ ”

Shifting daytime demographics and the proliferation of other entertainment options are largely driving the changes, points out author Susan Shapiro Barash.

“As the lives of women change, so does their taste and interest in television,” she says. “With more options for women today, there is a shape shift. Long gone are the days when stay-at-home mothers watched soaps as an escape, as a fantasy.

The Food Network isn’t about Ms. Homemaker but about food as art, as a creation, and about saving time in our fast-paced world,” she notes via email. The chefs themselves, as personalities, “are appealing, since celebrity culture in general is quite riveting for women these days.”

As Oprah departs, she says, we will have to wait to see how the networks read what women want in order to fill the void. “No one really knows what women want yet – that is still the big question and any home run is going to be a guide,” she says.

These changes are not happening without some nostalgia, points out Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center of Television and Popular culture at Syracuse University in New York.

“There are generations who actually experienced soap operas as a family,” he says, pointing out that the long-form serial, stretching out over decades, will disappear when the final soap opera goes black.

Money is a key factor

“Other than the newspaper comics, that doesn’t exist anywhere else in our popular culture,” he says. Money is a key factor. “Those shows are very expensive with their large casts and writing staffs,” he says.

With the many more choices now available, he says, it’s also highly unlikely we will see a big audience-aggregating hit such as Oprah in the future.

The standard for “success” in daytime will be far more modest than in the days when three broadcast networks split the daytime audience among themselves. Daytime content in the future will reflect a greatly reduced economic landscape. Whatever is cheapest and most likely to draw viewers into watching in real-time – versus recording and skipping commercials – is what will help shape the future of daytime content, says Thompson.

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