My DVR’s hard drive is pretty full, so I was almost relieved that while I was in New York last week, SOAPNet was replacing Ryan’s Hope with General Hospital reruns marking the return of Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo (you can read Sara Bibel’s thoughts on that here, here and here). But tomorrow, things return to normal. And like trishy2x at TWoP, I too, am “a bit too excited about the prospect of seeing a 30 year old soap opera…”
One of the essays in The Survival of Soap Opera is “Preserving Soap History: What Will It Mean for the Future of Soaps?” In it, Mary Jeanne Wilson, who’s a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, and a researcher for ABC Daytime, poses the question, “Without access to the soap opera in reruns, in the commercial marketplace, or even in the collections of prestigious televisions archives, how can a fan, scholar, or producer access the rich history of television’s longest running genre?”, then details the challenges of archiving the overwhelmingly large volume of material soaps create.
Now a big part of why my DVR is so stuffed is the 123 episodes of RH I can’t bear to delete (and haven’t yet gotten around to copying on DVD). But it seems to me that archiving the full run of Ryan’s Hope is not just doable, but would be relatively inexpensive.
Compared to many soaps, RH had a short run – just under 14 years (July 1975-January 1989). The tapes were saved, and although a handful were either lost or had so badly deteriorated that they could not be digitized, virtually all of the episodes are available. And, perhaps most important, just under half of those episodes (1975-1981) have already been digitized for broadcast of SOAPNet.
Music clearance issues have kept the remaining 1800 or so episodes from being broadcast, but the non-commercial/non-profit status of a research archives would likely obviate the expense of clearing the music rights. And with roughly 900 hours remaining to be digitized, the cost wouldn’t be prohibitive.
RH remained a 30-minute show, so the volume of material is far less daunting compared to other shows – a plus for future scholars and researchers. And it’s not just logistics. Since RH began in 1975, the early years embody the characteristics of “your mother’s soap opera…”. Later episodes illustrate the impact “Luke and Laura” had on the genre.
I was thinking about all of this last week while I was at the Paley Center farewell to As the World Turns. The Center has always recognized the importance of soap opera as an American art form, publishing World without End: the Art and History of the Soap Opera, in conjunction with a 1998 exhibition of the same name. And while the Center holds considerable soap material, it does not, as yet, contain the entire run of any American soap. Back in May, I wrote “SOAPNet’s early morning broadcast of Ryan’s Hope is the only opportunity to experience ‘your mother’s soap opera’ as soap opera is meant to be seen.”
Now that SOAPNet is coming to a close at the end of 2011, I’m hoping that ABC Daytime and the Paley Center’s curator, Ron Simon, will be able to preserve Ryan’s Hope so current and future fans, scholars and producers will be able to “access the rich history of television’s longest running genre.” This is too rare and valuable an opportunity to squander.
© 2010 Lynn Liccardo
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