Wednesday, April 24

Changing Creative: Did Fans Dictate Days Of Our Lives?

Ken Corday, son of the late Ted and Betty Corday (co-creators of Days Of Our Lives), recently allowed something he vowed would never happen. Characters Elvis J. (“EJ”) Dimera (formerly Wells) and Samantha Gene (“Sami”) Brady will have a second chance at romance.

Once considered a top daytime couple, the writers created an impasse that few ever thought could be overcome. Soap Opera Weekly even wrote an opinion in 2007 that largely condemned any reconnection by including them as an example of how soap opera writers treat rape as too casual.

Many fans saw it differently, specifically those who belong to the Forbidden Love EJami fan site, which has actively supported the power couple being reunited for the better part of six years. Two years ago, some of them asked me what I thought it would take for Corday to hear them out. I suggested five elements for the fan campaign. And while it might have taken two years to achieve success, the ratings have changed.

Days Of Our Lives sees its ratings rise on a storyline shift.

Despite being in an entertainment segment that some people considered in critical condition, Days Of Our Lives (Days) has recently generated a year-to-year growth rate of 14 percent among women 18-49 and 18 percent in women 25-54. More importantly, the show's ratings are up overall. It might not slow.

EJami fans are quick to attribute the ratings increase as a direct outcome from renewed interest in their favorite couple. They have every right to do so. The producers and publicity teams for the show have done everything they can to capitalize on their re-found star power. When actors James Scott and Alison Sweeney take to social media platforms like Twitter, #Days and #EJami start to trend.

The coordinated effort between fans, stars, and marketers are suddenly making soaps feel more accessible again. Maybe among specific demographics, they are more accessible than they ever could have been without social media. Some actors and actresses are not much more than a tweet away.

If the ratings hold, this could be a good case study in how one network is discovering that fan campaigns don't have to be a single-edged sword. Ergo, fan campaigns don't have to end badly.

They can transform cancellations into impossible success stories as Veronica Mars recently proved by raising $5.7 million for a fan-backed movie (stay tuned). Or, in the case of Days, they can create a sharable storyline that fans can promote and entice new viewers. As I suggested in 2007, passive viewers are now active consumers. It might have taken a few additional years for full fruition, but networks can't ignore it anymore. Fans want to be supportive of the right story lines, online and off.

The roses that Sweeney and Scott have in the hero shot above are real. EJami fans sent them to the network to celebrate what they consider a long overdue engagement. They have also been instrumental in writing the network, urging them to renew the contract. The network estimated the show had 2.3 million viewers at the time. Today, the show seems to be gaining with 2.5 million viewers. Time will tell.

After all, not everyone is happy with the EJami win. There have been plenty of other men on the show to solicit support for a renewed relationship with Sami. But so far, the numbers suggest this isn't murky.

The symbiotic relationship between series and supporters. 

While I'm someone who watches the program, I am familiar with soaps from years ago. They were a part of the culture as much as anything else on television. My parents were All My Children fans.

But my point is that you don't have to be a soap opera fan to see a bigger picture emerging for entertainment. Stories that can win supporters — people who share the show beyond a network site, who support the actors and actresses outside their roles, who are interested in different storytelling formats, and who are even willing to pony up production dollars — will eventually rewrite creator-producer-network-fan contracts. If one network doesn't want a show, creators will have more options. (If I can watch the Vikings via The History Channel app, why not any app?)

It's already happening in the book publishing world, with more writers (those with marketing savvy) willing to accept some publishing risks. While the results are still mixed, some of them have wins. In fact, there are enough wins that book revenue is up and e-books have captured 23 percent of the market.

Who is to say what the next generation of soap operas might be like? Chances are it will vary by audience. Some fans enjoy the unpredictability of shows like The Walking Dead, where leading characters are unceremoniously written off on a whim. Others, like Days, might deserve a second-chance romance like the one EJami fans have wanted for years. Interesting times, indeed. The comments are yours.
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