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In A Lather At UNCC 

Still soapy after all these years

A little slice of bigtime drama is coming to UNCC this fall, and it won't involve exams or how the hoops team is shaping up. The soaps are coming to town. CBS' Emmy award-winning As The World Turns has picked Charlotte as part of its "Catch Us If You Can" bus tour of college campuses in September, where it will audition students for roles, and then shoot scenes at each campus.September 24 is the tentative date for the ATWT visit to UNCC, and a casting director from the soap will be here a week before that, holding open auditions on campus. They'll be looking for about 15 students to appear in scenes on the show. ATWT will post info on campus.

So why is a national soap hitting 10 college campuses and taking on such an ambitious remote? The answer my friend, is demographics blowin' in the wind, and a shrinking viewership for that grandma of TV cash cows, the serial soap.

As someone who grew up with female relatives who were loyal to CBS soaps in general, and As The World Turns in particular, I still follow the occasional soap, but like millions of others around the country, I don't do it in the same way I used to, and that's why soaps are taking to the road and looking to stir interest in a younger audience.

The predominant viewer, an American woman, has changed her life dramatically, pardon the pun, since the first TV soap, The Guiding Light, went on the air in 1952.

A SHORT HISTORY OF SOAPSThe press coined the term "soap opera" in the 1930s to describe the very popular genre of radio serial dramas, sponsored then (and now to a great extent) by household cleaning products. In fact, Procter and Gamble, the maker of Tide and tons of other products, is in the soap opera business, with its own TV production company. By the 1940s, 90 percent of all commercially sponsored daytime hours were radio soaps.

It was a no-brainer that when TV made its way into American homes in 1950s and women were staying at home, daytime dramas were a sure bet for networks. The mix of fantasy versus everyday life within the dramatic storyline had huge appeal to the average homemaker. They watched, and networks made big money from the lucrative advertising that reached the target demo: women aged 18-49. That's who was buying the Joy, the Oxydol, the Lysol, and the Swanson TV dinners at the supermarket.

As the years passed and women began to leave homemaking for the workplace, soaps began to create storylines that dumped some of the fantasy for social issues ranging from abortion to breast cancer to mental illness.

By the 1990s, more women than ever were simply not at home during the day, and soaps wrestled with new ways to regain a shrinking audience. Thanks to VCRs and newer taping systems like TiVo, fans could still keep track of the travails of their favorite hunks and heroines, though Nielsen ratings can't track those numbers.

Soap opera viewership in the Charlotte market has always been strong, which gets us back to the original question: why is TV soap bringing its act to Charlotte? The answer is attracting fresh potential viewers, namely college students. If you're familiar with any of the current summer plotlines on all the soaps, older (read: over 30) characters take a backseat to teenaged or barely 20-something characters who whip through romance, scandal, and even go on the run before Labor Day.

Say what you will about a TV genre that gets no respect, but I predict the soap opera will be here long after idiots stop eating worms on TV.

Speaking of national TV coming to the QC, if you're not one of the lucky 2,800 folks with tickets to PBS' Antiques Roadshow when it comes to the Charlotte Convention Center August 10, there's still a sliver of hope of showing off your Auntie's armoire.

This Friday, August 1, WTVI will air a "pledge" version of Roadshow at 8pm, and will offer more pairs of tickets as a kickoff to the station's annual summer pledge drive.

The station also used the Internet to sell some of its ticket allotment in exchange for a WTVI membership and two tickets. Web auction house eBay was the site for a sale that ended July 12, with average winners getting tickets from anywhere from 25 to 50 bucks. WTVI says some 15,000 Charlotte-area viewers applied for the 2,800 tickets.

Elections are becoming a bigger priority for WSOC-TV, due to a companywide mandate from parent company Cox Communications. Congressional candidates and South Carolina gubernatorial candidates are being offered five minutes of free airtime on non-primetime periods before the November elections to appeal to voters. WCNC did the same back in 1998, and along with WBTV, all three stations are expected to produce debates or voter forums. It's the way it oughta be.

Stay tuned...

E-mail with story tips and feedback at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com.

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