When Did Millennials Stop Watching Soaps?

Let's be honest. Tuning into Eastenders every night is a huge commitment

When Did We All Stop Watching Soaps?

by Jazmin Kopotsha |
Updated on

There’s something inherently nostalgic about soaps. For me, they occupy a teeny tiny part of my mind that I only revisit should I want to recall a fond and familiar reference point from the 90s about things like Peggy Mitchell’s defiant protection of the most beloved pub on television, and the erratic strength of Pat Butcher’s earring game.

But that, I’m afraid, is as close as the likes of EastEnders ever gets to my present awareness of what’s on the box. Admittedly, back in the day I’d really look forward to getting home and catching up on the VHS recordings (yes, that long ago) of Coronation Street that my grandad had painstakingly put together for my mum and I. But my commitment to maintaining a relationship with complicated family dynamics of this particular genre of TV has wavered dramatically.

The thing I’ve always found weird about soaps is that they just keep going. There’s no real end to a story line or a nice, tightly wrapped season finale for you to look forward to finally reaching. There’s no real catharsis. You’re just stuck on an emotionally taxing hamster wheel trying to connect the dots between someone’s long lost cousin’s fiancé and the mysterious murder that happened under everyone’s noses. And that can be pretty addictive for a time. But soaps just go on and on in a strange timeless fashion, defiantly affixed to that 7 or 8pm time slot on those pre-Freeview television channels.

I’m not alone in switching off from the Hollyoaks temper tantrums. I’m sure none of us need reminding of the trauma that was 2016. And despite every IRL motivation to eschew the news and seek refuge in the comfort of dodgy character development and unprovoked plot twists, drama didn’t account for as high a proportion of our viewing time as you might expect.

The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board annual viewing report explains that while the drama, films and ‘light entertainment’ categories accounted for 42.3 percent of telly consumption, drama (the category that soaps fall into alongside series and what they like to call ‘single plays’) has been on a steady decline for a while.

If you cast you mind back to 2008, the year that we all found out that we were economically screwed but at the same time witnessed Barack Obama's historic election as president of the United States, drama was on the up. We were into it. A whole 20.2 percent more than usual. But since then our interest seems to have been diverted elsewhere.

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The way we watch TV has obviously shifted quite dramatically in the last ten years, of course. Thanks to Netflix and the ease at which we can access a wider and heavily populated spectrum of television drama – boxset binging took over from the norm that was once reliant on sitting down at the same time every day to find out what’s going on in Weatherfield.

The sentiment at Debrief HQ is pretty similar. Many of us were once avid soap watchers but as our lives have reoriented, as has our ability to sit down and consume these sorts of shows. ‘Soaps are a big time commitment because they’re on literally every night’, says Grazia’s Digital Writer, Katie Rosseinsky. ‘Also, I think “we” millennials are maybe more inclined to nostalgically re-watch shows from our youth (like Footballers’ Wives) rather than following a similarly crap storyline in real time’.

Contributing Writer Grace Allen doesn’t watch them either. ‘I don’t think they offer the same escapism of American ‘soapy’ shows like The OC, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill and the Dynasty Reboot’. And that’s where Netflix capitalizes – feeding on our quest for easy nostalgic fulfilment without having to stay on top of 50 years’ worth of programming.

On the other hand, I suppose that is the beauty of soaps. While impromptu cliff hangers and catastrophes are hard to keep up with, in actuality very little changes in these small fictional towns. The characters who leave often come back, the places rarely change in appearance and the general sentiment can all be predicted pretty easily. Which is probably why so many of us, like Debrief Editor Rebecca Holman, are quite happy to tune in on a seasonal basis. ‘I never watch them, but we always watch EastEnders on Christmas day, its something of a tradition’, she says.

Natasha, the biggest soap fan we could find in the office's collective contact list, has regularly dipped in and out of the big hitters - Eastenders, Corrie and Hollyoaks - over the years. 'They're easy watching', she says. ''The characters are familiar and while the storylines are far fetched versions of real life, in Corrie's case, there's a real sense of British humour'.

The thing we all have in common, is that when we did actually watch soaps regularly it was part of a wider routines with our families, as opposed to something we did on our own. But Fifteen or so years on in 2017, routine is a bit of an enigma for our generation. We’re spoon fed everything we want to watch on demand, which is probably why everywhere you look, be it on the train or at a bus stop,everyone's watching TV on their phones.

Soaps don't seem to be compatible with our lifestyles these days. A (pretty much) daily commitment to watching something that lies in a weird gap in time and space struggles to compete with the ability to devour (and actually finish) eight episode of an equally dramatic streamed series. And isn't that half of the excitement of tuning into a new show?

There's still love there, of course. But it's an occasion based appreciation for #throwbacks to the glory days when missing an Omnibus was television sacrilege and Beppe di Marco was the dreamiest of your imaginary boyfriends. Our rate of TV consumption is only getting faster. And while the lure of finding out what's happened to our favourite characters in the last however many years might glimmer in the periphery, perhaps soaps are the one thing that really is just for Christmas.

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Child soapstars: Where are they now?

Tiffany Butcher - Maisie Smith1 of 18
CREDIT: EastEnders

Tiffany Butcher - Maisie Smith

Tiffany Butcher was cute as a button when she first arrived in EastEnders, with a streak of mischief that any smart Walford resident could spot a mile off. Nowadays the talented Maisie Smith looks VERY grown up (we want her hair!), and is still very keen to purse an acting career. Speaking about what she learned from her role on the soap, she said: "Perhaps my most useful lesson has been that while this is an amazing experience, whether you are famous or not, directors can be quite strict, so you must listen all the time and be punctual. “Working to such a tight schedule can also mean very long days and I do get tired – but I still can’t wait to go back in the next time."

Rosie Webster - Helen Flanagan2 of 18
CREDIT: Coronation Street

Rosie Webster - Helen Flanagan

Helen Flanagan grew up before our very eyes as Coronation Street’s resident bad girl, Rosie Webster. She had some seriously meaty storylines before Rosie decided to head off to London to make her fortune - and we still hope that, one day, she might just strut into the Wbster house and give Sally a shock. Since then, we’ve seen Helen on I’m A Celeb, Celebrity Super Spa, Celebrity Wedding Planner, and Holby City. However Helen has since taken a step back from the limelight following the birth of her first child, Matilda, with Scott Sinclair. And it seems as if she’s hoping to expand her brood soon. She said: "We might give Matilda a brother or sister when she is around two. "I definitely want more children as it’s just the best thing in the world… Scott seems happy about that too – maybe we’ll end up with our own football team!"

Rosie Webster - Emma Collinge3 of 18
CREDIT: Coronation Street

Rosie Webster - Emma Collinge

Aha, you see - Rosie Webster wasn’t ALWAYS played by Helen Flanagan, despite what some may think. Nope, before she came along, Rosie was played by Emma Collinge - although she was just as naughty, if a little blonder, than we remember. Emma, who portrayed her, has since retired from acting. studies medicine and science at the University of Manchester.

Lucy Beale - Melissa Suffield4 of 18
CREDIT: ITV - Coronation Street

Lucy Beale - Melissa Suffield

Lucy Beale may have been tragically murdered, but she lives on in our hearts - although many of us remember Melissa Suffield’s portrayal of the feisty twin, as opposed to Hetti Bywater’s. Since growing up in Walford, the EastEnders actress has gone on to act in Casualty AND play the titular role of Norma Jean in a musical about the iconic Marilyn Monroe. She’s also been focusing on her music, proving to be quite the talented wee thing at guitar and piano. Too bad she can’t ever return to the soap, eh? Unless Lucy had an evil clone we don’t know about yet…

Tom Cunningham - Ellis Hollins5 of 18
CREDIT: Emmerdale

Tom Cunningham - Ellis Hollins

Hollyoaks fans will definitely recognise Tom Cunningham,who has transformed over the years from a teeny tot dealing with his mother’s death, to getting his girlfriend, Peri Lomax, pregnant. Eep! Ellis Hollins has played Tom since he was just four-years-old, and has since become a favourite amongst Hollyoaks fans - even winning the British Soap Award for 'Best Dramatic Performance from a Young Actor or Actress’. However he DID forget quite a few names during his overwhelmed speech, requiring prompts from his on-screen sibling Matt Littler. Bless!

Chesney Brown - Sam Aston6 of 18
CREDIT: ITV - Coronation Street

Chesney Brown - Sam Aston

Sam Aston was such a wee little thing when he first appeared on ITV’s Coronation Street - but, thanks to him, Chesney has transformed from an awkward little kid into a strapping teenage dad over the past thirteen years. Speaking about his life in the public eye, he said: “At 16, when all my mates were getting fake IDs and going out to pubs I always knew I couldn’t do that. I missed most school trips because I was working and I couldn’t join after-school clubs like football in case I got injured. Sometimes I think I maybe grew up too soon. There were sacrifices but I wouldn’t change what I have now.”

Holly Cunningham - Lydia Waters7 of 18
CREDIT: Hollyoaks

Holly Cunningham - Lydia Waters

Hollyoaks fans definitely have a sot spot for Holly Cunningham - although she’s definitely been played by a LOT of people over the years. One of our faves, however, was Lydia Waters, who featured heavily in the storyline of her mother Cindy (Stephanie Waring) and Tony Hutchinson's (Nick Pickard) wedding, despite Darren Osborne (Ashley Taylor-Dawson) and Jacqui McQueen (Claire Cooper) teaming up to split them up. She was nominated for best young actor at the Inside Soap Awards in 2009 and 2010 - but left in 2010, to be replaced by Wallis Day.

Courtney Mitchell - Megan Jossa8 of 18

Courtney Mitchell - Megan Jossa

Yup, as in fellow EastEnders star Jacqueline Jossa’s actual cousin! Little Courtney was a dream to watch on screen - particularly when she was pitted against her cousin, Ben Mitchell; remember when he told her that her dad, Grant (Ross Kemp), had murdered her mum, Tiffany (Martine McCutcheon)? She later moved to Portugal with her dad to start a new life, and was last heard of on the phone to Peggy in 2010. But there’s a chance she COULD return alongside her dad later this year… watch this space!

Belle Dingle - Eden Taylor-Draper9 of 18
CREDIT: Emmerdale

Belle Dingle - Eden Taylor-Draper

Eden has been playing Belle since war back in 2005, with her first meaty role being the moment Belle fell down a mineshaft on Christmas Day. Dramatic times, eh? Speaking about life as a child actor, Eden said: “There is no time for me to go off the rails like Belle. I go home and learn my lines and I am in bed by 9pm – my mum and dad love it! I don’t feel like I have missed out though. I see my friends at weekends – my favourite thing to do is hang out with them for a sleepover and go to bed at 7pm watching Netflix with a Chinese takeaway.”

Ben Mitchell - Charlie Jones10 of 18

Ben Mitchell - Charlie Jones

Ben Mitchell has definitely undergone the most transformations of any child star (nowadays he’s played by Harry Reid), but we’ll never forget the little Ben who was bullied and tormented by EastEnders villain, Stella. Charlie Jones gave us a sweet little boy, who occasionally got a little psychotic with a wrench, but - after a few good years on the soap - it was time to bid goodbye to Ben the child, and usher in the era of Ben, the murderous adult. Charlie is still working on his acting career, and we hope to see him again on screen sometime soon.

Peter Beale - Thomas Law11 of 18

Peter Beale - Thomas Law

Peter Beale was last played on screen by EastEnders hunk Ben Hardy, but, before him, we had Thomas Law. Who was, we hasten to point out, the FOURTH actor to play Peter - although he was, in our opinion, the most memorable. He starred on the soap from 2006 to 2010, and, during that time, we saw him form a super-sweet relationship with Lauren Branning - and snog the face off Zsa-Zsa Carter (Emer Kenny). And Whitney (Shona McGarty) - phew! Things all came to a head when he learned his dad Ian (Adam Woodyatt) had been cheating on Jane (Laurie Brett), causing him to move to Devon… and come back with a new face. Nowadays Thomas is still acting, appearing in Casualty and peter Pan. He also went on tour with the play Beautiful Thing alongside Charlie Brooks and Sam Jackson.

Jay Brown - Jamie Borthwick12 of 18

Jay Brown - Jamie Borthwick

Little Jay has certainly grown up, hasn’t he EastEnders fans? Nowadays he’s struggling with the news his girlfriend, Linzi, is actually underage - but plenty of us still think of jay as the boy he once was. Which has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve all watched Jamie Borthwick grow up on screen as the troubled tyke. He’s certainly had some tough storylines to deal with, from being orphaned at 14, to becoming part of a gang. We’ve also witnessed him mature from wayward teen t responsible adult - and a lot of this and to do with his childhood sweetheart, Abi Branning (Lorna Fitzgerald). Anyone else still sad they split?

Lauren Branning - Madeline Duggan13 of 18

Lauren Branning - Madeline Duggan

Jacqueline Jossa may be an amazing Lauren Branning, but, before her, we had Madeline Duggar. And she was, without a doubt, one of the finest child actors we’ve ever seen on EastEnders. This is the same Lauren that ran her dad, Max (Jake Wood), over with the car - not to mention the sly little girl who exposed her father’s affair with Stacey Slater (Lacey Turner) over Christmas dinner. Good times, eh? Since leaving the soap in 2010, Madeline has starred in Silent Witness as well as TWO films - Rules Of Love and Everyone’s Going To Die. We have a feeling that Madeline is definitely one to be watched in the future…

Abi Branning - Lorna Fitzgerald14 of 18

Abi Branning - Lorna Fitzgerald

It’s another EastEnders child actor who managed to keep her role from being given to an older, more experienced star - and we’re so glad that they kept Lorna Fitzgerald on the soap for the long haul. We’ve watched her grow up from an innocent pigtailed cutie-pie to the ULTIMATE bad girl; she’s ‘battered’ Lucy Beale, stalked her sister, attempted to DROWN her sister, and faked a pregnancy - and miscarriage - in a bid to keep hold of her boyfriend, Ben Mitchell (Harry Reid). Long live Lorna - may she never leave Walford!

Simon Barlow - Alex Bain15 of 18
CREDIT: Corrie / ITV

Simon Barlow - Alex Bain

Alex has played Simon Barlow in the soap opera Coronation Street since 2008 - although he’s definitely gotten a lot meaner over the years. Despite loving his step-mum Leanne (Jane Danson) and remaining with her after his dad, Peter (Chris Gascoyne), left Weatherfield to find help for his drinking problem, he’s since turned on her. In fact, his nasty temper has seen him become violent and abusive towards his doting stepmother - causing her to report him to the police in one of Corrie’s most controversial storylines yet. We wonder what Simon has in store for us next, eh?

Sonia Jackson - Natalie Cassidy16 of 18

Sonia Jackson - Natalie Cassidy

Natalie Cassidy first appeared as EastEnders’s Sonia Jackson in 1993, complete with her trumpet. She went on to deal with a bullying and kidnapping storyline, before unwittingly becoming a teenage mum after a one night stand with Martin Fowler (James Alexandrou). She put Chloe (later renamed Rebecca) up for adoption, but was later devastated by her actions - and reunited with her daughter many years later. Despite falling in love with doomed Jamie Mitchell (Jack Ryder), Sonia later found love with the very man who ran him over, Martin. The pair later eloped and left the square, returning many years later as husband and wife… although their relationship was obviously doomed from the start. Natalie’s character is now dating Tina Carter (Luisa Bradshaw-White), although she remains good friends with her ex. In the real world, the actress is married to cameraman Marc Humphreys and the duo are expecting their second child. N’aww.

Sophie Webster - Brooke Vincent17 of 18
CREDIT: Corrie / ITV

Sophie Webster - Brooke Vincent

Brooke Vincen joined Coronation Street in April 2004 as the third actress to play Sophie Webster, replacing Emma Woodward who decided to leave the soap at the end of 2003. She’s definitely made the role her own since then, tackling Sophie’s sexuality with deft and sensitivity - making her one of the most popular Corrie characters to date. Brooke recently revealed that she find the bullying comments of the tabloids and trolls to be very hurtful. Speaking on the Key 103 Breakfast show with Mike Toolan, she said: “When you're walking out of a restaurant or a club and there are all these photographers, you don't want to smile because it's embarrassing when you're with your friends. So you just keep your head down. But then everyone turns around and says I look miserable… it can ruin your day.”

Jamie Mitchell - Jack Ryder18 of 18

Jamie Mitchell - Jack Ryder

Oh Jamie, may he rest in peace. The floppy-haired Mitchell became the soap world’s answer to Leonardo DiCaprio very quickly, until his untimely death in 2002, when he was ran down by Martin Fowler. After leaving the show, jack split from his partner, Corrie’s Kym Marsh, and appeared in a number of film and television productions. Nowadays he’s focusing on directing, and acts as a literary consultant to David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers the West End and Broadway theatre producers. However he WILL be back on our screens as a new character Gareth in Kay Mellors' BBC drama In the Club, which is set to air in May 2016.

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Follow Jazmin on Instagram@JazKopotsha

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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