“The Bold and the Beautiful” at 35: Can Soap Operas Survive Streaming?

Susan Flannery, Kimberlin Brown, John McCook, and Hunter Tylo. Photo Courtesy: CBS Photo Archive/Contributor/Getty Images, Jerrit Clark/Getty Images, RJ Capak/Getty Images, CBS/Everett Collection 

In the early 2010s, major networks did a slow purge of their daytime soaps. Classics that aired for decades — in some cases since the days of radio broadcasting — slowly fizzled out after contracts simply weren’t renewed. One Life to Live, Guiding Light and All My Children are just a few examples of the soap operas we lost during that weird time when streaming services first began to take over. Even Soapnet, a channel/website dedicated to soap operas, went off the air in 2013. 

With the show’s contract up in the air in 2022, will The Bold and the Beautiful call it quits after 35 years? We hope not. The slow burn of the novelistic storytelling offered by daytime soaps is irreplaceable. While TV is better than ever in terms of moving moments, representation, and gripping content, the beauty of soaps is that they’re so inconsequential and familiar. 

Originally embraced by stay-at-home moms, daily soaps give space for fans to miss scenes and entire episodes without feeling lost. If you miss an important plot point, the same scene may reappear 10 times in the weeks that follow it. Rewatching those scenes can make spoilers even juicier as plots unfold. They have always been the kind of shows you could pick up, put down, and pick back up without having to binge the moments you missed.

The Bold and the Beautiful, now old enough to run for president, offers plenty that other remaining soaps simply don’t have going for them. Will “the little soap that could” continue to thrive? Here, we’re breaking down The Bold and the Beautiful‘s success (no spoilers!) and speculating on the soap’s future in our streaming world

The Soap’s Premise Was Bold… and Beautiful 

A scene from a 2009 episode of “The Bold and the Beautiful” featuring Susan Flannery (front, 2nd from left) and Morgan Fairchild (right). Photo Courtesy: Cliff Lipson/CBS/Everett Collection

What’s great about The Bold and the Beautiful is its premise. Setting it apart from similar soaps, The Bold and the Beautiful finds the humanity in people who we don’t often see portrayed as vulnerable. Many soaps focus on people you might see in your everyday life. Often the characters are upper-middle class (or more affluent). A workplace setting, like that of General Hospital, switches things up a bit. But The Bold and the Beautiful gave us something really fresh.

The Bold and the Beautiful is anchored by the Forrester family. The Forresters live in Los Angeles and have a family fashion empire. Made up of talented designers and absurdly attractive models, the cast of characters in The Bold and the Beautiful is often depicted during behind-the-scenes moments or while they’re putting on a smile for the camera. Filled with “bold” leads like John McCook and Katherine Kelly Lang, the show has been in great hands on CBS. 

With so many soapy shows taking place in LA — Melrose Place, 90210 and the Beverly Hills series of the Real Housewives franchise — The Bold and the Beautiful’s setting doesn’t seem too fresh at first glance. But when it premiered in the 1980s, shows were being filmed in LA without taking place there. The Bold and the Beautiful still offers regular soap tropes like extramarital affairs, murder mysteries, and two characters getting locked in a room with just themselves and their sexual tension. But that’s juxtaposed with fashion shows and other Hollywood fun. 

The Bold and the Beautiful’s Short, Sweet, and Star-Studded Formula

A 2006 episode of “The Bold and the Beautiful” featuring Susan Flannery (left), Ally Mills (back), Betty White (right) and John McCook. Photo Courtesy: Cliff Lipson/CBS /Everett Collection
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Unlike most daytime soaps, The Bold and the Beautiful’s runtime was just 30 minutes. The Young and the Restless, General Hospital, and Passions — the other surviving soaps during the streaming age — are all an hour long. Hour-long soaps have more filler, (even more) repeated scenes and additional commercials. Some viewers prefer this format, but the half-hour runtime really works for them. 

Dramas are typically on the longer side while sitcoms are typically that half-hour length. The Bold and the Beautiful flips the script on the norms, allowing for more contained episodes. 

The show has The Young and the Restless as its lead-in. The show is appealing (and brief) enough that if someone is watching one of the more “epic” CBS soaps they might want to just stick around for a quick episode of The Bold and the Beautiful. The two shows have even had crossover episodes, but crossover events aren’t the only aspect of the show that makes it top-notch. 

The Bold and the Beautiful has hosted quite the roster of special guest stars, including national treasure Betty White as well as the likes of Alan Thicke, Chaz Bono, Daddy Yankee, Bob Barker, Fred Willard, Fabio, Tamar Braxton, Wayne Brady and Phyllis Diller. These are just a few of the many stars who have bumped elbows with the Forrester family. 

Americans Still Love Soaps, Just Not Daytime TV

The 2018 cast of “The Bold and the Beautiful”. Photo Courtesy: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
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The last decade has been an interesting one for TV — a stellar rise in both quality and quantity. Many of the classic daytime soaps didn’t make it, but this doesn’t mean that Americans stopped liking them and their tropes. Popular shows like Euphoria, Yellowjackets and Succession incorporate over-the-top plot elements that were popularized by soaps. Reality shows like Vanderpump Rules, The Real Housewives franchise and Below Deck are also very soapy. 

Even something like our personal podcast rotations are influenced by soap operas: apart from some podcasts’ sensationalism or similar subject matters, there’s also the ritualistic elements. The one-way interaction of podcasts and soap operas offer comfort and structure that many of us have been craving during the 2020s. It’s a different kind of comfort than what you get out of rewatching a show over and over, which can feel stagnant. Soaps offer progression and familiarity, even if they’re slow-moving at times. 

It’s unclear what the future holds for The Bold and the Beautiful and soaps at-large. Could daytime soaps make a comeback with more people working from home if networks simply made more of a push? Is there a space for soaps on streaming services? Over 3,000 episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful are available on Paramount+ right now; it wouldn’t be taboo to make the soap exclusive to a streaming service, which could help it thrive. Looking at what has replaced other soap opera timeslots — talk shows, cooking talk shows, local programming —  we lose more from canceling the remaining soap operas than what we gain from their replacements.

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