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Who says soap operas are dead? ‘The Gates’ gives hope for genre’s revival.

In Entertainment
April 19, 2024

For the first time in 25 years, a new daytime drama has entered production: The Gatesfollowing the lives of a wealthy Black family in their gated community — comes to CBS in January 2025.

The showrunner and head writer for the show is veteran soap scribe Michele Val Jean, known for her Emmy Award-winning work on The Bold and the Beautiful (B&B) and General Hospital (GH). Val Jean’s new job makes her the first Black person and first Black woman to oversee a daytime soap opera as showrunner/EP. She was also the first Black female head writer of a daytime drama. The Gates is a CBS Studios/NAACP production venture in partnership with P&G Studios (which long ago was behind As the World Turns, Guiding Light and Another World).

The time slot, premiere date and cast for The Gates are still to be determined, but it’s expected to occupy the spot vacated by The Talk.

The last time a broadcast network premiered a daytime soap that was centered on a Black family was in 1989 with NBC’s Generations, which Val Jean wrote for and which lasted only a year. An industry expert tells Yahoo Entertainment that she expects The Gates to do well and bolster the genre.

What does a new soap opera mean signify?

“A rising tide lifts all boats, so a new soap can only be good for daytime,” TV expert and Soap Opera Digest columnist Carolyn Hinsey tells Yahoo Entertainment.

It’s been a challenging decade for soaps. They became a fixture on TV in the 1950s; 20 years later, there were 19 on the air — with 50 million people, including many men, watching in a given week. Like other genres, soaps experienced reduced viewership with the rise of cable. The shows — known for their intensely loyal fanbases — were also treated as dispensable. Preemptions beyond breaking news — like airing O.J. Simpson’s 1995 trial (and 1994 pretrial) — deeply cut ratings. In the 2000s, as reality TV boomed and streaming was birthed, soaps were pulled by panicked TV execs for cheaper-to-produce talk shows.

Today, just four soaps remain: B&B, GH, Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless. (Days moved to streamer Peacock in 2022, ending its 57-year run on NBC.)

Michele Val Jean

Michele Val Jean is The Gates showrunner and head writer. (Sonja Flemming/CBS)

It hasn’t been lost on soap viewers — who still clamor for the return for All My Children, One Life to Live and ATWT, all taken off the air in the 2010s despite fervent “save our soap” campaigns — that, with the cancellation of The Talk, soaps’ replacements have now been axed themselves. While soap ratings have absolutely declined over the years, talk shows, even those headlined by stars like Kelly Clarkson and Drew Barrymore, have lagged behind soaps in ratings. To have a new soap launch, likely in the time slot of a replacement now 15 years later, brings it full circle.

Hinsey says she “absolutely” sees The Gates as a vote of confidence for the genre. “None of the talk shows that replaced soaps have shown the longevity of the shows they replaced — or earned the same loyalty from daytime viewers,” who have the shows trending daily on X.

As for the addition of a new show, “I’m surprised it took this long,” she says. “I honestly thought some combination of All My Children and One Life To Live would have been rebooted by now for the ABC lineup or maybe even for Hulu,” as has long been rumored. “Many of those ABC actors have cycled through General Hospital, so we know they still look great and are available to work.”

Viewer demand for drama series done right remains strong.

“I think the success of continuing dramas like Grey’s Anatomy, Suits, This Is Us, The Crown, etc., on streaming services bodes well for a new daytime soap,” Hinsey says. “There are so many ways to keep up with our shows now. I have a 78-year-old neighbor who watches Days of our Lives on Peacock. Where there’s a will there’s a way!”

Can The Gates accomplish what Generations didn’t?

Expectations for The Gates is high. Executive producer Sheila Ducksworth, who is president of the CBS/NAACP production partnership, said in March it will be “everything we love about daytime drama from a new and fresh perspective.” The show “will salute an audience that has been traditionally underserved.” There will be “multidimensional characters, juicy storylines and Black culture front and center.”

“I’ve known Michele Val Jean since the 1990s, when she worked on GH, and I have a lot of respect for her work,” Hinsey says. “Michele understands the genre and is an excellent dialogue writer.” (Val Jean and Ducksworth were not available for interviews for this story.)

As far as casting, “Debbi Morgan and Darnell Williams were wildly popular as Angie and Jesse on AMC, so they’d be a good start,” Hinsey suggests.


Debbi Morgan and Darnell Williams were a soap opera “supercouple” on All My Children. (Donna Svennevik/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Many of today’s most successful Black actors got their start on soaps, including Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett and Michael B. Jordan. The late Ellen Holly had the distinction of being the first Black soap star in 1968. Y&R has been perhaps the most successful and robust family, striking gold with the Winters family: Shemar Moore, Victoria Rowell, Kristoff St. John and Tonya Williams. However, Black characters are seen as an unsung part of the genre.

Generations broke ground in 1989 as the first soap to debut with a core Black family. NBC pulled the plug after just 13 months, saying it didn’t perform. The odds seemed stacked against it, however; for one thing, it was up against the No. 1 show, Y&R; in other markets, and it aired at 2:30 a.m. in the pre-DVR era. It’s also been reported that Nielsen, which measures media audiences, didn’t track as many Black households. A 2024 Nielsen study showed that Black audiences consume more media than the rest of the population, and feel underrepresented in the media.

The cast of

The cast of Generations celebrates its 400th episode. The show debuted in 1989 and was canceled just 13 months later. (Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

The Gates promises to deliver on representation. Teeing it up for success is diversity behind the scenes and in the writers room under the guidance of a woman who has penned more than 2,000 episodes of daytime TV. It also has NAACP backing, with the goal of increasing the visibility of Black artists on broadcast and streaming platforms. Technology has also greatly improved from the VHS era of the ‘80s. Instead of the show being pitted against the top soap, Y&R will be one of its lead-ins.

“Soap fans have lost so many shows since [Generations],” says Hinsey. “I think they will make a point to find The Gates and give it a try. It helps that it will air in the time slot after Bold and Beautiful on CBS. If people are setting their DVRs for Y&R and B&B, they can just add one hour.”

If the show does take off, it could be a much-needed boost for a popular genre that’s been underappreciated in the modern era.

“If The Gates does well, which I think it will, I wouldn’t be surprised if ABC rebooted AMC and/or OLTL” next, Hinsey says.

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