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The networks use the OJ excuse as a crutch. Yes, it didn't help matters but it's a minor issue at best in the broad scheme of things. Plus, in 1997, many soaps rebounded. I recall a SOD cover focusing on AMC, Days, and I think it was GL and how their ratings had surged. Sure, it went downhill from there but the writing and quality is more to blame for that. Days did very well in the 90's and saw some of it's strongest numbers after the OJ trial.

The networks will never stop using that excuse, just like they will use the "demographics have changed" and "more women aren't home during the day" excuses. While those are true and a little more justified, if they didn't spend more then a decade feeding fans events and action instead of the quality, character-driven writing that made soaps great, then the soaps may still be ok and we wouldn't see the ratings system being driven by stunts and gimmicks. A ratings decline may have still happened but maybe not like this.
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ABC Campaign Gives Washed-Up Soaps New Image · General Daytime News