Thursday, April 14, 2011

The True End of an Era

Category:  Television News

ABC is canceling two of its three "daytime dramas" (better known as soap operas).  All My Children, which has been on the air for 41 years, and One Life to Live, which has aired for 43 years, will end their respective runs on network television by the beginning of 2012.  The network states that the expense of producing a daily soap opera -- about $50 million annually according to an L.A. Times article -- no longer justifies the increasingly lower ratings of daytime shows.

Soap operas were once the rule on television.  Daytime mornings were filled with game shows, from Concentration to Hollywood Squares; and the afternoon belonged to the soaps.  The game shows, by and large, have disappeared from daytime network television (although syndicated shows such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Family Feud are quite popular), with only The Price is Right on a network in daytime.  Now soap operas are following the game shows into relative oblivion.

Additionally, SoapNet, which is owned by Disney (the owners of ABC), will cease to exist as a cable channel about the same time that One Life to Live dies -- January 2012.  SoapNet will be replaced with a new Disney channel for children (which sounds redundant, but I digress).

I have mixed feelings about this.  How many different ways can someone have an affair, die then the actor comes back as a twin brother/sister/cousin/friend that nobody ever knew about, shoot someone, get pregnant and lose the baby/not know who the father is, etc. etc. etc.  It takes a great actor to make very predictable, sometimes snail's pace-moving storylines (I remember watching The Guiding Light before I went into the Navy...eleven weeks of missing it while in boot camp and nothing changed!) riveting.  The surviving shows have that (Eric Braeden is as excellent a villain in The Young and the Restless as he was when he played Captain Dietrich [when he went by his birth name, Hans Gudegast] in The Rat Patrol), but All My Children has the poster child for bitchiness:  Susan Lucci.  In fact, people who know nothing about soap operas know her name.  There comes a point, however, when not even those powerhouse actors can carry a show.

Still, Disney needs to tread lightly here.  Soap opera fans, much like old country music fans, are fiercely loyal.  Badmouthing Luke and Laura is like saying something nasty about mom, apple pie, or baseball to the fans of these shows.  It might be better to have a few million very dedicated fans than ten million fickle watchers who will turn the channel at the first sign of something unpleasant.

The two canceled soap operas will be replaced with much cheaper programs, The Chew (described as a food program) and The Revolution (a makeover series).  If Disney's claim that there are fewer "target audience" members (women) at home to watch the soaps, it remains to be seen who will be watching these new productions.

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