Network Soap Operas: Has the Endgame Begun?
Has the end game begun to remove soap operas from the network airwaves? It sure looks like it.
Today, ABC announced it was moving “All My Children” from New York to Los Angeles in January. The given reason? Cheaper to produce because of space. But that doesn’t really wash. New York, if given the opportunity, could have made ABC a great deal to keep the soap in the city where it’s always been produced.
Yesterday, CBS’s Nina Tassler pretty much threatened “As the World Turns” with extinction in the press. The 53-year-old soap is the last remaining show owned by Procter & Gamble. The company once had many soaps, but whittled itself down to two when it cut “Another World” in 1999 from NBC. Next month they’re bringing “Guiding Light” to an end on CBS after 60-plus years.
At NBC, the network is down to just “Days of Our Lives,” the 2009 edition of which is a plastic replica of its original.
The networks don’t realize the value of the soaps, and they never have. For one thing, they’ve been a tremendous breeding ground for young actors. Dozens and dozens of stars have gotten their start on the shows.
But megamanical executive producers and truly terrible writers have conspired to create a perfect storm here. At “World Turns” the writing was on the wall in early 2008 when the network did nothing to prevent P&G from booting Emmy winner and demo-perfect star Martha Byrne. The show has never recovered. Ratings dropped and dropped. No one seemed to care. That was a sign and a signal to the cast that anything could happen.
At ABC, for some reason “All My Children” — which was a cult favorite years ago among stars like Carol Burnett and Rosie O’Donnell — has been treated very badly. For a few years now they’ve broadcast the show not on tape but on some kind of unwatchable stock that was said to be for HDTV. It seemed like was being acted in slow motion or under’a coating’of cough medicine. Little attention was paid to continuity or storylines. On the internet, where soap fans are vehement in their postings, ABC Daytime chief Brian Frons is reviled.
Moving “All My Children” to L.A. should be its death knell. Almost all the actors and crew live in New York. East Coast casting always tends to a more realistic kind of show. “AMC,” set in mainline Philadelphia, certainly won’t look or feel the same staffed with plastic west coast types.
Soaps never made much sense, and they were beautifully lampooned in the movie “Soapdish” some years ago. The plots were always outrageous, but recently on “AMC” an aborted fetus turned up after 20-odd years as a grown man. On “ATWT” one character just had to head to toe plastic surgery so he could fool everyone in town. What the soaps’ producers don’t get is that the viewers aren’t stupid, and don’t want to be patronized. What a soap could get away with in 1990 isn’t possible now.
And there are so many good stories to tell that people who do watch TV during the day — or tape it or TiVo it — could relate to: Family life in this economy, the struggle to make it, or just keeping one’s head above water — plus a little fantasy — should be enough to hook viewers.
But amnesia, surprise paternity, or maternity, and people rising from the dead — all of these plot twists have worn out their welcome. Just as the networks should be realizing the worth of the shows, the soaps are going to have make drastic changes if they want to stay on the air.
Two things worth remembering: Keep your stars front and center, and focus the stories on families.