Be careful what you wish for. A few weeks back, I revealed that I wanted to take a break from writing this Two Scoops column every week. Come September, I won't have to worry about writing a column every week. This is not how things were supposed to be.
Last week, ABC announced that it had made the decision to cancel both All My Children and One Life to Live (Please click here to read Dawn's Two Scoops column for One Life to Live). Television programs come and go. Shows are canceled all the time. This isn't all the time. These aren't just shows. This is the end of a cumulative 84 years of television history. It's the end of iconic characters that stood the test of time... or at least we thought they'd stood the test of time.
I've been accused of favoritism. "All My Children is your favorite," some will say. It's not a matter of having favorites. For me, it was All My Children that got me hooked on daytime soaps. It's the show that helped me to gain an appreciation for the men and women who work incredibly long hours for not nearly enough recognition. Had it not been for Janet tossing Natalie down a well and assuming her identity, I probably wouldn't have developed my fascination for Viki and her many alters, sobbed over the tragic death of little BJ, worried about Marlena's demonic possession, or wondered what devilish coup Victor Newman might be up to next.
All My Children was there for me during some of my darkest hours. After being brutally attacked, it was my love of All My Children and the connections I'd made with other fans that helped me regain some sort of peace. There is something of a soapy irony in that one of my lowest moments helped give birth to something that has been such a fantastical journey. Yeah, if it were not for my love of All My Children, I would not have started the soapcentral.com web site. I might not have gained the experiences and skill sets that I have through my work on the site. I know for sure that I wouldn't have met the hundreds and hundreds of passionate soap fans that I've encountered in my travels across the country.
My life would have been a whole lot emptier.
But, if I may use words that I don't think we've ever heard Erica Kane utter, this is not all about me.
It's about Suzanne from Michigan who said that she "grew up watching with my great grandmother and grandmother, and both of my parents, and my daughter and I watch them together now. Five generations."
It's about Ann who has "watched from Day One. I was a 'closet watcher' during the early years because I felt my husband would pooh-pooh my being addicted to a soap. Years passed, two children were born, and when the younger was in grade school, I went back to work -- in an elementary school. So, I sneaked in watching AMC in the summer. My girls grew up and started watching AMC, so my husband became aware of the show. He started watching it with them! For the past ten years (at least), my husband and I have enjoyed watching AMC together during our dinner time. We have laughed, discussed characters, made fun of, yet thoroughly enjoyed watching the show and this special time together."
It's about Walter who has "been disabled and unable to leave home for the past ten years. My family doesn't bother with me because I am a 'burden' and the [fictitious] Pine Valley residents have become like a family to me -- there every day whether I am having a good day or a bad day."
It's about Sharon who, in 1978, met Danny, the man who would end up her husband, "and found out he scheduled his college classes around AMC. We're married 30 years now. Watching 'the Story' is the last thing we do each night before going to bed. We're heart broken."
There is not enough bandwidth on the entire Internet to share the heartfelt stories of each of the 2.5 million viewers who, according to the folks who make up the Nielsen ratings, tune in to All My Children every weekday.
For many AMC fans, there are more questions than answers in the show's cancellation. Why uproot production of the All My Children in late-2009 and relocate the show's on-screen talent to the West Coast if there was already a strong possibility that the show would be canceled? Why would the show's executive producer call a cast meeting to assure everyone that AMC was not being canceled just a few weeks before the show was officially canceled? Was there something we could have done as viewers to prevent this drastic decision from being made?
Rather than "evolving the face of daytime," as ABC said in its press release, why hasn't anyone tried to evolve what already resides in daytime? Moving All My Children from New York to Los Angeles may have helped the show cut its operating costs, but it didn't solve the underlying problem: no one has made a concerted effort to change the entire business model and structure of the soap opera genre.
Not everything that worked in the 1980s works in 2011. There are plenty of days when my creaking joints and cracking bones are a perfect example of that. Conspiracy theorists might offer that network executives didn't want to make any effort to keep the soaps on the air. They may even go one step further and insinuate that networks execs actually wanted the soaps to fail. There are certainly elements of truth in those claims, or at least it looks that way when your eyes sting from crying and your heart aches.
When Loving morphed into The City, ABC touted the new soap as a new generation of soap opera. The sets, designed to depict a SoHo brownstone to scale, were some of the largest used in daytime. The show also used hipper camerawork to give the soap a more realistic feel, and the show even interspersed video from New York City to make viewers feel more connected to reality.
Port Charles experimented with the telenovela format -- telling stories with a defined beginning and end, typically in 13-week story arcs, instead of plots that wind on indefinitely -- beginning in the late 1990s. The show was ultimately canceled, but that may have been due, at least in part, to the fact that vampires and other supernatural creatures were running rampant in the show's storylines. Who knew that the 30-minute General Hospital spinoff would be so ahead of its time? Today, television and movie viewers sink their teeth into anything remotely vampire-related. Recently, there are nights when the Spanish-language soaps on Telemundo earn higher ratings than those of primetime programming on the four major networks.
Guiding Light built four-walled sets and filmed half of their scenes outside in real-world locations, but the show rushed their new production model into being -- and ultimately viewers tuned out.
After Passions was canceled by NBC, it briefly moved to a new home on satellite provider, DirecTV. The goal was to boost DirecTV's subscriber base by convincing Passions fans to ditch their cable companies. A year later, Passions was canceled for a second time -- and there was no third chance. DirecTV either got what they wanted from the stunt, or they didn't want to take the time to figure out the soap opera business model and how to retool it to fit into their portfolio.
Change is inevitable, but there's nothing wrong with going back to the basics. Soap operas have always been about fantasy and romance. Pine Valley, like all the other fictional soap towns, was a place for some harmless escapism. Every once in a while, something a little more meaningful might pop up into the storytelling to educate viewers or to remind them that we are all God's children.
I don't profess to have the antidote that will stop the death of our beloved soaps. If I did, I can guarantee you that I would have shared it a long time ago. Before the end of As the World Turns. Before the end of Guiding Light. Before the end of Passions, Port Charles, Sunset Beach, The City, Loving, Another World, Santa Barbara, and Ryan's Hope.
The truth is, there is quite a large segment of the population that wants to kick back and watch the talented and hard-working actors and actresses of daytime bring those damsels in distress, chiseled heroes, and evil twins to life. They are the viewers who have been loyal to their "stories" through thick and thin, and all they want is for the networks to which they've entrusted countless hours of their time to do the same.