Friday, June 10, 2011

The Changing Face of ABC Daytime

Earlier this week, ABC announced that they will cut their daytime schedule down by an hour in Fall 2012. This move will accommodate a brand new talk show hosted by Katie Couric, the former Today anchor who just signed on with ABC News. Said show will air in syndication, intended for broadcast at 3:00 PM EST -- the slot currently occupied by General Hospital.

This is not the only news relevant to soap opera fans and ABC this year. In April, they've announced that both of their other soaps, All My Children and One Life To Live will be going off the year within a year's time. Now, I'm not a soap opera fan. I've never watched any of these shows or ones on other networks regularly, the closest I've ever come being my older brother's interest in Passions from 2000 until the show left NBC in 2006.

And yet, the cancellations of these shows and the recent development posing a potential threat to General Hospital is news that's incredibly distressing to me.

We're living in a time when a majority of the population has a cable subscription and retains access to a vast assortment of channels and shows. This has splintered the overall audience to the point where only cheap shows (ie, without scripted productions to maintain) can thrive on the given audiences, regardless of quality. The consequences of this move are what's posing a threat to the soaps. It's been ge

tting to a point where these shows are too expensive for the networks to keep producing. For similar reasons, these same networks don't bother with children's programming on Saturday mornings anymore (and I'm inclined to believe that there are more negative consequences from that than benefits, but let's not worry about that now).

What makes the cancellations of both these shows such a disaster and a blunder more than anything is the way ABC went about it. For one thing, both cancellations were announced at once. Granted, the respective shows will end at different times, but that's far from any excuse. Over the last few seasons, CBS dropped a few soap operas of their own. But they had a far more reasonable exit strategy -- ending one show at a time. ABC's approach just felt like a sucker punch with barbed knuckles.

Making matters worse is the replacement shows they've announced. Replacing All My Children this fall is The Chew, a talk show about food. And next spring when One Life To Live wraps up, the replacement will be The Revolution, which will provide makeovers to its participants. The group that protested at the ABC Upfronts called these two shows "glorified infomercials appropriate for late-night basic cable channels, not for a major broadcast network." It may sound like some fan-wanky whining, but I have to admit they kind of have a point.

When CBS cancelled Guiding Light after a run of over 70 years, at least they were certain of the kind of show to replace it. That show was a revival of Let's Make a Deal, itself a veteran of daytime TV from back in the day. By the time Procter and Gamble and CBS ended As The World Turns (and part of that was P&G getting out of the daytime business), at least the choice of The Talk being in the same vein as ABC's own The View made some sense.

But these new ABC shows literally feel like they were made up on the spot. The premises touted for each new show are about as bland as their respective working titles. I mean, you can argue that TV shows always constantly evolve and change with time, always trying new approaches in response to new circumstances or when trying to improve. But I'm not sure I can look at reality television like that, usually because each reality show relies so much on a high concept.

These shows don't have much substance to their "high concepts" to begin with. A twelve-year-old can come up with a more creative concept than these.

Soap operas are a television institution, enduring for a long time and predating even the medium itself. Say what you will about the content of the shows themselves, but they've left a strong impression on popular culture. They still have a devoted core fanbase. If the genre itself is dying off, then it should go out with more dignity than this.

If you must parn them down to save money, then that's fine. But to cut off two out at the same time? To throw out half-baked ideas instead of solid series propositions as replacements? To make an announcement that your remaining soap is on thin ice while fans are still reeling? There is absolutely nothing dignified or professional about these decisions and how they were carried out. If anything, it signifies that broadcast television just may be in its twilight days, having lost its overall genuine look and appeal long after losing its dominance.

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