Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Hope for the Soaps

Well, the last time I wrote on this blog roughly a month ago, I touched upon the fact that ABC has cancelled two of their three soap operas. As I said then, the way they went about this decision (made in light of changing times and diminishing financial stability for the network) was remarkably unprofessional and quite a unnecessarily cruel blow to the both fans and the genre itself. I'm still not a soap fan, but I empathize with the fans and express a great deal of respect for the genre itself.

But today, it would appear that the cloudy skies over the shows' heads have started to break. The production company Prospect Park has gained the rights to produce new episodes of both All My Children and One Life to Live, which will be streamed online. TVLine has the press release here.

There is quite a lot that I find downright fascinating about this decision, beginning with the very nature of this experiment. If we're lucky, this just may be the evolution that the soap opera needs to survive and keep going.  There's been a little bit of questioning on whether or not that the built-in audience for the genre would be substantial enough to keep it going in this new medium. Other questions that naturally arise involve how much the budgets would have to be cut to make it work, if it can work at all.

Personally, I'm rather optimistic about this venture. It's certainly an interesting experiment to say the least, and it will at least extend the life of both these prolific shows. At the same time, I'm already a big fan of content made for the internet, in the form of the company Channel Awesome. That particular company operates the website and offers comedic videos covering elements of popular culture in the form of reviews and the occasional sketch. Granted, each video is the effort of a few people at most working to produce at the longest a half-hour review. These are nerds just talking about their favorite things and editing their compositions on their own. But these videos are very popular and have a niche audience all their own, not unlike the soap opera.

If anything, while ambitious this leap to higher-budget productions also seems fairly natural for the medium of the internet. It should be possible to get enough sponsors for these shows and generate plentiful product as good as when it aired on broadcast TV. And the audience for the soap opera is quite loyal, a poll on TVLine shows a whopping majority of fans, specifically 72.7% (at the time of this writing) would follow their favorite shows to the internet. There would be some kinks to be sure, but I reiterate that if it works it can easily be a revolutionary move that can potentially salvage the genre.

And I must say, if a single nerd can make a living off internet-based reviews (a case in point being "Atop the Fourth Wall", the official blog for which I have posted right to the side) and a whole company can base itself around showcasing these various individual's works, I remain optimistic. It can work out for All My Children and One Life to Live.

Incidentally, this decision came a week and a half after ABC announced when the final episode of All My Children (or rather, final for now) will air. Said finale will air September 23, and the new "lifestyle show" The Chew will debut the following Monday. Of course, with this announcement ABC had to figure out what The Chew was about. I've read that press release, and it appears to be about a talk show. Or more specifically, a talk show about food.

Uh-huh. I will grant ABC that this decision to shake up their daytime schedule makes financial sense, based on diminishing audiences for the lineup. This is akin to CBS launching their own talk show The Talk after Procter and Gamble decided to close As The World Turns. Furthermore, they deserve the benefit of the doubt for taking a reasonable stance on their old soap operas and letting another company try to continue them.

But, what ABC regards as "lifestyle shows" and it would appear "introducing bold new reality concepts" I still view as "making this all up as they go along". This seems to be why The Revolution, the show replacing One Life to Live still can best be described on Wikipedia as a "Health and lifestyle show hosted by Tim Gunn." I'm not the target demographic for Gunn to appeal to me, but I'm certainly familiar with him, having seen him in commercials and on an episode of How I Met Your Mother. I can certainly understand his forte and his profession, so he's certainly the right man for the job of hosting such a lifestyle show.

Still, that makes it all the more apparent how lazy this development was, especially since I can recall that this was supposed to be a makeover show. Are ABC executives still going over whether to devote five hours (a week of shows) to a single subject, or if they can get enough participants to keep up with the potential demand of a daily show? (I imagine the latter should make sense, even if it sounds like it shouldn't.) If you don't know what your show's about but you do know who's going to be a part of it, it displays more committee thinking than the lack of effort put into the title.

Maybe I'm naive and am not giving enough credit to them. After all, they have a better idea now for The Chew than they used to. It may all work out in the end, and these may be worthwhile, appealing shows. But, I cannot ignore how unprofessional and irrational the development of The Chew and The Revolution were. ABC was too quick to cancel both the soap operas compromised for them, and it was quite an unnecessary blow to their fans. If I can say anything can serve as the death knell for broadcast TV, it would be this whole business that's gone about. It almost seems like ABC is embracing its own decline as it downplays its daytime schedule like this. (And yet, their primetime schedule remains ambitious, as far as I can tell with the choices of new shows and the recent pickup of the Hallmark Hall of Fame movies CBS dropped a few months ago.)

And after all that cynicism, I do have one interesting note to point out. Prospect Park, the very company picking up both the ABC soaps, also produces the very likable USA Network dramedy Royal Pains. That series stars Mark Feuerstein as a concierge doctor serving a variety of patients in the Hamptons of Long Island, NY. With their name on such an affable show, it seems too fitting that these same producers are going to try to save the soap opera.