Should Fans Try to Save ‘All My Children’ and ‘One Life to Live’?

Jamie Luner in All My Children (ABC)

Jamie Luner in All My Children (ABC)

Now that the shock over their shows’ cancellation has subsided, “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” fans have hit the anger and bargaining phase of the grieving process. The question on everybody’s minds: is there any way to keep the shows on the air? As much as I want to believe that all of the petitions, letter writing campaigns and Facebook pages will sway ABC’s opinions, I am afraid the odds of success are about as likely as the odds of winning $100 million in the lottery. I’m going to examine a couple of the theories that I have heard.

ABC is so embarrassed by the negative response to the cancellations that the network will reconsider canceling the soaps

The announcement of the cancellations probably did not go exactly as ABC planned. I am sure nobody, especially Susan Lucci herself, wanted the queen of daytime to spend her publicity tour for her book denying rumors that AMC would be canceled, only to have the cancellation happen a couple weeks later. Nor, I imagine, did ABC want a recording of the video link that ABC Daytime President Brian Frons used to inform the cast of OLTL of the show’s cancellation to briefly surface on YouTube.

Yet, on the whole, this really is not a public relations disaster. There have been a lot of articles in mainstream publications lamenting the cancellations, but most have accepted the party line that they were unavoidable due to declining ratings. Many journalists have fondly remembered the shows as programs they used to watch, or shows their grandmothers love, reinforcing the idea that daytime soaps are no longer relevant.

Watch Kelly Ripa’s Reaction To The Double Cancellation:

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ABC knew that viewers were going to be angry. In an interview, Frons made a  joke about joining the witness protection program that came off as insensitive, but it showed he was aware of exactly how upset people would be. People were angry when “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns” were canceled. They threatened to boycott all of CBS programming. There were petitions, letter writing campaigns and phone calls. Some people even demonstrated outside the studio during a broadcast of “The Early Show.” The end result: CBS is still the number one network in primetime by a significant margin. “The Young & the Restless” is still the highest rated soap. “The Talk” and “Let’s Make a Deal” are neither hits nor disasters. ABC has every reason to assume that the same pattern will hold true for its new shows. By announcing the cancellation of both shows and their replacements simultaneously, ABC is getting all of the criticism over with at once.

The Oprah Winfrey Network Can Save the Soaps

The cancellation of AMC and OLTL happened to coincide with the Upfront advertising presentation for the Oprah Winfrey Network in which Oprah admitted that, so far, OWN was not attracting much of an audience. Oprah’s well documented affection for AMC, and her vast wealth, led a nation of amateur programming executives to come to one conclusion: Oprah needs to become the savior of the soaps. What started as the collective hope of fans on Twitter (including Kristie Alley) has now spread to the Business Insider blog, which suggested it as a way to turn around OWN. The idea has obvious appeal. Acquiring shows with a loyal audience would put the network on the map. Unfortunately Entertainment Weekly contacted the network, and learned OWN was not considering picking up the shows. Why pass on what everyone thinks is a brilliant idea? The channel is named after Oprah, but Discovery finances it. Oprah didn’t become a billionaire by spending her own money on her business ventures. The budget for a soap, even if every actor and writer’s salaries were slashed down to basic cable scale, would break the network’s budget.  All of those self-help reality shows on OWN are cheap, and Oprah seems committed to the format.

Moreover, the entertainment industry as a whole believes that soap operas are dead. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy since it means that no cable channel wants to consider how to transform and reboot the shows into something that would both fit its budget and be appealing to its target audience. Televest tried and failed to shop ATWT and GL to cable channels. When “Passions” moved from NBC to DirecTV — the one time a soap transitioned from network to cable — it was not successful. Though AMC and OLTL have bigger audiences and more name recognition, persuading a cable network to spend the tens of millions of dollars that it would take to put on a scripted show five days a week would be difficult.  AMC and OLTL have been running on SoapNET for years, and Disney determined that a network geared to preschoolers would be more profitable. That’s not a ringing endorsement for their potential as cable originals.

This does not mean that fans should give up campaigning to save the shows. If nothing else, it’s cathartic. Miracles can happen. Fans of “The Game” never gave up, and eventually the show found a new home on BET and is more popular than it ever was on the CW. Perhaps there is someone with both the money and the vision to see the potential of these shows — even if it is in a completely different form. Years ago, a little boy named Johnny Depp enjoyed watching “Dark Shadows.”  Now he is producing and starring in a movie based on the original vampire soap. Maybe in a couple decades, we will be watching “All My Children”: the movie.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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