Oprah Reveals Why OWN Won’t Pick Up ABC’s Canceled Soaps

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Watch Oprah Explain Why OWN Is Not Buying the ABC Soaps

When ABC announced it was canceling “All My Children” and “One Life To Live,” thousands of viewers had the same idea:  Oprah Winfrey should air them on her fledgling OWN network.  By sheer coincidence, the shows were canceled shortly after Oprah admitted that OWN’s initial line-up had not done well and soon after a repeat of an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” devoted to Oprah’s favorite soap stars aired. It seemed like a win-win situation: OWN would get shows with an established fanbase and the soaps would survive. Now, Oprah has responded with a frank video explaining why she is not going to be the savior of the daytime drama.

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Apparently, so many fans “bombarded” her website’s message boards with pleas to save the show that she decided to respond personally. She explains that, in her opinion, soaps are being canceled because they are no longer profitable, saying, “Here is the bone marrow truth. Soaps have been an institution in broadcast television because they had the support of the audience. When I first started doing my show, ‘All My Children,’ ‘General Hospital‘ were doing double digit ratings. As the years have passed, those ratings have moved to single digits, and until now many soaps are not even getting a full single digit number… Believe me, if there was a dime left to be made on broadcast television, it would still be happening… I will not be taking on the responsibility of trying to revive an institution that for all intents and purposes has indicated that the time has come for it to be over.”

I give Oprah a lot of credit for making the effort to personally respond to soap fans. She is one of the richest, most powerful people in America. She’s trying to launch a new network while putting together the final episodes of her talk show. I doubt she has time to sleep. Yet she made this video because she felt that everyone who reached out to her deserved to be acknowledged. I found her blunt talk to be respectful. She treated soap fans as intelligent people who are capable of understanding the financial aspects of the television industry.

I have read some complaints on soap message boards that she was parroting ABC’s party line or dismissing the soap genre. I disagree. Saving the soaps is not Oprah’s responsibility any more than it is former “All My Children” guest star Warren Buffets, who is even richer than Oprah and whose company, Berkshire-Hathaway, owned 25% of ABC before Disney bought it. Even if OWN had the budget for the soaps, that would not oblige her to buy them. Oprah has produced movies, mini-series and a primetime reality show as well as several other daytime talk shows. She has never produced any scripted television series. Apparently, her interests lie elsewhere.

I doubt that Oprah still watches AMC, or any other television series that she does not produce, on a regular basis. She does not have time. She probably has no idea that the soaps are creatively weaker than they were in the 1980s. The recent soap-themed episode of Oprah focused on soaps’ past, not their present. That means all she knows about is the ratings, which are every bit as terrible as she said they were. Last week only three soaps broke 1.0 in the key Women 18-49 demographic. (Ironically, one of them was OLTL.) As someone who has made her fortune in daytime television, she knows exactly how big of an audience a show needs to attract to be profitable. Her ratings are down too. Instead of letting her talk show’s audience continue to decline, she is leaving for the greener pastures of cable.  She did not say that nobody should attempt to revitalize the soaps, just that she is not the right person to do it.

I applaud fan efforts to save the ABC soaps, but getting angry when people or companies or channels don’t respond favorably is counter productive. ABC’s soaps are ABC’s responsibility and nobody else’s. In theory, every soap on the air could be doing as well as “The Young & The Restless.” Y&R does not have any mystical powers that compel viewers to watch it. It has not always been the number one show. Not that long ago, ABC soaps beat it in key demographics on a regular basis. It is managing to do significantly better than every other soap on the air, though it’s ratings are also declining. If ABC had figured out how to appeal to viewers as well as Y&R does, AMC and OLTL would be safe.

Instead of focusing on getting executives fired, or advertisers to stop buying time on ABC, I’d love to see a positive fan campaign, focusing on getting the network to save OLTL, a show which clearly has a lot of life left to live. (I wish I could say the same about AMC.) This is the third straight week that OLTL has been the number three soap among Women 18-49. Even more impressive, last week its ratings were up versus the same week last year in every demographic. That has not happened with any other soap this season. OLTL even tied GH in households. Roger Howarth is going to return to the show soon. When he does, I think there is a chance that OLTL could beat GH. That doesn’t mean that ABC won’t cancel it anyway. But if fans encouraged everyone they know to watch OLTL, and asked companies that advertise on the show to let ABC know that they would rather buy time on OLTL than an unproven new program, maybe the network’s executives will take a second look at the show. Oprah said if there was a dime of profit to be made, the soaps would still be on the air. Instead of attempting an emotional appeal, fans need to convince ABC that OLTL can make money.

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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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