Could International Syndication Have Saved ABC’s Soaps?

Cameron Mathison on All My Children (ABC)

Cameron Mathison on All My Children (ABC)

ABC Soaps

A lot of fans have questioned ABC’s, and now Oprah’s, claim that “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” are no longer profitable for the network. People have wondered why, if soaps are such a financial drain, “The Young & the Restless,” “Days of Our Lives” and “The Bold & the Beautiful,” were recently renewed, particularly since DOOL and B&B are not doing significantly better than the canceled soaps. Part of the reason could be international syndication. It can be a significant source of revenue for television series, particularly since, in theory, the U.S. run pays for the expense of producing a series while the international airings are pure profit. According to Wikipedia, “Days” currently airs in Australia, South Africa, Turkey, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Greece and Belize. Y&R airs in Australia, Belgium, Belize, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, India, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, South Africa, and Switzerland. B&B airs pretty much everywhere on earth.

In contrast, “All My Children” can only be seen in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.  OLTL – always the redheaded step-child – only airs in Canada. I do not know whether Disney did not put as much effort into selling its soaps internationally as Sony and Bell-Phillips did, or if the ABC shows are, for some reason, less appealing to international buyers. But it makes a big difference in the revenues that the shows generate. Sony earns millions of dollars each year from the international broadcasts of Y&R and DOOL, which is a major reason why the studio has fought hard to keep its shows on the air. Unfortunately for fans hoping that the four remaining soaps will survive, CBS and NBC make little money on their soaps’ international distribution. ABC, which not only produces but distributes its soaps, keeps all of the show’s syndication profits. It’s surprising that this did not motivate global juggernaut Disney to make Erica Kane as ubiquitous as Mickey Mouse. If there were aspects of the show that needed to be tweaked to make them more appealing internationally, it surely would have been worth it. With SoapNET ceasing to exist in 2012, the ABC soaps are relying almost exclusively on their U.S. airings to generate profits. Perhaps if back in the 1990s, when the shows were far more popular and the international television market was exploding, some savvy international sales executives at Disney had focused on making ABC soaps global hits, they would survived.

Best New Soap Character of the Year

The Young & The Restless” introduced a new character on Tuesday that was an instant hit — at least with me. A character who is truly good and quite cute; an antidote to all of the hatred and anger that has characterized the past few weeks of daytime both on and off-camera. I am speaking, of course, of Fanny the Newborn Lamb. This innocent creature, delivered by the show’s other newcomer, veterinarian Sam (Sean Patrick Flanery) with an assist from Sharon (Sharon Case) utterly stole the show. She bleated. She drank from a bottle. She broke new (and gross) daytime ground when Sharon removed the mucous from her nose. Congratulations, Newborn Lamb, on having the most realistic birth in daytime history, even if you kept up the daytime tradition of looking several weeks old.  I am being somewhat facetious, but if daytime really wants to appeal to the Internet generation, maybe it needs more cute animals. They are the focus of an inordinate number of viral videos.

I also liked Sam, for many of the same reasons I liked the lamb. So far — (based on all two episodes he’s appeared in) he is a throwback to the sort of manly nice guys that abounded on soaps in the 1980s, the men who wouldn’t get caught dead wearing a suit and tie, who often hid their hearts of gold behind a gruff exterior. Y&R used to be full of guys like this. In fact, for many years Sharon’s first love, Nick (Joshua Morrow), was the rich kid version of this character. Maybe it’s because they are now rare, or maybe it’s because I’m more mature than I was when they ruled daytime, but I find Sam refreshing. He is not scheming to take over a company. He does not appear to harbor any grudges. He’s confident without being cocky. He is intelligent without being pretentious. In short, he seems like the sort of man a woman would want to date in real life. I found myself thinking, “Hey, Sharon, you’d be a lot better off with a man who delivers babies than a man who steals them.” Flanery has proven himself to be one film actor who approaches daytime the exact same way he would any other role. His subtle, naturalistic performance has made me interested in Sam after just a few episodes. Why is he so willing to let a stranger move into his barn? Is it just because she’s a beautiful woman, or does Sharon remind him of a former love? It’s a classic romance novel scenario, which makes it a bold choice for the dark, mean spirited world of daytime in 2011. (Of course down the road, Sam could turn out to be a serial killer with connections to organized crime.) Kudos to Y&R for daring to bring an actual good guy onto its canvas.

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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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