ABC Makes a Big Mistake

The news of the cancellations of ABC’s All My Children and One Life to Live was very disappointing for a number of reasons. Though Guiding Light and As the World Turns have been cancelled in each of the last two years, these cancellations were more jarring as their announcements came at the same time on the same day from the same network. ABC wasn’t expected to follow in the footsteps of competitors CBS and NBC in their near abandonment of the daytime serial. It always seemed that ABC knew better. Clearly not.

First of all, it was unnecessary. Recent rating declines have stemmed from changes in daytime viewing habits, not from lack of interest. Therefore, there were other options. The problem is that the networks have long since considered the genre an outdated relic from a bygone era, so there was little interest on their part to save the fading format except to find ways to produce it more and more cheaply.

With Oprah going off the air in September, many ABC stations will have an open time period in the Afternoons. While many of them have plans to run an hour of local news, not all plans have been finalized so there was an opportunity to test run the soaps from 2 to 5 or even 3 to 6 when viewership levels are higher and a wider audience is available. This shifts the also-struggling network news later into the evening for a chance to increase its own numbers by exposing it to an even wider audience.

Secondly, the pitch meetings that went on to find replacements for All My Children and One Life to Live had to be absolutely horrendous if the best they could come up with was two lifestyle shows that sound about as appealing as listening to Snooki deliver a State of New Jersey address or The Situation host this year’s Emmys. It would have been better to launch a new talk show or hell, even ANOTHER new court show in the early afternoon. Though viewership levels are lower in mid-afternoon, production costs for talk shows and court shows are also lower, so ratings expectations are lower. Plus, with audiences for both skew less female than the soaps.

Thirdly, soap operas are the ONLY programming in daytime that is scripted. These latest cancellations strike a major blow against the creative community of writers, producers, actors and directors as well as the technical community of camera operators, film editors, sound mixers, sound editors, costumers, lighting, set design, art direction, etc…

Pretty soon, all of network and local broadcast television will give way to reality programming. While bottom line metrics may continue to be met, where will the audience be? They will continually dwindle and probably turn their attentions to the WEB, where that savvy and resourceful community of creative people will find a way to once again do what the networks are once again trying to prevent them from doing. It’s been said many times over the years when cable was at its rise and the internet began to profilerate our lives, but this is truly a death knell for broadcast television as we know it. And it deserves to die since their executives are the ones cluelessly calling the shots from their respective bell towers.

Lastly, whether people watch soaps on a regular basis or not, they have always been part of the television landscape. It would be criminal for them to go the way of the dinosaur. What was needed was out-of-the-box thinking and a revitalization of the format, not an ultimate abandonment. Then again, bottom-line executives aren’t much for creative thinking.

Even those who don’t watch soaps can’t forget Susan Lucci’s first and only trip to the Emmy podium in 1999 after 19 nominations.

Hoover is the first of potentially many advertisers who pull their money from ABC until they recommit themselves to daytime serials. It may need a bit of a revitalization, but it certainly doesn’t need a complete abandonment. ABC should heed the overwhelming response against what they’ve done. The audience is there. Find it. Their viewing habits are changing. EVOLVE.