ABC announced the cancellation of two of their three daytime serials last week. "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" will be off the schedule in September 2011 and Jaunary 2012, respectively, while "General Hospital" is safe (at least for now).
The news of the cancellations didn't necessarily surprise me as they'd been rumored for several months before the official announcement, but it did disappoint me a little bit. Admittedly, I haven't been watching either of the shows in recent years, but I do have fond memories of watching my grandma settle into her living room easy chair on more than one occasion as she prepared to catch up on her stories, or sitting with my mom as she'd fold laundry or wait for the freshly-mopped kitchen floor to finally dry with one eye on me, one eye on the TV.
Another reason that this decision had an effect on me was my appreciation for the history of TV. The daytime soap opera is one of the last true connections that the current medium has to the earliest days of television (and broadcasting in general); shows like "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" were often a network's bread-and-butter, even if they weren't the so-called crown jewel in the line-up. They brought in steady advertising revenue streams and helped to create brand identity and loyalty for the stations that aired them. And sure, while most episodes were chock full of the stereotypical romantic fantasy stuff that made soaps infamous, both "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" (as well as the other soaps) also had a willingness to tackle tough subject matter, even occasionally producing smarter, richer and sometimes flat-out better programs on those topics than their nighttime counterparts, giving their fans more to talk about -- and think about -- than they might have ever expected.
No comment about the departure of these programs is complete without mentioning the fan bases. They were -- and still are -- vocal and supportive of their favorite shows and characters. Before there were chat rooms and Facebook pages and talkbacks on websites, soap fans were connecting with one another -- and with the networks -- about the shows and characters they cared about the most. It comes as no surprise that they've taken to any and all communication methods to register their complaints about ABC's decision, working for a reversal.
It's an unfortunate fact of today's television economics, though, that the sheer financial cost of a daytime drama is a major issue for the broadcast networks. Producing more than a few hours of new scripted programming a week, every week, was certainly always a significant outlay of cash. (In ABC's case, they currently air 15 hours a week.) With a constantly fracturing and dwindling daytime audience, however, the advertising revenue that broadcast television counts on to survive has slowed to a trickle, while production costs remain high.
The network, in tandem with the cancellation news, immediately announced there would be replacements for the long-running dramas, a pair of hour-long talk/information shows that ABC claims are in the vein of their long-running chatfest "The View" -- "The Chew," a food show, and "The Revolution," a lifestyles program -- both of which will cost much, much less to produce. ABC has made a decision that they no doubt believe will ultimately help their bottom line, but it could be years before this strategy finally pays off, and in the meantime, they risk alienating a sizable portion of their audience, perhaps forever.
The daytime drama is not dead -- not yet, anyway. CBS still has two of them, the top-rated "The Young and the Restless," as well as "The Bold and the Beautiful," while NBC still airs the ever-popular "Days of Our Lives" and, again, ABC is keeping "General Hospital" in their line-up. But I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that a significant part of television will pass into the realm of memory when "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" say their final goodbyes, and only time (and the ratings) will tell if the remaining soaps can survive in the modern broadcast TV world.