Yesterday the soap-watching world was rocked by the news that ABC Daytime was cancelling not one but two daytime serials, One Life To Live and All My Children. After weeks of rumors that were vehemently denied by the people in charge, the network did an abrupt about face and trumpeted the news that yes, they were cancelling the shows after all.
I don't watch either show, but the news hit me hard. In just three years, the number of soaps on the air has been cut in half, with Guiding Light and As The World Turns on the chopping block prior to this announcement.
And some would say, so what? Soaps have outlived their purpose. They're old school, appealing to a demographic that doesn't exist anymore. Like it or not, television is a business, and the Powers That Be have an obligation to the bottom line.
But I think this spate of cancellations is a mistake, for several reasons.
First, the loss of the legacy these shows carried is immense. Each of the shows has been around for many decades, with characters and storylines that lasted (in some cases) as long as the shows themselves. Characters were born, grew up, fell in love (multiple times), and raised their own families over the course of the shows. Viewers welcomed these characters into their homes and hearts year after year, coming to know them and care about them in a way that primetime shows can't match. Think about it - a primetime series runs about 24 or so new episodes a year. A long-running primetime show may last 10 years, which equals 240 episodes total.
All of the recently cancelled soaps had over 40 years of history. 52 weeks of episodes, five days a week, for 40-plus years. We're talking thousands of episodes, thousands of hours. This is television on a scale that primetime scripted television can't even imagine.
Second, it's a real loss for the acting community. As Kelly Ripa said on hearing the news, the soaps are a training ground for actors. Soap acting is often derided, but the performers who work on these shows do an amazing job under difficult conditions. Again, we're talking about the difference between memorizing and performing in 20 or so episodes a year, with a week or more to rehearse and prepare for each ep, and creating a new hour-long show every weekday all year long. On soaps, actors are memorizing lines and blocking day to day, often without the chance to run through a scene more than once before cameras roll. Eric Sheffer Stevens said that working on a soap asked him to use a completely different set of acting muscles, requiring split-second decision-making.
So now two more shows are gone, reducing this opportunity for a new generation of actors, not to mention jobs lost for writers, directors, camera operators, and untold other backstage employees. It's even harder to take on the east coast, where just a few years ago there were three soaps filmed in New York City. Early next year, there will be none.
(I also feel horrible for the cast and crew of All My Children, who were uprooted last year and moved across country to L.A. in an effort to reduce costs on the show. Now they're pink-slipped with little notice.)
Worst of all, to my mind, is the dismissal of the community of soap fans. Soap watchers are a passionate bunch, and fiercely loyal. There are generations of viewers, people who grew up watching with their moms and grandmas, and are dedicated watchers now. Viewers meet in person at fan events and connect online, discussing storylines and pairings with other fans. They care about their shows and the people who populate the fictional towns portrayed in them. And it's a slap in the face to casually jettison decades of a unique cultural phenomenon for yet another "lifestyle" show that will be quickly forgotten. (Seriously, ABC? You're replacing a beloved soap with something called The Chew? Ugh.)
So RIP, One Life To Live and All My Children. And to Y & R, GH, Days, and B & B, please keep fighting the good fight. The future of the genre depends on you.