The Internet Could Not Save 'All My Children'
By Josh Wolonick, Minyanville Staff Writer
In 2011, the long-running ABC (NYSE: DIS) soap operas All My Children (ran for 41 years) and One Life to Live (43 years) were canceled. Almost immediately, the Hollywood-based production company Prospect Park swooped in and bought the shows. After a difficult resuscitation and a move to online streaming (primarily on Hulu), the soaps began their new lives in April of this year. Now, just seven months later, the shows are being canceled again.
Though Prospect Park has not officially announced any cancelations, several actors from the show have shared the news via Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and Twitter (NYSE: TWTR). Yesterday, AMC star Debbi Morgan tweeted, "The show is not coming back...It's so sad & just a real bummer..."
Another star of the show, Cady McClain, corroborated Morgan's announcement on Facebook. She posted, "If you aren't hearing anything about the ending of AMC as we know it, it's really out of shock. I am also trying to allow [Prospect Park] to have the moment to contact all the actors and explain what is and has been going on with AMC, and then gather themselves to try and explain it all to you, the fans."
In September, news broke that the production company was shelving One Life to Live due to legal disputes with ABC over, among other things, certain characters who appeared on both OLTL and General Hospital, which still airs on ABC during the day, with reruns playing on Soapnet at night. Meanwhile, the plan was for AMC to return. (Disclosure: As an actor, I played a small role in the 2013 season of All My Children.) Between then and now, apparently, the plan changed.
Many applauded the soaps' move to online distribution, given the success of streaming services like Hulu, which streamed both shows, and Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX), which is the definitive industry leader. While original programming like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black have been highly successful for the company, the Prospect Park soap operas, mired in legal battles, financial troubles, and decades of daytime network precedence, just couldn't cut it in the new digital medium.
But many soaps haven't been able to cut it in the old medium either, even the most successful of them. In 2009, CBS's (NYSE: CBS) Guiding Light called it quits after an astonishing 57 years on the air (which was preceded by 15 years on the radio). The next year, As the World Turns, another CBS daytime staple, ended after 54 years. Perhaps even more telling, no new daytime, network soap opera has been created since NBC's Passions in 1999 (that show was canceled in 2007). Arguably, however, the form does continue to thrive in prime time with more modern shows that borrow elements from the soap opera genre, like Fox's (NASDAQ: FOX) The O.C. and The CW's Gossip Girl, which both had successful runs but are now retired, and Dallas, which is a continuation of the prime-time soap opera of the same name that aired on CBS from 1978 to 1991 (the new Dallas will return for a third season in early 2014).
So why exactly is the soap opera endangered? There are currently eight American soap operas in production, with only four of those being the classic-style daytime soap, namely The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of Our Lives, and General Hospital. Abigail De Kosnik, editor of the book The Survival of the Soap Opera, proposes a sociological answer: "The old model of soap opera was built around an ideal viewer who no longer exists: the bored housewife. But since the 1950s, women have entered the workplace in droves. There are stay-at-home moms, but they are wealthier, and they regard their ability to dedicate themselves to their family's domestic concerns to be a privilege, even a marker of status."
In short, times have changed and soap operas, and especially daytime soaps, are less viable because of it.
The Prospect Park online project was not alone in seeking to bring soaps to online streaming: Shows like DeVanity and Venice: The Series have found ongoing success online, and notedly, not through Hulu. The former airs on its own website and the latter airs its new season on its website, but airs old seasons on YouTube.
Spanish-language channels like Univision and Telemundo, the latter of which is owned by Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), have seen success with telenovelas, which are comparable to soap operas but are not exactly the same. Telenovelas, for example, are generally designed as limited-run programs.
With the help of daytime shows like La Rosa de Guadalupe (The Rose of Gaudalupe) and Cachito de Cielo (A Little Bit of Heaven), as well as prime-time offerings such as Corazón Indomable (Wild at Heart), Univision won the networks ratings battle in July, besting NBC, CBS, FOX, and ABC for the coveted 18-49 age demographic for the first time ever. Since then, Univision has continued to be a strong presence in the Network space, targeting the fastest growing demographic in the US: Spanish speakers.
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