where the writers are
gutting amy...

the havoc UPtv has wrought upon Judging Amy and other challenges facing serialized storytelling in the digital age...

One of the things I miss most about soap opera is having a new episode to look forward to every day. With TOLN releasing two episodes on Mondays, the online version of One Life to Live has become a weekly affair. And yes, I know, General Hospital is still airing daily; sad to say, of late, GH has become little more than a bit of exercise for my fast-forward finger.

Now, in theory, I can watch what I want, when I want and where I want. But the sheer volume of content, and choices of platforms actually makes it more difficult to replicate the sense of expectation and anticipation -- the rhythm and routine -- daily episodes create, though I expect I'm likely in the minority here. This was brought home to me earlier in the year when the WIGS channel returned to YouTube for its second season. When WIGS was announced in early May 2012, the plan was to release new episodes (running 7-12 minutes) Monday-Friday. When the channel went live a week later, the schedule had been revised to Monday, Wednesday and Friday, presumably to allow more time to establish an audience. But, three times a week between mid-May until just before Christmas, I could look forward to seeing new installments of 13 series ranging from 2-15 episodes. Not daily, but close enough.

But, when WIGS' most popular serial, Blue, returned for its second season in mid-March, the schedule had changed. Rather than releasing episodes three days a week, which would have taken almost nine weeks, the 26 episodes were released in groups of six and seven on four consecutive Fridays -- 22 days start to finish -- less time than the four weeks it took to release the first season's 12 episodes. As I said, in theory, I could have watched these episodes whenever and where ever I please. But, in reality, logging in on a Friday morning and seeing six or seven short episodes that total barely an hour viewing time; well, it made more sense to add it to my weekly schedule and just watch in one shot.

So, I've had to look elsewhere for my daily fix. For the past couple of years, I've cycled through Gilmore Girls on ABC Family a few times. I watched GG's original seven-year run (2000-2007) on the WB, and loved the fraught parent-child dynamics underlying the story. But much as I enjoyed remembering, or in some cases, realizing that there were times I had actually been misremembering, this time I was ready to give GG a rest.

A show I liked a great deal during its six-year run (1999-2005) on CBS was Judging Amy. Over the years, I've noticed JA airing here (Lifetime), there (TNT), and since 2011, on UPtv (formerly the Gospel Music Channel), but didn't have room in what at the time was a crowded schedule. It was a happy confluence of events that a few weeks before the GG finale aired, I realized that JA was back to the beginning and set my DVR. Since UPtv aires two episodes a day, the series moved along quickly. But, then a funny thing happened; the first episode of season two opened with Amy's brother, Vincent, in the hospital recovering from serious injuries. Yet, in the previous episode, Vincent was just fine. I chalked it up to a programming oversight. But when barely a week later, season three began airing, I realized that something was amiss.

A bit of online investigation revealed that UPtv skips episodes that contained material the station deemed "not suitable for our audience" -- sometimes as many as three consecutive episodes. In the case of season 2, only 11 of the season's 22 episodes aired. The unaired first season finale included the bombing that injured Vincent.

Of course, "not suitable" is in the eye of the beholder (the station reportedly does not air the episode of The Waltons involving a Ouija board), but why would UPtv chose to license a show that never pretended to be anything other than a serious, adult drama showing a contemporary family in all its messy glory, two members of which, Amy, a juvenile court judge and her mother, Maxine, a social worker in child protective services, dealt with the legal and social issues facing troubled children?

Clearly, the station has the right to air its shows as it sees fit. But, what's not clear is if UPtv was aware of just how many episodes contained unsuitable material before they acquired the show? And the extent to which those missing episodes would compromise the logic and continuity of the storytelling, and the disruptive impact on viewers' ability to follow the story? Did they consider how confusing it would for viewers when Amy's worshipful courtroom clerk, Donna, became pregnant after her request for a conjugal visit with her convict husband was denied and the episode in which it was granted was not shown? That Donna's pregnancy was revealed in that unaired first season finale only added to viewers' confusion.

If the station fully vetted the show, then decided to air it anyway in spite of the volume of material that would have to be cut, they performed a great disservice to the many viewers who previously watch Judging Amy. On the other hand, if the station realized the extent of objectionable material only after the deal was closed, perhaps when the contract is up, UPtv could help find a more suitable home for the show. The success of the WIGS Channel, whose target audience is women, led to a multi-year deal with FOX Broadcasting, "to expand the breadth of offerings through the WIGS channel, and test and nurture dramatic concepts and talent in the digital realm...with an eye toward building content that can be programmed on FOX and/or other channels.” Should such a channel ever materialize, Judging Amy would be a natural fit.

According to viewer services, "viewers love Judging Amy so much that they accept the fact that they will not see all of the shows." No doubt true for many viewers. But, setting aside how these missing episodes undermine the serialized elements of Judging Amy, UPtv's viewers are missing so much more than the objectionable material; the narrative is stripped of kind of rich details that contextualized characters. None more so than Amy's widowed mother, Maxine, who late in the first season is courted by a millionaire, Jared. I can't remember how much of an impact his son Charles' accusations that Maxine was a golddigger had on her doubts about the relationship. But, since Charles first appeared in the unaired first season finale (and another unaired episode in season 2), UPtv viewers are left completely in the dark about this aspect of Maxine and Jared's relationship.

But all of the above pales by comparison with UPtv's failure to allow viewers to experience an episode from season four, Requiem. Maxine and Jared's plans to marry were upended when the actor playing Jared, Richard Crenna, died in early 2003. I recall watching (with a box of tissues and a pint of Ben and Jerry's) as Jared's offscreen death was revealed. But, Requiem also had Amy and her boyfriend Stuart taking a camping trip together (which, if I recall correctly, including a skinny dipping scene). So, UPtv viewers will never get to share in Maxine's grief, which culminated in a powerful final scene, and would permeate every aspect of her character for the remainder of the series.

So, you might be asking, "why don't I just get the DVDs and be done with it?" Or, "how about YouTube?" There are some JA videos available on YouTube, but nothing close to the full series, and their organization is difficult to navigate. As for DVDs, were that I could (along with the third season of Once and Again). According to a 2008 interview with Amy Brenneman, who co-created Judging Amy and played its titular character, "The reason it hasn't been (released on DVD), honestly, is it was a famously acrimonious co-production between 20th Century Fox and CBS. It's really weird. Neither one wants the other to really benefit from it." Which leaves fans -- the ones who would "really benefit" -- once again, caught in the switches.

© 2013 Lynn Liccardo

Limited Licensing: I, Lynn Liccardo, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lynn Liccardo and for non-commercial purposes only.