When ABC announced the cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live in mid-April, the network seemed to have all its ducks in a row. When AMC left the air in September, it would be replaced by Chew; OLTL would air until January 2012 when The Revolution would take over. But ABC was committed to keeping General Hospital on the air – its last soap standing.
When the rumors started flying that ABC was planning to replace GH with a talk show hosted by former CBS news anchor Katie Couric, GH fans cried foul, and with good reason. ABC owns all of its soaps; if the network wanted to eliminate its daytime soaps, there was nothing to stop them, least of all the wrath of heartbroken fans.
Here’s what I think happened. On April 26th, two weeks after the AMC and OLTL cancellations, Katie Couric announced that she was not renewing her contract with CBS news and wanted to do a syndicated talk show. Someone at ABC higher up the food chain than Brain Frons, head of ABC Daytime – maybe his boss, Ann Sweeny, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group – decided to go after Couric. And yesterday, they got her.
What does this mean for the future of GH ? This is from yesterday’s press release:
The eight ABC Owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh/Durham and Fresno, which represent nearly 23% of the nation’s TV households, have already cleared the new show in the 3:00 p.m. time slot. As part of the announcement, the network is set to return the last hour of its Daytime network block to affiliates no earlier than September 2012, but continues to support “General Hospital” and the plans to launch “The Chew” in September of this year and “The Revolution” in January 2012.
So, what exactly does “continue to support” mean when come next September 23% of viewers – at a minimum! – won’t be able to watch GH in its usual time slot? Here’s what an unnamed ABC representative told TV Guide’s Michael Logan, "We are going to populate our daytime block with our strongest shows, the ones that resonate most with our audience," When Logan posed the obvious question, “Doesn't this scenario encourage GH fans to boycott The Chew and The Revolution — the shows replacing All My Children and One Life to Live — in order to increase GH's chances of survival,” the rep was ready: "We hope it will encourage them to watch and support GH. We will consider all options, such as making The Chew and The Revolution a half hour each, or making The Revolution and GH a half hour. This all happens a year and half from now. We are going to do our best to keep everybody happy." Where do they teach this kind of double talk?
But her (or his, don’t know why I just assumed it was a woman) reply raises an interesting question: If cutting GH to thirty minutes is on the table (soap commentators have been pitching the idea of cutting all soaps back for years), why not include AMC and OLTL? I get that seizing the Katie Couric opportunity upended ABC Daytime’s carefully laid plans. But here was a chance to think outside the box – push the envelope. Make all six shows, the three soaps, The Chew, The Revolution and Katie’s new show, a half-hour. Of course, I’m not holding my breath that Katie Couric’s going to give up any real estate. But, just saying, it was a solution that could have gone a long way toward keeping everybody happy.
Instead, ABC seems to be setting up some sort of survival of the fittest, inter-mural competition pitting soap,GH, against talk, Chew and Revolution, all but telling GH fans flat out that the ball's in their court, and if GH fails, it's because they didn't support the show they claim they can't live without. Then again, as Sara Bibel points out, ABC may want to provide Couric with a strong lead-in, which could work to GH’s advantage.
And, of course, there’s always the possibility that lightning could strike twice, and new head writer, Garin Wolf, will be able to repeat Gloria Monty's success when she reinvented GH in the late 1980s. Or, maybe fans, weary of the protracted uncertainty and resentful of being used as pawns in the zero sum game ABC has constructed, will bow to the inevitable, realize that there, indeed, life after soaps and ABC, not NBC, as many observers would have predicted, will be the first to abandon daytime soaps entirely. Whoda thunk it?
© 2011 Lynn Liccardo
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