Cancelled Soap Operas Given New Life

Recently, it was announced that longtime ABC Soaps 'All My Children' and 'One Life to Live' that were recently slated for cancellation in September will continue online. The following is a guest post from C. Lee Harrington, co-editor of the Survival of the Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era

As a longtime soap fan and co-editor of The Survival of Soap Opera (with Sam Ford and Abigail De Kosnik), I was thrilled to learn that the online distribution company Prospect Park has licensed the rights to All My Children and One Life to Live, slated for cancellation by ABC in September 2011 and January 2012 (respectively). I have followed both programs for decades and was saddened by these series’ demise – and more importantly, by what it seemed to herald for daytime as a whole. 

Hopefully, the multi-year, multi-platform deal with Prospect Park, which will make AMC and OLTL accessible both online and on emerging platforms, represents one possible strategy for keeping the genre alive. Similar efforts were made to find new homes for Guiding Light (cancelled in September 2009) and As the World Turns (cancelled September 2010) but without success.  

Two things about this give me pause, however.

The first is that, to my understanding, the licensing agreement stipulates the same format (stripped daily) and length (60 minutes) of the programs. One of the challenges facing TV soaps is attracting and retaining an audience that wants to (and is able to) invest that kind of time and loyalty into their program, given dwindling leisure time and expanded entertainment options. So while this deal might retain the core audience, I question whether it will attract a new audience.

In the next few years I hope we see more experimentation with formatting in particular, I think there is such rich potential for short-form or chapter-like US soap storytelling (which ABC tried, unsuccessfully, with now-defunct Port Charles but which web soaps have modeled quite well). 

The second thing that gives me pause is that the business model remains unclear – how will Prospect Park finance the soaps? As of this writing, there are intense salary discussions underway with core actors, for example, and there’s no question that some stars (AMC’S Susan Lucci, for example), will need to accept huge pay cuts to stay part of the narrative canvas. That’s not a deal-breaker – daytime actors come and go all the time – but it seems obvious that the fictional communities of Pine Valley (AMC) and Llanview (OLTL) will look different, at least initially.

Bottom-line, though, I think this is fabulous news that hopefully opens the door to any number of new possibilities!

C. Lee Harrington is is professor of sociology and a Women's Studies Program Affiliate at Miami (OH) University. She has been conducting research on the daytime industry and soap fans since the late 1980s and is author of many published academic works on soaps, including Soap Fans (with Denise D. Bielby).

 The Survival of the Soap Opera is currently available from UPM.


P Cee said…
The length of the online episodes is unclear to me, too. I think it would be foolish for them to produce 60 minutes a day of actual content.

On the other hand, most daytime shows are now running at around 35 minutes of actual content (with numerous commercials). So what their announcement to continue making shows at the same length means is still a question.

I think they'd be wise to do 25 to 30 minutes of content plus a limited number of interstitials.