So, as you may have heard, All My Children and One Life to Live have been canceled. Yes, the continuing sagas of Pine Valley and Llanview, PA will be no more in just a few months. No more Erica Kane and her many husbands, no more Victoria Lord and her many personalities, no more Dorian Lord and her many diamonds. It's the end of an era and yet another body blow to an American institution already teetering on the brink of extinction.
I've spent the past couple of days writing angry and sad screeds on various soap news websites. Like many, I grew up at my grandmother's knee watching the "stories," in our family meaning the ABC line-up. In recent years, I've been a huge fan of One Life to Live, which has retained at least vestiges of what enthralled me as a child (unlike General Hospital, which has become a vile pustule that in way deserves to be the last one standing).
There are a lot of fingers to point at in the continued and accelerating death of the American Soap Opera. Fewer people at home during the day, the way ratings are compiled, the rise of cheap-to-produce reality shows, and the general decline of broadcast TV and the rise of digital media are all major factors. In my view, however, incompetent and apathetic "leadership" from executives like Brian Frons of ABC Daytime who couldn't care less about the genre is what has really brought us to this point. Creatively, soaps have been at a standstill for some time, mostly, I think, due to an incestuous pool of writing and producing talent that has become a merry-go-round of incompetent hacks merrily skipping from one soap to another, leaving horror and destruction in their wake. Tired cliches, ridiculous stunts, and a seeming inability to accurately reflect a changing, increasingly diverse world bordering on the cowardly replaced the dynamic, challenging, socially conscious drama of other eras.
But no matter what anyone says, the death of the soap opera is and was not inevitable. New blood and fresh ideas, new distribution channels, new revenue streams, all could have been explored. All it would take is a little smarts and creativity. But the idiots in charge have neither, and what is more, don't care. Soaps are uncool, expensive to produce, and not the easy money pits they once were. So a decades-old art form and cultural touchstone has been allowed to die on the vine, so that newer, cheaper content like a cooking show called The Chew (seriously, that's what's taking All My Children's time slot) can go on. Maddening, and even more saddening. Who is going to have fond memories of summers watching The Chew? Will The Chew last forty years with millions of multigenerational fans?
But don't take my word for it. Just go here or here or here or long-time friend-of-the-blog Chad here.
Serial drama will never die. It may no longer take its traditional form, but someone, somewhere will figure out a way to make money and generate buzz with it in today's world. It's just a shame it obviously won't be ABC.