Friday, May 28, 2010 at 10:15 PM ET by Errol Lewis
(SoapOperaNetwork.com) — The year 2012 isn’t just the end of the Mayan calendar, it is the end of an era for soap operas as well.
When SOAPnet launched on January 20, 2000, it was always assumed that it would be where many soaps would transition to as the broadcast networks decided that soaps no longer fit their brand. Unfortunately, on May 26, 2010, it was announced that that wouldn’t be the case for “All My Children,” “Days of our Lives,” “General Hospital,” “One Life to Live,” or “The Young and the Restless” as the network that airs same day episodes of each becomes no more. SOAPnet, which just achieved carriage in 75 million cable homes earlier this year, will be replaced by Disney Junior, the 3rd American iteration of the popular Disney Channel cable network, in 2012.
Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, released a statement Wednesday stating that “SOAPnet was created in 2000 to give daytime viewers the ability to watch time-shifted soaps, before multiplatform viewing and DVRs were part of our vocabulary. But today, as technology and our businesses evolve, it makes more sense to align this distribution with a preschool channel that builds on the core strengths of our company.”
Failure to Launch
Since its creation 10 years ago, SOAPnet had been unable to achieve the great success its sister cable networks such as ABC Family and Disney XD had received after the two re-branded to cater to a more direct and mass appealing audience. Lifetime, which the Disney/ABC Television Group holds a 42.5% stake in (with Hearst Corporation holding another 42.5% and NBC Universal holding the remaining 15%), is already airing programming that would fit the typical audience suited for SOAPnet, that being Women 18-49. In order to compete, SOAPnet began airing acquired films from Sony Pictures Television in 2008 as part of its Sunday Night Movie programming block. This decision ultimately disbanded the “Days of our Lives” weekly marathon, which to this day is no longer part of the networks program schedule, thus leaving viewers with few opportunities to catch up on the soap. In 2009, SOAPnet began airing films from the Disney/ABC Television Group and 20th Century Fox Films in its hope to appeal to a more youthful audience in lieu of the networks acquisitions of such popular programs as “Gilmore Girls,” “The O.C.” and “One Tree Hill,” along with its already acquired rights to “Beverly Hills, 90210.” For many, this was the beginning of the end. While viewership seemed to grow with the networks expanded programming, which included the Canadian import “Being Erica,” the damage done to the networks image was irreversible. Fans, long critical of the network as a whole, saw no desire in watching a network that had so much promise only to see the ball drop right from under them with the lack of steady focus, which some attribute to the promotion of Brian Frons, President, Daytime, Disney/ABC Television Group, which in addition to overseeing the daily operations of SOAPnet included oversight of the ABC Television Network’s daytime programming – “All My Children,” “General Hospital,” “One Life to Live” and “The View.” In an interview with Soap Opera Digest, Frons made it clear that the folding of SOAPnet will have no direct effect on the ABC lineup. In fact, fans shouldn’t be worried at all about the lineup as the executive sees the decision as somewhat of a blessing.
“They shouldn’t be worried. Over the years, Disney has made a lot of commitment to the Disney brand. As they looked out in the marketplace, they really felt they needed to be in the preschool space with a full-branded channel. Given the way technology has gone, where you can DVR your soap, watch it on Hulu and abc.com, it was felt that the original purpose of SOAPnet — today’s soaps tonight — could sort of be fulfilled in different ways. Frankly, financially it will be better for us, because if you watch on daytime, we actually make more money than if the same person watches on SOAPnet, just because rates are that different between the network world and the cable world.”
While pushing aside SOAPnet’s purpose, which was not only “today’s soaps tonight,” but also a safe haven for longtime fans of soap operas as a whole that were looking for their own place in the overcrowded cable market, Frons and those in charge of SOAPnet failed to capitalize on who their audience was and what they wanted. Instead of going the cheap route with such reality series as “Bank of Mom and Dad,” “Southern Belles: Louisville” or “Greg Behrendt’s Wake Up Call,” they should have tried harder in producing original scripted series. Yes, the network did give us “General Hospital: Night Shift,” but there wasn’t anything that could be done with a show that was simply a mini-spinoff of mother ship “General Hospital” and a poor man’s imitation of “Port Charles.” While ABC Family, purchased by the Walt Disney Company in 2001, made major inroads in scripted programming in 2007 courtesy of supernatural series “Kyle XY” and again in 2008 with the series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” SOAPnet kept giving viewers more cheaply made acquired imported series such as “MVP” in addition to “Being Erica,” or old and canceled nighttime soaps as “Paper Dolls” and “The Monroe’s” along with the short-lived FOX drama “Skin.” Where was the true originality? It isn’t like the network couldn’t have found top talent (in front of and behind the scenes) from within its corporate cousins at ABC Studios or the Disney/ABC Television Group, which together have helped turn the ABC Television Network around with such hits as “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
What Could They Do?
Why not try and create a new daily scripted soap opera in the vein of MTV’s “Spyder Games?” Yes, the show was cheap and looked cheap, but it was a true guilty pleasure. The soap, which aired in telenovela format from June 2001 through September 2001, starred popular soap opera actresses Christina Chambers (ex-Marty Saybrooke, “One Life to Live”; ex-Maria Torres, “Sunset Beach”) and Shawn Batten (ex-Sara Cummings, “Sunset Beach”). Why not try your hand at original made-for-tv movies starring today’s top soap stars? Susan Lucci sure did wonders for ABC back in the early 1990’s. It has worked for Lifetime, ABC Family and Disney Channel. In fact, Lifetime’s original movie of the month library has done so well that it spawned another cable network in the form of the Lifetime Movie Network, which continues the Lifetime tradition by airing its own original movies, some of which have starred such daytime talent as Vanessa Marcil (ex-Brenda Barrett, “General Hospital”), Rachel Melvin (ex-Chelsea Brady, “Days of our Lives”) and Jamie Luner (Liza Colby, “All My Children”). Where are the re-runs to canceled soaps such as “Sunset Beach,” “Passions,” “Loving” or even “The City?” While MTV is going around promoting its reality-drama of the same name as television’s next big thing, you could have fought back and got audiences to remember there was a show with that name before MTV came out with theirs and it starred “General Hospital’s” Laura Wright (as Ally Alden), Lisa Lo Cicero (as Joselyn Roberts) and Jane Elliott (playing her “GH” character Tracey Quartermaine”), “All My Children’s” Darnell Williams (as Jacob Foster) and Debbi Morgan (playing her “AMC” character Angie Hubbard), “One Life to Live’s” Catherine Hickland (as Tess Wilder) and “The Young and the Restless'” Amelia Heinle (as Steffi Brewster) or even soap veteran Roscoe Born (as Nick Rivers). Before he became Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo on television’s most watched scripted series, CBS’ “NCIS,” Michael Weatherly appeared as Cooper Alden on both “Loving” and “The City.” Promoting his involvement in those soaps would have done wonders for ratings as fans of the actor could see him in a different light from that of his comical charms on “NCIS.” It sure would have been better than airing another edition of “They Started on Soaps,” which felt more like a history book of the celebrities who’ve made it big when they left a soap, and forgot their roots, than a recognition of the talent who made it big on soaps and went on to do bigger things without forgetting where they came from.
Disney Junior. Good job SOAPnet, you have decreased your viewing age to 2-7 year olds. You got what you wanted.