From re-runs of soap classics “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” “Another World,” “Port Charles,” and “Falcon Crest,” to the launches of original series “SoapCenter,” “Soap Talk” and “General Hospital: Night Shift,” SOAPnet was defined as the “new way to watch soaps” for much of its near 14-year run. With just 2 days left before SOAPnet is no more, we thought it would be a great opportunity to look back at the inaugural year of a network that gave diehard soap fans their own platform to shout with glee through the death of a network that outlived its purpose.
Launched in January 2000, The Walt Disney Company ushered in a new kind of cable network catered towards soap opera fans just as ESPN is to the diehard sports fans. The network began its journey with same-day airings of ABC’s “All My Children,” “General Hospital,” “One Life to Live” and “Port Charles.” Additional series airing in its inaugural year included re-runs of “Ryan’s Hope,” “Sisters,” “The Colbys,” “Hotel,” “Knots Landing,” and “Falcon Crest.” In its efforts to capitalize on ESPN’s popular “SportsCenter” brand, SOAPnet launched “SoapCenter,” hosted by former soap stars David Forsyth (ex-John Hudson, “Another World”; ex-Jim Thomasen, “All My Children”) and Brooke Alexander (ex-Samantha Markham, “As The World Turns”), which brought viewers inside the world of soaps like never before. The series aired Fridays at 7:00 PM ET/4:00 PM PT. Such segments included a behind the scenes look on the set of the daytime soaps, soap star fashion, and a sneak peek at what’s happening next on your favorite shows. Both Forsyth and Alexander were let go after the network made changes to the series format in 2001. They were replaced by TV personalities Peggy Bunker and Tanika Ray, who would later take on solo hosting duties when SOAPnet wanted to E! up the program. “SoapCenter” was officially canceled and ceased airing in 2004.
A sample SOAPnet schedule from 2000:
|7:00am||4:00am||SoapCenter||Flashback: Port Charles||SoapCenter||Hotel|
|7:30am||4:30am||Port Charles (Yesterday)|
|8:00am||5:00am||All My Children (Yesterday)||The Colbys||Ryan’s Hope-Athon Monday-Friday Episodes|
|9:00am||6:00am||One Life to Live (Yesterday)||The Colbys|
|10:00am||7:00am||General Hospital (Yesterday)||The Colbys|
|11:30am||8:30am||Ryan’s Hope||PC (Yesterday)|
|12:00pm||9:00am||Falcon Crest||AMC (Yesterday)|
|1:00pm||10:00am||Knots Landing||OLTL (Yesterday)||Last Week at One Life to Live Monday-Friday Episodes|
|4:00pm||1:00pm||Falcon Crest||Last Week at Port Charles Monday-Friday Episodes|
|6:30pm||3:30pm||Ryan’s Hope||Last Week at General Hospital Monday-Friday Episodes||Last Week at All My Children Monday-Friday Episodes|
|7:00pm||4:00pm||SoapCenter||Flashback: Port Charles||SoapCenter (premiere)|
|7:30pm||4:30pm||Port Charles (Today)|
|8:00pm||5:00pm||All My Children (Today)|
|9:00pm||6:00pm||One Life to Live (Today)|
|10:00pm||7:00pm||General Hospital (Today)|
|11:00pm||8:00pm||SoapCenter||Flashback: Port Charles||SoapCenter|
|11:30pm||8:30pm||Port Charles (Today)||SoapCenter|
|12:00am||9:00pm||All My Children (Today)||Ryan’s Hope-Athon Monday-Friday Episodes|
|Last Week at Knots Landing Monday-Friday Episodes|
|1:00am||10:00pm||One Life to Live (Today)|
|2:00am||11:00pm||General Hospital (Today)|
While the network was not initially as widely available as Disney probably would have liked, the company utilized its carriage dispute with Time Warner Cable in May 2000 over rights fees for its ABC Owned and Operated Stations, specifically New York’s WABC, to help persuade the cable provider and others to begin carrying the soap dedicated network. After reaching an agreement with Time Warner, satellite provider DirecTV also announced it too would provide the network to its millions of subscribers.
In an October 4, 2000 interview with Elizabeth Glass for the program, “Hauser Project,” Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks, and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, noted that the network “was born out of the fact that soap operas are still a very healthy genre but suffering from a lifestyle change with its core viewers and we took this idea of really making it easier for people to access the shows that they love out into a test situation and we tested two different formats for the channel and very quickly learned which one would work, and then did a great amount of homework with this group of people who would be watching soaps later the same day on what additional needs they had. What else did they want; what else did they want to know? And that’s how we slowly put together the pieces that became Soap Net.”
On announcing the end of SOAPnet on May 26, 2010, Sweeney said, “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.” The preschool channel she refers is Disney Junior.
In an interview with Soap Opera Digest shortly after it was announced that SOAPnet would meet its maker, former president, daytime, Disney/ABC Television Group, Brian Frons, said “They shouldn’t be worried,” in regards to whether fans of the ABC soaps should be concerned about the futures of “AMC,” “GH” and “OLTL.” He added, “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.”
As soap fans recall, the ABC version of “AMC” went off the air in September 2011, and the ABC version of “OLTL” departed in January 2012, following the network’s decision to pull the plug on two of its least watched daytime programs, which at the time were hitting record low ratings in the key sales demographics, according to Nielsen Media Research ratings data.
The ABC Cable Networks Group, a division of Disney/ABC Television Group, informed cable and satellite operators across the United States that they will cease operating SOAPnet, which currently airs same day episodes of “Days of our Lives” and “General Hospital” at night along with its off-network airing rights to such shows as “Veronica Mars,” “Beverly Hills,90210,” “Gilmore Girls,” “One Tree Hill” and more, effective Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 11:59:59 PM EST. Despite SOAPnet’s reported replacement, Disney Junior, already operating since 2012 on several providers across the country, the kids friendly network will officially replace the women’s network at 12:00:00 AM EST on January 1, 2014.
Noting that the network had a great run, Ben Pyne, president of global distribution for Disney Media Networks, told the Los Angeles Times, “It served an audience of super-soap fans. And when given the opportunity, all of our affiliates kept the channel up and running.”