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THE FINAL DAYS OF SOAPnet: The Rise and Fall of A Cable Network

cat_editorsnotebook_2 From re-runs of soap classics “,” “,” “,” “,” and “,” to the launches of original series “,” “” and “: Night Shift,” was defined as the “new way to watch soaps” for much of its near 14-year run. With just 2 days left before  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.

SOAPnet
SOAPnet

Launched in January 2000, ushered in a new kind of cable network catered towards soap opera fans just as is to the diehard sports fans. The network began its journey with same-day airings of ABC’s “,” “General Hospital,” “” and “Port Charles.” Additional series airing in its inaugural year included re-runs of “Ryan’s Hope,” “,” “,” “,” “,” and “Falcon Crest.” In its efforts to capitalize on ESPN’s popular “” brand, SOAPnet launched “SoapCenter,” hosted by former soap stars  (ex-John Hudson, “Another World”; ex-Jim Thomasen, “All My Children”) and  (ex-Samantha Markham, “”), 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 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:

ETPTMondayTuesday-ThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday
6:00am3:00amRyan’s HopeSisters
6:30am3:30amRyan’s Hope
7:00am4:00amSoapCenterFlashback: Port CharlesSoapCenterHotel
7:30am4:30amPort Charles (Yesterday)
8:00am5:00amAll My Children (Yesterday)The ColbysRyan’s Hope-Athon Monday-Friday Episodes
8:30am5:30am
9:00am6:00amOne Life to Live (Yesterday)The Colbys
9:30am6:30am
10:00am7:00amGeneral Hospital (Yesterday)The Colbys
10:30am7:30am
11:00am8:00amRyan’s HopeSoapCenter
11:30am8:30amRyan’s HopePC (Yesterday)
12:00pm9:00amFalcon CrestAMC (Yesterday)
12:30pm9:30amSoapCenter
1:00pm10:00amKnots LandingOLTL (Yesterday)Last Week at One Life to Live Monday-Friday Episodes
1:30pm10:30am
2:00pm11:00amHotelGH (Yesterday)
2:30pm11:30am
3:00pm12:00pmSistersSoapCenter
3:30pm12:30pm
4:00pm1:00pmFalcon CrestLast Week at Port Charles Monday-Friday Episodes
4:30pm1:30pm
5:00pm2:00pmKnots Landing
5:30pm2:30pm
6:00pm3:00pmRyan’s HopeSoapCenter
6:30pm3:30pmRyan’s HopeLast Week at General Hospital Monday-Friday EpisodesLast Week at All My Children Monday-Friday Episodes
7:00pm4:00pmSoapCenterFlashback: Port CharlesSoapCenter (premiere)
7:30pm4:30pmPort Charles (Today)
8:00pm5:00pmAll My Children (Today)
8:30pm5:30pm
9:00pm6:00pmOne Life to Live (Today)
9:30pm6:30pm
10:00pm7:00pmGeneral Hospital (Today)
10:30pm7:30pm
11:00pm8:00pmSoapCenterFlashback: Port CharlesSoapCenter
11:30pm8:30pmPort Charles (Today)SoapCenter
12:00am9:00pmAll My Children (Today)Ryan’s Hope-Athon Monday-Friday Episodes
(1975)
Last Week at Knots Landing Monday-Friday Episodes
12:30am9:30pm
1:00am10:00pmOne Life to Live (Today)
1:30am10:30pm
2:00am11:00pmGeneral Hospital (Today)
2:30am11:30pm
3:00am12:00amSisters
3:30am12:30am
4:00am1:00amFalcon Crest
4:30am1:30amSoapCenter
5:00am2:00amKnots LandingHotel

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.

The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company
Bob D'Amico/ABC
Bob D’Amico/ABC

In an October 4, 2000 interview with Elizabeth Glass for the program, “Hauser Project,” , co-chair, Disney Media Networks, and president, , 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.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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, , 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.

Disney/ABC Television Group
Disney/ABC Television Group

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, , 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.”

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