A message to soap opera fans: Renew your Internet subscriptions

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

I wasn’t going to write about this. Really, I wasn’t. Yes, I read about it last week, and yes, I thought it would be something to discuss, considering the subject matter of this particular blog. But truth be told, I haven’t seen more than three seconds of a soap opera in my life. I think my mother used to watch “Days Of Our Lives” when I was little, but I can’t even remember what I had for lunch, let alone what the television was displaying 20 years ago. And that’s why I was going to stay away from the fact that “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” just announced plans to continue production for shows to be aired on the World Wide Web, and not your normal television set.

So then why write about it now, you ask? Well, I can’t seem to get away from it. Everywhere I turn, another news outlet is reporting more about the situation. Every search for entertainment news offers at least three results for stories regarding this move. Then, to top it all off, when I finally do decide to click on an article that has to deal with the two shows every now and then, I find something such as this in the comments section: “This is the best thing ever. I have watched both of these shows since they first aired. Thanks for keeping them alive.”

Who knew daytime television drama was so addictive? Even more so, who knew this story would gain so much traction? Soap operas, much like Lil Ceasars pizza and the art of a phone conversation, are a dying breed. The thought of them disappearing from ABC and landing on some obscure website doesn’t just lack the spark of typical entertainment news these days, but it lacks the substance and originality that usually makes news stories news stories within what has become a fickle world of entertainment news gathering.

Naturally, questions have risen. From the Los Angeles Times …

“The economics of such a move wouldn’t be easy,” Joe Flint of the Times wrote last week. “Soap operas have large casts, writing staffs, producers and lots of sets. In other words, they’re not cheap. A soap can cost as much as $50 million a year to produce.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a second. $50 million? Really? The six minutes I’ve ever seen of any soap opera in my life have always been filled with three things: Bad acting, cheesy production and unfathomable stories. That adds up to a $50 million tab? Honestly? From an industry that so creatively named James Franco’s guest star character on “General Hospital,”  “Franco?” It takes 50 million bucks for that? Goodness, gracious. Flint continues …

“Soaps average about 2.5 million viewers a month, a number that may be hard to reach online,” he said. “Also, advertising online is not as expensive as advertising on television. … Eventually, the Internet probably will become the platform on which content is delivered, and there are some names that are probably big enough now to pull a move to broadband off. If Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart decided to leave cable and take his show exclusively to the Web, he probably would get a decent following and perhaps even be able to generate subscription revenue.  … But Stewart is a talk-show host whose programs have relatively low production costs and can be sustained on mediums with a smaller reach. Until the Internet as a distribution system and — more important — advertising on the Internet reach parity with television, the idea of network-like programming on the Web may be a plot better left to soap operas.”

Time for a breath.

OK. The move is orchestrated by something called Prospect Park, a company that actually features a former Disney executive. ABC will reportedly license the episodes to the company and from what everyone is writing, the staff — including the actors — will all have to take significant pay cuts if they want to stay on board with the show.

I guess the biggest issue this entire situation brings to my mind is the following: Is this going to set precedent for television shows that are cancelled? Especially shows that loyal cult followings, such as soap operas or programs that a particular sect of individuals — such as house wives, those over the age of 70 and bored, stoned college “students” — make it a point to flock to.

Take, for example, the first season of “Family Guy.” A forgotten treasure, FOX gave up on it after a short run, only to find itself a second life on Comedy Central. Had this situation played out in 2019 (rather than in 1999, when the show originally came to life), would such a scenario be more likely to play itself out online? By the time we get to 2019 (eight years goes by much quicker than one could ever imagine, remember), could a “Family Guy”-like rebirth situation legitimately take place online? Or are we decades from the Internet playing such an important role in the success of a television show?

Well, if you are going to have a blog titled “TV Without A TV,” the answer to those questions are simple. Yes. Yes. And no.

Sure, we don’t know how well “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” will work out online. But even if it fails, that doesn’t mean am opportunity such as this won’t arise again. Even more so, failure wouldn’t even mean another upstart company wouldn’t dare take a chance on giving a  television show a second chance on the Web. On the flip side, should these two shows thrive in their new homes, don’t be surprised if you start seeing lesser-known TV shows willingly moving to the Internet for production, especially if someone figures out how to make sure the advertising dollars are there.

My God. Who knew a soap opera discussion could be so dramatic?

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