Thursday, April 14, 2011

TV Soaps Are Fading To Black

Gasp! I've already stopped searching for tomorrow.
My guiding light was snuffed out. And as far as the world turns --it stopped.
I'm thinking of the gigantic cultural tsunami that is killing off the last TV soaps.
On Thursday ABC announced it will no longer carry All My Children and One Life To Live leaving only four afternoon soapers on the air.
I remember once in 1976 spending an entire week on the set of the New York soaps and witnessing the huge amount of talent behind as well as in front of the cameras.
I spent one of my days on the set of CBS's venerable Love Of Life which kicked off each weekday's agony at 11:30 a.m.
The day I was there I hung out with the great Canadian soap star Tudi Wiggins and on the living room set she showed me her stage son sleeping --he had a day job on LOL and at night flew into Boston to appear opposite Katharine Hepburn in the play A Matter Of Gravity.
The actor's name? It was a very young Christopher Reeve.
LOL still went live in those days and at 11:25 a little man dressed in a tux stepped forth and began the organ music to the day's dramatic proceedings. What class!
On another day it was over to Search For Tomorrow to chat up Mary Stuart who'd been doing the same character since 1951.
I called her "Mary Queen Of Soaps" and she loved that and would invite me to tea on the times she was visiting in Toronto.
One afternoon in Manhattan I was summoned to interview writer-producer Agnes Nixon at her apartment in the Wyndham hotel.
I feared she might be imperious but she was full of fun and gave great anecdotes.
She'd been trained in the craft of soaps by the grande dame herself, Irna Phillips, who created The Brighter Day and The Guiding Light as 15-minute radio soaps and then created the first half hour soap for CBS, As The World Turns which was running right as Walter Cronkite came on live to interrupt and announce the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
ATWT had been one of Nixon's first writing gigs. She learned her craft well and then created the first hour daily drama in Another World.
All My Children was set in a fictional town as most soaps were --in this case it was Pine Vallety and it premiered live on ABC on Jan. 5, 1970.
Only last year it was moved from, New York city to Los Angeles to save costs.
Nixon created One Life To Live in 1968 and it became an hour show in 1978 --it has always been shot in New York.
What Nixon stressed to me was her insistence on injecting contemporary problems into the usual mix. She used black actors before the other soaps and was hammered by the right in 1992 for her story about a persecuted gay teenager (played by Ryan Phillippe).
There are many reasons for the impending demise of daytime serials.
First, the audience is disappearing as more and more housewives opt for a job.
But if the networks wanted to save the soaps they could have rerun them after midnight and garnered a huge new audience.
Another factor is Reality TV which presents its stories in a serial form --only we're supposed to be believing what we watch is actually true (it isn't).
One Fact: before its demise Guiding Light stars were only given talking points and asked to make up their own dialogue. But the soap expired anyway.
Two new ABC series The Chew and The Revolution will take up the slack.

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