Sole Focus

News, Views, Rantings & Ramblings by Carey Parrish

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Location: Georgia, United States

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Losing Its Lather

Can somebody please tell me what’s going on over at CBS? Last spring they announced the impending cancellation of their flagship daytime drama Guiding Light, which came to fruition on September 18th of this year, and just this week they also revealed that come next September they will also pull the plug on As The World Turns. ATWT is currently the longest running soap in production, having begun its journey way back in 1956. When it too leaves the air CBS will have only two daytime dramas left on its schedule; The Young and the Restless and The Bold and The Beautiful. For a network that has long led the way for its competitors, giving both of its premiere serials the axe seems like a very bad idea.

The network itself probably feels that with the daytime genre fading in the wake of the internet revolution, more options for viewers on cable channels, and the fact that fewer people are home in the afternoons (everyone has to work nowadays) to watch these types of shows, the cost of keeping them in continuous production is exorbitant and increasingly prohibitive in today’s market. Proctor and Gamble, the company that owns both of these shows, will be out of the soap market when ATWT leaves the air next fall, and so will CBS. The remaining two daytime dramas on its schedule are owned and produced by third party investors.

When Guiding Light ended in September, it was still garnering around two million viewers per day. ATWT brings in slightly more than this. Guiding Light was the longest running program in the history of the entertainment medium, having begun on radio in 1937 before transitioning to television in 1952. ATWT came along four years after Guiding Light and remains a popular fixture on the daytime circuit, although it does consistently lose its time slot to ABC’s One Life To Live. Dozens of Emmy Awards and the launching pad for such superstars as Meg Ryan, ATWT has a lot to be proud of and CBS claims to hold the series in the highest esteem, but still it is being cancelled. The same was said and done of Guiding Light.

As The World Turns is one of those shows that I grew up watching. Along with Guiding Light, Love of Life, and Search For Tomorrow, these four serials were a part of my family’s routine for years. I remember when Love of Life went off the air. They pulled its plug on a Friday in 1980, in the middle of a hot storyline, and I couldn’t believe it wouldn’t be on again when the next Monday rolled around. Search For Tomorrow lasted until 1986 and it did have a fitting finale, but again I remember feeling sad at its demise. Both Love of Life and Search For Tomorrow had been in continuous production since 1951.

In the years following the cancellations of both of these shows, I continued to keep up with ATWT and Guiding Light. I remember when I recorded them on the VCR because I was working and wanted to watch them after I got home. I eventually stopped this practice because I got so far behind with my video viewing that I thought I’d never catch up. Afterward I stayed familiar with what was going on with both shows but I wasn’t a regular viewer anymore. Yet the one thing about soaps that makes them so distinctive is that you can miss an entire week - or two - and still be up to date when next you tune in. The one thing I never expected, or didn’t give any thought to, was the possibility that sooner or later both would come to an end.

I felt a sense of loss when Guiding Light finally switched off three months ago. That show had been a part of my life almost all of my life and my mother and my grandmother watched it before I was born. It began before my mom came along! Yes, its cancellation was a jolt not only to me but to millions of others who considered it a part of their lives. Despite protests and petitions that poured into CBS, the network did not relent and Guiding Light was brought to a conclusion after seventy-two years in production. I still feel that CBS should have at least kept it around until its 75th birthday, if only for the milestone such an event would have represented.

ATWT is now facing the same fate. In ten months it is scheduled to leave the airwaves as well. After a run of what will be fifty-four years by that time, and millions of viewers who enjoy the show every day, it will simply go off one day and not return. There is something wrong with this picture. In my eyes, anyway there is. I feel the same about Guiding Light. These are more than just television shows. They are institutions. They are a part of Americana. Simply cancelling them is something that should not be done so lightly. CBS should consider its viewers. Maybe soaps aren’t powerhouse draws anymore, but what they represent is more than ratings and advertising dollars. They represent a culture that is still there and which is still very much alive.

TeleNext Media, the P&G subsidiary that produces ATWT, and Guiding Light as well, is still searching for new homes for both shows. NBC has expressed an interest in them. It only has one daytime drama left on its schedule, Days Of Our Lives. ABC still has three. If NBC decides to bring ATWT onboard, and also resurrect Guiding Light, I have a feeling it will be content with second place finishes in the afternoon market. CBS replaced GL with a revamped Lets Make A Deal and to my understanding this was no improvement for their numbers. NBC would be foolish not to pick up these shows.

Whether this comes to pass or not, CBS’ decision to purge these long running and still popular dramas from their daytime schedules remains a source of intrigue for me. If they really are aiming at getting out of the soap opera market altogether then The Young and the Restless and The Bold and The Beautiful should be on alert too. After all, CBS is the network that coined the term “soap opera” in the first place. Makes you wonder what’s behind this move, doesn’t it?

Losing its lather, CBS is possibly alienating a big portion of its viewing audience. For the network that has long led the way for all the others, dumping its two longest lived series seems like an odd thing to be doing. If the bell is indeed tolling for the soap industry as a whole, maybe CBS is again leading the way. If not, it just might be nailing its daytime coffin shut.

And that is my sole focus for now.