ABC took another step toward the elimination of soap operas on broadcast TV, announcing today that it would gradually replace the long-running "One Life to Live" and "All My Children" with talk shows focused on food and wellness.
The Walt Disney network, which recently announced it would transform SoapNet, a cable network it owns devoted to all things soapy, into another kids-TV hub, said "All My Children" would end in September 2011, while "One Life to Live" would broadcast its last episode in January 2012. "AMC" will be replaced by "The Chew," a program focused on food and eating, while "One Life to Live" will be replaced by "The Revolution" about health and lifestyle transformations.
The move, which follows CBS's recent decisions to cut venerable soaps "Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns" (both produced by mega-advertiser Procter & Gamble), means that fans of the genre will have to console themselves with only four daytime dramas: "General Hospital" on ABC, "Days of Our Lives" on NBC, and "Bold and the Beautiful" and "Young and the Restless" on CBS. At one time, soap operas were the foundation of daytime TV.
Secure in their ability to reach the majority of American consumers -- particularly women -- three broadcast networks transmitted everything from "The Doctors" to "Young Dr. Malone," from "Search for Tomorrow" to "The Edge of Night" and made tons of money at it. Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and many other consumer-products titans advertised on the shows -- and, in the very early days of radio and TV, often produced them as a vehicle for selling soap and other household necessities to the stay-at-home female member of the family. In the 1970-1971 TV season, the big three broadcast networks aired a whopping 18 soap operas.
Things have changed. ABC in a statement said its decision was "guided by extensive research into what today's daytime viewers want and the changing viewing patterns of the audience," but the movement of audiences away from soap operas has been gaining momentum for years. More women -- once the primary audience for the shows -- work during the day, meaning the programs have less of an audience and fewer people to pass their enthusiasm for the shows on to other family members or friends. In June 1952, as "Guiding Light" debuted on network TV, women represented 31% of the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure stood at about 46.7% as of June 2010
Meanwhile, people who do stay at home have their pick of entertainment, too, from syndicated reruns of former prime-time TV shows airing on cable to Twitter feeds and web-based entertainment options.
The broadcast networks airing the soaps appear to have found viable substitutes. CBS is now running "The Talk," a female-skewing talk show aimed at mothers, as well as a new version of "Let's Make a Deal." ABC said its "Chew" program would feature chef Mario Batali and other experts, and have the producer of "Paula Deen's Home Cooking," Gordon Elliott, at the helm. "The Revolution" -- the title could change -- comes from the producers of "The Biggest Loser" and will spotlight, among other things, a woman's five-month weight-loss process, told over the course of five days.
Disappearance of the soaps is just one element in a much larger drama: the evolution of daytime TV. With Oprah Winfrey's last talk show slated to appear in late May and Regis Philbin set to depart his long running "Live!," TV outlets will have many hours to fill in a schedule that once was so very easy to program.