Soap Fans, Listen Up: We OWN Disney/ABC. Read On!

Sweeney Todd was the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who butchered his clients. Anne Sweeney was the soap opera butcher of Disney/ABC who not only butchered ABC’s longstanding daytime lineup, but stabbed millions of ABC fans in the back . On March 14, 2011, she and her henchman, Brian Frons, orchestrated and oversaw the startling cancellation of “All My Children” (AMC) and “One Life to Live (OLTL),” soap operas that had been in ABC’s daytime lineup for decades. But Sweeney did not act alone. A whole host of bottom-line-obsessed, shortsighted executives in their corner offices with sprawling views of LA, such as Brian Frons, as mentioned, and Bob Iger, head of Disney/ABC decided to place AMC and OLTL on the chopping block and hack them off the ABC daytime lineup.

In the March 25th issue of the New York Times, author Delia Ephron wrote a piece as an uber-fan of The Good Wife in response to the events of its latest episode that left fans stunned and bewildered. In the subtitle of the article, she writes, “A great show like “The Good Wife” isn’t just something you watch. There is ritual, expectations built up over years. Love.” And of what took place on the show this past week she writes that it, “…dashed my dreams and broke my heart.” As a soap fan, I feel her pain. That last sentence brought a lump to my throat. I felt the same way when, on “General Hospital (GH),” Bobby sees Felicia in the hospital and with just one look at Bobby, Felicia realizes it was Bobby’s daughter, BJ’s, heart that saved Felicia’s daughter Maxie from certain death. Felicia collapses in guttural, choking tears as Bobby runs to catch and comfort her. What soap fan doesn’t have at least one memory like that? And is it any wonder that feeling people of all backgrounds would form attachments to characters who live through such traumas, but also ecstatic highs, fear-filled suspense, and wild adventure? These are our families and our friends for whom we feel, as Ephron noted, love. Over years and years, our lives and hearts include them in their daily functioning.

Given this attachment and devotion that forms to and for soap operas in particular, what happened after Sweeney, Frons, and others committed their daytime massacre, should surprise no one. The fan backlash began.

Protests, boycotts, petitions all demanded that Disney/ABC reverse their misguided, to say the least, decision to cancel AMC and OLTL (along with the decisions to replace them with the worst kind of cultural dreck: “reality-based programming”). We vowed to make them hurt where a corporation feels the most pain—the bank. And we have. ABC/Disney has been hemorrhaging millions of dollars since soap fans organized boycotts of its television stations, theme parks, movies, and merchandise.

The production company Prospect Park showed us a glimmer of hope (and the respect we deserve) when it leased the rights to both AMC and OLTL from Disney/ABC and began producing and showing them online. Even this glimmer of hope may not have been what it seemed. The executives at the helm of Prospect Park (named for the Hollywood neighborhood has studios) had been affiliated with Disney/ABC. Some fans have proposed that the leasing of rights by Disney/ABC to Prospect Park may have been simply a way to placate fans and end the boycotts of Disney/ABC and their advertisers.

Disney/ABC also owns shares of Hulu, one of the platforms the online versions of AMC and OLTL were shown on

Anyway, because of a pending lawsuit with—you guessed it—Disney/ABC, the Prospect Park-produced online versions of those shows are on indefinite hiatus. Meanwhile the shows that replaced AMC and OLTL, “The Chew,” “The Revolution,” and “Katie,” are all either cancelled or in the ratings doldrums. And now there are murmurings that ABC/Disney wants full legal possession of the rights to AMC and OLTL, now we will be waiting for them to pick them up as they left it when It last air on TV.

Additionally, a replacement for Anne Sweeney has been named, Bob Sherwood. Now, he had not proven himself to be any friend of the soaps during his tenure as head of ABC News, at one point trying to axe “General Hospital” to put “Good Afternoon America” in its place.

But ultimately, THE FANS/VIEWERS/CONSUMERS have the power in this complex situation. Incredible leaders, such as Cole Bell of Boycott ABC 7 across America and Boycott ABC 7 among other SOS groups, have and are doing the hard work for us–we simply need to follow. And show ABC/Disney what we as consumers, their bread and butter, will and won’t stand for. Disney/ABC like any corporation in this capitalistic economy we live in and by, ultimately cares for revenue, which is ultimately provided by us, the FANS/VIEWERS/CONSUMERS. And we have shown and are showing them a simple formula to stanch the revenue-hemorrhaging that even people as thick as Frons and Sweeney should have be able to follow: that they will lose revenue if they don’t bring AMC and OLTL back and they will gain a great deal of it if they do bring them back. I’m not sure how we could spell it out more simply. We fans/viewers/consumers have the power. And we will continue to wield it in the way we see fit and fair—boycotts of Disney/ABC and their advertisers—until AMC, OLTL, and GH are safe in their one-hour lengths on television and SOAPnet is restored, showing all soaps, all the time.

To the fans: look out for a petition to Disney/ABC in a couple of days that will demand all I’ve mentioned above. Info will be available here, on our Facebook page, and on our Twitter account. It will take seconds to sign, but could get us everything we want. We can do this!

To Disney/ABC, and Mr. Sherwood especially: we at letstalkaboutsoaps.com ask you once again to end the bloodshed. Bring back AMC and OLTL to their original time slots, leave GH safe in its current length and time slot, and return SOAPnet to the cable lineup as well, showing only soaps all the time. We will make it worth your trouble. And we will continue to wage a bloody and unpleasant (for everyone) war if you don’t.

Column: Soap Recurring Themes #6

By Akbi Khan, Blog Editor

A asks B a loaded question, often one that could change the course of a storyline, then someone comes in and interrupts, a phone rings, a loud sound is heard, etc. and they just drop it and move to the new topic of conversation or their conversation ends. In this way, a storyline is extended by days, weeks, months, years.

Can you fans think of any such examples? I can think of many, but one recent one was when Maxie tried to tell Lulu about 10 million times that Connie wasn’t her child, and every time she tried, some minor occurrence would stop interrupt her, but she would never get back around to telling her! Arg!

So if you can think of any similar examples from your favorite soaps, past or present, please leave them in the comments.

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Rest In Peace, AJ Quartermaine

by Akbi Khan, Blog Editor

I’m completely devastated. AJ Quartermaine is gone. Frank Valentini (FV) and Ron Carlivati (RC) brought him back in a stroke of genius. And we had him for a year or two. And now he’s gone. And he’s going back to Bold and the Beautiful, where he’s appreciated and where many consider him at home. Sean Kanan‘s disappointment at how AJ was mis/used by RC and FV (whom I otherwise have only good things to say about) in this past year and being let go early from his contract only make the pain sting more.

But the shock hurts the most. When he got shot, I assumed the writers would do something like put him in a coma indefinitely and ship him off to some facility, so he could bring his chiseled features and flirty smile back to Port Charles at any time. But looking at his blue, motionless face in that hospital bed, it all felt so final.

I had gotten backed up on my GH-watching, so last night, unable to sleep, I decided to do some catching up. I was fast forwarding commercials and went too far into yesterday’s episode and stopped right on Carly saying the words, “AJ’s dead.” I think I dropped the bag of Craisins from my hand. I don’t remember for sure. I mostly remember sitting there in the dark fast-forwarding through every other storyline (as much as I care about those characters too), desperate to understand why and how this was happening.

There’s not much more to say about AJ’s death (may he rest in peace), except that, as we soap fans know, no one is ever really dead on soaps—so this isn’t necessarily goodbye.

What I do want to say is: I have 100% had it with Sonny Corinthos. He has devolved from the impish, charming, junior mobster Sonny of the early to mid-1990’s (the Matt and Claire Labine days) to a heartless sociopath. You can see it on his face when Maurice Benard acts (which is a testament to Benard’s acting—wow) he looks like he’s made of stone. Like all the pain and hurt from his past, not to mention what he’s had to do to become this untouchable mob boss has restructured his face. He’s no longer the unbearably handsome Sonny involved in truly loving relationships with wives and children. His face is expressionless, his soul caring for nothing but how he feels and what he needs.

And all his proclamations of love for his children are empty lip service—what has he done lately to show that he loves even one of them? And now shooting AJ? How will Michael ever forgive him? And how will fans?

Column: Soap Recurring Themes #4

Just before character A is going to get married, character B, who was the love of character A’s life and died a tragic death long ago, shows up as a ghost to either give his/her blessing or tell A to be true to his/her heart.

We saw this just a couple days ago on GH when Emily came back to tell Nikolas to make sure he really loved Britt and not Elizabeth before marrying Britt. I feel like it’s happened a million times with Tad and Dixie on AMC! Can you readers and soap fans think of any? Leave them in the comments!

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Soap Villains We Love To Hate: So Bad We Just Can’t Get Enough!

David Arwood Photo

David Arwood

  The successful re-boot of Dallas started me thinking about an aspect of soaps that      I  truly love – the ability to create a villain that fans actually can’t help but love, even though they are evil to the core. Let’s face it, Dallas was JR, and most of us old enough to remember the original series probably didn’t even recognize Dallas as a show until someone shot JR. That’s when we started caring about the TV show and about the character. No matter what JR did, no matter who he hurt or double crossed, we loved him…at the same time we hated him.

 The soaps’ ability to make us love, and in many cases root for the villain is both frustrating and exhilarating. Soaps allow us to tap into our own dark side and let us live vicariously through the villain. After all, who wouldn’t want to be Alexis Colby Carrington walking into the board room announcing to her enemies that she had taken over the company and was now their boss!

The reason soap villains are so attractive to us can be traced directly to the actors and actresses who portray the villains. These stars are so good at what they do that we can’t stop watching and we don’t want them to go anywhere. The producers and casting directors of soaps know this and they eventually write up to the talent and give us some of the most memorable soap villains and soap memories in the history of the genre.

Soap villains tend to fall into two main categories, the main character who just can’t stop messing with people and the character created specifically for a storyline. The former is often redeemed while the latter is written to be pure evil and in most cases slated to last only until the storyline they are part of is over. It’s this last category that can cause trouble for soap producers though, because when excellent writers give amazing actors the right material, it’s lightning in a bottle and ratings gold. Then, it becomes hard to lose the actor and their character but even harder to redeem them!

Both of these villain types are characterized in the form of one of Young & The Restless’ current super couples and fan favorites Lauren and Michael Baldwin. Lauren first appeared as the spoiled, narcissistic, uncaring and vindictive daughter of the Fenmore family, owners of the top retail business in Genoa City. Although a talented singer, Lauren immediately set out to get her way both inside and outside the home. Her relentless bullying of overweight Tracy Abbott was often hard to watch and had fans hating Lauren. There was only one problem: Tracy Bregman. Bregman played the hell out of Lauren and you just couldn’t get enough of her. When writers decided to add depth to Lauren and we learned that she didn’t have the best childhood and that she wasn’t as perfect as she thought we started to see a different side of her. As with many soap villains, all it took was the love of a good man to change everything and for Lauren that was Paul Williams. By the time Lauren was stalked by a “fan” ending with her buried alive and losing Paul’s baby, the fans were on her side. When she finally told Paul what really happened in a tearful scene in her hospital room, we were all Lauren Fenmore fans.

Lauren’s current husband Michael Baldwin is a different story all together. Michael came to Genoa City as an accomplished attorney and quickly became attracted to Christine “Cricket” Romalotti. What started as attraction quickly turned to sexual harassment and then attempted murder. Although brought onto the show to help tell this important sexual harassment story and then exit, fans and producers just couldn’t let actor Christian LeBlanc go. But how do you rehabilitate a sexual predator and psycho bent on murder? Well, it’s a soap and a few years in jail, a heartfelt apology, a religious conversion and pleas for forgiveness can redeem any character even from the most evil of circumstances. Of course the discovery of a “good” twin can do it too and soaps have turned to that trick many times!

Every soap had many characters in both these categories. Who can forget Liza Colby and Kendall Kane on All My Children as hated but misunderstood villains, with Ray Gardner and Billy Clyde Tuggle evil incarnate but played to perfection by actors who just couldn’t disappear forever. There was the evil Roger Thorpe on “Guiding Light” played so magnificently by Michael Zaslow that the show had to bring him back as a less evil but still manipulative character. Often a soap will bring its villain back from the dead because the character and the actor was just too good to lose forever. That’s the case with Days of Our Lives’ Stefano DiMera played to perfection by Joseph Mascolo.

The list is endless and there is no way to list every soap villain here. By I know everyone who read this thought of their favorite soap villain. Tell us who you remember and which soap villains you love to hate! We would love to hear about the best soap villain moments you remember watching and memories of the best storylines that showcased your favorite villain!

 

Column: Soap Recurring Themes #3

In a courtroom, judges always say, in response to the many outburts that occur, “One more outburst like that, and I’ll…”, but rarely follow through with their threats.

———

I’m sure we can all think of COUNTLESS examples of this one! 🙂

 

Sexism and the Cancellation of Soap Operas

by Akbi Khan

Since their inception, soaps had been targeted toward women. Beginning in the 1930’s soap producers and writers geared soap operas to women at home during the day, hence their time slots even now occur from 12:30 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. Advertisers, then, largely aimed their ads at women, many of whom cleaned their home during the day, while hubby was at work and tots attended school (many of these advertisements were for soap and other cleaning products). Storylines on soaps were geared toward woman who network executives and advertisers saw as belonging to The Cult of True Womanhood, a relic of the 19th century, which characterized women as delicate creatures who fall back on their chaise lounges, handkerchiefs waving to calm the sweat that inevitably rose to the surface of their delicate skin at the sound/sight of the melodramatic goings on of their favorite radio and then television daytime serials.

 

Up until “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” were unceremoniously yanked from the air a couple years back, I had no idea the true audience reach of soap operas. I basically had the same preconceived notions about who watched soaps as 1940’s advertisers had: women who stayed at home during the day, daintily perched on their living room couches in proper knee length dresses and gingham aprons, folding their laundry as they watched the trials and tribulations of soap characters on giant television consoles (but small screens) with metal knobs to turn the channel and adjust the volume.

 

But when the aforementioned soaps were taken off the air and various online platforms became the sites of fan protests and petitions and connections with each other in the interest of fighting ABC Disney in their shortsighted and revenue-based decision, the true nature of soap fandom was revealed. The fans were young and old, black and white and brown and yellow, straight and gay, working men and working women, non-working men and women. To be honest, I was a little shocked. I had no idea soaps touched so many lives and in such deep ways that such a variety of people would spend time and energy fighting for them. Now my shock seems odd, as I am one who touts the excellent storytelling on display in the soap world every chance I get and how it should touch everyone who lives on this crazy, mixed-up Earth.

 

Despite this vast diversity of soap audiences, I maintain that advertisers and the corporate executives that makes decisions about daytime television fare largely still see women (often homemakers) as the primary audience for soaps, regardless of how wrong they are. And because of this wrong-minded view, sexism (a disregard for what the powers that be see as women’s entertainment and its unimportance) and misled view of soaps viewership as only women, based on outdated stereotypes, led to the cancellation of “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” Certainly, a misapprehension of audience viewing methods and patterns (the way fans recorded their soaps and watched at night, even before DVR’s when VCR’s came about, viewing soaps online) and the much cheaper production values of reality and lifestyle shows (which have been a large part of the cause the peril that soaps as part of the larger genre of scripted television find themselves in), methods and patters that certainly couldn’t have escaped network executives, who keep obsessive watch of numbers and trends related to shows’ viewership and their viewing habits, contributed to the cancellation of “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.”

But ultimately, it is the view that women watch soaps—and that they will put up with whatever their lot in life, in keeping with their character as established by the hopelessly simplistic and anachronistic Cult of True Womanhood—that has led to the sudden and unapologetic removal of “All My Children,” “One Life to Live,” and “As the World Turns” and “Guiding Light” before them, from the airwaves. Television executives, sadly, still see women as less-than, and thus what they see as women’s entertainment as less-than. You won’t see too many cop shows cancelled any time soon, and if you do, networks will keep trying out new ones every season—because men are seen as their primary viewership. And this subtly says—men are important, women are not.

This year, after years of threatening to do so, ABC Disney also axed SOAPnet, which aired soap repeats all day and night. I can scarcely imagine executives removing The Golf Channel or SyFy Network from the air, as we as a culture imagine these networks to be viewed by men, their feet up on coffee tables, arms outstretched on the backs of couches, beer in one hand—stand up guys. Just as many insurance companies will cover the cost of Viagra and Cialis but not women’s birth control methods, so network executives take a cavalier view of removing soap operas from the air. When revenues fall, do “Duck Dynasty” or “Bad Girls Club” (two other shows we as a culture see men  as the primary viewers of, and with very male vibes to them) suffer? No, soap operas do. We need only look at the ads shown during soap operas, ones any soap fan will have memorized, as they play over and over and over: OxiClean, Febreze, Swiffer Wet Jet (because women are seen as the primary house cleaners), Aveeno Positively Radiant, Maybelline Great Lash, migraine medications (women suffer from migraines more than men), to name just a few.

If we care about women being taken seriously, then we must care about all aspects of their lives being taken seriously, up to their perceived forms of entertainment, soaps. When network executives save and bring back all of our soaps, it will still show us they care about women, because they still see women as the primary audience for soaps.

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Column: Soap Recurring Themes #2

Character A blackmails character B into breaking up with character B’s partner under false pretenses. Over the course of their initially fake relationship, A and B actually fall for each other.

Can anyone think of any examples from their favorite soaps?

Column: Soap Recurring Themes #1

By Akbi Khan

We love our soaps here at LTAS, that is clear, we hope. Part of that love comes from the droll, touching, clearly fictitious, and often outlandish story lines that we often see repeated in various soaps, year after year. Again, we love these story lines, and wouldn’t have them any other way, so this recurring column is about reverence for our soaps, not mockery or anything negative (that being said, some will seem snarkier than others, but again, they are observations made out of admiration and love). After you, the readers, get the hang of what we’re doing (which shouldn’t take long), we hope you’ll consider adding some of your own in the comments.

To give you some obvious examples of what I mean by “funny soap recurring themes,” here are a few: people’s coming back from the dead (Dixie on AMC just before it went of TV airwaves); baby-switching (Gabrielle switching her own child for Brenda’s on OLTL in the 1980’s); characters’ being married multiple times, often to the same person (Erica Kane, anyone?).

Getting the hang of it? Add some in the comments. There are many more to come, and they will be accompanied by examples and sometimes even video clips. This is something to have fun with, while also remembering what makes our soaps special and awesome and part of why we love them.