By Tessa Kendall McKenzie and Akbi Khan
Equality, justice, freedom: these three concepts form part of the core not only of our national lifestyles and outlooks, but the very Constitution that founded the United States of America. It is because of these qualities that our country has become and is becoming what it is today. Every day more and more people are granted rights that allow them to live as liberated and full citizens. Starting with the founders’ emancipation from England, to abolitionists who demanded an end to slavery to, the suffragettes who championed the right of women to vote, and on to the rights of religious minorities and LGBT citizens, our country has at its core been concerned with ensuring that all its citizens live lives of freedom and just treatment.
In comparison to rights such as the above that are ones basic to human dignity and indicate a respect for human life, the right to quality television may seem a trivial or inconsequential one. But it is not. Television is a quintessential American art form, and like jazz, rock-and-roll, film, or many movements in the visual arts, to disregard or denigrate it is to insult pieces of Americana that have helped shaped the national character not to mention entertained, moved, and become a part of each one of multitudes of U.S. citizens over the last 200-plus years.
The television channels owned by ABC Disney include some of the most beloved and often-viewed ones. Part of the reason behind this is are the soap operas it has aired for decades, which millions of Americans have not only grown up watching but have whose characters have become their families, whose stories have enchanted them, and whose existence has comforted and provided emotional support to many of them. Many daytime (and nighttime) serials have come and gone on ABC, but All My Children (AMC) and One Life to Live (OLTL) had been part of ABC’s daytime landscape for 41 and 43 years, respectively.
And then in 2011, ABC announced with minimal explanation or the proper respect due to such venerated shows, that both would be canceled and had a few short months to live. They cited changing demographics and high soap production costs as their primary reasons for canceling the soaps. In their place would air reality/talk shows “The Revolution” and “The Chew.” ABC yanked the former from the air because of low ratings, and “The Chew” is today ranked as the lowest-rated daytime show on American television.
In response to the cancellation of AMC and OLTL, viewers initiated a boycott of all ABC Disney products and services in 2012. Protests of ABC Disney’s programming policies ensued, whose ultimate aim was to at return AMC and OLTL to the airwaves. Countless online groups formed to unite fans across the country to right the wrongs done to fans of AMC and OLTL when the shows were cancelled by ABC Disney.
As I said above, one of the reasons ABC gave for cancelling AMC and OLTL was poor ratings. In today’s TV-watching environment, where people watch shows on their computers, record them on DVR’s and watch when it’s convenient for them, or, in the case of AMC and OLTL, watch them in the evening on the ABC-owned and now also-cancelled SOAPnet, ABC would have to take much more into account than simple low daytime ratings.
ABC also said that the AMC and OLTL’s production costs were too high for them to continue airing the soaps. In this economy, they said, producing such elaborate shows didn’t make sense, especially when they could produce reality/talk shows much less. But quality helps the economy. The soaps create jobs, from writers, to producers, to staff, to actors, and a host of other associated positions. Whatever city the soaps are produced in, they would spend in those cities, thereby boosting the economies of those cities, and by extension that of the country as a whole. In terms of ABC Disney’s bottom line, not only did/would they make money of the soaps, but the soap star weekends at Disney world, the soap star cruises, and other fan spending based on the latter’s often unshakable devotion to their shows and the show’s stars, Disney stood/stands to make millions on what I’ll call “merchandise” alone.
Disney also contended that “low ratings” in large part necessitated the cancellation of AMC and OLTL, for how can a network continue to produce shows without revenue. But this argument, too, does not hold water. The only ratings that ABC counted in their estimation of “low ratings for AMC and OLTL were the ones from daytime viewership. If they had included hits on their website, abc.go.com, or people who recorded the soaps on their DVR’s and watched when it suited their schedules and preferences, or those who watched in the evenings or late nights on soap nights, surely “ratings” would have been much, much higher. Soap fans are not disappearing, they are simply changing the timings and formats of their viewing habits. In my research for this article, I spoke to dozens of men and women of all ages who told me they not only loved AMC and OLTL, but counted on them emotionally and psychologically. Such fans would follow their soaps anywhere and in any format.
And to the soap fans: we need you to stand up and be counted with us. ABC Disney will put AMC and OLTL back in their original time slots and in their original length—none of this half-hour talk!—when enough fans demand it. We are their bread and butter, and that’s what matters most to them. If the thousands of men could give their lives for freedom from British rule, we can certainly fight for a high quality of life that includes our beloved soaps back to their original glory.