If you’re a dedicated watcher of daytime soap operas, you probably already heard. ABC has canceled its two long-running soaps “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” “All My Children” has been on the air since 1970. “One Life to Live” is even older, having debuted in 1968. That leaves the network with only one soap, the venerable “General Hospital.” CBS, which already gave “Guiding Light” and “As The World Turns” the heave-ho, has two left: “The Young and The Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.” NBC only has one on life support, “Days of Our Lives.”
With a grand total of four soap operas left on network television, I think we can officially declare that the era of soaps is over. In a statement acknowledging largely that, ABC said, “Guided by extensive research into what today’s daytime viewers want and the changing viewing patterns of the audience, ABC is evolving the face of daytime television with the launch of two new shows.”
Those two new shows? Cheap-to-produce reality series. One is “The Chew,” a cooking and nutrition show hosted by Mario Batali. The other is “The Revolution,” a weight loss and “lifestyle transformation” show hosted by Tim Gunn. So, yes, two shows with a roughly 80-year history have been trashed in favor TV’s latest trend, watching fat people lose weight.
It’s not that ABC’s decision is entirely off base. Let’s face it: Viewing habits have changed drastically since 1970. The era of housewives staying home to clean house and watch soap operas is long gone. Who sits at home all day, other than the chronically unemployed and the elderly? And with 200 stations to choose from now, who watches “stories” all day? It’s not the first time networks have ditched tradition. The era of Saturday morning cartoons vanished a generation ago with the rise of 24-hour kids’ networks.
Still, there’s a certain bittersweet edge to this—whether you watched soap operas or not. (I confess, I spent a few years in college following Kelly Ripa on “All My Children”). Soaps have a history. They helped build the networks. Ryan Phillippe, Tommy Lee Jones, Melissa Leo, Laurence Fishburne, Hayden Panettiere, Amanda Seyfried, Josh Duhamel, Christian Slater and Sarah Michelle Gellar are just a few of the stars who got their starts on “All My Children” or “One Life to Live.”
Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC, is already formulating plans to ditch its SoapNet cable channel. The network will soon change formats and become Disney Junior—a channel devoted to Disney-based toddler programming. “All My Children” will end in September. “One Life to Live” will conclude in January. Somewhere in Hollywood, Susan Lucci is weeping.