Friday, April 22, 2011

Five Stages of Loss

Last week, ABC announced that they would be cancelling two of their three soap operas: One Life to Live and All My Children. The writing was on the wall when ABC announced they were discontinuing SoapNet. Then, the cast of Dancing With the Stars was announced and not a single soap actor. Still, I did not see it coming.

I waited to post anything about it because, to be perfectly honest, I was grief stricken. This may sound silly to anyone who does not watch soap operas. Soap operas have been a big part of my life for 12 years. Soap operas are where my obsessive fandom began. I am the person I am because of soap operas. These cancellations essentially mean the end of soap operas. Hearing about them, I began the five stages of grief.

Step One: Denial
When I talked to my aunt on the day it was announced, we were both in denial. "Maybe it's a publicity stunt." My aunt likened it to the day Elvis died. "That was shocking," she said, "but this is going to take longer to get over." My aunt has watched AMC since day one. She has been present for all 10 of Erica Kane's weddings. I imagine that she is having a tougher time trying to cope with this.

Step Two: Anger
I saw an online petition by fans to fire Brian Frons, the head of ABC Daytime. That seems very unnecessary and fueled by anger. I am extremely angry and will probably send an angry email, letter and may participate in protests to save the soaps, but trying to get people fired is taking it too far. Fans anger turned to Oprah for not stepping up to save AMC and OLTL. Even my aunt suggested that Oprah should buy the shows for OWN. My response was that it is Oprah's network and if that's not the direction she wants to take her network in, I completely understand.

Step Three: Bargaining
In my head, I've gone over and over all the plans I would pitch to ABC to save AMC and OLTL. Maybe they should go back to half an hour. Maybe they should cut down the number of days each week that they broadcast. They could combine AMC and OLTL into one soap. And then, I've also thought, "Dear God, why didn't you cancel Bold and the Beautiful instead?" I've done my fair share of bargaining this week.

Step Four: Depression
I have been super sad this week while watching One Life to Live. It has been really good and to think about it being cancelled is extremely disappointing. One current storyline is about teen bullying at school and on the internet. So far, it has been so well done because it involves two prominent teen characters, an attempted suicide and therapy sessions. I absolutely adore this storyline. This is why soaps are great and soon they won't be around anymore. I am extremely sad.

Step Five: Acceptance
The final step has been the hardest for me. I've gotten so close to getting there, but it's just not happening. Today, I heard about Oprah's official response to soap fans. Oprah said,
"If there was a dime left to be made from them on broadcast television, it would still be happening…. All good things come to an end. All things have their time…. I will not be taking on the responsibility of trying to revive an institution that, for all intent and all purpose, indicates that that time has come for it to be over."
This is extremely simplistic and a slap in the face to the soap opera industry. I had defended Oprah's decision to not buy AMC and OLTL because that was her choice, but she is eulogizing a piece of radio and tv history that is not yet dead. She could fix it if she wanted, but she does not want to. That is her choice. But this statement makes me angry. Maybe I haven't gotten out of Step Two yet.

The Problems
The soap opera industry is stuck in a rut. There are a hand full of head writers that have run the soaps into the ground and continue to work in the industry. The writers recycle plot lines such as the Tess/Jess/Bess multiple personality storyline which has been done 3 times in the last 5 years and is also just a retelling of the Viki/Niki/Jean multiple personality storyline. Soap operas used to be "love in the afternoon." Writers used to take time to invest the audience in a couple. That is how so many supercouples were created. Now, writers go the Romeo and Juliet route. They throw two people together who after one meeting decide they are in love and every conversation they have after that is about being in love. The writers want and expect them to become a super couple without investing any time into building the relationship. Even most sitcoms nowadays invest time in their couples. Soap operas have gotten away from what made them great and that is well crafted romances.

A major problem for soap operas is the fact that they have become the butt of jokes. People like continuing story lines. People like romance. But most people feel they are above soap operas. I took many media studies classes in college and people often looked down on soap operas and then said that Grey's Anatomy was their favorite tv show. The powers that be continue to market soap operas to housewives even though they should market it to a wider audience. Soap operas are not that different from comic books. Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars are very popular space operas but soap operas would never be marketed to those crowds.

Oprah said that not enough people are home during the day to watch soap operas, but if she bought them for her network, she could put them on at any time she wanted. But no. She would rather tell me the soap opera is a dying genre. I have to say that Oprah is just plain wrong. Soap operas are not dead yet and they could be revived. But the truth is no one who can wants to do that.

But I'm not going to give up on AMC and OLTL. And I'm certainly not giving up on the soap opera genre. It's been around for nearly 80 years. I know in my heart that these shows could be saved.

Maybe I haven't gotten out of Step One.