This Friday, ABC will air All My Children for the last time, and One Life To Live will soon follow with its last episode scheduled for sometime in January 2012. It's been several months since the network decided to cancel these two long-running soap operas (unless there's a miraculous internet return, which I'm doubting), but I'm still sad for reasons that I think will make sense to many loyal soap watchers and hopefully some non-daytime television lovers.
I will preface this by saying that it has been a while since I've regularly watched daytime television myself but I grew up watching ABC soap operas every day. My grandmother took care of me and my brother when we were young and every afternoon, she would make us lunch in the kitchen and we'd watch hours of Loving, All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital on a small black-and-white antenna television, right up to when it was time for her to start dinner. The stories were drawn-out family dramas or quick love affairs, and every character was linked to every other character in one way or another. During school vacations or summer breaks, I resumed my soap-watching and loved that after several months of being away, I was still able to keep up with the storylines (although sometimes new actors would come in to replace already-established actors in the same role and how confusing was that?).
In high school, I loved General Hospital and would tape it every day since my after-school job made me miss it. In college, even with at least five classes a semester, a job and internships, I always either recorded the episode or caught part of it as I was dashing off. One of my roommates was obsessed with GH and every night, we would recap together in our shared kitchen. (I know General Hospital isn't canceled yet, but there's reason to think that it's only a matter of time). Being a soap fan is like It was like being part of a group that had millions of members of all ages, who tuned in just to see what was happening in fictional Port Charles.
But I guess things have changed. I don't like change, and I'll be the first to admit I revel in routine. I'm upset that these two shows have been canceled, but perhaps I'm more upset about what it means overall. Instead of watching television to escape into made-up worlds, we are watching reality television shows featuring 'real' people who volunteer to be filmed. No matter how crazy the Buchanans and the Quartermaines were, it's nice knowing that they were created for entertainment purposes. Individuals eager for fame actually create 'real lives' and then turn a camera on for all to see.
Now, these entertainment mainstays are being replaced by more talk shows. Starting next Monday, The Chew takes over All My Children's slot, bringing more quasi-celebrities and manufactured camaraderie to network television. I'm not knocking the format or the hosts as much as I am the sheer volume of extremely similar shows. How many self-help, instructional programs does America need?
Susan Lucci doing her thing as Erica Kane
Soap operas are companions to viewers; Susan Lucci disappears into her character, Erica Kane, and becomes a constant in so many lives. People who are comforted by routine or even just the familiarity of the shows themselves are bound to be distressed. I keep imagining a nursing home filled with senior citizens all waiting for their program to start so they get their daily dose of Pine Valley gossip. In any event, I doubt it will be comforting when a 90-year old woman turns on her TV next week to watch her stories and instead sees Mario Batali dancing behind a stove in orange crocs making pasta sauce.
Where are the protesters (except for a few small groups that banded together like this one outside the ABC studios after the announcement)? Remember when Chuck on NBC was on the cancellation bubble and fans started sending in Subway sandwiches to the network? Other shows with less of a following have also had viewers protest. And in this situation, there could not be a more perfect thing to send to the network execs: SOAP!
I think that most people are embarrassed by their love for soap operas but there's nothing wrong with loving these shows, or the routine that comes along with being a loyal viewer. At this point, I don't think I'm alone when saying that I'd rather watch 60 minutes of General Hospital than back-to-back episodes of Jersey Shore. In real life, I'm not at all like the privileged people on soaps, but I'm not like the crass exhibitionists on MTV either. At least the stories and characters on General Hospital are fictional.
So tomorrow, plan to watch the last episode of All My Children ever and enjoy every minute of it. Wear your pearls, get comfortable in that silk negligee you've been saving, and have your favorite alcohol beverage close by. It truly is the end of an era.
Image courtesy of Deadline