Monday, April 18, 2011

the soap opera BLOW OFF: a former executive's take

When I heard last week that ABC Daytime had made the decision to cancel All My Children and One Life to Live, I was surprised by how sad I felt to hear the news. Having worked at the network for seven years (prior to leaving last year), I knew both shows were hanging by a loose thread. I was privy to many behind closed door conversations where cancellation was not referenced to as a matter of "if" but a matter of "when." And yet, after not working at the company for over a year, I was still somehow stunned to hear both soaps were officially ending.

Unlike most viewers and fans, I did not grow up on either show. The likes of Erica Kane and Victoria Lord were not a part of my childhood, high school, or even college years. I grew up on Days of Our Lives which was the soap my grandmother loved. But after high school, I stopped watching soaps all together and was more or less indifferent to the genre. After college, and after several months of unemployment, I took a job in what was called the "youth marketing department" at ABC Daytime where recent college grads were hired to watch the soap line up for twelve weeks and give their feedback on the shows. Needless to say, it was the easiest job I've ever had. During those three months, I watched the soaps every day with five other colleagues, most of which knew the on-goings of Port Charles, Pine Valley and Llanview like the back of their hand. By the end of the gig, I was an expert. After the marketing job, I landed an assistant gig to the SVP of programming and before I knew it, three years later, I was moving to LA to be the creative executive on General Hospital. Soaps were not only a huge part of my life, but now they paid the bills.

As a former executive, my sadness over the cancellation of AMC and OLTL is two fold. For starters, we're not just talking about two television shows ending, we're talking about the loss of two institutions (combined, the shows have been on the air for almost 85 years, with well over 20,000 episodes!) Agnes Nixon who created both shows is quite possibly the bravest storyteller of our time. She wrote plot lines centered around the war in Vietnam, abortion, and interracial romance when those topics were beyond taboo.

On a more personal level, I'm also very sad to see many of my friends and former colleagues lose their jobs. Some of which have worked on these show for 20+ years. These are people that worked their asses off even when low ratings and cancellations rumors were looming. I hope they all land somewhere worthy of their talents.

Whether we like it or not, television is a business driven by advertising dollars. ABC is not a public access network. You can't keep shows on the air if they're not making money. The ratings on the soaps declined faster than any of us anticipated. When I first worked at ABC, general consensus was that each show had another good fifteen years ahead of it, but we overestimated. Soaps are much cheaper to produce than your average primetime show, but they're still significantly costlier than a talk show that could potentially accrue higher ratings. If you were investing your own money, wouldn't you opt for a cheaper stock with a greater return VS the more expensive one with a smaller return? It's kind of a no-brainer.

That said, I believe the network and specifically Brian Frons (President of ABC Daytime) have gotten a bum rap these last few days. In the time I was at ABC, we tried EVERYTHING to save the soaps and increase the ratings. We brought back legacy characters, we brought in younger characters in hopes of raising our teen and 18-34 demo, we cut costs, we executed high concept action driven storylines, we executed high romance emotionally driven storylines, we started a cable network so women could watch their soaps at night, we produced webisodes, we used CGI to raise production value, we did endless research to figure out what was working for viewers and what wasn't, we went back to focusing on social issues, we went HD, we traveled all around the country so soap stars could meet their fans, we hired Latino actors to attract the telenovella viewers, we went more salacious in our narratives, we went more true to life in our narratives, we went multi-platform, we did shorter close ended story arcs, we sat in rooms for hours with writers and talked in great depth about every single character on each show and what their objectives were, we took risks, we played it safe, we sold an All My Children perfume in Wal-Mart, we published books "written by" our fictional characters, we killed off beloved characters, we brought back beloved characters from the dead, we even brought a movie star on General Hospital...and the ratings still didn't go up.

The one place we fell short in my opinion? Not adding new blood to the writing departments and instead recycling the same handful of storytellers--- but that wasn't for lack of trying. For years ABC Daytime had a talent development program that successfully trained a new generation of writers for the soaps. (Getting the head-writers to embrace those people instead of BLOWing them OFF was an entirely different issue.)

As for Brian Frons, he championed much of the above and more. And he came up with a lot of our most successful storylines (the baby switch cross-over story on AMC and OLTL, for instance.) If the fans could be a fly on the wall, they'd be surprised by how passionate and hands on he's been with every show. He loves the genre and I'm sure this was not a decision he took lightly. Not all of us liked every choice he made, but I don't think anyone ever doubted his commitment and desire to making the shows better.

Now, here are the things us execs did not do to save the soaps when I worked there: we didn't dispose of computers and additional TV sets in people's homes to get families back to one TV per household. (Teens and kids don't watch soaps with their moms anymore, because they don't have to--- they have their own TVs in their rooms or computers to keep them company.) We also didn't try to get women out of the work force and back into their homes to watch TV during the day. We didn't confiscate every single DVR in every single house and destroy it. We didn't put an end to cable TV and the 200+ channels soaps compete with, we didn't hold Telemundo and Univision hostage and forbid them from airing telenovellas, we didn't outlaw Reality TV or primetime shows that ripped off our format, and we didn't create a time machine to take us back to the heyday of soaps in the 1980s. It's been thirty years since the heyday, which means a lot of time for viewer fatigue. I love Modern Family, but if someone asked me if I wanted to watch it everyday for the next thirty years, I'd probably pass. It wasn't the network that killed the soaps. It was the progression of time, technology, and competition.

That said, I guess the "whys" behind the cancellations don't soften the blow. They certainly didn't for me and I was well versed on all the hurdles. It makes me sad that I won't share the same experience of watching a soap opera with my future grand-kids, like I did with my grandmother. Heck, my kids will probably barely know what a traditional soap opera is. There are still four Daytime dramas left, but even when they're all gone I believe the genre will still be celebrated by fans, viewers, and historians for years to come. As for the network execs at ABC, trust me when I say they did everything they could. And sadly, when every attempt to resuscitate doesn't work, sometimes all that's left to do is call the time of death.


this clip gives me chills every time, tears...

52 comments:

  1. Does this mean my grandkids won't watch GH with me? So sad!

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  2. So well written Sara! Very wise and insightful.

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  3. How much did Brian Frons and ABC pay you to be their apologists? How transparent can you be? What a bunch of hooey. Its about GREED.

    Nevermind. We can play that game too. We are going to hit ABC where it hurts. Their sponsors will soon be pulling out. Hoover Vacuum has already begun pulling their ADs (as of 4/22) and we fans are just getting started on turning the screws. There are numerous fansites involved but here is a great place to start if you want to join the effort to keep quality programming (soap operas) on Daytime TV.

    http://www.generalhospitalhappenings.com/save-our-soaps.php

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  4. Here is a perfect example that proves you are full of horse pucks,courtesy of Deadline TV:

    http://www.deadline.com/2011/04/carrie-disney-moms-among-rejected-ideas-for-soapnet-an-insiders-perspective-on-nets-evolution-abc-soaps-demise/

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  5. You are being grilled on SON:

    http://boards.soapoperanetwork.com/topic/40173-amc-and-oltl-canceled/page__view__findpost__p__954575

    And rightfully so. What you write in the paragraph about what you tried to do makes NO SENSE when the stories were pure – CR*P. If you knew the writers sucked, why did you keep re-employing them? If you wanted younger people, Bob Guza couldn't have stopped you from employing them. You were his SUPERIOR. Why is there no talk of the armada of consultants you've employed to butcher every single head writer's material? Those are the issues that need dishing.

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  6. WOW! that was some defense of ADCD but please I don't really think you will have many takers on believing even a quarter of what was written. I wasn't brought up with those soaps either but I know a good one when I see it. All three of ABC soaps have been great at different times but no effort has really been put into them in the last five yrs. The telling thing is that OLTL rose above what was given and AMC as well as GH did not. GH had a great s/l going thru '08 and then just ruined it all by the end of that yr and it has been downhill ever since.
    If the writer of this article was Guza's superior then she is partially to blame as well as Frons for the crap that was shoveled out. By her own words he was input into s/l and we can all see where that led.
    Those shows were making money, maybe not what ABC wanted, but still made money--20 million viewers a wk for both soaps combined--nothing to be sneezed at by any means. ABC will never get that many to watch The Chew no matter how cheap it is to make.
    The truth is ABC wanted out of the soap business and they are well on their way to that goal.

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  7. Thanks for the comments everyone and for reading the post! I like that Hoover is taking a stand, but if they wanted to save the soaps, they should offer to offset the production costs, not take money away. And why didn't they pull ads off of NBC and CBS when they cancelled half of their line ups?

    Deadline article: I worked in drama dev at the time for SOAPnet and what I will say is that all rebranding efforts for the network were an attempt to get more eyes on SOAPnet (beyond soap viewers), while keeping the soaps on as well. The advent of the DVR made SOAPnet's strategy irrelevant and it was either change it to save it or let it go all together. As someone that was trying to develop new scripted shows for SOAPnet, the constant change in strategy was frustrating. Like I said, we didn't agree with every decision that was being made.

    As for the "armada" of consultants, not sure where you are getting your info. In the time I was there, we had 1 story consultant for AMC and OLTL, but she was let go about three years ago to save costs.
    My point in laying out all the things the network tried to do was inclusive of good story-telling "we executed high concept action driven storylines, we executed high romance emotionally driven storylines...we went more salacious in our narratives, we went more true to life in our narratives...we sat in rooms for hours with writers and talked in great depth about every single character on each show and what their objectives were"-- all these points are about telling GOOD STORIES. Of course execs and show creatives don't sit around thinking "let's tell a really shitty story today." As for ancillary products like perfume, etc-- when the ratings were declining even during high testing storylines, we had to come up with other ways to make money to keep the shows on the air. You think we got into the perfume business for shits and giggles?

    For those of you that commented on SON that the problem lies with execs being too involved, that's not accurate. The main reason I quit my job is I felt I had little impact as an executive. It was incredibly difficult to get the writers to make significant changes to story. And incredibly frustrating when the negative feedback from fans merely echoed our own concerns about storylines. A huge part of being a good network exec is maintaining a good relationship with the show's writers, but I got tired of stroking egos at the expense of storytelling. And the writing team I worked with was still getting the best ratings on the line up. I'd love for you guys to send me your top ten fave stories on an ABC soap and I'll tell you which were suggested by the network and which were pitched by the HW. You might be surprised by the results. At the end of the day, the HW came up with some fantastic ideas and some not so fantastic ideas-- the same goes for the execs.

    Getting new writers was a constant battle for me, I did have one win in bringing Sri Rao on to write Night Shift's second season instead of going with a traditional soap writer. Sri was one of the writers discovered by our talent development team.

    As for me going to bat for Brian Frons and my former colleagues, I think it's fair to say I have more insight into who they are than you do. But I also have zero incentive to say nice things b/c I don't work there anymore. And when I disagreed with creative decisions at the network, I didn't have any qualms about standing up to higher ups. The point of my post was to express my sadness over the cancellations, honor the people at the shows and at the networks who have worked incredibly hard, and to shed some light on the network's role, b/c I think a lot of viewers don't really understand how the network functions. I fully admit there are places we succeeded and places where we failed.

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  8. And for soap fans that are only following this thread on The Blow Off, I invite you to read this wonderful post from a fan's perspective written by Ross, one of our great contributors.

    http://www.theblowoff.com/2011/04/soap-opera-blow-off-part-2-fans.html

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  9. I can't think of any stories I loved on All My Children since Brian Frons became President except for Angie & Jesse's return (and I know that was fought for by Barbara Esensten and James Harmon Brown), but how about who (headwriter or network) pitched these catastrophes:

    1. Ryan & Greenlee

    2. Dixie's death-by-pancakes

    3. Josh Madden: Unaborted-Fetus-Turned-TV-Producer

    4. The murder of Stuart Chandler

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  10. Wonderful writing Sara. Everything you say is true. The times are certainly changing and we should enjoy these institutions while they last!

    Lisa

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  11. The main issue is creative artistry. These soaps were revenue vehicles and the network asserted maximum control to please shareholders. That was not always the case. Henry Slesar, Doug Marland, Nancy Curlee, these were creative artists who loved and respected the genre and were given some time to develop their vision. Imagine David Chase trying to develop and write The Sopranos whilst being advised by college grads sitting in a room?! Oh, a college grad who miraculously became an exec???? Creativity, artistic license, vision, all sacrificed or thwarted or killed off by focus groups, network business majors, UCLA screen writing grads, Hogan Sheffer (screen writing doctor). There will be serialized television but it won't be on network daytime; they don't want it, they can't support or sustain it. Network TV is a vast wasteland of crap.

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  12. Re: the AMC story-lines you referenced:

    Ryan/Greenlee-- HW and network
    Dixie death by pancakes: HW
    Unaborted Fetus story: HW
    Murder of Stuart: HW (many of us at the network were vehemently against this one, but lost that battle)

    Also, Angie and Jesse's return was very much supported by the network.

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  13. Saara--er--Brian Frons, You are BOTH so full of CRAP it is painful. You are just digging yourself a bigger hole.

    The fans and the sponsors will be having a conversation with you wallet very soon.

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  14. I have no insight on anything going on on this board, but I liked the video you posted. Susan Lucci's husband tearing up is sweet. Much better than that jerk that Sandra Bullock married, Jesse James.

    Oh, well maybe I have some insight. That Saaara is full of mularkey!!! I wish I could stick jalapenos up her nose and seal her mouth shut with duct tape!!!

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  15. Great post!! I think people are speaking from emotion and not reality. The rating for soaps have been bad for a long time and continue to decline each year - and whether you like B Frons or ABC/Disney that's a fact.

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  16. Very interesting write-up Sara.

    In light of your comments about who initiating the awful AMC stories listed above, I have a question: When Kay Alden was consulting on AMC in late 2006/early 2007 she gave a speech at MIT in which she stated that, contrary to popular opinion, Brian Frons' big flaw isn't that he micro-managed the writing, but that he didn't intervene enough: if a HW pitched him a story they wanted to do he didn't think it was his place to say no, and that resulted in stories that should never have happened (e.g. undoing Erica's landmark abortion, killing Dixie in a manner that essentially slapped the viewers in the face) happening.

    Do you agree with her take? Surely nobody at the network actually thought those two stories were winning ideas.

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  17. Thanks for the insight into the "behind the scenes" goings on at the network. I'm curious to know which of the following GH stories were pitched by the HW and which were suggested by and/or mandated by the ABC network:

    Some Faves:

    1. Lulu's unplanned pregnancy and abortion.

    2. The Metro Court hostage crisis.

    3. The returns of Dr. Noah, Robert Scorpio and Anna Devane.

    4. Tracy Q and Luke.

    5. Kristina's abuse storyline.

    Some not-so-Faves

    1. Making Holly Sutton the villain in the virus storyline and the mother of Ethan via an off screen affair with Luke.

    2. The Text Message Killer murdering Emily Q and Georgie Jones.

    3. The death of Alan Q.

    4. The Lucas coming out story.

    5. The disposal of the once pivital Laura, Bobbie, Monica and Felicia characters.

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  18. Hi Anonymous, happy to answer your story questions, but would prefer not to do it in a public forum. Please feel free to shoot us an email at theblowoffwtf@gmail.com and I will respond.

    Heidi, thanks for your message and for reminding me that Kay and Jack were also briefly consultants-- I never worked with them and totally forgot. I agree and disagree with Kay's take-- there were a good share of stories pitched by HW's that were nixed by Brian and/or the programming exec and some that were not. If a writer could provide a compelling enough reason for the story, then the end would often times justify the means.

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  19. Wow. It's like Republicans commenting in the comment section of a NY Post article.

    Sara pointed this out, but I think it is worth repeating...Advertising pays the bills, advertisers buy audience, and Daytime TV has no material audience anymore (or that audience can be reached more efficiently and more impactfully by other means).

    The price Hoover pays for a spot on ABC Daytime is 1/25th of what a Primetime show brings in. It is dust. Can't pay the bills on dust.

    The cultural construct in which soaps were conceived and executed is dead - women are in the workforce, audiences are too fictionalized, and there are too many choices for a serial, five-days a week scripted show. Doesn't matter how good the writing is.

    However based on these comments, it's likely that Jesus almighty could deliver this message to the fans and they would only think s/he's a Frons apologist.

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  20. Sorry - fractionalized, NOT fictionalized.

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  21. Interesting blog, Saara!

    I feel badly saying this, but I'm not too broken up about these recent cancellations. Of course, it is unfortunate for everyone involved. But, I too, grew up on NBC soaps...so my loyalty rests more with DOOL. And, I still miss Another World - a great soap I grew up watching with my mother. I came to ABC when I caught GH one day during the late 80s. I've been on again/off again ever since.

    Anyway, honestly not much of what you wrote is surprising. I absolutely think the execs have done MANY things to save the soaps...and have been unsuccessful. The sad part is that I genuinely believe they have no clue. I don't think it's rocket science. I think it was quite interesting that you went into specific detail for several paragraphs of all the ways that execs attempted to save the soaps, and then had 3 sentences on issues related to writing. It's writing. WRITING, WRITING, WRITING. The crux of ANY soap that is on 5 days a week throughout the years has to have quality writing. A good, quality storyline that I can invest in is what will make me tune in day after day. It's not about putting all this energy into CGI and HD and movie stars, and perfume and books and more purple and orange people. It's not about a great dramatic explosion or car crash or fire if there is no follow through and no emotional connection. Soaps should have went back to the basics...Family - Relationships - and Romance within the context of quality writing. I see NONE of that now. I also firmly believe that soaps needed new writers...new blood...fresh ideas. I think soaps have to be the only industry where people (writers) get to keep their jobs after consistently poor performance. Makes no sense to me.

    Again, I fully believe that ABC tried multiple things to save soaps - but they directed their energy in the wrong place. They should have focused on quality writing first. Without that, there is no way anything else will be successful.

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  22. Thanks Anonymous for reading and for your insightful feedback. Yes, obviously--- good story is the #1 most important thing and believe it or not, when I was at abc that was our motto-- if the story isn't there, people won't tune in. But my greater point is, it's not the only thing. For example, a lot of the best written primetime shows don't make it past a first season if they don't find an audience. I personally think friday night lights is one of the best written shows on TV and it barely made it 5 seasons, and that was only with the help of Direct TV co-financing it.

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  23. The emphasis in the late 90s and later was to pander to the lowest common demoninator to get get ratings up. And it miserably failed on each and every daytime show. The execs in charge for the most part did not grow up watching complex stories unravel on ATWT or Edge. They were newbies to the genre or to young to have seen and experienced much. And they ignored the shows that were continuing to hold larger audiences...i.e. Y&R which told long, slow, unsensational stories. I didn't always like Y&R but they had a consistent vision and didn't pander at every turn (like they are doing now!). The other big issue is that writers either forgot or were forced to pen stories about unrootable characters. Maybe in their drive to meet the reqirements of the biz execs, they had to forgo character development but in any event, they lost the ability to give us rootable characters. We have been asked to follow the lives of rapists, mob bosses, supreme narcissists as if they were the heros and heroines. Roger Thorpe was so compelling because his character was played against people with morals and values and yes, even other flawed people who could make a huge mistake (Ed with his drinking) but were not maniacal. Nowadays, everyone on soaps breaks in to computers, switches paternity results, has a nervous breakdown, commits murder. Kriezman ruined GL by turning all the characters into amoral louts. I don't empathize with most of the characters on soaps anymore...remember Nancy Karr, Nicole Drake, Rachel Cory, Ada, Blaine, Maureen Bauer...Y&R is the only soap on now that still attempts empathy with its characters and storylines, but it's spotty and overshadowed by Sheffer's plot drivel. And their ratings will sink too, faster still if they don't tone it down and get back to some rooting power.

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  24. saaara, your response to anonymous holds no water. The soaps had and HAVE an audience(which is drastically undercounted due to the antiquated ratings system.). They didn't have to go out and find them, they just had to pay attention to what they wanted.

    ITS THE WRITING,STUPID!

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  25. cable and primetime use the exact same ratings system as the soaps-- so even though nielsen is antiquated, you're still comparing apples to apples and the soap audience is still significantly smaller than its counter parts. You know what gets the best ratings in Daytime? Judge Judy. Guess it must be because the writing is stellar.

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  26. Also, love that you guys are arguing the importance of writing with someone that makes their living doing it. I don't know how many more times I can make it clear that the writing is the most important thing, but even at its best, the ratings still weren't there. And even on the highest rated best written shows, there is still such thing as PR, marketing, ancillary products, DVDs, books, perfumes, etc etc. I also have to wonder, if the writing for these shows was as crappy as so many fans are claiming, why were any of you still watching?

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  27. One Live to Live is watched by almost 3 million people every week, how is this not enough? It's also popular among women 18-39. So don't give us this "ratings" excuse. Do you seriously think that any of these 3 million people who watch soaps because they are looking for ESCAPE form reality, are going to watch talk/reality shows? DON'T GIVE US LIES ABOUT RATINGS as it certainly don't apply to One Live to Live whose ratings were IMPROVING this year.

    Additionally some of the "successful" stories you mentioned were those that people hated. The baby switch storyline was hated by the fans and many of them started just skipping AMC while it was on, I certainly was. Dixie's death was another flop that cost you viewers.

    One other thing - Nielsen ratings are crap, they don't reflect actual popularity. Most of us aren't Nielsen families. Even if we were, why is it that viewing of daytime only counts if you view it within 24 hours? With more people working, most of the viewers DVR these shows. I am a professional woman and I do. I don't have time to watch everything every evening, so I often watch them over the weekend. But all of those people who watch these shows during the evening don't count.

    BTW - telenovelas are doing just fine, people who don't know Spanish are turning on to watch them. How come you couldn't use their example and improve the writing accordingly? BTW - I think both AMC and OLTL have improved considerably this year, OLTL is rocking now.

    And let's not forget the crap they are replacing these shows with. Another food show? Do you seriously believe anybody who is recording soaps will watch those? "The biggest loser revisited"? Give me a break.

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  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  29. Well. Consider the source. With all due respect, if any of this is true, then why are TPTB NOW bringing back the stories and the vets that we have asked for for decades? Because you execs consistently refused to listen to the long-time fans on how to improve your game. We've told you about ensemble, inter-generational, character-driven storytelling. You've ignored us by freaking out over antiquated Nielsen ratings system instead of trying to deepen the bond the soaps already built upon. Now it's cancelled. In the end, this is only a job to you.

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  30. Why does my post keep getting deleted? I took a lot of time to write it... twice.

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  31. Sorry Smoke, not sure why. I can promise no one from our site has deleted it. Otherwise we would have deleted all the other negative commentary :)

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  32. BUM Rap My BuM

    I'm sorry but I am well aware of this being a business however, Brian Frons "meddled" by putting "his favorites" front and center and back burning vets in bad story (or killing them off). Favored promoing "his favorite actors/characters the new Greenlee was plopped up front and center when an "iconic supercouple" Angie and Jessie returning had to share the spotlight in the background while her picture was superseded in front of them...I know how marketing works especially with a vile weasel like Brian Frons.

    We know who his pets are all you have to do is look at who brands these shows and get promoted and written the emmy reels.

    He IMO should have stayed "out of the storytelling." He was hired to be rid of soaps because his job is also to develop new programming. Where was he going to put it in the daytime lineup?

    Not only has he insulted and name called fans. insulted actors but he also "lied" to the the audience and employees (media) of these shows continuously and refused to "listen to his audience" who told him exactly what they wanted to see. He hired hack writers and executive producers (his buddies) from failed shows (the show killahs) that he also was part of cancelling out.

    He continued to write to the elusive "focus groups" responses even though they were dropping #s but continued until they ran the show in the ground. Like Jill Phellps wrote to focus groups that killed Another World...and still writing to them when they hit the exit door...

    Nielsen is an "outdated tool of measure in this age of high technology with hand held media devices. I don't watch "much of anything." This is not the society I live in where I have to sit and wait for a show to come on...their mostly all online.

    The last one standing is a misogynistic plot point driven mess yet the cries of women driving storylines for decades "are still ignored."


    yes he is more than responsible for the demise of these daytime dramas. I can say more about this man who has practically failed at everything he's done who's successes are from projects he ripped off here and played out overseas ...

    but why bother...it is what it is..however I will never support (or watch) anything that brands his name.

    Yes the genre is dying but instead of making decisions "for" soaps he made them to murder them. Rumors were flying around as early as 2003 he wanted soaps gone he got what he wanted. I don't write their soaps for a living but I've watched their writing for "for decades." This has nothing to do with $$ this has to do with pure favoritism and mismanagement. The problem with me re: soaps
    is "writing." That is the major reason people I post with tune out.

    Why is it nearly every country in the world this genre is successful except the one that created it? Disney wants to sell ABC and there is "much more to this than I know about." I have a difficult time believing a man who loves soaps has a history of killing them off. And I haven't even gotten to his bungling the soapnet channel.

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  33. Hi Saaara, my comments weren't negative. Let me try again.

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  34. Hi Saaara,

    Total Transparency: I am a professional writer, though I write about real-life dramas, not fake ones. I too came to soaps late in life, though my mother and grandmother were huge fans of their "stories," including AMC. And finally, I am an ATWT fan who is still grieving the loss of my show.

    That said, I want to thank you for engaging this debate and for shooting straight with fans. I find that I agree with a lot of what you have written, and have echoed your sentiments about this decision being made above Frons' head. But people want to blame someone, and Frons is the face of the "decision," so -- right or wrong -- he's catching the heat. I do have two questions that I would like for you to weigh in on-- one concerns an assertion you made in your initial post and the other relates to something you wrote in a comment.

    First, you state that network executives failed to take computers out of people's homes and that ABC tried everything from creating a cable channel to selling perfume in order to try to save its daytime shows. That is certainly more than what was done for my beloved ATWT, but I have to wonder why daytime executives, including those at ABC, did not partner with online companies like Google, to provide content online. After all, it is how many of us view TV these days. I know some networks, though pretty late in the game, started providing content on their own websites. But like CBS, the video is often of very poor quality due to cheap flash programs. So poor, in fact, that it actually drives viewers to other online sources like youtube, to watch user uploaded video that infringes U.S. copyright law. I know that some TV executives insist that they have not figured out how to make online pay as much or more money as traditional television pays; but Google and Hulu are showing that this is not exactly the case. Instead of throwing computers out of people's homes, shouldn't TV executives figure out how to use computers to their advantage by delivering content in a way that viewers increasingly consume it? (Total Transparency again: I canceled my cable subscription after ATWT went off air and now watch "The Good Wife" on my computer or via my mobile phone, and I don't miss the cable bill one bit).

    (Part 1)

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  35. Second, in one of your responses you state, "cable and primetime use the exact same ratings system as the soaps...," but this isn't true. Those who watch recorded versions of prime time shows are counted up to three days after the initial air date, whereas those of us who watch recorded versions of our favorite daytime shows, are only counted within the first 24 hours of initial air date. Many TV executives, though obviously not all, are aware of this, and are now pushing for recorded versions of prime time shows to be counted within seven days of initial air date, but there has been no word about changing the scheme for daytime. Whether there is a 72 hours versus 24 hours difference, or a 168 hours versus 24 hours difference, do you agree that this is a major discrepancy here? If you do agree, then why do you think this discrepancy exists? If you do not agree, then why not?

    Finally, shouldn't online viewing get counted in the ratings system as well? Some infringing videos I find on youtube are viewed thousands and thousands of times, over and over again. To me, this sounds like a content producer's dream!!!

    Yes, the writing on some of these shows is problematic. And yes, head writers and producers (ALL) need to do a better job at respecting, listening to and responding to fans by delivering content that entertains, informs and inspires a range of emotions. But isn't it also fair to say that TV execs haven't done ALL they need to in terms of delivering content in the way that fans watch it?

    Thanks again for your post.

    Best,

    Tee
    (WorldTurnsTV.com)

    (Part 2)

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  36. So...basically, the argument is that ABCD wasn't malevolent, just a MIND-BLOWINGLY INCOMPETENT FAILURE. That's the only conclusion it's possible to arrive at if we're supposed to believe for one second that Frons and company ever cared about soaps or ever tried to "save" them.

    Personally, I find it difficult to believe that anyone is quite that useless at what is supposed to be their job, or, if they were, that they would remain employed while spectacularly failing at all their stated objectives.

    It's much easier to believe what other "insiders" are saying, mainly because we've all seen the proof of it through Frons' tenure -- he never cared about soaps except for an occasional wave of contempt, and certainly had nothing but contempt for the soap audience he thought he could "train" like house pets. His vision for ABCD was always a post-soap one (to say nothing of the various cracked-out, non-soap visions for SoapNet) and now he's got it.

    A "bum rap"? Please. The reaction to him and others who have spent a good decade or so creating this debacle have gotten off easy, so far.

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  37. I do not doubt the sincerity of Sara's words; she, as someone on the "inside", is offering an insiders look at a post-Frons ABC Daytime.

    However there in lies the limitations of her scope. She, by her own admission, was ignorant to the ABC lineup pre-Frons, and has only been associated with it during the last decade. This is a major red flag for anyone who watched, and loved, these soaps pre-2002.

    She might not be aware that what she considers "good soap" is a pale, watered down shadow of how truly well made these soap were before Frons got his hooks into them. The decline in the quality of writing, and the overall vision for all three soaps, was startling, and only apparent to long time viewers who have been downright baffled at the sharp, rapid creative decline of the material.

    We all know soaps have been falling in ratings for years, since the early 90's in fact. But the swift demise of the ABC line up in particular, and yes anyone looking at the writing on the wall knows GH likewise will be soon cancelled, can be largely attributed to egregious creative mismanagement. Perhaps with creatively stronger soaps over the last 9 years the ratings might have held steady enough to make it to that 15 year point. And by God even if they had to end, they should never have been ended like this; sad, pathetic, miserable shells of their former selves. The schizophrenic, "throw everything at the wall and hope it sticks" approach to the ABC soap line up has been painfully apparent to viewers for years, viewers whose voices, whose screams for a return to quality soap, were largely left ignored.

    The same hack headwriters being passed around from soap to soap, fired off one, just to be picked up by another, is shameful. Can you even explain how Robert Guza Jr in particular, who has devolved into literally one of the worst writers to ever touch this medium, still has a job? One can at least be thankful for the Ron Carlivati's and Karen Harris' of this business, writers who are taking piss poor directives from executives and still managing to spin out gold from time to time.

    The slaughter of beloved vet characters, again especially on GH, and the flat disrespectful shelving of those who managed to avoid the blood bat is shameful.

    Refusing to write coherent, cohesive stories that took advantage of history, bolstered and honored the classic families, and didn't insult our collective intelligence is shameful.


    That is where Frons, and the entire ABC executive staff failed. In dishonoring what was once so great about these shows, you robbed them of the chance to pass on with dignity. No institution this storied, this beloved, and with this kind of longevity, deserved to go out like this. That is the crime, that is the shame.

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  38. Hi Smoke, thank you for your comment and questions! Regarding the online portion of your question, the ABC soaps are all on Hulu and ABC.com, but it took the network some time to re-purpose them due to contracts with affiliates that did not allow us to have the shows anywhere that could pose a threat to them being watched on the daypart. The network had to wait for those contracts to expire. That said, the soaps are actually streamed at a negligible rate compared to other primetime properties on the abc.com player and on Hulu. All the networks are still feeling their way through monetizing their online content, it'll be interesting to see how it evolves in the next few years. I'm not sure why everyone is under the impression that DVR ratings aren't considered for the soaps. When I was at ABC, we always got same day ratings and Live + 7, in addition to commercial ratings. It definitely is not a perfect system.

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  39. To be clear, SOAPnet was okay with the affiliates, because the shows were on at night on the cable net.

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  40. The one thing you didn't give us that most fans want is character driven stories, continuity and respect for legacy characters families and vets. Especially on GH, who has fired and backburned any female actor over 40. Who cares about CGI or all those gimmicks. Every time Jams Franco goes on GH it disrupts everything. We want Bobbie, Laura, Felecia and Monica back on our screens in front burner stories. When's the last time Alexis had her own story. We want the core families back, the Quartemaines have been totally destroyed, How about General Hospital being about a "Hospital" and not a mob boss? We want heroes that aren't criminals. How about a show that doesn't just focus on their 4 pets actors?

    Who decided to kill Georgie? Worst decision ever.

    Phil

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  41. "we executed high concept action driven storylines, we executed high romance emotionally driven storylines..., we went more true to life in our narratives.

    Ah - there's the problem. Everything but develop characters, tell a good story (beginning, build-we went more salacious in our narrativesup, middle, and end), and keep stories CHARACTER DRIVEN. Fans complained LOUDLY about the poor quality - NEVER TRIED LISTENING TO THAT IT SEEMS.

    1. High concept action driven storylines = one time event - then you dropped the ball and had NOT story.

    2. High romance emotionally driven storylines = we decided who should be together (Rylee) did not care fans hated them and begged us to get them off screens - FAILED ENTIRELY TO DEVELOP ROMANCE - JUST MADE IT FAST AND FURIOUS

    3. We went more salacious in our narratives - Yes, you had lots of meaningless sex - YUCK

    4. More true to life - Yep, characters over the age of 50 and famimlies disappeared - very true to life with Baby Boomers (25% of the population) beginning to retire in droves in the next few years.

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  42. Two key things that ABCD *didn't* try to do:

    - Promote the soaps during primetime. During a single afternoon of daytime, how many promos for primetime shows do we see? 20? During a week of primetime, how many promos for daytime shows do we see? None.

    - Syndicate the shows internationally, like Y&R and B&B.

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  43. What a convenient article. Frons must be very proud of you. Unless you're a middle-aged woman, who's not very attractive.

    He did this on purpose. He started years ago, with soap-killing writers and a mission: to get rid of the genre and replace it with dreck. Barbara Walters already got called on her crap. You need to be called on yours.

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  44. I don't know who you are or care. But if Frons & Co. had promoted strong writers from within instead of hiring failed friends the ratings would have returned to what they used to be. The transition team that included Amanda Bealle brought in good ratings. But rather than reward a wonderful writer like Bealle with a promotion, she was allowed to slip away to Y&R, which is doing just fine in the ratings. Frons' mentality lead to the cancellation of AMC, IMO, and I cite Bealle's departure as an example. The writers that followed didn't know the show or how to write for the characters. They were destined ... perhaps even hired ... to fail.

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  45. Several actors have come out and talked about what happened with Frons. Their insight means something to us, while yours does not.

    It would have been better had you not put this spurious blog out there where actual people could read it and shake their heads at your mendacity. In other words, like your mentor, you screwed up.

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  46. Bull. Just because you believe that "in the time I was at ABC, we tried EVERYTHING to save the soaps and increase the ratings" doesn't mean that these were effective. A lot of these "efforts" were the exact OPPOSITE of what needed to be done. This what happens when business executives try to micromanage creativity. They're not good at it, because they're not creative. Writing, production, direction -- these are special creative skills that pencil-pushers have no business trying to manage. You should have butted OUT and let creative people do the creating.

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  47. Just think how much money you would have saved had you given the very vocal fans what they asked for: character-driven stories, wonderful romance (which despite your statement you forgot how to do) and resolution? Instead you gave us bells and whistles with no substance. Smokescreens with toothy, smiling con men behind them. Shame on you.

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  48. It does not surprise me that the network is now trying to put all the blame on the viewers. Arrogant egotistical people never take responsibility for their actions. They always blame everyone else. Had the network taken the time to really listen to the viewers they might not be in this mess in the first place.

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  49. WOW,can you propaganda! They did everything but give the fans what they wanted, the end result was loss of viewers.
    You can not write pure garbage and expect it to fly. AMC was nothing but repetitious dialogue and stories that had no endings. You bring back the Satin Slayer and then leave us hanging, pure stupidity. Dropped story lines all over the place. I watched for 3 years and watched the steady decline in the quality of writing.
    We get explosions and special effects on prime time. We wanted romance and intrigue, that's what I grew up with.
    We have been constantly belittled by Mr. Frons and told we don't know what we want. We have said it loud and clear!!
    All shows write for their fans and when they stop, this is the result. If this wasn't intentional people should be fired for being incompetent.
    And no, I wouldn't grab at dollars, it may come back to bite you in the butt later.
    I do not and will not ever watch ABC again.
    What genius came up with the name The Chew, sounds gross!!

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  50. With all due respect, I don't think your argument holds water. If Brian Frons and ABC wanted to kill the soaps, they couldn't have done a more effective job. They continued hired writers that were proven not to do good jobs, they continued to push storylines that were favorites of the network but had long been out of favor of the public (RYLEE!!! for one) and they killed off ridiculously popular characters - Stuart, Dixie. And ABC has the nerve to say the audience is no longer interested. We have been stating for years what would work for us..but no one at ABC chose to listen.

    In one interview, Brian Frons stated he could train the audience to like what he liked. Nice try but that didn't work..and now it's MY fault as an audience member that the shows are not relevant and popular? He also said that if an audience memrbe had tuned out and was not watching because the shows were so bad - he had no interest in them, as they were not "tried and true viewers". He produces a terrible product and it's my fault I don't want to watch.

    There were a lot of things to try to save the soaps if money and ratings were the only issue (which they are obviously not since OLTL has been beating GH in the ratings for quite a while and look which one got saved but that's another commentary). They could have for example.. had summers off like night time shows...and only had the cost of producing 9 mos instead of 12 months a year. In that time, they could have tried out The Chew or the Poo or whatever show they wanted to push and see how they would do...and then make a decision.

    So now, it's the end of the soaps and all of a sudden our favorites are coming back because they want to give us a good ending? If they gave us a good product all along, no one would be dealing with this at the moment.

    And just for the record, I have had the "pleasure" of meeting Brian Frons a couple of times. He never showed one iota of interest in the fact that I had watched his network soaps for over 20 years and looked bored about the entire process. If he was interested in keeping his fans, he needs a new lessons on how to do it. No disrespect intended but no one is ever going to convince me that Brian Frons had any interest in keeping the soaps alive and it's a sad commentary that ABC is following his lead as opposed to throwing him to the curb.

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  51. Good grief, this is obviously a major spin job. The author really kissed up to ABC and Frons. When is poor writing a way to increase ratings? Why are they so concerned about teen viewers and the 18-49 group, Most of these people are either at school or at work during the day!! The baby boomers (which there are a lot of) are beginning to retire and will be home during the day! It's not rocket science! ABC please get a clue!

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