The All My Children generation

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Is Erica Kane dead? It seems her show is, at least on network television. Yesterday was the last episode of All My Children on ABC, and it ended with a gunshot headed in Erica’s direction, followed by a fade to black. Much like its soap opera protagonists, All My Children will be resurrected from the dead, but online. Now two questions remain: who will be in the new version, and who will watch it?

That bullet may very well have hit Erica square between the eyes, because Susan Lucci is saying now that she will not do the new format. Prospect Park, an online production company, bought the rights from ABC to keep All My Children going on the internet, but it is still unclear just which principal actors from the current show will enlist in the new production. I am sure they can just assign new talent to the old names. They do it all the time to keep continuity, but not in droves like this shift might entail.

Even if All My Children retains its actors, continuity, and most importantly its identity, can they really trust that its loyal following will watch online? My 60 year-old mother is your average AMC loyalist, and even though she is a doctor in mathematics and as smart as they come, you will not catch her anytime soon pairing her smart phone with her laptop and entertainment system. The All My Children generation is an older generation, maybe reluctant or even unable to access their favorite episodes from a high speed connection.

Watching a bit of the final episode today made me feel old. Tad had grey hair. Brook looked ancient. The only person
who didn’t look old was Susan Lucci, who obviously made a landmark deal with Satan himself a long time ago. I remember when I was 5 years old, and my babysitter used to watch All My Children. I had a huge crush on Kim Delaney, who played Jenny, (and who oddly enough was just in the news).

In 1980 there were 12 soap operas on network television, with CBS, ABC, and NBC having 4 each. The highest rated show was General Hospital, with a 9.9 rating for the season. In January 2012, after One Life to Live leaves ABC, there will only be 4 soap operas left on all of network TV. The highest rated show today is the Young and the Restless, with measly ratings in the 3 to 4 range.

Soaps have been on decline for years, but the free-fall really began with the success of talk shows. It costs so much less to produce a cooking show or talk show than a soap. This phenomenon is not just a daytime one. The top 5 primetime shows today, according to Nielsen, are all reality shows. There were even signs of this trend before reality TV. In the mid-90’s soap operas all but disappeared for almost 2 years because of the appetite for OJ coverage. It was obvious then, as it is now, that no writer and actor could simulate the allure of surreality better than real people in real situations.

A couple weeks ago, during the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I watched hours of footage of the World Trade Center collapse. I remembered once again that no horror movie or armageddon movie I had ever seen could surpass that image of terror. That is the power of reality. The Chew, which debuts in AMC‘s spot on Monday, is no 9/11, but it would seem to satisfy our hypnosis to the more benign rhetorical side of reality found in talk shows. Either way, there is something to be said for soap operas, which take you away from reality, rather than subject you to distorted versions of it.

So, if you want to see someone stand over a fake stove and tell corny jokes, then watch The Chew. But if you want to see someone come out of coma only to find that his brother married his lesbian wife, then join the new All My Children generation…online.

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