Shonda Rhimes dominates ABC’s fall 2014 line up with three series

Shonda Rhimes’ history-making streak continues to TV land ablaze! When she cast Kerry Washington in the lead role of Olivia Pope for “Scandal,” she made Washington a household name and broke barriers in the process. It was the first time in decades that a black woman was the lead character in a drama series. When the broadcast networks begin their new line ups in the fall, Rhimes will have three shows on one network (ABC) between 8 and 10 p.m. That’s a big deal, especially in today’s television landscape. With shows getting the axe after only a few episodes due to low ratings, it shows that the execs at ABC trust Rhimes enough to let her create a show and let it gradually build an audience. Many series creators don’t get that kind of trust, respect or space to grow their shows. The overall ratings of network television shows are down significantly from other primetime shows of the last ten to twenty years.

Rhimes’ first big hit, “Grey’s Anatomy” was around when shows still could accumulate more than 20 million viewers at a time. When “Grey’s” appeared as a mid-season show on ABC back in March 2005, it quickly gained a solid following and generated a good amount of buzz. At the time, the #1 scripted show on ABC—and most certainly the most buzzed about show on TV—was another ABC production, 2004 mega-hit “Desperate Housewives”. By the time both shows reached their third season premieres back in 2006, “Grey’s” had become as popular—I might argue even more popular—than “Desperate Housewives”. It garnered close to thirty million views for its third season premiere. The show moved to Thursday nights where it’s been ever since the fall 2006. While the show is no longer drawing twenty plus million viewers, it is still one of the most popular programs on TV; and this on demand world we live in helps the show maintain its popularity. It has long ago surpassed the once mighty “Desperate Housewives” in terms viewing and longevity (the upcoming season will be season number eleven. “Housewives”lasted for eight seasons.)

Again, “Greys'” numbers have slipped in years past, but not many shows get 20 million viewers these days. Network execs really only care about that coveted 18-34 (and maybe the 18-49) year old demo; in that area, “Grey’s” is still going strong. It’s no surprise, then, that the brass at ABC have enough faith that Rhimes can pull off a strong Thursday night line-up dominated by her creations. “Scandal”, which airs right after “Grey’s”, has taken off tremendously since its mid-season premiere in 2012. In that time, it has become a water-cooler favorite and has sometimes equaled or surpassed “Grey’s” in both ratings and demographics. When executives see this, they see dollar signs, which is why it only seems logical that they asked Rhimes to create yet another show for the fall 2014 season, “How to Get Away with Murder”, starring Oscar nominee Viola Davis. So, ABC’s fall 2014 Thursday line-up will look like this:

8 p.m.: “Grey’s Anatomy”
9 p.m.: “Scandal” (new time slot)
10 p.m.: “How to Get Away with Murder”

All the best to Shonda! Her creativity gives a boy like me some inspiration!

A new way to view cancelled soap opera series, All My Children, One Life to Live

There has been an explosion of excitement when it comes to programming on the internet. I remember one of the first times I heard about original content being produced on the internet, I thought the idea was absurd! I didn’t want to have to strain to watch a cheaply made show on the internet. A music video, yes; a clip of an old show on YouTube? Sure; but my initial opinion was that original programming was best kept on television. That was my crazy little brain not paying attention to not just where the internet was headed, but also the television itself. Now, there are smart TV’s that can be connected with internet, or the internet is pretty much built in. My love and respect for original internet programming was being reevaluated right around this time last year.

When ABC cancelled All My Children and One Life to Live on the same day in 2011, I was heartbroken. I was an odd little boy who would rather spend time with his grandmother watching the stories than playing outside. It may sound weird, but when my grandmother died, I quit the stories for a few years. She kept the dial to ABC all day long when she was alive. I couldn’t hear the theme music from General Hospital; every time I came across Erica Kane or Victoria Lord, I felt a heaviness in my heart. They reminded me of Momma. Eventually I started to watch again, but I noticed that the shows had lost something; the heart, the soul. Something was different. But I still watched much for the same way I stopped, Momma. When the shows were cancelled I felt like I lost her all over again. So many people who grew up like me felt the same way about their parents or grandparents who watched soaps.

I thought that there’s no chance that these shows will be saved. A few years before the cancellations of AMC and OLTL, the soap opera Passions had been cancelled by NBC. DirecTV picked up the show, airing it for thirty minutes for four days a week, with a recap day on Friday. It didn’t last long, so I figured once those shows went off the air that that’d be the end, no Passions treatment for these two old shows.

On April 29, 2013, All My Children and One Life to Live came back to life again on Hulu, Hulu Plus and iTunes. It felt like the shows were a hit on their new platform. They were high up on ITunes’ and Hulu’s top shows. The story gets a little involved here, and while the details are quite dramatic and soapy, they are also a little boring to people who don’t give a crap about the soap genre. (For those who want a little more detail on all the craziness and Soap Opera Network would be good places to start. Just type in either show, and then have fun reading!) Long story short, the shows went on hiatus in September and haven’t been on the air since. For all the fans, the back and forth has become tiring, and, at this point, I think it’ll be best to keep both shows in the past. At some point, with soaps—and life—we have to know when to move on and create new memories, new friends, and new television (or internet) shows.

One of the shows that had a little more success being re-packaged on the internet aired on primetime. Arrested Development was a critical darling on the FOX network for three seasons. It racked up all kinds of awards and accolades. But, after three seasons of ratings that didn’t match the critical success, AD was cancelled in 2006. After almost ten years off the air, it returned in a new body, and a new format; it premiered on Netflix in May 2013. In the spirit of binge watching, all fifteen episodes of the fourth season were released at once. The show did not suffer the fate of its daytime counterparts; the chances are good that the show will have a fifth season.

The internet is shaping the way viewers get their entertainment. Dead television shows have been revived. Even if they don’t have a long shelf life (All My Children, One Life to Live), the internet is proving that it is trying to go where television used to go. I never thought I’d say this, but there is a heartbeat there. These shows don’t have the budgets of networks, but somehow, audiences are catching on to the provocative, cutting edge shows that are finding their way onto the internet. I think it’s here to stay!

Rinse, Wash, Revive: Are soap operas poised for a comeback?

Soap fans rejoice! After years of declining ratings and cancellations, the remaining four daytime soap operas seem to have found steady ground. All four—CBS’s “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” ABC’s “General Hospital,” and NBC’s “Days of our Lives”—have increased their ratings from year to year. Two of the four, “Days of our Lives” and “General Hospital,” had the bleakest of futures ahead of them this time two to three years ago, with both networks ha dropping soap operas from their lineups for a number of years.

In less than a decade, NBC dropped “Another World” (1999), “Sunset Beach” (2000), and “Passions” (2006), among others. ABC cancelled “Port Charles” (2003) and, in 2011, infamously cancelled two flagship shows: “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” on the same day! CBS cancelled fewer shows in the last decade, but they were two of the longest running shows in television history: “The Guiding Light” (2009), and “As the World Turns” (2010).

There’s nothing wrong with cancelling a soap opera; however, what made these cancellations so frustrating for fans was a lack of viable replacements. Just about all the replacements on all the networks were talk shows and game shows. Again, this is nothing new, but in the previous decades, there was room for soap operas, talk shows, court shows, and game shows. There were a slew of daytime soaps cancelled in the 1980’s, but others were created: “The Bold and the Beautiful” (1987), “Santa Barbara” (1984-1993), “Loving” (1983-1995), and “Generations” (1989-1991), just to name a few.

When ratings for all soaps began to steeply decline in the mid-1990s, executives, writers, and producers became frantic. They threw long-time veterans to the wind and brought on young and beautiful actors and actresses who had no ties to characters currently on the canvas. Whatever the reason for the drop (the OJ Simpson trial, women becoming more active in the workforce, additional channels on cable and network, the expansion of the Internet, too many new unimportant characters, etc.), the changes did not help attract new viewers. Ratings for soaps kept dropping until they began leaving the air. The execs at CBS, ABC, and NBC all came up with the same excuse—reason—for cancelling these shows: they’re too expensive, people don’t want to watch them, and talk shows and reality shows are more popular.

So what has people tuning in again? There’s a good amount of speculation, but I believe soaps have been going back to their roots: taking chances with bold storylines, finding a way to incorporate veteran and new characters, and tying new characters into the families of veteran characters; and, especially important, the writers are trying to bring back a sense of humor, intellect, passion, and love. That hasn’t been around for quite some time.

For soap fans it’s about inter-generational storytelling. It’s one of the places on TV where women in their 50’s and beyond can still carry a storyline, much like Jeanne Cooper, who was a front-burner character on “The Young and the Restless” for forty years. Catherine Chancellor was definitely one of the reasons why that show has been at the top for so long (it’s been the number one soap opera since 1988). The great thing about “The Young and the Restless” is that even when the numbers began to fall, they managed to keep the focus on many of their veteran cast members. Could it be the reason for “General Hospital’s” rise in ratings? In the last two years, characters that have not been seen in the fictional town of Port Charles for twenty years have returned with riveting storylines of their own. As of late, the Quartermaines, once one of the core families of the show, have been given more airtime (but still not enough).

New characters must come on. That’s the only way to keep a soap opera going. What soap writers, producers, and executives need to remember is:

1.) Soap viewers are intelligent; they always have been. As long as there are strong characters and compelling storylines, viewers will tune in. Will there ever be a time when thirty million people watch a soap (like they did when Luke and Laura married on “General Hospital” in 1981)? Probably not. However, a decline in viewership should not mean that writers then dumb down characters, or producers feel obliged to cheapen the look and feel of a show. It will not keep older viewers watching, and it surely will not attract new viewers.

2.) We value our veteran entertainers. Even those of us who weren’t around to witness the height of Luke and Laura (“General Hospital”), Nikki and Victor (“The Young and the Restless,” and Erica and all of her husbands (“All My Children”), know who these people are. You need them to ground your show. They can also teach up and coming actors and actresses a few things. It’s not that the younger set isn’t talented, they just need help honing in their skills, just like the veterans needed help when they were in the same position. There should be a passing of the torch from one generation to the next on a soap opera, but it needs to be handled carefully.

Susan Lucci played Erica Kane on One Life to Live(courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Susan Lucci played Erica Kane on One Life to Live (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

3.) Read Douglass Marland’s How Not To Wreck A Show. It should be a mantra that the remaining four TV soaps live by if they want to stick around for a few more years. If ratings continue to rise, there may be hope that a new soap opera could end up on network television, the first time since 1999’s “Passions.”

Thanks for reading and feel free to share your opinions!