At this past Friday night’s ABC Summer Press Tour TCA Cocktail Party, On-Air On-Soaps had the opportunity to chat with Vicki Dummer, ABC executive vice president of Times Square Studios, Current Series & Specials, who is now the successor to Brian Frons overseeing all of ABC Daytime’s re-jiggered line-up!
As many know, Vicki was brought in when Brian Frons stepped down from his position last December over much controversy from cancelling All My Children and One Life to Live and replacing these beloved shows with The Chew and The Revolution. Once Frons was out, Vicki Dummer was part of the massive restructuring of the higher-ups at ABC.
We asked Dummer point blank, what are her plans for General Hospital? How is she working with the show to keep it on the air? And, we address what has been of concern to many soap fans of late: Is Good Afternoon America going to get a permanent slot in the ABC Daytime line-up? What if any future could One Life to Live and All My Children have with ABC once they retain the rights to the shows back from Prospect Park?
Ultimately, what we came away with is that Dummer is getting behind GH for the foreseeable future, and as you have read from many of the GH casts tweets and posts, they feel like ABC is firmly behind them at this juncture. So here now is our interview with Vicki!
Everyone is like, “Who is this woman?” People in the industry of course knew of you, but the daytime fans did not. And they are thinking, “What is she going to do our shows? Should we be afraid of another cancellation of the lone remaining ABC soap, General Hospital?” I assume that was one of the reasons you had to make sure that everybody knew that you are 100% behind GH!
VICKI: Here is the thing: I have been a big fan of the soaps, and especially General Hospital since I was a kid. I watched GH when I was in college. I scheduled my college classes around Luke and Laura, like everybody. I drifted away from it, but I got my parents into it. So my parents watch GH every single day. So I have a very personal focus group for General Hospital. I am asked a tremendous amount of questions about GH and where the stories are going, and it matters to them. I know there is a tremendous fan base out there that loves these soaps and loves these characters and wants to see the stories continue. I am going to do whatever I can to help that continue. That is part of having the cast of GH at the ABC Summer TCA Press Tour and honoring the upcoming 5oth Anniversary, and having them here at the party. These folks work so hard day, day in and day out, and do such great work. It is about honoring their work and these tremendous actors!
The cast and crew so thrilled you gave them the recent on set party for their Daytime Emmy victories. It showed that the network noticed! You are from a very different background than soaps, creating lifestyle and makeover shows such as the hit Extreme Makeover brand. Do you think in hindsight, if it had been you in this position at the time, would you have made the call to keep One Life to Live and All My Children on the air?
VICKI: You know, I can’t really look back. I know there were a lot of factors that went into that decision … a lot of business factors, and a lot of looking where we were as a business. You have to look at that and weigh that. I know there are so many fans that are disappointed and loved those characters and stories. I know they are really heartbroken that they are not on anymore, and I feel that. I hear from soap opera fans that they want to see those characters, and see how their lives are progressing out their in the world. But I can’t look back on that. My predecessor made those decisions for a variety of factors.
But knowing the audience is outraged, rabid, and wants to see Pine Valley and Llanview again … are you exploring any options such as a special, a mini-series, or something to in part satisfy them in some way?
VICKI: There have been a lot of conversations about if there is something we could do and we are exploring that. When the Prospect Park deal was blowing up, I know the fans were so looking forward to those shows being online and the actors were too, of course. I know it was a huge disappointment, and it was a huge disappointment for us too. We were looking at that as that would be the continuation of the characters.
But don’t the rights soon revert back to ABC?
VICKI: They do. Basically it is a year after. So soon they will be back in our hands and then we have to figure out what we are going to do.
Both of OLTL’s replacements; The Revolution and Good Afternoon America neither clicked! If you had come in at that point and were putting something on instead of One Life, what would you have put in their time slot?
VICKI: I did not put on The Revolution or The Chew, that was my predecessor, but I do think that The Chew is a terrific show. It is firing on all cylinders. I don’t know if you saw this moment at the party where Carla Hall saw Maurice Benard, and she nearly lost her mind, which was fantastic. Carla is a big fan of the soaps as are a number of people on The Chew. As is Katie Couric, and a lot of people. Good Afternoon America seemed to be a stop-gap for us when we cancelled The Revolution, and when General Hospital moves to its new time slot. It’s really going to be about The Chew, GH, and Katie for us. I am excited about that line-up.
People are still concerned that Good Afternoon America is going to be on the air forever, and replace GH!
VICKI: It was on for a nine week trial and we have been really, really clear. We are with General Hospital. General Hospital is moving to 2PM in most time zones and that is the show in that time period. I know fans are nervous, and they have seen one soap after the other be canceled. There are no guarantees in this world, but we have the GH cast here, we are focused on the 50th Anniversary in April of 2013, and we just want to celebrate the show and look forward to what’s next.
Recently, we have seen more on-air promos for GH running more in the day part. We have not seen that appropriately in daytime, sufficient promotions for the support of the soaps. Was that a decision you made coming into your new position?
VICKI: When I came on we restructured a lot of departments. We restructured our PR and Marketing Departments, and ABC Daytime and Primetime are all in one group now. The good news is our head of marketing, Marla Provencio used to cut all the on-air promos for the daytime soaps. Marla has an affinity and is a fan of soap. And as you heard from ABC Entertainment President, Paul Lee at the panel, he started in a Brazilian soap opera and as he said, he worked in the U.K. and unfortunately it happened to be on the show that was voted the worst soap opera ever in the history of the world! (Laughs) He also comes from the U.K. where Eastenders and Coronation Street, and all of those shows, have such a legacy. We are supportive of this genre. We want to see it continue and succeed. So we want to put what we can behind it, and make sure people know about the time change, and make sure we are working with the creatives and Frank Valentini, and making sure that fans who have left the show come back, and re-strengthen that number. If we do all that, we have a great, great case for keeping GH on the air.
Are you overseeing the creative with Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati at GH? Are you hands-on with each of the shows in the daytime line-up now?
VICKI: I have a point executive on GH named Agnes Chu. That is her only job to look at the storylines and characters. But what had been great is; I have had phone calls with Frank and our head writer, Ron Carlivati to find out where they are going with storylines, and to find out if we are all on board with the direction things are going. That we have big events, such as we are looking at the September time period change to do one, and maybe that is a good opportunity to pick up new viewers. Also, what we can be doing using some of the stories, as well as using some of the cast of characters from the past, which you are seeing now with Heather Webber. So we have a lot of people that have come back to the canvas, and we want to sort of pick up the lapsed viewer to get that rating up. And also, if people don’t know anything about General Hospital they can check in and they can be engaged in the stories and sort of become new viewers. Hasn’t Frank Valentini been doing a great job?!
Yes he has! I have known Frank for a very long time, and he and others know that One Life to Live was my favorite soap. I championed that show and now I am trying to champion General Hospital. The One Life to Live viewers were so gut-wrenched and felt so kicked to the curb because their show was doing so well, and in no way deserved to be axed.
VICKI: I know, I know, and it is heartbreaking. I get tons of email. although some of them are very mean to me. Please just tell them, “Stop being so mean!”
Don’t we all have those pull your hair out days at our jobs?
VICKI: Yes, but I am blessed. I get to watch television for a living and who doesn’t love that?
How far ahead are you planning story for GH?
VICKI: They have notions that are further along, but they are looking at September and October stories now. And of course, further than that and thinking where they are going with characters, and are their new character to introduce. And, what should we do with storylines. I pitched some storylines that I would like to see!
Ah, but the question is, “Did you pitch some storylines that your Mom and Dad would want to see?” (Laughs)
VICKI: You know what? It’s funny; I always preface it by what my Mom and Dad would do, because they are my little focus group. They are literally like, “When is Maxie coming back? “
Do they have a favorite character on GH?
VICKI: I don’t know if they have a favorite, but what always amuses me is my mother and my father both watch together. My mother would watch it, and my dad would just be there. Now, he says to my mom, “So are we going to watch General Hospital?” He looks forward to it just as much as she does. I loved on the panel yesterday when the cast was talking about running into cops and hookers and all these people, you would think are not fans of GH, but are! You get hooked on the characters and their lives, and you become curious as to what is going to happen to them next. I think that is a wonderful respite in the middle of people’s afternoons.
I have not felt the moral so good at GH … in such a long, long time!
VICKI: Because they did not feel a part of it!
Right! Can you imagine all these years not feeling a part of it? And acting their butts off, and all that goes into it, and all the fans and seemingly feeling no one at the network is caring about their show!
VICKI: It is also having them be an after-thought! I get it. And how hard these guys work to deliver the material! How much material they go through in a day is really, really tough. A friend of mine was a daytime soap actor on Days of our Lives many years ago. I would say, “How do you memorize all that material?” And to internalize it and then to act it, I think it’s actually pretty amazing what they do.
So soapers, after reading Vicki Dummer’s comments to some very important questions and concerns, what do you think? Do you feel any better about the future of General Hospital in her hands? Let us know!