On-Air On-Soaps received a call from a former soap opera producer of a canceled network soap who wanted to remain anonymous, but wanted to convey to us in an exclusive interview his thoughts after the heartbreaking decision of ABC to cancel both All My Children and One Life to Live at the same time. The producer offered his insider perspective on what ABC might have done differently to try to save the two soaps. In addition, he chats about what goes on behind the scenes of a canceled series, understanding life in the workplace after a career in soaps, and tries to make sense of the ‘blame game’ that he feels is currently running rampant through the genre at different levels.
You have been watching fans reactions and the reactions in the media and by former and current soap industry professionals. As a former soap producer, want do you want to instill to our readers?
PRODUCER: The minute the rumor mill started about AMC and OLTL, and ABC was doing their half-assed response, I knew that there was more validity to it then the normal cancellation rumors. I did not however expect both shows to be gone. I admit I was a little shocked and obviously devastated for the daytime community and the fans. And a lot of my sympathy went to friends who I know and everyone who worked behind the scenes, because having been in their position, and trying to get work outside the genre, I know the difficulties it is to get jobs with a soap opera stigma attached to it. I have the opportunity to meet with some great people, and when I do have the opportunity to meet, I think they understand what my skill set is, but just as a random piece of paper, I am just to them a soap opera producer. Just like that sort of second class citizen theory of soap actors, which has been out there for such a long time. It is a bit worse for the people behind the scenes, as they see you as the bastard step-children of scripted television. Obviously, that transition is extraordinarily difficult as I am learning.
So seeing all the pushback and the anger, frustration, and people coming out of the woodwork providing commentary or thoughts on the cancellations of OLTL and AMC, what is going through your mind?
PRODUCER: Well, the reason I contacted you was that I had read Sara Saedi’s blog post on your site. I was reading some of the comments on your site that fans had posted. And, I was like, ‘You know, everyone wants to play a blame game at this point.’ And, I understand that. I wanted to play a blame game with my show. But the thing is, these shows have been dwindling in 20 years in audience. I can remember when I started at my show; it was shortly before a pick-up. People were saying we would be closed down. One of our hair people said, “I have been working here for 25 years and every day since I have been here they are saying the show is going to be canceled.” So, I always kept that in my mind. But now, audiences have proven that reality television is a viable option and a cheaper options to all scripted audience, not even just soap operas. Now the networks have another option that has the ability to make money, and if it doesn’t, they haven’t put that much money in the bank, to feel like they have lost the money. This is the time now for the fans of the remaining four shows, and I would like to think that there is some sort of reprieve if possible for AMC and OLTL, but I don’t believe that is true, unfortunately, but I would love to be wrong. But there are now four shows left, and if fans want them to be around, they have to prove their worth that they are still a viable options. Every one needs to stop the negative press. It has bothered me for years. I have spoken my mind about it before to everyone at my former show. I had such frustration with the soap press about the constant criticism of the genre.
So you feel the press should be held accountable and are partly responsible for the dismantling of the soap genre?
PRODUCER: If I just read Sara’s blog and would have called it a night, that would have been that, but I contacted you because I have known you to be fair. And, I think there is always a place for constructive criticism. You are in the mass media, so you are subject to it. However, it has bothered me that the soap magazines, which only existed because the soaps are on the air, would be so negative too. I can’t imagine the soap mags are going to want to keep their publications around to cover just four shows. They are going to have to evolve them into something different. The soap press and the unions are also part of the death of scripted television as a whole. This is a dying industry. It is no longer what it was. And if you want to have a job and an acting gig, and I think a lot of actors have learned this, you can be expendable unless you are willing to take a pay cut. The more the soaps are lambasted for things that are out of their control by their own press, it is sad. And you can expect them not to last, and then more fans tune-out! You know, I would tune-out if every time I picked up a magazine, I was reading, “Well this show sucks, because A to Z is wrong.”
It is also so ironic that the mainstream press picks up stories when the soaps are canceled but never during the tenure of their years on the air!
PRODUCER: Our soap could not get covered by anybody in the mainstream, but the minute we were canceled we were on the nightly news, and we were on the front page of the New York Times. That is the thing; it is really up to the fans to keep the other four shows going. We all know that each of those has renewal pick-ups. But those contracts will mean nothing when they are up in two years, unless the fans are supporting them and behind them. And that was what really inspired me from Sara’s blog. Any network in television because they own the shows, had a vested interest in making those shows a success, and ABC tried. They put those actors on Dancing with the Stars, they did fan events, and they brought in movie stars, and that whole list of things that fans said they wanted and clamored for… they did them, and in the end it did not make a hill of a difference. At the end of the day it’s a business. I am not defending Brian Frons, certainly, but I am sure they probably said to him if he wouldn’t cancel them, they would hire somebody else who would. And his job could go away too, just like Barbara Bloom’s went away, because there will be no need for him. So you want to please your boss, but it was his job to make sure he did what they wanted him to do, if he wanted a job. So, that played a role in it, too. Everyone mocks product placement, but if that is going to keep your show on the air, and you have to deal with a minute of ridiculousness, what’s worth it? It bothers me when I read the comments on your post on Sara’s blog saying it was all lip-service because it is not, because if anybody tried, I say it was ABC.
What do you think ABC could have done differently in the way they canceled both soaps at one time to make way for The Chew and The Revolution?
PRODUCER: I think they should have put only one of those new shows on and proven their worth. I understand because of the time blocks there are problems with that. A lot of what I have read is a lot of the affiliates are going to take that Oprah hour and make it another hour of their local news. So what I think is they should have put one of those shows on and put OLTL and AMC into half hours, and see how that did. I have always thought that for soaps, because the way we live our lives now, an hour a day is just too much. These are things that the audience doesn’t know, or the press doesn’t know, but if we aired repeats it’s expensive. Flashbacks for instance are expensive. If those actors are not on the show anymore you have to still pay them. If there is music and anything before the late 90’s at the earliest, the music is married to the tape. So unless you own these shows, it’s a costly endeavor. It’s the same thing with weddings and funerals on the soaps and to be a glorified extra. I am part of two Unions and I am not criticizing them, but the rates for Union things are ridiculous, just the minimums. I don’t even mean the negotiated ones, just the minimums. Why are we doing these reality shows? Because you don’t need a Union camera person on location. Look at Jersey Shore! Those people made nothing their first season and now they are making six-figure paychecks and are a proven commodity. The audience is proving that this stuff is viable. I don’t want to blame them, but they are proving to the broadcasters that we can put on schlock TV, and you’ll come. If they had proven that fifteen years ago, our soap would have been gone then. Now you have to prove that the four soaps left on the air, are important enough for you to keep them. And that is by tuning in, getting your friends to tune in or whomever, writing a letter every week to the network, something. . I don’t think it’s about reinventing the genre. And I think the late 90’s and 2000’s were all about what we can do to reinvent the genre. I never understood when people would say, “How do we reinvent this?” I would go, “You don’t. You go back to why it was successful in the first place.” These are jobs and livelihoods and families, we are talking about. That is a hard loss and it will be hard for anyone who has been in the soap industry for any length of time, to be seen as viable in other mediums.
Do you think the genre has evolved itself enough to do certain things to save themselves?
PRODUCER: One of the things that still frustrated me in this genre is the inability to evolve in terms of staff, and people and writers. For example: I think some of GH’s darkest hours were the Megan McTavish years, and I think some of GL’s were the Megan McTavish years, and I think some of AMC darkest hours were the Megan McTavish years. Then I read somewhere that Brian Frons was courting Megan McTavish to come back, and I thought, really?
What were the stages you went through, as a producer, when you were told your soap was canceled?
PRODUCER: First, there was the initial shock. Then when you come into work the next day, and we still had to get product out. So we did not change anything the first week or two. Nothing changed in terms of story or script. Meanwhile, the executive producer and the writers had to lock themselves in a room for a couple of day’s straight to map out the end of the show. It was probably a month before you see it in the scripts, and before you see the foundations of things. The other thing was; that in our personal meetings we talked about who we wanted to come back before the end of the series, and things we wanted to accomplish before we finished. I know each of us were asked to write down five characters we would like to see come back to the show before the end of its run. I did not get angry until the show was over. My anger came from a place of that we could have been better. We never should have let the show get to where it got in order to pull the plug, and there are a lot of politics behind that, and that was a hard thing for me.
Did your soap pull collectively together for the final months of the show?
PRODUCER: I am so happy that in the last six months of that show we came back together again, and it reminded me of the place I started working at years ago. I have been told this was not the case of another recently canceled show. We knew we can’t change this, but we are going to go out like a big family reunion. Having those memories to look back on is nice. Everybody came through and pulled their weight and rejoiced what we had accomplished instead of playing a blame game.
So, where do you think we all go from here to save what is left of the soap opera?
PRODUCER: I have no opinion of Brian Frons, one way or the other, as I have never met the man. At the same time, I do believe he hung in there behind these shows as long as he could. Look at Les Moonves comments after GL and ATWT were canceled, “The strong will survive.” He pretty much wrote the death sentence for daytime back then, and Barbara Bloom, I don’t think she chose to go because the soaps kept her viable. I am sure the same thing is true for Brian. It is a business and ultimately the whole world is built on capitalism. So when things prove that they are not going to make money, but they can make money with something extraordinarily cheaper, you would be silly not to explore it. Does it make it any less heartbreaking? No, it’s awful, nobody wants it to happen. When NBC is proving that repeats of the Real Housewives is working for them in the fourth hour of the day, and one of the most watercolor shows on television, they are proving that lower production costs makes sense. Everything is viral today, it is hard when you’ve been there and you know how hard these producers, writers, actors, and production staff work. AMC was shooting eight episodes in five days. I have seen it. And everybody thinks that the soap actors can’t handle it. Whether it’s good or not, it’s a different story. The soap actors are worth their salt. Fans need to actively be tuning in to save their shows, and not after the rumor mill has started, because it’s already a done deal.