Josef Adalian, one of the writers at TVWeek, has been following the Guiding Light cancellation story closely. After all, it was Adalian who first broke the news that Barbara Bloom was shopping for replacements for GL. When that news broke last weekend, it created a maelstrom of controversy and speculation that culminated with Wednesday’s confirmation that GL had been axed.
Adalian’s posted his analysis of the cancellation, and suggests that CBS may actually benefit from focusing its resources on the remaining three shows. But what I found most interesting in his article was the strawman he’d decided to knock down to prove his point.
As Adalian notes, “By canceling “Light,” CBS risks the wrath of the loyal soap audience, a group whose loyalty makes “Jericho” and “Moonlight” die-hards seem almost casual in their devotion. Some of the wackier voices in the soaps blogosphere have already predicted CBS’ decision will prompt a domino effect, with other daytime dramas falling faster as a result of “Light’s” demise.”
Domino effect. Where have I heard those EXACT words before? Oh, wait: in my own blog!
From my post on March 30, “Fighting back”: “Understand that if GL is canceled, it will start a domino effect. If/when GL and/or DAYS disappears, you can expect other shows to follow quickly in their footsteps.”
Based on that statement, I’m now a “wacky” soap blogger! An alarmist! Nuttier than Courtney Love on a bender!
Josef is entitled to his opinion, but I’m at a loss to understand why he thinks this statement is so crazy. I may be a soap fan, but I’m also familiar enough with the business to understand what’s happening.
The network/affiliate relationship has changed significantly, and networks can no longer simply dictate what affliates will carry. NBC is already down to one hour of soaps, and has ceded other hours to affiliates (after using a daypart hour to extend Today). Those affiliates may be offering NBCU programming, but not out of any obligation to do so.
CBS is saying that they’ll keep the hour of programming where GL used to be, but GL already had the lowest clearance numbers of any soap on the air. If affiliates weren’t willing to pick up a soap with an invested audience and a seven-decade history, they’re hardly going to be on fire to pick up a game show.
It may be more cost effective for the network to offer a cheaper show, but it’s likely to be even more profitable for the local stations to skip that offering and, instead, add a block of local news to their morning or afternoon news lineups.
Adalian may think my theory is a bit too Chicken Little to be taken seriously. But we’re already hearing reports that this year’s renewal of As The World Turns is its last. And with all three of ABC’s soaps suffering in the ratings as well, ABC may decide to cut one of its soaps as well.
Money talks, and in a recession this bottomless and this intense, only the strongest shows will survive. Rest assured, ABC will be watching what happens with GL, and with ATWT next year, with a great deal of interest.
If there is life at CBS with a smaller soap lineup – or no soaps at all – those other dominos will damn well start to fall.
Soaps as a genre may not disappear from networks tomorrow (the Bell soaps, in particular, still have a significant amount of gas in the tank in terms of profitability and viability), but it’s foolish in the extreme for someone to believe that they’re not vulnerable. And serialized daytime programming has been shrinking for the last twenty years.
There hasn’t been new, sustainable growth in programming, no new hits, and no successful new programming. Tell me, Mr. Adalian, when was the last time you’ve seen a business model succeed or be sustained in an environment when there was no growth to it and few profits?
I’m optimistic that this genre can survive, and that programming, including Guiding Light, could find a new home on other networks or other platforms. (The tricky part, of course, is figuring the magical cost-to-income ratio that will make it all profitable.)
But despite that optimism, one thought keeps popping into my head. It’s something that Kim Zimmer said when we visited the GL set in December. She was talking about the budget cuts, and she said that once those cuts begin, they seldom reverse course.
It becomes a vicious cycle that continues until there’s nothing left to cut. Domino effect, vicious cycle – take your pick of cliches. But they all lead to the same conclusion – daytime serialized television fading from broadcast television networks.
UPDATED TO ADD: I received a nice reply from Joe Adalian apologizing for the use of the word “wacky.” I’m very appreciative of that. (We’re going to agree to disagree about my theory.) As I mentioned in my reply, I’m also appreciative of the reporting he’s done about GL; the mainstream press doesn’t always do a good job, but Joe’s knowledgable.