The king of pain – and the queen of talk

It’s been quite a Friday! We learned two pieces of news today that will have a substantial impact on daytime.

One, of course, was the announcement that Oprah Winfrey will be ending her daily syndicated talk show in 2011. The other was the announcement that Chuck Pratt was fired as head writer of All My Children.

AMC: I’ll be interested in watching how Pratt’s dismissal affects the show. It could not possibly come at a more crucial, life-changing time for AMC.

It’s at a dramatic crossroads: an aging show that’s turning 40 in a daytime environment that’s not exactly friendly. It’s literally picking up its roots and moving across country. And it’s losing one of its few supercouples, Zach and Kendall. AMC desperately needs to re-tune, refine, and reinvent itself.

Much of the last decade has not been kind to AMC or its fans. Few new characters (outside of Zach and perhaps Annie and Amanda) have been successful with fans.

A succession of writers who favored plot and spectacle over characters and substance (McTavish, Brown & Esensten and then Pratt) ruined several previously admirable, likable characters like Greenlee, Bianca and Ryan. And AMC, more than any other show, failed miserably in its attempts to reach back and revive history (witness the botched returns of Maria, Julia, and Dixie, to name a few).

I hope Brian Frons recognizes the important crossroads AMC is at, and appoints a writer who can guide the show into the next decade but honor and respect its past. Agnes Nixon created some of the most fabulous, quirky characters that ever lived out their lives on our screens for Pine Valley. Let’s hope that AMC can steal back USA Network’s motto: “Characters Welcome.”

THE MIGHTY O: The Oprah Winfrey Show may not be a soap opera, but her show’s departure will have an enormous impact on networks, local affiliates, and how they manage (and make money from) their daypart programming.

I’ll throw the worst-case scenario out there first: It could have a very negative impact on local stations and on network/affiliate relations.

Why? Minus a big moneymaker like Oprah, networks may decide to go for the Jay Leno model, where cheaply-made news shows or (gasp) infomercials could take that space. That could be a bad thing for the remaining soaps, which will have to cut costs even deeper to make themselves profitable – if the networks don’t cancel them first.

But I also think this could be a phenomenal opportunity. If I were ABC (the network with the biggest number of affiliates that carry Oprah), I’d consider programming that slot with other programming – including, yes, soap operas.

In many markets, Oprah runs immediately after General Hospital in a late-afternoon slot. Programming one or two half-hour soaps, especially ones aimed at younger audiences, could both make that slot a profitable one and provide sustenance for the soap market as a whole.

I also think OWN (Oprah’s network) may be a wonderful opportunity for a new serialized show. Sponsor-driven daytime is often too timid to take a stand on social issues and current events, but in many other countries, soaps are used to share the stories of others and bring greater understanding of issues.

Oprah’s goal, after all, is helping people to live their best lives. I’d love to see a leader with that kind of commitment to quality and to intelligence providing both entertainment and food for thought. It’s a commitment to quality, to entertainment, and to inspire that’s been sorely lacking on daytime.

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