Whiny ‘Children’

I read with interest a letter to fans of All My Children and One Life to Live sent by Prospect Park’s (PP) The Online Network (TOLN) on May 16 informing them that the organization planned to reconfigure their distribution methods and release two rather than four new episodes of each show per week.

Then I watched the Internet explode.

The ridiculous hue and cry that was sent up by a vocal minority of viewers was pretty stupendous. It was as if PP had asked, collectively, for everyone to reach into their chests and remove their spleens. Grow up.

Here’s what AMC’s Jill Larson (Opal Cortlandt) had to say about it on Facebook:

Everyone has done a Herculean job, truly unbelievable, the shows look wonderful, I am so very proud to be able to be a part of this daring undertaking. Our producers and writers work until 4:00AM nearly every night, I wondered how long this could continue.

The cast of the "new" All My Children includes many familiar faces, including original cast member Ray MacDonnell and longtime co-stars Cady McClain, Jill Larson, David Canary, Julia Barr and others. Image: Ferencomm/The Online Network.

The cast of the “new” All My Children includes many familiar faces, including original cast member Ray MacDonnell and longtime co-stars and fan favorites Cady McClain, Jill Larson, David Canary, Julia Barr, Eden Reigel, Debbie Morgan, Darnell Williams and others. Image: Ferencomm/The Online Network.

And while Jill notes that this is not why the number of episodes being released each week is being cut back, it’s a very important thing to contemplate. If you’ve never worked in a theatre or on a soundstage, you have no idea just how many people it takes to create the entertainment that you’re experiencing. If those technicians burn out, your production suffers. And if you don’t know a dolly grip from a focus puller and why they’re so important, when shut your yammer.

Patterns Shift
Now, what PP did note in their initial communication was that they were as surprised as anyone about how the vast majority of viewers are consuming this material. And, as a marketer, I have no doubt that they are spot on in their adjustments and why they are doing it.

What you have to realize is that buying patterns and entertainment consumption patterns shift over time. Without getting too far into the weeds with marketing geek speak, at the end of the day, if you have data on your audience and you can see how and when they are consuming your material, you have an obligation to the consumer to deliver that material in a way that is beneficial to the majority of your audience.

Quite frankly, I was surprised that TOLN planned five half-hours of material per week (four of story and one behind-the-scenes show). If I was among those with decision-making power here, I might have lobbied for a return to the original Irna Phillips playbook and 15-minute programs because (A) it is at the root of the genre and (B) because of my knowledge of peoples’ online attention spans. [damn short] Of course, I would have in all likelihood been overruled, because while a 15-minute program four times a week and two 30-minute programs per week equate to the same amount of story, the ad impressions double in the half-hour segments and if you understand anything about TV (or its equivalents) you know it’s all about the Benjamins!

The Old School Viewer Weighs In
I guess the thing that really cheeses me off are the people who are accusing PP of creating this “viewing habits paradigm” out of whole cloth to get out of providing four days of programming per week.

I’m going out on a limb here to defend some people I know ZERO about personally, and say, “Shut up, ya ignorant cows.”

And, I can attest that in my experience, PP’s Jeff Kwatinetz is correct. His explanation is exactly how people are consuming online content. Ask anyone who streamed a full season of House of Cards all at once on Netflix. Ask Arrested Development fans how they spent May 26th (ask on the 28th, they’ll be sleeping on the 27th; they were up all night long). If someone has a free hour or two during the day — every day of the week — to devote to watching entertainment programming, please let me know how to get their life.

Hell, even back in the day, the only reason I could continue to watch continuing dramas was because of the advent of the VCR. (Some of us work.) I would tape shows and when I got home from work, I’d watch scenes with the characters I was interested in and fast-forwarded through the rest. Today, I’m happier to spend an hour on a rainy Saturday morning watching All My Children than I am to scurry around trying to find some time in my schedule to watch a half-hour every day. And, I’m less likely to find TWO hours on that same Saturday to catch up on four.

If PP is thinking that fans are watching BOTH All My Children and One Life to Live, then I think two things are important: (1) fan connections to both shows and (2) if subsequent weeks numbers show one show consistently outperforming the other or not.

An AMC Outlier
In spite of being a 20+ year viewer of All My Children, I’m an outlier. I was a diehard As The World Turns/Guiding Light viewer. All My Children was a fluke for me. It was the only then-ABC soap I watched and — with the sole exception of the Kyle Lewis/Oliver Fish storyline (which got botched big time) — nothing ever appealed to me about OLTL. Subsequently, when both shows returned online, I watched AMC and went on my merry way.

Bottom Line: Give PP some room to grow and to figure some stuff out. THIS IS ALL BRAND NEW. Let them play around with it without throwing in the damn towel on the first down and going home in a huff. Listen, they’ve just given you back Billy Clyde Tuggle, for the love of God, one of the greatest characters in the history of the genre. Quit bitching. Shut up. Be thankful. And watch.

Don’t make me have to rant at you again.

(P.S. — Has anyone ever bitched because you only get one episode of your favorite primetime network sitcom each week? And for 24-26 weeks per year, if you’re lucky? Hell, under this new paradigm, you’re still going to get more than 100 new episodes of each program each year. How is this still not a good thing???)


New Kids on the Block — All My Children, That Is.


Emmy Award-winning actress Cady McClain returns to serial drama and to one of her signature roles, Dixie Cooney Martin on the online reboot of All My Children. Photo: cadymcclain.com.

Here’s a cut from Cady McClain. It’s a terrific piece and any soap fan should take a few moments and read it and think about what she’s saying.

I want to talk about the new young people on All My Children, and why I think (and hope) the audience should give them a chance.  I am not known for blowing smoke up anybodies hoo-ha, right? Let’s just start with that as a baseline for this conversation!

via Let’s Talk About the Kids (of All My Children!) | Cady McClain.

Alert readers will not be surprised at all to learn that I am an enormous fan of continuing drama and what a powerful medium I believe it to be. I also believe that we are just at the beginning of a new era wherein we can harness the Internet as a new platform to tell stories. We don’t know quite how to do it yet, and that makes it exciting. It’s just as exciting as when the pioneers of television — like Irna Phillips — were figuring out how to take Papa Bauer’s family from mythical radio Springfield to mythical television Springfield and make The Guiding Light into a television program that viewers watched.

Phillips had two protégés in those early television days — William J. Bell and Agnes Nixon. And as influential as Phillips was in early television, one could argue that Agnes Nixon has an even more powerful legacy of harnessing the power of continuing drama to tell stories that have tremendous social impact. In 1962, Nixon penned the story of Bert Bauer’s cancer scare on The Guiding Light, before you could say “cancer,” “uterus,” or “Pap smear” on television. On Another World, she created young troublemaker Rachel Davis, who was seen by many as the prototype for her most famous creation, Erica Kane on her landmark serial All My Children.

Erica Kane (Martin Brent Cudahy Chandler [almost Roy] Montgomery Montgomery Chandler Marrick Marrick Montgomery) is the most popular character in the history of daytime drama in the U.S. Erica lied, cheated, cajoled, married, married, loved, lost, shocked the world, forced a bear to stand down, had daytime’s first legal abortion and, after 41 years on the air, she was still the most fascinating character ever created for television.

Skip to the point, please.

Fine. Here it is: people get wrapped up in soap operas. People begin to think of actors as the characters they play because they see them in their homes every single day. People get crazy obsessed. People don’t like some things ever to change.

Cady is making a tremendous case for the young people who are new to playing characters established in the previous broadcast incarnation of All My Children. She’s saying, “Approach this with an open mind. It’s different. But it’s good.” What I’m saying is a little less nice. I’m saying, “Change happens. Get the hell over it.” And if you can’t, don’t watch.

Eighty-five year old Agnes Nixon is working her ass off to deliver a product, a powerful story, in an untested medium. Prospect Park is investing millions of dollars in this experiment. Cady McClain and many of the “old guard” actors are putting their careers on the line for this new venture. The least you can do, if you are, in fact, a fan of All My Children, is to watch with an open mind. You might learn something. You might enjoy it.

And if you don’t? If this venture fails? Well, at least they tried. That’s what artists and innovators do. They try. Again and again and again. And no one thanks them enough for being fearless enough to try.

Me on online soap resurrections (with links to other serial related posts).

Me on annoying recent gay developments in daytime.

3/18/13 — Hulu just released their “Save The Date” trailer. Thought I’d stick it in if you haven’t seen it yet.