Why Is ABC Daytime Abandoning Reruns?

by | February 9, 2011 at 3:55 PM | TV News

ABC Nixes Monthly Repeats

ABC announced this week that Friday, February 11th, will be the final day that the network broadcasts “classic episodes” of its soaps.  Last summer the network announced that it would be airing twenty reruns a year in place of original episodes.  It was an unprecedented, controversial budget cutting move.  The network pressured the Writers Guild of America for a special waiver that allowed it to produce fewer episodes than was stipulated in the writers’ contracts.  In a recent interview, former “General Hospital” writer Karen Harris claimed that her contract with the show was not renewed because of the reruns, saying, “The network is producing less shows every year and airing classic episodes to fill in the spaces. Another decision was to let one writer go and my number came up… When they wanted to renegotiate our contracts, we tried to reach an agreement that wouldn’t hurt the writers but would give them what they wanted but ABC didn’t feel that it would work for them. They rejected our solution and decided to eliminate a writer instead.”

It is surprising that after fighting for the right to produce fewer episodes, the network abruptly changed its mind. An ABC spokesperson said simply, “Our viewers like the original episodes better so we are eliminating the non-holiday encore episodes after the 2/11 encore broadcast.”  The repeats have performed poorly, typically averaging about half as many viewers as an original episode.  Since the network opted to air the repeats on Wednesdays prior to this week, they ruined a show’s momentum.  Given that classic soap episodes have performed poorly on SoapNET and on holidays, I can’t imagine that ABC expected them to do any better going head to head against original competition unless they thought viewers would not bother to change the channel out of habit. I suspect someone at the network decided that the repeats were dragging down the shows’ overall ratings which would ultimately lower ad rates and cost the network more money than it was saving.  Or maybe ABC did not want to give its viewers an excuse to check out CBS’s new daytime series “The Talk.”

Whatever the reason, this is a huge victory for soap fans and for soaps themselves. ABC saw that viewers were not watching the repeats and made a change. The network decided it’s worth it to spend a little more money and produce more original episodes. This is the first reversal of a budgetary measure that I can recall. Coincidentally, ABC’s parent company Disney announced Tuesday that its profits are up a whopping 54 percent this quarter. I give the Mouse House a lot of credit for allowing some of its wealth to trickle down to its most vulnerable shows.

“The Bold & the Beautiful’s” Classy 6000th Episode

Kudos to “The Bold & the Beautiful” for taking the high road with its 6000th episode on  Monday.  It was a very special episode focusing on Stephanie’s (Susan Flannery) lung cancer.  The premise was that Stephanie wanted to start a support group for people diagnosed with lung cancer.  Real life cancer survivors, most notably actress Kathryn Joosten, who plays Mrs. McCluskey on “Desperate Housewives,” shared their stories.  It was impossible not to be moved, as they discussed their fears upon their diagnosis, and the constant tension of wondering if the cancer was going to return.

Like B&B’s earlier episodes focusing on homeless people living on Skid Row, this was an old-fashioned Very Special Episode, the likes of which are rarely seen on television in the 21st century in any daypart. The repeated mentions that it’s possible to get lung cancer even if you don’t smoke were a little heavyhanded, as was Jackie’s (Lesley Anne Down) handwringing over whether son Nick (Jack Wagner) would quit smoking the occasional cigar after his own cancer scare.  Still, the show’s commitment to educating its viewers is laudable. I am sure that plenty of people will be inspired to get screened for cancer.

B&B is performing a delicate balancing act. It’s still the same campy show it has always been, filled with fashion shows, characters who fall in love even though they are members of the same family and the worship of Ridge. But, for the past year it has also been the soap with the biggest commitment to telling earnest stories about social issues. Making the two sides of B&B fit together cannot be easy.  At times, it does seem like two completely different shows. But I appreciate the effort to deliver the occasional nutritious meal along with large portions of desserts.  Happy 6000th B&B.  Best wishes for the next 6000.