‘All My Children’ Alums Move To Primetime – and Harvard

by | December 5, 2011 at 12:40 PM | Deep Soap

“All My Children” Alumni Update

This has been a banner weekend for “All My Children” alumni.  Denise Vasi (ex-Randi) was cast in a new starring role on VH1′s hit soap (which the network insists on calling a comedy) “Single Ladies.” According to Deadline, Vasi will play Raquel, a “savvy business woman from a prominent Southern family on a quest to discover passion.” This was a highly sought after role that was created after the series original star. Stacy Dash, departed the show after its first season.

Natalie Hall (ex-Colby) and “General Hospital” star Brandon Barash (Johnny) announced their engagement this weekend. Barash tweeted, “Hey Twitterverse…she said yes. Who’s the luckiest man alive? One, please.” and posted a photo of Hall wearing her engagement ring.

Best of all, in the opinion of this alumna of a certain college in the Boston area, AMC and OLTL creator Agnes Nixon will be an Artist in Residence at Harvard on Tuesday, December 6. The Harvard Gazette reports that Nixon will appear at, “an open-to-the-public session in which students, in an “Actor’s Studio”-style format, will interview the television pioneer before a live audience on Dec. 6 at 4 p.m. in the Farkas Hall theater.”  Said S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation and professor at Harvard Medical School, “The students and faculty of the Harvard Foundation are honored to have Ms. Nixon come to Harvard University where her work is greatly admired and respected. As a revolutionary force in television, Ms. Nixon not only defined a genre, but also helped to enact important social change in the entertainment industry by introducing social issues and characters of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds into her shows.”  Yes, there are a lot of soap fans at Harvard. That theater is going to be packed.

It’s Not A Conspiracy, It’s Incompetence

Since it was announced that Brian Frons was departing ABC Daytime last Friday, there have been a lot of comments from fans like, “He was brought on to destroy the shows. Now that he has, he is leaving.”  While I cannot definitively prove that there was not this sort of secret conspiracy, the theory does not make much sense. First of all, ABC did not need to make years of bad creative decisions about its soaps in order to drive the ratings down to the point where they could be canceled. The network could have just canceled the soaps in 2002 instead of hiring Frons. Any network can cancel any show at any time, whether or not it is popular or seems like a good decision to fans. NBC canceled “Another World” and, briefly, kept the lower rated “Sunset Beach.”  When NBC decided to cancel “Passions,” it was the highest rated soap among the young viewers that daytime has been desperate to attract. If ABC wanted to, it could cancel its breakout new primetime hit “Once Upon A Time,” tomorrow. It would be idiotic, but there’s no rule against it.

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According to this conspiracy theory, Frons would have been thrilled when ABC/Disney decided to jettison SoapNET, thereby eliminating one of his jobs as the network’s president. In fact, Deadline reported on Frons attempts to come up with a plan to transform SoapNET into a network that the Disney brass would like that he could continue to run. He did not succeed. SoapNET could easily have been a hit as what is was intended to be, a soap channel, with a visionary leader who would have used the channel as a platform to build ABC Daytime actors into household names, as the Disney Channel does with its tween stars, and showcased the best soaps and telenovelas from all over the world. If Univision can regularly beat NBC primetime with Spanish language telenovelas, surely international soaps could succeed on cable, and would have been affordable programming. Instead, Frons kept trying reality programming that had no business on a channel dedicated to serialized dramas which predictably flopped.

Frons decision, surely made in consultation with his bosses, to replace “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” with lifestyle programming ultimately resulted in someone with more expertise in unscripted shows assuming leadership of ABC Daytime. Whether it was truly Frons decision to depart the network or whether he was pushed out, the result is that right now he is jobless.

I think that Frons made bad decision after bad decision, ultimately destroying three iconic daytime soaps, because he was, quite simply not very good at his job and, despite his decades of experience in daytime, never understood the daytime audience. I suspect his goal was to be the person who brought soaps into the 21st century, not the person who killed them. The switch to lifestyle programming was an attempt to deflect blame — the audience lost interest in soaps, his mismanagement of the shows had nothing to do with it. This is someone who expressed surprise that, during the days of the Bianca/Babe baby switch that viewers were rooting for Bianca to get her baby back, seemingly convinced that daytime viewers would root against a lesbian mother raising her own child. That storyline was his idea, and he still didn’t understand its emotional underpinnings. This is someone who, after they departed “The Young & the Restless” paid writers  Kay Alden and Jack Smith to be consultants to the network for months, then never let either one of them write for the shows. This is someone who micromanaged every aspect of the show’s writing but signed off on bleak storylines no viewer would want to see, like Adam killing his twin brother Stuart or Luke killing his own grandson, who was convinced viewers did not have any interest in female characters over the age of forty despite much evidence to the contrary, who consistently hired headwriters with a track record of failure. This is someone who did not postpone the launch of “The Revolution” when OLTL’s ratings rose. This is no more a conspiracy than Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman’s disastrous tenure at NBC was. Sometimes the wrong people rise to the top. This time, unfortunately, the cost was ABC’s soap line-up.

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