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THIS WEEK’S BAD NEWS
April 15th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

The great decimation of one of America’s greatest art forms continues, with the sudden cancellation of both All My Children and One Life to Live.

As noted by Knute Berger, whose aunt was one of the genre’s most venerable actors, these programs seemed to come from another time, another place, another world. They had an eternal, ethereal sense about them, even when they were trying (usually badly) to be young and hip.

It was Agnes Nixon’s (creator of both AMC and OLTL) careful juxtaposition of the universal and the with-it (by suburban standards) that made AMC, in particular, the darling of the young ladies of my teen and college years. It was the reason there are so many women in their 30s these days sporting the names “Erica” and “Tara” (the female corners of the show’s original love-rectangle storyline).

Around this time, there was also a Seattle tie-in to AMC. It seemed to be the place characters kept moving to whenever the producers wanted to drop somebody without killing them off. In the 1990s, two real local businesses were named after fictional businesses on the show—Cortland Computer (in Pine Valley, Palmer Cortland’s high-tech empire; in Seattle, an early ISP) and GlamORama (in PV, Opal’s hair salon; in Seattle, a funky fashion and novelty-gift boutique).

As I’ve written here previously, there’s no more real business model for these shows. Even as more people are working from home (or not working), the archtype of the stay-home mom having “her stories” on during housework has been passé for so long it’s not even retro anymore. In a cable/internet world, scripted drama episodes meant to be seen only once are simply not cost-effective. (ABC previously announced it’s dumping its SoapNet cable channel.)

Domestic drama stories can be told in any medium or format. But the particular qualities of the serials—multiple storylines, no single lead character, no single climactic moment, no ending, no season breaks—those assets belong to the soaps and a very few other genres (mainly certain comic strips and comic books). It’s perfectly possible to have open ended storytelling in Net video “webisodes,” but they’d pretty much need commercial backing of some sort. (Indie productions usually can’t offer long-term contracts to a dozen or more actors.)

Will a savvy marketer try this?

Tune in tomorrow.


One Response  
  • Art Marriott writes:
    April 21st, 201112:12 pmat

    Clark,

    Hollywood has always had a weird, ambivalent relationship with Seattle. We’re treated as a sort of charming place somewhere next to Never-Never Land. The assumed charm is sometimes exploited as in “Sleepless In Seattle”; our perceived remoteness as in what you mentioned above and the line from “Semi-Tough”–“I’ll trade your ass all the way to Seattle!”


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