Chew On This: Soap Cancellations about Ageism

Posted: May 20, 2011 in age, age discrimination, ageism, All My Children, AMC, bias, daytime television, OLTL, One Life to Live, reality, soap operas

If you’re not a soap opera fan bear with me. Even though that is ostensibly the subject this is about much more, though far be it from me to say much more important.

As I’m sure almost everyone knows by now ABC announced last month the cancellation of All My Children (AMC) and One Life to Live (OLTL), each soap operas that have been on television for more than 40 years.

The rationale is that viewers’ habits are changing and that daytime television is facing increasing competition from cable television, the Internet and social media. It has been no big secret that network executives have been courting younger audiences and have been disappointed that their efforts have failed to attract a younger demographic as far as soaps are concerned.

Among the network arguments is that the shows continue to lose viewers and they can no longer justify their huge budgets. Reality and talk shows apparently cost some 30 to 40 percent less to produce than do soap operas. Moreover, reality and talk are what viewers want to see, they say. So, AMC and OLTL will be replaced with the type of programming viewers want, the Chew, a cooking show, and the Revolution, a makeover show.

Now, as a daytime television viewer I don’t watch Rachel Ray. I don’t watch Nate Berkus. I stopped watching Dr. Oz when I figured out he was making me think I was going to die from everything I was or wasn’t doing. I’ve watched The Talk twice; once when Eric Braeden (Young and the Restless) and once when Shemar Moore (formerly Young and the Restless) were on. I’ve tired of The View, so I don’t watch it much anymore. I rarely watch Oprah and she’s going off anyway and I hardly ever watch Dr. Phil, although his fight against violence against women has drawn me in some this season. Why would I watch new versions of dreck I already don’t watch now?

A lot of fans of the cancelled soap operas are asking this same question. What makes ABC think they can replace daytime dramas with reality/talk shows nobody asked for and expect us to just follow like sheep? The answer is because we always do. We accept our plight, we whine a little and we never fight back.

It would seem for once they’ve picked the wrong target; this time the offended do not accept their fate and slink quietly into the night.

Now, here is where this stops being purely about daytime television for me, and more about what I originally intended to write about, although I will continue to use soap operas as the basis for my argument.

Listen. This isn’t about pure greed or finances. It’s not just about ABC/Disney. This is about a culture of ageism and a little bit about sexism. It’s about condescension and ignorance. The people who control the television resources are telling us that our time has passed and they are finished with us. They want 18 to 49 year olds and that age group doesn’t want soap operas. If you are older than that – even if you do have the majority of the spending power – they don’t care what you want to see. They are telling us we have no real power. They are moving on and there is nothing we can do about it. Of course, they don’t put it quite that crassly, but the message is there just the same.

I’ve watched as thousands of protestors have commented on Facebook pages, websites and blogs about the cancellations. They’ve shared stories of how they grew up watching the shows, how they’ve watched them for 40 years, how they have watched them with their children, mothers and grandmothers. They’ve demanded that ABC rescind its decision, praised Hoover (vacuum cleaners) for its decision to pull all of its ABC advertising and urged other advertisers to do the same, and threatened never to watch another ABC program again. They’ve taken out media advertisements to ask Disney/ABC to reconsider its decision.

Disney, of course, has taken the attitude that there’s nothing anybody can do to make them change their minds; even though thousands of viewers are telling them they don’t want another talk show, another food show, another makeover show. Viewers are telling them, we’ll desert you. ABC is saying go ahead. We don’t believe you.

Hoover is only hurting the cause by pulling its advertising from ABC, not helping, ABC says. Do you think for one minute that if Poise, Activia, Vesicare, Reclast, Juvéderm, Bayer, Symbicort, Colonial Penn, Advair, Clinique, Miracle Ear and others pulled all of their advertising from ABC and spent it at, say CBS, it wouldn’t hurt? Do you think for one minute ABC would maintain its haughty attitude? It’s too late. There’s nothing anybody can do about it? I don’t think so.

My point is this. Although it is clear not all soap opera fans are over the age of 50, a great many of them are. The networks have decided – as has the rest of society – that this is a disposable market, rather than an age group to be courted. They’re wrong. We are strong in numbers and in buying power, and we are going to be around for a long time. You should not ignore us, take us for granted or condescend toward us.

I am heartened to see that so many people will fight for a cause they believe in. Generations watch these shows together. I’ve recently discovered the dozens of soap opera message boards that discuss the comings and goings and plot lines of the various soap operas. I think of how before her death my mother would call my sister to discuss episodes of the Young and the Restless. It brought them closer together. G-d knows this society needs things that keep us connected.

My hope is that win or lose the AMC/OLTL fight – and I hope ABC sees the light and does change its course – we continue to believe that we have the power to change the course of big business decision making. We have great battles ahead in the name of fighting ageism and we need each other more now than ever. I hope we will carry this spirit over into the fight against ageism in other areas, particularly ageism in hiring decisions.

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