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Article: Ebbs and Flows of ABC Daytime


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Another Smith article fromm 2002 on ABC Daytime changes for my ABC soap watching friends:

EBBS AND FLOWS OF ABC DAYTIME

written by Tom Smith, April 15 2002

We continue our look at how the business side of the industry is impacting our soaps. In this column, it’s all about everybody’s favorite target, ABC Daytime. Let’s begin at the top, shall we:

SHAPIRO EXITS ABC DAYTIME

That’s right. On March 27, ABC sent out a press release to various media outlets that Angela Shapiro would be leaving her post as President of ABC Daytime, and taking over as President of ABC’s newly acquired Family Channel. The discussion over Shapiro’s exit has centered around two things: 1) Is this a promotion or demotion for Shapiro, i.e., does this mean Disney thinks Angela Shapiro did a good job after all?; and 2) Who will replace Shapiro? The answer to the second question hinges on the answer to the first.

So, is this a promotion for Shapiro? Yes. Is Disney validating Shapiro’s tenure at ABC Daytime? Yes. It sucks, doesn’t it? Get over it. Disney bought The Family Channel from Fox last year, knowing that it was an endangered property. The channel wasn’t making much money, and was starting to get dropped by cable systems. Still, it’s widely available throughout the country, and you know that Disney/ABC can hardly resist another chance to spread their influence. They didn’t buy this property to lose money. They think they can build it up into a moneymaker. By hiring Shapiro to take over, they are saying that they think SHE is the one who can turn it into a moneymaker. Now, only the parties involved know exactly how Shapiro came to head ABC Family Channel, but I can imagine it went something like this:

“Dear Angela,

“Congratulations on another $ucce$$ful year as President of ABC Daytime. Even though you’ve failed miserably in your stated goals of raising the ratings, and bringing in younger viewers, your other innovative ideas of turning the daytime lineup into QVC-lite, infomericializing All My Children, and helping launch Soapnet, which is coming in handy as a cash cow and scapegoat for ABC Daytime’s miserable ratings, has led us to think you’re the right woman for our new project.

“Recently, we bought a used company called the Family Channel. I didn’t want to do it, but, you know Michael, when he sees something he can have, he’s just got to buy it. He’s like a rich kid in a toy store, that Michael! Now, the Family Channel isn’t doing too good. Its' viewership has dropped to dangerous levels, cable systems are starting to drop it, and the programming is such a hodgepodge, nobody can figure out what it’s ‘brand’ is. Sound familiar? Right! We figured if you were capable of bringing in pile-loads of money from ABC Daytime, you might like a real challenge, like bringing in pile-loads of money from this little cable venture. Interested? Please respond ASAP.

Sincerely,

The Brass”

Now, if Shapiro is being promoted, she would probably have some good standing with Disney, right? Which means that they would value her opinion as to whom will be her successor, correct? I do not know who will be the person to take over from Shapiro, but I have to believe that it will be someone “ideologically” closer to Shapiro than not. Let’s look at the candidates.

JILL FARREN PHELPS: You better believe Shapiro’s gal pal is a distinct possibility for replacing her. They obviously think highly of each other, and JFP’s influence has been felt on the lineup in lots of subtle ways. (Musical montages; outrageous, envelope-pushing storylines; shorter stories; violence, action). JFP also showed herself to be a Shapiro, jr., by riding OLTL to the top of the demo charts multiple times, without doing much to actually raise the viewership. And don’t give me the junk about JFP being a lifelong “producer.” This would give her the chance to officially produce the whole lineup. ABC makes her a good offer, (example: “Hey Jill, wanna be prez?”), and she’ll take it. The obvious drawback is that she seems to have lost her Midas touch since she took over GH.

FELICIA MINEI BEHR: In normal circles, this would be a done deal. Shapiro is the President of ABC Daytime, and Behr is the Vice-President. Shapiro leaves, Behr takes over before Shapiro’s leather chair gets cold. The end. Everybody go home, nothing to see here. That Behr wasn’t immediately named as Shapiro’s successor, tells me that Behr isn’t ABC’s (read: Shapiro’s) first choice. Or maybe Behr doesn’t want the job. But, the two have had different approaches to daytime, and FMB’s interview in TV Guide from two years back was a stinging indictment of the Shapiro era. Behr has tried to tow the line ever since, but some things you can’t take back. It doesn’t help that you can feel Behr grimacing when she discusses the uniqueness of Port Charles and General Hospital, without saying much else.

AGNES NIXON: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Next!

?????????: It could be that Shapiro’s successor is totally unknown to us commentators. Stay tuned.

ANGELA SHAPIRO: Not a misprint. Shapiro is already pulling double duty as Head of ABC Daytime and Buena Vista Productions Syndication Unit. It’s not inconceivable that Shapiro would pull triple duty for a while.

Whoever the new pres. ends up being, The Disney mandate is clear: Make money by any means necessary. As long as that remains the overriding goal, I doubt it will matter who’s in the leather chair.

GH SHAKEUP!

In my Jan 30’th column, I stated the following: “With all the negativity swirling about lately, you'd think JFP's name would be rumored on the outgoing list? However, the two serious GH rumors making the rounds these days, concern the writing staff: One side has recently re-hired Michele ValJean, (you know, the woman who got bumped last year for McTavish) taking the helm again; another has Bob Guza, Jr., of all people, returning for a third time. I'm not sure I buy either of these, but I do think McTavish will be replaced long before JFP will.”

It’s such a burden being right. :0)

McTavish is out. She’s been replaced by Robert Guza, Jr., this time joined by longtime writing partner Charles Pratt, Jr. I knew that McTavish would be seen as the problem long before JFP would.

Now, what does this mean for GH? I have no idea. I’ve never seen a Guza/Pratt collaboration, unless you count the early months of Sunset Beach, which I hope is not indicative. Pratt’s become known for executive producing such fare as Melrose Place and the like. So, will we see a cross between GH circa 1999 and Melrose Place?

And does the return of Guza mean JFP’s hands are tied and she’s halfway out the door? Maybe, maybe not. Pratt is a producer, and speculation is flying that he’ll eventually take over that job on GH, leaving the writing solely to Guza. But, remember that Guza and JFP worked together on Santa Barbara in what proved to be an award-winning and often fondly remembered period in that show’s history. Of course, the same has been said about Guza’s past two stints with Wendy Riche, and they got along like cats, and demented 13-year old boys who like to torture cats. (Thought I was going to say dogs didn’t you? It’s all about surprise, baby!)

As usual, the backstage shenanigans are far more interesting than what’s on-screen these days--and will probably continue to be for a long time to come.

NADER SUES ABC!

On April 3’rd, Variety’s Jeanne King broke a stunning story: Michael Nader, All My Children’s ex-Dimitri, is suing ABC for $32 million dollars. Nader is suing for breach of contract. He claims that ABC has him under contract for four years, a contract worth $1.74 million dollars. He’s also seeking $25 million in compensatory damages and $5 million for intentional infliction of emotional distress. According to Nader‘s lawsuit, ABC encouraged Nader to take several months off following the resurgence of his drug problem. (Actually, Nader’s lawsuit refers to it as his illness, and makes no mention of his drugs.) When Nader insisted he was ready to return last Fall, he was advised by ABC that he would not be allowed to perform, he would not be paid, and he would not be released to go work for a rival network’s lineup.

The online response has been predictable. Nader is a helpless man abused by the Satanists at ABC and he deserves the whole damn company for being victimized by them; or Nader is a conniving drug addict who tarnished the reputation of ABC and spit in the face of all who ever believed in him. He doesn’t deserve anything except a swift kick in the ass.

Snark’s take? ABC is hardly the morality network. They’ve hired plenty of addicts in their day. However, it’s within ABC’s right not to employ someone who they believe could be troublesome. And, if this goes to court, you can bet ABC’s lawyers will use that whether ABC believes it or not. “Your honor, we are NOT convinced that Mr. Nader HAS licked his drug problem, and therefore cannot, in good conscience, give him back his job.” Still, ABC would have had a lot tougher time getting rid of Nader, had he not fallen off the wagon in the first place. And, he’d look a lot more sympathetic. He’d also look more sympathetic if he was simply suing for what’s owed him, and not over emotional distress that came out of a situation he created.

But, sympathy, or the lack thereof, doesn’t mean much in cases of this nature. The question is "Is Nader entitled to anything, regardless of his drug use?" Yes. He was signed to a contract, and unless there’s a very specific clause invalidating the contract in the event of Nader’s drug use, he is entitled to be paid. (And I seriously doubt Nader would bother asking for his wages if there were such a clause). The rest is crap, and deep down, we all know it. Nader may be asking for the moon, knowing he’s never going to get it, and $32 million is a drop in the bucket to ABC. But, you can’t help but feel that Nader is asking for a ton of money for reasons that were born of a situation he created.

There are three outcomes that I think would be satisfactory. All of them revolve around his contract, and he would not receive the other $30 million he’s seeking: 1) Return Nader to AMC. Work him, pay him; 2) Let him sit on his butt, but still pay him the money; 3) Release him from the contract, and let him find work elsewhere. ABC clearly has their own set of reasons why they haven’t let Nader return. If they think he’ll be a detriment to Daytime, then let him be a detriment to somebody else’s lineup. Does ABC suddenly love everyone so much, that they’re protecting the other networks from Nader? Come on!

NEXT WEEK: we move more towards the creative side of the genre as we review Sami’s Las Vegas Wedding that Wasn’t on DAYS; COMING SOON: the new Hogan Sheffer/ATWT piece in The New Yorker (Yes, SEW, I’ve got a photocopy!); But, we’ll have more of the business side with an update on the Soapnet situation; and, a new plan by Sony to make money off DAYS and Y&R reruns.

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So Frons's name wasn't even being bandied about at this time.

The Shapiro years were poor for ABC soaps. I had no idea just how much worse they would end up getting.

Those of you who remember all the fan reaction and your own thoughts back at this time -- what did you think Guza's return to GH would be like? Were you nervous? Hopeful?

I thought his 98-2000 run sucked, it was painfully slow, one-dimensional, and stilted, nothing ever happened and so many characters were damaged, but I had no idea of the absolute trash he and Pratt would belch up when they started in 2002. I was in disbelief at that Rick Webber story. Even now I am, eight years later.

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I had mixed feelings. I came into GH under Guza in 2000 and liked what I saw. Not because it was enthralling, gripping storytelling -- but because it was different than AMC. I had no prior knowledge of GH until 2000, so I had nothing to compare Guza's version to. It's no secret I hate McTavish, and not to mention that she came in to demote MVJ... She didn't stand a chance. Her clock was ticking the moment I heard she was "consulting." So when Guza (and Pratt) came back, I was thrilled JUST because it meant one of the worst head writers in my opinion was knocked out of another job at ABCD.

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Yeah, I didn't think McTavish's run was very good -- Angel and Sally Struthers and toxins, oh my. I didn't think it was as bad as what had been at other times in GH's recent history but it was poor. The only story I liked from that time was Courtney/AJ.

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Supposedly, Frons is so doggedly loyal to Guza (and Pratt) because as his buddies, they recommended him for the ABC job.

The JFP/Megan McTavish GH was unwatchable, hilariously so, and at that time they were absolutely right to get Guza back. Or so I thought, but I liked a lot of his first run. Unfortunately, it became a mess with no one to keep him in check.

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