November 20, 2007

Murder! Mayhem! Stunt Casting! Romance! Ratings! Ratings! Ratings! Sweeps! Sweeps! Sweeps!

November Sweeps are my favorite Sweeps because they lead directly into soapsí tortured/happy/dysfunctional holiday stories. ABCís ratings have hit the skids. The success or failure of this Novemberís Sweeps will have a definite impact on the future of all three ABC soaps. Itís crucial that all three soaps seduce new viewers into watching while enticing/begging/bribing longtime viewers not to reset their TIVOs. Which ABC soaps are rising to meet this challenge and which are not?

For years General Hospital has pulled out all the stops for Sweeps.  We have seen a murderer tormenting train wreck survivors. Those survivors also dealt with a few cave-ins that left some charactersí lives hanging in the balance.

We have seen a crazed band of thieves tormenting hostages in the Metro Court Hotel. Emergency surgery was performed on a main character using only a few simple hotel supplies. Two legacy charactersí lives were left hanging in the balance. All this happened before the hotel exploded.

This November we have a plethora of characters isolated in Wyndemere Castle, which happens to be on an island, which happens to be unreachable due to a storm of epic proportions.  The characters are being stalked by a psychotic mob boss, Anthony Zacchara, whoís killing people for the thrill of it.  Just to up the tension, itís likely that Anthony isnít the only one wandering Spoon Island who poses a threat. Oh, and a main character needed emergency surgery using only a few simple castle supplies.

What sets this yearís GH violent sweeps apart from its past violent sweeps?  The tragic romance of it all. After all, what could be more romantic than a Handsome Prince, Nikolas, giving a black tie Gala as a gift to his Princess, Emily? What could be more tragic than Emily being murdered during the Gala, perhaps by Nikolasí own hand? What could be more romantic than two cynics, Tracy and Luke, finally admitting to each other how much they love their marriage? And what could be more tragic than Luke suffering another heart attack shortly thereafter?  Setting paternity/adultery/lying issues aside for a moment, what could be more romantic than Jason and Elizabeth finally admitting their love for each other? And what could be more tragic than Jason and Elizabeth standing on  Wyndemereís parapet while a gun wielding Anthony orders them to jump? (As an aside, should we start placing bets that itís the cuckolded Lucky who comes to their rescue?)

Add to that the pure soapiness of Jason driving a very small motor boat, complete with ticking bomb, making his way through the storm of epic proportions to save the day. And letís not forget Anthony besting Ric at a game of ďPin The D.A. To The Wall With A SwordĒ.

Add the actors bringing their A-game and whatís not to love?

GH is having difficulties staying in the top five rated soaps. Will new viewers keep watching when they realize gunfire is an everyday occurrence in Port Charles? Will old viewers stayed tuned in when once again the months between sweeps feel like filler?

Sweeps over at One Life to Live are warming the cockles of my cold cynical heart. Itís been years since OLTL felt so much like, well, so much like OLTL. Gathering four Buchanan generations together to watch Asaís videotaped will was a great idea.  Gathering them together at Asaís Texas ranch made it perfect. Not only was the story wonderful but OLTL even sprang for a few new sets. As Dorian would say, ďQuelle Suprise!Ē

Asaís will was as straightforward as the old man himself. His love for his family was in every word he spoke. One of the great things about Asa was his definition of family. It never mattered to him which of his grandchildren were adopted and which were not. It didnít matter to him that by definition Nigel was a servant, to Asa he was a trusted member of the family. Asa thought of Chuck Wilson as family so it was only natural that Asa left his ranch to his grandson, Chuck.

These scenes gave new viewers insight into who the Buchanans are. It was as close to drawing a diagram of who is related to who as a soap can get. For longtime viewers it was as comforting as curling up in front of the fireplace while downing a bourbon and branch.

OLTL didnít stop there. It also has given Victoria Lord Riley Burke Riley Buchanan Buchanan Carpenter Davidson a story of her very own. Viki is having a grand time waiting tables at the Bon Jour Cafe. Viki has a new beau and itís about damn time. (Yes, I know Ben gave her his heart, both literally and figuratively, but itís time for her to move on.)

Add to all this the sheer delight of watching David Vickers and Alex Olanov trying to con each other. How long will it be before Alex shouts out the news that David is a Buchanan?   I donít understand why everyone will be surprised; David has always shown at least one Buchanan trait, sharing lovers with other Buchanans.  David/Tina/Cord. David/Dorian/Clint. David as a Buchanan makes perfect sense to me.

For those liking suspense, drag queens and chases across the countryside, there is the Marcie/Tommy/Todd story.  Unlike its fellow ABC soaps, OLTL has managed to have several front burner storylines going on at once.

Thereís a lot going on to engage new viewers and, as Asa would say, a whole hell of a lot to keep longtime viewers tuned in.

OLTL has been on shaky ratings ground for a long time but the latest ratings show its gaining ground. No small feat.  How did TPTB manage to do that?  They hired a head writer with a deep affection for the characters and an equally deep respect for OLTLís history.  Itís a simple formula that works every time.

Meanwhile, it appears All My Children has decided to ignore Sweeps. Itís  tragic that what was once a top-notch soap has fallen to the last rung on the ratings ladder during sweeps. How did this happen?  Clearly Brian Frons and his gang of vampire soap slayers donít give a damn.

The GH characters may be trapped on an island but the story doesnít feel claustrophobic. They are enough characters onscreen that a new viewer can certainly find one to enjoy. Most of the OLTL characters are at the ranch or in a small cafť in Texas but there are so many character driven stories going on that it doesnít feel claustrophobic.

Watching AMC these days gives me a new appreciation for the claustrophobic agony the buried alive Greg Madden went through.  The same sets every day, the same actors every day, the same story every day. I wouldnít even want to see my beloved evil but sexy Dr. David Hayward every day, saying almost the very same lines he said the day before.

When writers fixate on a just a few characters the soap feels smaller and smaller and smaller. The wonderful Claire Labine once said that the real test of soap writers isnít how well they write for their favorites characters itís how well they write for all the characters on a soap.

AMC does have one big stunt surprise for Sweeps- Celine Dion will be on New Beginnings.  Letís pretend this works and all of Celine Dionís fans tune in, is AMC giving them any reason to keep watching? Will new viewers be seeing enough of the characters and stories to engage them?

The ratings numbers show that the writersí current strategy is not only failing to bring new viewers into the AMC fold but itís also driving away longtime viewers.

General Hospitalís Sweeps story has drama and romance. Itís enriched by its gothic setting filled with women in ball gowns and men in tuxedos.

One Life to Liveís Sweeps story has family drama and humor. Itís enriched by its new well lit sets that reflect the new yet familiar feel of the show.

In contrast All My Children just looks and feels claustrophobic. And it breaks my soap loving heart to say that.  I have this sinking feeling that someday I will be watching the show All By Myself.

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Kate's "A Cynic Soaps Up" Archives

November 20, 2007

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Kate's 2006 Daytime Emmy Awards Review

A Cynic Soaps Up - February 22, 2005

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A Cynic Soaps Up - A column in between on AMC

A Cynic Soaps Up - May 18, 2004 - AMC

A Cynic Soaps Up - Mar 4, 2004 - AMC

A Cynic Soaps Up - Jan 25, 2004 - AMC

A Cynic Soaps Up - Jan 19, 2004 - AMC, OLTL & ATWT

A Cynic Soaps Up - Old Pete Cooney Has a Plan

A Cynic Soaps Up - OLTL - August 17, 2003

A Cynic Soaps Up - AMC - August 4, 2003

A Cynic Soaps Up - AMC - June 9, 2003

Kate's Emmy Wrap Up


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