Will OWN Own The Soap Genre?

Oprah Winfrey has finally listened to the television viewing public! The first 40episodes of the online versions of “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” that have been playing since late April on Hulu, HuluPlus and iTunes will run in afternoon time periods on OWN beginning July 15.

Fans of these long-running shows, which were canceled by ABC and had their final broadcast airings in September 2011 and January 2012, respectively, have been crying out via social media for a basic cable network to televise them even before Prospect Park came along with lifelines for both. Viewers thought OWN would be the perfect place for “AMC” and “OLTL” – and for “General Hospital,” had ABC decided to dump it, too – because Winfrey has been and will forever be associated with daytime television in general and ABC’s daytime lineup in particular. (Her massively influential syndicated daytime talk show was not produced by ABC but it ran on most ABC stations.) For some reason, Winfrey came somewhat slowly to this party, even though she has always admitted to being a soap-opera enthusiast.

It has been rumored that Winfrey and her team reconsidered the value of soap operas on their network because of the success of Tyler Perry’s primetime sudser “The Haves and the Have Nots,” which debuted on May 28 and has apparently doubled whatever rating OWN was already enjoying in its time period. That makes it a winner on several levels, which is somewhat surprising, because “Haves” hardly qualifies as a game-changer of any kind. In fact, with the exception of a naughty word or two it plays like a long-forgotten soap from the’60, albeit one with more African-Americans in its cast than in all soaps from the ‘60s combined.

But Perry nevertheless is off to a decent start. To its credit, his show doesn’t perpetually lunge for outrageous plot turns to propel the drama of it all. Rather, the characters actually talk to each other in scenes that run much longer than those of almost any other current television series you care to name. And characters are often talking about concerns almost everyone can relate to, from family relationships to money problems. Perry is actually allowing characters to converse the way they often did in scripted daytime and prime-time broadcast entertainment back in the day – in other words, in the ‘70s and earlier, before all of our attention spans were demolished by various media influences.

The big questions here are these: Will Winfrey let “Haves” loosen up a bit and develop more of an edge, and will she look to develop more original serialized dramas? The answers may depend on how well “AMC” and “OLTL” play on OWN.

From what I’ve seen of both shows since they returned from the dead as online programs, they aren’t nearly as robust as they had been on broadcast. I think the new “AMC” has been the more successful of the two, because the strength of this show was always the intimacy shared between its characters and its viewers. The smaller scale of the online experience actually enhances the enjoyment of this show, even if a couple of its storylines have been simply awful (such as the kidnapping and torture of Angie and Jesse’s daughter). “OLTL,” on the other hand, was always at its best when it was indulging in over-the-top drama, sometimes bordering on the lunatic. (Characters careened through crises brought on by multiple personalities, visited underground cities, interacted with the great beyond and time-traveled, among other narrative roller-coaster rides.) The online version of “OLTL” has been way more restrained and therefore far less interesting.

So how will “AMC” and “OLTL” come across when they arrive on OWN? I have to wonder if these two online productions will be edited for their cable runs, given the excessive use of certain curse words that filled the dialogue of both during their early weeks in a new and largely unrestrained medium. As far as sex and skin are concerned there shouldn’t be a problem given OWN’s status as a basic cable network. Indeed, nothing in the online versions of these shows comes close the level of explicitness daytime drama was moving toward before the infamous Janet Jackson nipple incident at the 2004 Super Bowl.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what (if anything) Winfrey and her team will do about that instantly infamous scene from the June 12 episode of “AMC,” in which Pete Cortlandt (Rob Wilson) received pulse-pounding oral sex from town tart Colby Chandler (Brooke Newton). It may not have been explicit, and it was certainly organic to the story, but it was a more intense depiction of a sex act than any I have ever seen on a broadcast soap opera. Will it be too much for Winfrey, or will OWN just own it?

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2 comments about "Will OWN Own The Soap Genre?".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 5, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.
    Since you brought it up: The Janet Jackson nipple episode was about violence. Any intentional ripping off clothing in particular clothing that protects personal body parts is about violence, not sex. I don't care who was involved, planned or not planned. The ripping off of clothing was planned. I will continue to call them out for that.
  2. John Grono from GAP Research , July 5, 2013 at 6:53 p.m.
    So Paula, if that scenario was in a drama-based movie, or a documentary, then it would also be unacceptable? The act was the content but it has to be taken within the context doesn't it?