With all eyes on prime time during the first few weeks of the new season, it has been easy to lose sight of everything that is happening in daytime, a daypart that is either falling to pieces or rebuilding itself, depending on one’s point of view.
A lot has changed in a relatively brief period of time, and there will be more seismic shifts in the months ahead. But one big development has already had a huge impact: the loss of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
As expected, daytime television feels empty without it. The right guest or guests on Winfrey’s show could instantly improve even the most unremarkable of days. Now, nothing comes close. Ellen DeGeneres can only manage so much of the burden, and her sense of humor can sometimes wear thin. Anderson Cooper’s shiny new talk series has been sadly underwhelming, perhaps because, though Cooper says he has put his heart into the show, it seems to be lacking in same. (Consistent emotional engagement is essential to the success of any daytime program, scripted, unscripted or otherwise.)
I wish Winfrey would leave the business of running her new network to executives who know how to run new networks and dash back to syndication. Failing that, I suggest she revive her daily daytime talk show on OWN. While she’s at it, I’d like to see her move Rosie O’Donnell’s lively new program into daytime where it belongs. It’s one of the new season’s best new shows, and it’s too good to be allowed to flounder in the twilight zone known as early prime. With a little creative thought, OWN could own the daypart Winfrey and O’Donnell once dominated.
There isn’t much to be said about soap operas right now, except that ABC’s recently terminated “All My Children” was so satisfying in its final weeks that it reminded us why so many millions of viewers fell in love with it (and all the ABC soaps) in the first place -- and also why so many of them bailed in recent years, when the storytelling on most soaps (including those on CBS and NBC) became so consistently terrible.
The very smart producers of NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” took full advantage of “AMC’s” unfortunate departure, effectively re-launching the show on the Monday following “AMC’s” Friday finale by bringing back a host of long-gone fan favorites (Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn among them), and powering up a number of new stories that are character- and history-driven. (They also wisely added multiple Daytime Emmy winner Sarah Joy Brown to the cast.) Romance has returned to the show, as well. I could do without all the goofy guest appearances by personalities from the NBC Universal family, including Patti Stanger of Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker” and home décor expert Nate Berkus, and I think the appealing younger players on the show have been pushed too far into the background, but overall “Days” is once again a splendid soap.
Elsewhere, the outgoing Regis Philbin in his final weeks is on fire -- and so is his show, “Live with Regis and Kelly.” I expect the letdown from his departure to be inversely proportional to the excitement of its current build-up. Co-host Kelly Ripa is in top form, too, but post-Regis, “Live” simply won’t be the same.
Here’s proof that this daypart can still deliver unexpected surprises: The breakout star of the year in daytime television is none other than Billy Bush! He and co-host Kit Hoover are terrific on NBC’s syndicated “Access Hollywood Live,” which is suddenly giving the fourth hour of NBC’s “Today” with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb a run for the title of daytime’s most entertaining show. Bush always struck me as a bit of a stiff, but a daily hour of live television has loosened him up and brought out his unfiltered best. In New York, Gifford and Kotb lead into Bush and Hoover, making for the best two-hour block on daytime. I’ll take all that big fun and good cheer over an hour of unrelenting tension and simmering conflict on ABC’s “The View” any day.
Speaking of ABC, its new cooking show “The Chew” doesn’t seem to have amounted to much of anything, despite the Herculean efforts of ABC Daytime’s tireless publicity team. But the network is saving money churning out five “Chews” a week rather than five hours of “All My Children,” so I guess it is doing what ABC wanted it to do. That said, there are many cooking shows on basic cable that are infinitely more interesting than this one, so it’s hard to imagine “The Chew” will develop a following of any significance in the months to come.
Meanwhile, CBS Daytime has all but disappeared into the ether, buzz-wise. “The Young and the Restless” has slipped into one of its frequent periods of aimlessness. “The Bold and the Beautiful” is less compelling than it was last year at this time, when it featured a dynamic story about Forrester family matriarch Stephanie’s battle with cancer and her determination to use the time she had left to help homeless people.
I don’t know anyone in or out of the media world who watches CBS’ game shows or can even name them -- all two of them. Here’s some help: One is “The Price is Right,” a program with timeless appeal. The other is best forgotten.
Lastly, bland chat show “The Talk” in its first year lost three of its original on-camera personalities and continues to muddle along in such a way that, were it to disappear tomorrow, I don’t think anyone would notice. For this we had to lose “As the World Turns”?