Updated May 14, 2013, 11:40 am ET
Many once-stalwart businesses were in danger of becoming extinct in the wake of 2008-09’s Great Recession, but few faced the challenges of daytime television.
Daytime was once populated by longrunning soap operas and talk shows viewed by loyal audiences. But it had declined approximately 50% since 2000 due to audience fragmentation. Production costs continued to climb, while advertising revenue plummeted. Something had to give, and the movement from disaster to stability has been a story line worthy of serial drama.
The number of daytime dramas post-2008 dwindled and eventually dropped, as of last year, to four: ABC’s General Hospital, CBS’ The Youngand the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful and NBC’s Days of Our Lives were all that remained. Soap opera fans were vocal in their outrage, but networks could not afford to keep most of the shows on, especially when their ratings had plunged precipitously.
Shows that cost as much as 40% less to produce, such as CBS’ The Talk and Let’s Make a Deal and ABC’s The Chew and The Revolution, replaced those expensive soaps.
Daytime executive jobs were also slashed, with only CBS retaining an exec, Angelica McDaniel, to oversee daytime. ABC Daytime president Brian Frons departed in December 2011 and was replaced with Vicki Dummer,executive VP,
ABC Media Group, current series and specials in New York.
NBC, whose network daytime is filled by two extra hours of Today and Days of Our Lives, has no daytime department, although Bruce Evans, senior VP of current series, now oversees Days. The third and fourth hours of the Today show are overseen by Patricia Fili- Krushel, chairman of the NBC Universal News Group, and Today executive producer Don Nash. No executives from Today agreed to be interviewed for this story.
The daytime TV landscape now looks entirely different. And yet, now that the dust has settled, it appears the painful cuts have achieved their goal: healthier networks.
This season, ABC’s daytime is up 10% to a 2.2 average household rating season-to-date (through April 22), according to Nielsen Media Research. CBS, the daytime and primetime ratings leader, is up 4% to a 2.7. NBC is steady at a 2.1, just behind ABC, and that has to be considered a solid performance considering the media turmoil around the Today show and the ongoing difficulties faced by NBC in primetime.
Fox does not program daytime, so owned and affiliated Fox stations fill their daytime hours with syndicated programming purchased from various producers.
Last fall, ABC returned an hour of daytime to its owned TV stations and affiliates, which then for the most part was !lled with Disney/ ABC Domestic Television Distribution’s Katie, the syndicated talk show starring Katie Couric.
Fewer Soaps, Bigger Audiences
While the culling of the soap operas was hard for fans to take, audiences appear to have coalesced around the stories that remain.
“I think it’s made our already fiercely loyal viewers even more supportive of their individual shows,” says NBC’s Evans. “I also think it’s made these already amazing production machines really evaluate every aspect of their process to make sure they are maximizing their resources.”
So far this season, General Hospital has seen the most improvement of any soap, climbing 21% in households to a 2.3 from a 1.9; GH is up 7% among women 25-54, to a 1.6 from a 1.5.
“There’s a renaissance going on among the soap operas,” says Frank Valentini, General Hospital executive producer, who came over after One Life to Live was canceled in January 2012. “We’ve brought back characters from the past, introduced new ones, changed the tempo and pace of the show’s storytelling and added a lot of humor. There’s always something for the audience to come back to, and for new viewers to come to.”
General Hospital recently resurrected its famous “Nurses Ball” for three days, in celebration of the show’s 50th anniversary, and peppered it with musical performances from former GH star Rick Spring!eld (who sang “Jessie’s Girl”) and Jack Wagner, returning as Frisco Jones (performing “All I Need”). Both of those songs then became available on Apple’s iTunes store.
“You need to access all of the equity that’s in this brand and exploit it in all aspects of media,” says Valentini.
CBS’ soap leader, The Youngand the Restless is steady both in households at a 3.6 and women 25-54 at a 2.2. Among the younger female demos, Y&R is flat among women 18- 34 and down 6% among women 18-49. The Bold and the Beautiful, CBS’ other remaining soap, is up 4% to a 2.6 in households, and up 14% among women 25-54 to a 1.6. B&B is steady among the younger female demographics, which are important to advertisers but less available in daytime than older women.
“We now have to do a great deal more for a great deal less,” says Jill Farren-Phelps, Y&R 's executive producer. “It’s been very difficult to have to lose some of the tried-and-true tricks that I used to be able to use to make audiences feel a certain way, such as original music. Now we have to do other creative things to excite the audience. We’ve done a lot to make it move faster without disrupting our core audience.”
Days of Our Lives, whose Bo and Hope characters were once the darlings of daytime TV, is steady both in households at a 2.0 and among women 25-54. The show is down 14% among the younger female demographics comprised of women 18-34 and women 18-49. Days is about to make a leap into the online world by adding itself to the Zeebox second-screen experience, which will allow viewers to get extra content and interact with other fans.
More and more daytime fans—no matter their age—are !nding themselves headed online and on to Facebook and Twitter to follow their favorite shows.
Two of the four soaps that were cut, ABC’s All My Children and One Life to Live, are now being produced online by Prospect Park. The two series premiered on the Web on April 29. Initial reviews of that experiment have been positive—especially regarding the shows’ production values—but whether they will draw enough of an audience to be pro!table remains to be seen.
The other last two soaps to depart—CBS’ Guiding Light and As the World Turns, which aired for 72 and 54 years, respectively—appear to have permanently ended their runs.
Talk’s Got Game
Once they had made the hard decision to cut some soaps, ABC and CBS pursued lessexpensive talk and game shows. NBC took a different tack, expanding Today to three hours in 2000 and then to four in 2007, with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford taking hosting duties.
ABC replaced All My Children with The Chew in 2011 and One Life to Live with The Revolution in 2012. The Revolution was a quick failure. But The Chew, a food-and-lifestylefocused talk show, seems to have found a home on ABC’s schedule, although it’s not a huge ratings performer.
In households, The Chew is up 12% this season to a 1.9. The show is down slightly among women 25-54, to a 0.9 from a 1.0, while it’s "at among women 18-49 and down 20%, or a tenth of a point, among women 18-34, to a 0.4 from a 0.5.
“It’s a solid show,” says Gordon Elliott, who created and executive produces The Chew, which stars Mario Batali, Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly, Michael Symon and Daphne Oz. Elliott also serves as the show’s off-screen announcer. “We’ve been tweaking it, doing a lot of research with our viewers,” he says. “We are and always will be centered on food, but now we’re more lifestyle.”
Elliott says The Chew’s viewers are so interested in the information the show presents that its recipe-laden website is the secondmost visited stop on ABC.com, behind only Dancing With the Stars.
The Chew’s big sister, The View, now !nishing its 16th season, is a daytime staple. This season, The View has declined 7% in households to a 2.6 from a 2.8 and has dropped 20% among women 25-54 to a 1.2 from a 1.5. Joy Behar, who has been with the show since it began in 1997, is departing, so the series is seeking a new panelist.
“This will be our sixth major incarnation,” says Bill Geddie, The View executive producer. “We’re not looking to replace Joy, because she’s irreplaceable. We’re not necessarily looking for an unknown or for someone young. We are looking for someone who is interesting and different in their own right.”
Last winter, rumors flew that Elisabeth Hasselbeck could be leaving the show as well. Geddie says that’s not true at this point, but “we’ve always had an open policy about it. If [Elisabeth] finds something else that she wants to do, she can go do it.”
Like ABC, CBS also replaced two soap operas with a talk show, The Talk, and a remake of the iconic game show, Let’s Make a Deal, starring Wayne Brady. The Price Is Right remains on the air, and that show has been revitalized since the 2007 addition of Drew Carey, who took over for the retired Bob Barker.
All three of those shows are growing for CBS, with The Talk up 6% in households to a 1.8, The Price Is Right up 6% to a 3.8 and Let’s Make a Deal up 14% to a 2.2.
“With the addition of The Talk, we’ve found a formula that works for us with dramas, game and talk,” says McDaniel, CBS Daytime's senior VP. “It may have been controversial at the time to let go of a soap to bring on a talk show, but The Talk is now a platform for us to highlight our soap stars.”
Cross-Promotion and Social Media
On both ABC and CBS, daytime shows cross-promote each other—and the networks’ primetime line-ups—as much as possible. NBC also does this on the third and fourth hours of Today, although in its current weakened state—averaging 4.8 million viewers to Good Morning America’s 5.5 million— Today is less powerful as a promotional machine than it once was.
From April 22-26, CBS celebrated “Big Money Week,” which kicked off with a live video chat with Carey and Brady on CBS.com. During the week, The Price Is Right gave contestants the chance to win nearly $2 million in cash and prizes, including a new Ferrari, while Let’s Make a Deal featured the return of the “Super Deal,” with a chance to win $250,000.
“Let’s Make a Deal is the No. 1 game show on Twitter. We get 85,000 hits a day on that show,” says Thom Beers, CEO of Fremantle- Media North America, which produces both Price and Deal.
Meanwhile, The Talk hosted its Million-Dollar Baby Shower on April 26, giving viewers at home the chance to win prizes online.
CBS’ Big Money Week is only one example of how the network is working to integrate and incorporate its brand across both television and social media platforms. Bluefin Labs, which analyzes social media results, recently named CBS Daytime the top social network in daytime.
“Social media opens us up to the viewers and lets them feel like they are part of something great,” says McDaniel. “[The Talk] really is the foundation that allowed us to create that feeling. We’ve organically been implementing social media in that show. It’s something I’m always pushing all of the shows to do.”
ABC operates similarly, with stars from The Chew appearing on General Hospital and viceversa. On May 13 and 14, characters from General Hospital will appear on a fictionalized version of The Chew.
There are many other examples of cross-promotion, including Rayna James, Connie Britton’s character on ABC’s Nashville, appearing on Katie to talk about her career and her divorce in an episode of the primetime drama. Katie Couric herself also did a cameo on General Hospital, playing someone other than her famous self.
“Our approach is strategic and fun, but it needs to feel organic and I think it’s been well-received,” says ABC’s Dummer. “When we can make it work organically it’s really the best possible promotion, and I think it’s great fun for viewers.”
E-mail comments to email@example.com and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.