Suburban soap fans try to save show
The recent cancellation of "All My Children" devastated Pat Dedinas, an Antioch woman who's watched the soap opera "since Erica Kane was 17."
"I feel like I'm losing my family," said Dedinas, 68. "I wish there were somewhere I could go to protest."
Since there isn't, Dedinas did what any angry fan would do: boycott the ABC network, and bombard them with protest emails, letters and phone calls. She even hung a handmade, obituary-like protest sign on her front door with a photo of the "All My Children" cast.
Meanwhile, Dedinas' daughter, Diana Fitzgerald -- also a huge, lifelong fan of the soap -- is rallying "All My Children" fans on Facebook and Twitter.
"I can't accept that it's over yet," said Fitzgerald, 40, of Gurnee, who named her son Ryan after one of the soap's characters. "I just can't imagine being without it."
They're among many fans in an uproar because, last week, the major networks axed more than 30 shows, including "The Chicago Code," "No Ordinary Family" and "Smallville."
So if your favorite show is canceled, what should you do? Are Dedinas and Fitzgerald wasting their time? Do public outcries ever persuade networks to reverse their decisions?
"The answer is almost always 'no,'" says pop culture critic Paul Levinson of Fordham University. "In general, once a network decides to cancel a show, its fate is sealed."
However, decisions can be -- and have been -- reversed.
• FOX canceled "Family Guy" twice and "America's Most Wanted" once, only to bring the shows back because of fan opposition. (Last week, FOX announced it's canceling "America's Most Wanted" again.)
• "Jericho" fans reportedly sent CBS 40,000 pounds of nuts, to show the network how nuts it was, and convinced the network to keep the show alive for an additional year.
• Several canceled shows were saved by other networks. After CW canceled "The Game," for example, email and Facebook campaigns helped convince the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network to pick up the show. Other examples include NBC's "Scrubs," which lived to see another season after being picked up by ABC. "Baywatch," which NBC dropped after just a year, was put into syndication and became one of the most popular TV shows in the world.
Dedinas, Fitzgerald and their friend Michelle DeBaere of Kenosha, Wis. are appealing to other networks, such as Oprah Winfrey's OWN channel, rather than trying to convince ABC to save "All My Children." But will their pleas be ignored?
If there's enough fan outcry, Levinson said networks might be willing to re-examine a show's ratings. If the ratings went up and down rather than dropping like a stone, or had a decent audience of 18-to-34-year-olds (the coveted audience for advertisers), a network might reconsider its decision, he said.
"Fans protest all the time ... so it (takes) a combination of a really strong fan outcry, plus some data from the past seasons to show that there might be some hope. That's all they care about is the business (aspect)," said Levinson, author of the book "New New Media."
"What a fan outcry can do is get them to look more carefully at the business statistics. If it's not there in the numbers, though, there's no way they're going to bring it back," Levinson said.
Soap operas have been around for decades -- before there were hundreds of networks and endless entertainment competition -- so they're facing fierce competition, said entertainment attorney Ethan Bordman, who represents production companies, writers, actors, producers, directors and scriptwriters in several states including Illinois.
Soap operas are also more expensive to produce than talk or reality shows.
"Programming is changing, and the audience is changing. The Internet has changed a lot of things now, too," Bordman said. "Very few shows are on the air for a very long time anymore."
Even if "All My Children" ends in September as planned, Dedinas said she's not sure if she'll quit her protest. She believes hitting the network in the pocketbook is the best way to get their attention.
Already, a Hoover executive whose wife and mother were "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" fans decided to pull the company's ads from ABC,
For many suburban fans, the soap operas provide an escape and a common interest to share with their friends and family. Fitzgerald and DeBaere both used to watch every day with their grandmothers, and it's a fond memory.
Now, the friends have monthly dinners where they get a break from the kids and discuss the show. Fitzgerald and DeBaere bought tickets to go to the "All My Children" fan convention this summer in California as a 40th birthday present to themselves, only to find that it's now being called a "farewell party."
Recently, "All My Children" was nominated for a Daytime Emmy award for Best Drama Series. The show and its cast have won more than 200 of the awards since the show debuted in 1970.
DeBaere says she and her fellow fans are so aggravated, and feel powerless to go up against these giant networks.
"It's scaring me," she said. "But we're going to try our best."