Update: Classic Soap Opera Comes Back From the Dead – Will Others Follow?

Cinematically Insane v2UPDATE 8/28/14 7 p.m – Updated info below, in italics

The Doctors will debut on Retro TV on September 29, with two episodes airing daily beginning at 12 p.m. (ET/PT).

Here’s something I probably shouldn’t admit, but what the hell: in 1982 I was a regular viewer of six daytime soap operas: The Edge of Night, The Guiding Light, As the World Turns, Search for Tomorrow, Another World, and Texas (a daytime knock-off of Dallas.)

When I tell people that, as a 13-year-old eighth grader, I watched five hours of soap operas every day, they look at me like I’m a survivor of child abuse. And yes, my obsessive (what else is new?) daytime drama habit was entirely the fault of my mother. When she went back to work in the late ‘70s, my job was to watch her “stories” after school and report on what happened. By the time we got our first VCR in 1979 I was hooked like a playground crack head.

Sister Dorothy, my teacher and tormentor, didn’t think this was a good idea, of course. And, as with most things, she was proven wrong. As I got older and began enduring epic battles with my mom over otherwise trivial matters, we’d call a truce every night to watch our time-shifted soaps. Then we’d go back to fighting. No wonder my father used to go to bed early.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 10.52.02 PMAll of this has been on my mind because Retro TV, “the original classic programming digital network,” announced this week that they’ll be airing the Emmy-winning 1963-82 NBC soap The Doctors beginning later this year. Sadly, this was one of the few soaps I didn’t watch as a kid, so I’m not as over the moon as I might be if some of my old friends from Monticello, Springfield, Oakdale, Henderson and Bay City were coming back from beyond the cancellation grave.

But still, Retro’s announcement is significant for a number of reasons.

First: daytime soap operas are almost never rerun, particularly on broadcast TV. A few have bucked this trend, notably the 1960s supernatural sudser Dark Shadows, which I first discovered in syndication on WNBC in 1982. (So that really makes seven soaps I watched that summer before high school). The Edge of Night and Search for Tomorrow also got second lives on the USA Network cable channel in the late ‘80s, and rebroadcasts of NBC’s Another World and ABC’s Ryan’s Hope graced the airwaves of SoapNet, which faded to black at the end of last year. Sadly, despite its content, the first and only 24/7 cable soap channel has not yet come back from the dead.

Also: the networks are slowly killing off the art form, going from a high of 19 daytime dramas in 1970 to four in 2014 (despite the ratings renaissance the contracted genre is experiencing). And, as each long-running series comes to a close, thousands of episodes and decades of storytelling history sit on a shelf gathering dust, awaiting rediscovery. (Sadly, most episodes of Procter and Gamble-produced soaps only exist post-1978; prior to that, videotapes were routinely “wiped” as a cost-saving measure.)

BN-AG090_1101ct_DV_20131101192642Finally: Today, thanks to digital technology, and the wealth of programming opportunities offered by free, over-the-air digital sub-channels like Retro, a cliffhanger exists for fans of classic soap operas. Will modern audiences look beyond old school production values and wide lapels and once again get hooked on the continuing stories that captivated viewers a generation (or two) ago? Will the physicians at Hope Memorial Hospital help save a dying patient and kick off a wave of nostalgia that will bring back other long-lost daytime dramas? And will The Doctors last long enough on Retro for us to see Alec Baldwin as Billy Aldrich, a role he first played in 1980?

For answers to these and other exciting questions tune in again…right now for my chat with Matthew Golden, Retro TV’s vice-president of production. (The following is an edited transcript.)

WILL MCKINLEY: When will The Doctors premiere? Will it air during the afternoon in typical soap fashion?
MATTHEW GOLDEN: We haven’t yet announced a premiere date for The Doctors. We’re still in the process of assembling all of the assets; this extends somewhat to the schedule for it, but as it stands right now, we plan to double-strip it Monday through Friday in the early afternoons. (Editor’s Note: “double-strip” means two episodes will air back-to-back.)

UPDATE 8/28/14 7 p.m. – Retro announced today that “The Doctors” will debut on September 29, with two episodes airing daily beginning at 12 p.m. (ET/PT).

WM: Will you start the series from the beginning of the run in 1963? Or, as with many other soaps of the era, are some early episodes no longer extant?
MG: We will begin with the 1967 season, which is the first of the show to be produced in color.

WM: Is this the first time The Doctors has been rerun since its original network broadcast?
MG: I believe this is the first time The Doctors has been rerun in the USA.

WM: Has there been any re-mastering of source material?
MG: We are preparing new air copies directly from original 2” master tapes, digitizing them in archival quality, and doing cleanup where possible.

WM: The fear with fans is often that a network will begin airing a soap and then discontinue it, with no way to see additional episodes. Will your commitment to airing the series in its entirety be based upon ratings/audience response?
MG: There are a great number of episodes, and even double-stripping the series would run over six years with no repetition. We are committed to the series, and our commitment, like all networks’, is rooted in favorable response. That said, this is not a test: we will be running the episodes we’ve licensed, and if the response is good, then we’ll renew and continue.

WM: Daytime dramas, even extremely popular ones, are almost never rerun. Why do you think that is, and why do you think contemporary audiences will care about The Doctors?
MG:I think the largest part is the inherently unwieldy nature of daytime serials; this show alone ran over 5,000 episodes, all heavily serialized. The bounty of episodes produced for a daily serial effectively means that it will never run in repeats on a general-interest or current-programming network. The commitment necessary to re-run something like a soap opera is something Retro TV can offer, and a lot of other broadcast outlets can’t (or don’t). We have an opportunity with Retro TV to return this kind of serialized drama to audiences on a large scale. The bottom line is that enjoyable storytelling is universal and timeless, and can captivate audiences of any era. We believe The Doctors to be one of the series that most typifies these qualities.

WM: Will you be editing the individual episodes?
MG: I doubt we’ll have to cut much, if anything.

DarkShadows02-00cvrWM: Dark Shadows is the only soap to be extensively rerun, and it retains a large fan base today. Would you consider airing it, and have you made any overtures to MPI Media Group regarding it?
MG: We have not, but I’d certainly be open to speaking with them.

WM: If fans of a particular soap (like Dark Shadows) would like to see their favorite show on Retro, how can they communicate those wishes to you?
MG: Programming suggestions are best submitted to info@luken.tv. Side note: since announcing The Doctors, soap fans have vociferously been advocating for their own favorites, and I have been delighted to find that they are uniformly pleasant and polite.

WM: After our chat about Retro’s airing of classic Doctor Who episodes beginning later this summer, readers have asked how they can get the channel in their city. What’s the best strategy?
MG: Retro TV is a broadcast network, not direct to cable, satellite, or Internet. We require local stations to affiliate with us on one of their channels, and often cable or satellite providers in those markets pick up and serve the channel on their offerings. The best way to get Retro TV in your area is to call and write your local TV stations and let them know that you want Retro TV. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve welcomed new affiliates in Albuquerque/Santa Fe (KYNM) and Tri-Cities, TN-VA (WLFG), and next week should hopefully bring even more. Stations have been very receptive and excited about the new programming coming to Retro TV.

WM: Last question: Am I speaking with Matthew or his evil twin?
MG: I’m not entirely certain. The acute amnesia I experienced after the car crash that resulted in me being lost at sea and declared legally dead for three years makes it impossible for me to know for sure.

For more info on Retro TV, visit their website. For some background on The Doctors and its best known cast members, click here

The Doctors

 

 

About willmckinley

Will McKinley is a New York City-based writer, producer and classic film and TV obsessive. He’s been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by host Robert Osborne), Sirius Satellite Radio and the official TCM podcast. Will has written for PBS and his byline has appeared more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News.
This entry was posted in Classic TV, Retro TV and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Update: Classic Soap Opera Comes Back From the Dead – Will Others Follow?

  1. Jim says:

    Great stuff, Will. As a pretty big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s killing me that RetroTV hasn’t come upstate to Rochester yet but is available in Olean and Utica. I think we’re pretty full when it comes to subchannels though (probably wrong on that, since I don’t know how many subchannels each affiliate is allowed).

    • willmckinley says:

      Thanks Jim. The number of sub-channels a station can varies, based on a number of factors like programming content, compression, etc. I’ve heard of stations having as many as a dozen. But most seem to have 2-3.

      • Kelly says:

        Hey Will I watch Spanish soaps back in da day with Veronica Castro least those soap last about 3 or 4 months I understand I do really understand LOL!

      • Jim says:

        @Will: Yeah, the main affiliates here each have 2-3 subchannels. Plus, depending on your location, it can be very hard to pick up a signal. My parents live in on the west side of Rochester and can’t get 5-6 subchannels, even though Dad put an antenna on their roof.

      • willmckinley says:

        Jim, this is why I loved Aereo. I could get *every* sub-channel that served New York City, without bothering with an antenna.

  2. I ran home from school to see Luke & Laura tie the knot- and I’m still watching “General Hospital” today, 35 years in all!

  3. I had wondered if you were a fan at some point due to your soap news tweets. After our ATWT talk, I knew you were, but I did not know how many you watched. It’s nice you could share “stories” with your mom!

    My husband was a youthful soap fan, and he watched them past his teens. He doesn’t keep up with any current daytime soaps, but he loves the Dallas reboot and EastEnders. One night this week, he had beer, ate Turkish coffee ice cream, and watched Ryan’s Hope highlights on YouTube. He had a grand ol’ time!

    I confess to enjoying both of those shows, too. I get liking soaps, so no judgments here!

  4. willmckinley says:

    Beth, I don’t watch any current soaps either. I stopped watching when my last childhood soap “Another World” was cancelled in 1999. I did watch “EastEnders” though, on PBS in the late ’80s. I started watching from the early episodes with Den and Angie.

    • I remember EastEnders being on PBS, but I didn’t really watch any episodes until Barbara Windsor was on the show. She played the pub’s landlady. I had seen multiple Carry On films by then, so it was fun seeing her on there. I’ve not watched in a while. I wish BBC America would carry the show! They’ve got enough time since they’re constantly airing marathons.

      For American daytime TV, it’s too bad the web-based model did not succeed. I’m sure they would have gotten viewers, particularly time-shifted ones.

      • Kelly says:

        I used watch Eastender on PBS Station here in SO CAL actually KOCE 50 at the time was low power station sometime I could get it sometime I couldn’t now they have full power station I remember that used come on mid 1980s on Sunday evenings

      • That must have been fun, Kelly!

  5. Great post. We’ve been getting more channels in the UK over recent years but still nothing like this. I would love to see Liverpool based soap, Brookside, re-run!

    • willmckinley says:

      Natalie, thanks for the comment. I don’t know UK TV very well. Do you have over-the-air broadcast digital sub-channels there, as we do in each TV market in the US (post-digital conversion in 2009)? These have really changed the TV landscape here, creating opportunities for long-forgotten shows to reach new audiences for the first time in a generation.

      • Hi Will. Yeah we have subscription cable / satellite channels but we also have something called Freeview – a wide range of free digital channels including spinoffs from the main four BBC, ITV Channel 4 and Channel 5. So far we have a number of digital Freeview channels showing repeats of comedies (Gold) and dramas but nothing showing reruns of the traditional soaps. I hope this idea catches on in the UK though.

  6. tonyarice says:

    Will, you’re not alone. I gave up watching “my stories” several years ago, too – though I had to watch the final ATWT and GL. I was once a citizen of Oakdale, Genoa City (all the way back to the Brooks and Fosters, and David Hasselhoff), Springfield, and for a while, Bay City – all thanks to my grandmother. Oh, I remember Jo and Stu on SFT – I liked them. For a little while I was on the Luke and Laura express. I also remember Lucinda on ATWT was Althea on The Doctors… so, see you’re not alone. This all brings a bit of nostalgia to my childhood memories… Thanks for your post!

    Now, I’ll return to my hole where I’ve been happily hiding since I left Genoa City (although my mother-in-law insists on trying to keep me up-to-date with the happenings there – sheesh!).

    ~Tonya

  7. Lindsey says:

    Some of this article is a load of nonsense. Sorry, but it’s true. The first is that The Doctors began in color in 1967. No it didn’t. It was in color in 1966. Do some research idiot.

    The biggest thing though is this idea that soaps are having a big resurgence. Ok technically their ratings have been SLIGHTLY better lately, but better than what? In the last few years soaps have hit their lowest audiences EVER. So they’re better than rock bottom. I’d hardly be bragging about being just above the worst ever.

    Seriously, the ratings most soaps average now would’ve gotten them canceled 20 years ago. Most of the shows average around a 2.1 rating. Last week GH was down 29,000 viewers in the coveted 18-34 market, and that was the highest rated soap for demographics with 171,000 viewers… out of 117.00 MILLION households in the U.S. SERIOUSLY. THOSE RATINGS ARE CRAP!!! You can spin the numbers any way you want but even a million extra viewers at this point from any soap would still be crappy when you consider the number of available viewers and how soaps used to pull in 10 million viewers daily. These shows are awful. Badly written, acted, and directed trash with crappy actor/models and stories that are so silly even kindergarten and preschoolers can see how stupid they are.

    Soaps are dead. Get over it and accept it.

  8. Pingback: Retro TV Production Executive Gives Details On Acquistion & Re-Airing Of NBC’s Classic Soap,THE DOCTORS! | Michael Fairman On-Air On-Soaps | Daytime Soap Interviews, News, Updates and Previews, Video and Audio Interviews

  9. Jen says:

    This is wonderful news! I really hope more soaps will follow! Fans would LOVE a classic soap channel! I hope they add Another World and maybe some retro Days of Our Lives from the mid 80’s! Good times! Classic soaps will never die. They’re a part of our childhood and hold wonderful memories. Something television today cannot match. Look at the outstanding sales they generated from the few soaps they released on dvd of Guiding Light and One Life to Live. They said sales were better then they could have hoped for! We’re ready for MORE! MORE!

  10. Laurie says:

    I would love to see a new “Classic” Soap opera channel where they air the old classic soaps 24 hours a day. It would be amazing to see a show line up that’s been created by duplicating what was airing back in the mid 80’s or 90’s. Imagine this show line up using episodes from around 1987:

    7AM Ryan’s Hope
    8AM Loving
    9AM Guiding Light
    10AM Days of Our Lives
    11AM Another World
    12PM Santa Barbara
    1PM One Life To Live
    2PM As The World Turns
    3PM The Bold And The Beautiful
    4PM Knots Landing
    5PM Paper Dolls
    6PM Dallas
    7PM Dynasty
    8PM Moonlighting

    • willmckinley says:

      Laurie, if a classic soap channel were to exist, it would almost definitely be offered streaming, via platforms like Roku. Even a smaller digi-net like Retro is unlikely to devote a majority of their schedule to specialized content, and advertisers are not likely to support it. I do think that a subscription based streaming channel that you could access on PC, iphone/iPad, or TV (via Roku) is a great idea. I know some classic soaps like “Another World” were briefly on Hulu a few years ago. I have no idea why they were pulled, though. Same goes with that AOL Soaps website that P&G participated in.

  11. Jeff says:

    One other Point, The BET cable Network repeated GENERATIONS in the early 90’s maybe Bounce TV will pick it up. Plus the CBN soap ANOTHER LIFE was syndicated among the CTN affiliates. Dark Shadows will be coming to ME TV, though they have not announced when yet maybe 2015. And no the soaps are not Dead that comment should get over themselves

  12. Mindi Schwartz says:

    Can we get retro tv in the New York City area. What channel

    • willmckinley says:

      Mindi – It’s not currently available in the NYC area. What we need to do is contact local stations and ask them to add Retro to their digital sub-channel lineup. WPIX-11 is likely out, because they already carry Antenna TV and This TV. WCBS, WNBC, and WABC are also out. WNYW-5 carries MOVIES! TV Network on 5.2, Fox in standard defition on 5.3, and WWOR-9 on 5.4, so they may be full up. WWOR-9 carries Bounce TV on 9.3 and Mundo Fox (Spanish) on 9.4, but nothing on 9.2 WLNY-55 is a CBS-owned station now, so they may be out, as well. That really only leaves WWOR or maybe WFUT-68 (owned by Univision) which carries GetTV on 68.3

  13. Can we get in Retro TV in the New York state area. What channel

  14. Tony says:

    I always love to find contemporaries who were “soap kids,” as I was. I definitely recall my first episode of Guiding Light (Rita goes back to Bluefield to visit her mother–who is suffering from dizzy spells–and younger sister, Eve, before the latter two move to Springfield.)

  15. Pingback: Retro TV Exec Reveals Details Regarding Reruns of NBC’s Classic Soap, ‘The Doctors’ - Soap Opera Network

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