ABC soap takes a page from telenovela playbook

Feb 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

ABC really owes a big gracias to the Spanish-language broadcast networks.
Taking a page from Latino programmers, ABC Daytime’s adoption of shorter, telenovela-like story arcs for its midday soap “Port Charles” has paid off with broad increases in several key young female demographics. It has also played a part in re-igniting ABC’s entire daytime lineup, spurring ABC programmers to consider incorporating shorter, self-contained story arcs and subplots into other soaps, such as “One Life to Live” and possibly “All My Children.”
“When we picked up the pace of `Port Charles’ and made it a hybrid novela, we found it was catching the eyes of the younger [female] segment of the audience that did not want to necessarily dedicate as much time watching their mother’s soaps,” said Felicia Minei Behr, ABC Daytime’s senior VP of programming. “We’re looking to integrate more of these shorter novela arcs on a selective basis, but we expect to do it next by the end of the year with `One Life to Live.”’
Ms. Minei Behr said the writing staff of “Port Charles” spent time visiting several Latin American production companies to study how the breakdown of the shorter chapters were regularly formatted into long-form telenovelas south of the border. However, unlike the Latino novelas, which can have story arcs that run 13 to 26 weeks (and sometimes 52 weeks) to an ultimate conclusion, Ms. Minei Behr and Angela Shapiro, president of ABC Daytime, were looking to modify the formula to be carried within subplots for a continuing soap such as “Port Charles” or “One Life to Live.”
“What we found is that viewers liked the shorter investment and bigger [climax] at the end of the 13 episodes,” Ms. Minei Behr said. “My daughters grew up in the `Sesame Street’ generation, and like a lot of other 18 to 49 women, our research said they want things quicker and faster-you have to grab them in the first 30 seconds or they are clicking to another channel.”
Now entering its seventh season, “Port Charles” had in the past languished as the lowest rated of ABC’s daytime soaps and an oft-rumored candidate for cancellation.
Since incorporating the novela format about a year ago, “Port Charles” has improved 10 percent year to year among women 18 to 49, reaching a 1.3 rating/9 share and about 840,000 women viewers for the week of Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, according to the most recent numbers available from Nielsen Media Research. Aside from that key measure, “Port Charles” is the only network soap to improve for the season to date in the two other core daytime demos. It is up 7 percent in females 18 to 34 and 13 percent in women 25 to 54.
Taking into account that “Port Charles” is only a half-hour show, Ms. Minei Behr said the network will be taking a close look at how self-contained novela story lines play in an hour-long soap such as “One Life to Live.” That’s why she and Ms. Shapiro think it is probably too early to convert ABC’s other hour-long soap staples “All My Children” and “General Hospital.”
Unlike prime time, where ABC is challenged to reverse double-digit ratings declines year to year in households and most demos, ABC’s daytime lineup is re-asserting its hold in all of key adult women demos, while CBS’s daytime soaps have a longtime grip on households and total viewers.
ABC’s soap lineup-“All My Children,” “One Life to Live,” “Port Charles” and “General Hospital”-is up 3 percent for the season to date in females viewers 18 to 49 (1.6 million) at a time when CBS is down 1 percent (1.4 million) and NBC is off 3 percent (1.3 million).