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SoapNet Getting Original

Mar 8, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Simply running replays of daytime dramas isn’t enough for SoapNet anymore.
Brian Frons, who oversees SoapNet as president for daytime at the Disney ABC Television Group, is unveiling a new slate of original shows for the cable channel, including two weekly scripted serials, as the upfront advertising market approaches.
The channel also has acquired all seven seasons of off-net series “Gilmore Girls” and movie packages from Disney ABC Domestic Television and 20th Television that include “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and “While You Were Sleeping.”
“We want to keep growing, and ultimately there’s a point where just growing your distribution—we’re up to 71 million homes now—is not going to be enough jet fuel,” Mr. Frons said. Maintaining the momentum requires new investments in programming to complement the daytime soap operas that are the core of the cable network’s primetime schedule, he said.
Programming spending is “increasing nicely,” despite tough economic times in the TV business. “We’ve actually been able to show that additional investment will bring additional profits.”
Last year, SoapNet ranked 40th among advertising-supported cable networks in total viewers in prime time. Its viewership rose 1% from 2007.
Ad buyer Ed Gentner, senior VP and group director at MediaVest, said SoapNet has done a good job adding programming that can bring in new viewers, particularly younger women.
Unlike many cable networks, SoapNet doesn’t need original programming to establish an identity, because it is so steeped in daytime drama, he said. Nevertheless, having original shows would be attractive for SoapNet.
“Whether it defines you or not, if you do have a successful original, it’s likely to bring in new viewers, so you’re not necessarily hitting that same soap viewer over and over again as an advertiser, and that strengthens the network, too,” he said.
Derek Baine, an analyst at SNL Kagan, notes that SoapNet got some nice buzz from hockey-themed series “MVP,” which it imported from Canada last summer.
Mr. Baine estimates SoapNet spent about $54 million on programming and generated $58 million in ad revenues in 2008.
The two scripted series SoapNet has in development are “Julia’s Tango” and “Santa Monica.”
“Julia’s Tango” is a Dutch show from Endemol about a woman born in Argentina, raised in the Netherlands, who returns to Buenos Aires and turns the family home into a bed-and-breakfast.
The show is being adapted by American writers with American actors, but it’s being shot in Argentina where costs are extremely low, Mr. Frons said.
“Santa Monica” is a dramedy about a group of 20-something best friends living together at the beach.
In these tough economic times, both shows give viewers a chance to “go on a little bit of an emotional fantasy, maybe a financial fantasy” by featuring “strong young women trying to make the best life they can, if not in material terms, in emotional terms,” Mr. Frons said.
Production is expected to begin later this month on “Holidate,” a reality special in which a woman from New York trades places with a woman from Los Angeles and they date the men in each other’s lives. “Holidate” is schedule to premiere in the fall.
The network also is working on an unscripted show in which celebrity mothers and daughters with relationship issues work out their problems with a therapist.
The unscripted shows are being produced by ABC Media Productions.
SoapNet currently is airing “Being Erica,” like “MVP” a Canadian import, and plans to launch “Southern Belles: Louisville” on May 21.
Mr. Frons sees “Belles” as “Sex and the City” in Kentucky. He said the women span different social and economic strata, steering away from a theme of conspicuous consumption.
SoapNet is counting on “Gilmore Girls” to help attract younger women to the channel, much as “The OC” and “Beverly Hills, 90210” did before.
Those shows have been appearing on weekends as part of a “Breakfast in Bed” block, which has increased ratings by 57% on Saturdays and 97% on Sundays. The shows replaced marathons of the previous week’s daytime dramas.
“Those marathons, which used to be the bread-and-butter of SoapNet’s weekend, just don’t have as much value,” Mr. Frons said. “By the weekend, people have had three or four chances to see their favorite soaps, so we’re trying to create weekends that have their own viability.”
Some of those young women who tune in for the off-net shows also discover the soaps, creating a new generation of viewers. “It’s the circle of life,” Mr. Frons said, repeating a well-known Disney refrain.
SoapNet also has a budget for movies, and is getting a big assist from Tom Zappala, senior VP of program acquisitions and scheduling at ABC Family, who now is also buying films for SoapNet.
“It’s allowing us to aggregate our money and share runs between the channels,” Mr. Frons said.

79 Comments

  1. Are you sure the information about Gilmore is correct? Two weeks ago ABC Family announced it acquired the rights to the seventh season and it is a staple of that network. I doubt that ABC Family would make a big deal out of getting the seventh season, only to hand the entire series to SoapNet. Please clarify if this is something to do with a weekend window for syndication of GG, as this seems to suggest.

  2. I just was an ad on SoapNet so I am sure it is true.

  3. Does this mean “Gilmore” reruns won’t be seen on ABC Family anymore?

  4. I just read online (Hollywood Reporter – http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/news/e3ia82652ffac56b32ec8f8e04d3291ba2b) that SOAPNet is a sister channel of ABC, so I don’t think ABC Family is missing anything with this deal. I also read that ABC family will be handing the series off to SOAPNet.

  5. i love gilmore girls. will there be new episodes or just reruns

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