NEW YORK >> ABC canceled 2 of its three soap operas on Thursday, consigning "One Life to Live" and "All My Children" — and Susan Lucci, daytime’s most famous actress — to television history.
The move leaves "General Hospital" as ABC’s only daytime drama, one of only four that will remain on ABC, CBS and NBC’s daytime schedule.
Soap operas have slowly been fading as a TV force, with many of the women who made up the target audience now in the work force. In place of the two canceled dramas, ABC will air shows about food and lifestyle transformations.
Brian Frons, head of ABC’s daytime department, went to the California set of "All My Children" to deliver the news on Thursday, where a video link was also set up to the New York set of "One Life to Live." He said the shows were doing well creatively, but falling ratings indicated they had a bleak future.
"If you have a show in severe decline, you’re trying to catch a falling knife," Frons said.
Daytime dramas have suffered recently as cable networks like TLC, Bravo and Oxygen aggressively seek viewers in those hours, he said. Soaps are popular with viewers from the post-World War II baby boom, but younger viewers are more interested in other programming, he said.
Both canceled shows were created by Agnes Nixon, one of daytime TV’s most famous creative forces, and modeled after fictional Philadelphia-area towns. "One Life to Live" debuted on July 15, 1968, as a half-hour, expanding to an hour 10 years later. "All My Children" premiered on Jan. 5, 1970, expanding to an hour seven years later.
They were both known for incorporating social issues into their stories, with Lucci’s character of Erica Kane the first regular TV character to undergo a legal abortion in 1973, said Carolyn Hinsey, author of "Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter," due to be published next month.
Lucci became more famous for an offstage drama when she was nominated 18 years for a Daytime Emmy Award as best actress without winning, until she finally took home a trophy in 1999.
"It’s been a fantastic journey," Lucci said.
"All My Children" was based in New York for many years until production was moved to Los Angeles in 2009. Two of its leading actors, David Canary and Thorsten Kaye, left the show because they wouldn’t make the move.
"They weren’t able to save the money they wanted to save, clearly," Hinsey said. Frons said the move did save money, but the show wasn’t gaining viewers.
"One Life to Live" is the last soap opera produced in New York, once the thriving center of the industry. Two New York-based dramas on CBS, "Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns," went off the air within the past two years.
"All My Children" is averaging 2.5 million viewers a day, down 9 percent from the last TV season, and the median age of a typical viewer was nearly 57, the Nielsen Co. said. "One Life to Live" is at 2.6 million, its numbers off only slightly.
Hinsey said the schedule changes are risky for ABC stations, particularly as Regis Philbin and Oprah Winfrey are also leaving.
"Why would you drive millions of other people away from your lineup?" she asked. "If you want to save money, cut your costs, cut your sets. You can’t be so cavalier with your daytime eyeballs that you let two, three, four million people disappear."
"All My Children" will go off the air in September, replaced by "The Chew," a live one-hour show about food and nutrition, featuring two cast members from "Iron Chef America" and nutrition expert Daphne Oz, Dr. Mehmet Oz’s daughter. Frons described it as a cross between "The View" and a cooking show.
"One Life to Live" lasts until January. Its replacement is "The Revolution," made by the producers behind "The Biggest Loser," and will be a health and lifestyle show featuring fashion expert Tim Gunn. Each week the show will focus on the weight loss transformation of one woman.
Besides "General Hospital," ABC’s decision will leave CBS’ "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful" and NBC’s "Days of Our Lives" as the only daytime dramas left on the air. Each appears to be in no imminent danger, Hinsey said.
Asked what message fans of "General Hospital" should take from Thursday’s announcement, Frons said, "they should feel like they are fans of one of the most powerful franchises in television. It’s in good creative shape, it’s in good financial shape and they should ask as many of their friends to watch the show as possible."