NEW YORK >> Tissues were on hand but there were few tears among two dozen soap opera fans gathered to watch "All My Children" sign off from the ABC television network on Friday after more than 40 years.
That’s because the screen faded to black with a gunshot and a cliffhanger — an indication that the story may not be dead, even if the television series is. ABC has licensed the story to a production company, Prospect Park, that is hoping to keep "All My Children" going online after the first of next year.
Carolyn Hinsey, author of "Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter," organized a watching party at a Manhattan sports bar as a message to television executives who apparently think soap operas don’t matter anymore.
Two of ABC’s three daytime dramas, "All My Children" and "One Life to Live," were canceled this year. That leaves only four soaps on network television, with "General Hospital" the only one on ABC when "One Life to Live" formally leaves in a few months.
TV executives consider soaps a losing cause, more expensive to produce than talk or reality shows and with a dwindling audience as more women work away from home and their tastes change — even though the ratings for ABC’s two canceled programs have jumped in recent months.
"The soap fans are still there," said Marie White, who drove in from Baltimore for the party. "It’s just that Nielsen doesn’t count them."
Nielsen, the television ratings company, doesn’t count White. She keeps up with her favorites online these days.
Partygoers booed loudly when ABC ran a commercial for "The Chew," the cooking show that will replace "All My Children" next week. They saved their loudest cheer for when Erica Kane, the soap’s most memorable character, portrayed by Susan Lucci, learned she would not get married again — at least not yet.
She saved her final words on television for a promise to keep pursuing her beau even after he told her to have a nice life — without him.
The soap has been tying up loose ends for much of its final week. But the prospect that it could continue led to some last-minute script changes, Hinsey said.
The final episode ended with most of the show’s characters gathered at the Chandler house in fictional Pine Valley, Pennsylvania, for a party — celebrating engagements, a pregnancy and some miracle medical revivals. Yet the character J.R., riled because he lost his business and fortune and because his wife left to raise their baby son with a lesbian, lurked outside with a gun.
The series ended as he fired. Left unseen was who, if anyone, J.R. shot — homage, perhaps, to the famous 1980 "Dallas" cliffhanger that became known as "Who Shot J.R.?"
That may depend on business off the television screen, Hinsey said. Actors who decide not to continue with the series online may, in retrospect, wind up being victims of the gunman, she said.
Prospect Park this week announced the first deals with show cast members to continue with the online production. Cameron Mathison, who plays Ryan Lavery, and Lindsay Hartley, who portrays Dr. Cara Castillo Martin, have agreed to continue.
Lucci’s participation is still up in the air.
Asked by Hinsey, a handful of people at the Manhattan party said they rated the final episode an 8 on a scale of one to 10. Many said they had heard rumors that the ending was going to be much bloodier.
"I think it’s better than the whole town getting shot up," said Christine Levitin-Breyette, a Manhattan woman at the party. "That wasn’t so bad."
Some of the final episode’s dialogue felt more like actors talking to viewers, or television executives, than as part of the story. One example was when actress Debbi Morgan spoke soon after her blind character, Angie Hubbard, had her sight restored.
"One day our family and friends will be gone and they won’t be back," she said. "They’ll be gone for good. What if that day were today?"