All My Children recently promoted its first African American producer, Karen T. Johnson, formerly an associate director. Johnson started out at ABC in 1985, filing expense reports and later working as an editing room assistant on Eyewitness News, the first of several production-related jobs. Her introduction to the daytime format came as a sound effects artist for Ryan’s Hope, One Life to Live, and Loving. Johnson credits All My Children’s executive producer, Julie Hanan Carruthers, and ABC’s president of daytime, Brian Frons, for realizing her potential and offering her a chance to produce.
In general, she says, “having black writers, producers, and directors can help authenticate how a character reacts to any given situation or bring about more understanding. Can [white writers] do all of these things? Of course, they have been for years. But it’s about having a different perspective. It’s about being included and represented,” adds Johnson, who notes that daytime is predominately run by another minority group — women. In addition to Johnson’s role as producer, the music supervisor, associate directors (two out of three), and editors (three out of five) on the show are black. “Those positions are all very important jobs that impact the final product,” she says.
A soap opera’s destiny is subject to feedback from viewers in the form of fan letters, market research, and weekly Nielsen ratings. The network’s profitability depends upon revenues from advertisers and from a show’s sponsor (which, in the case of four soaps today, is still the show’s owner, i.e., Procter & Gamble’s Guiding Light and As the World Turns). A high-rated soap has the potential to attract $500,000 in ad revenues each week
Broadcasting and Cable reports that after six consecutive years of viewer attrition, daytime television again held its audiences in 2004. In 2002, the pool of ad money flowing to the daytime lineup of the networks fell to $841 million from $896 million in 2001. Last year, ad sells were up 6% to $890 million for NBC, CBS, and ABC.
According to industry insiders, soaps have remained a genre unique to the networks because cable and syndication are unwilling to deal with the startup costs — an estimated $50 million in program outlays alone, not including marketing and distribution.
In many markets, the strongest competition for soaps comes from the dozens of talk shows launched since 1990. FOX’s daytime programming is supplied mainly from the acquisition of syndicated shows such as Ricki Lake, Jerry Springer, Judge Hatchett, and Divorce Court.
NBC Universal Television Distribution is the production and distribution arm of NBC and was created four years ago to handle domestic syndication. Regina Thomas, vice president of programming and development, is at a level where she can “influence whether a show is produced or not.” Most recently, she insured the production of Starting Over, daytime television’s first reality show about six women living in a house together. “[There] will be at least one African American of the six … because we want to reflect our audience,” says NBC Universal Television Distribution’s