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Port Charles Articles Pages

 

2003 PC Articles

Port Charles: Why It's Over

Written 10/7/03 by Suzanne originally for Bella Online

ABC soap fans are in deep mourning...Port Charles is gone for good. We all knew this day would come but I don't think anyone can really prepare themselves for the end.

Am I being overly-dramatic? Maybe...but if you've ever had one of your favorite shows canceled, you know that it can be a very sad experience. Especially if that show was in its prime, like Port Charles was.

There have been many debates about what exactly went wrong. Something that's been said ad nauseum is that if PC had won the daytime Emmy this past year, it would have been saved. Personally I don't think that was a guarantee. There have been other shows that won Emmys and still got canceled. An award is nice, but when it comes down to it, it's meaningless. At most, the Emmy may have stayed the execution for a few months.

The reason the show got canceled was because of bad ratings. TV is a business and the bottom line is what counts most to the people in charge. It didn't get canceled because Brian Frons hated it, or because the network had lost faith in it, etc. So the interesting question is, why did it fail? Why did it get bad ratings?

There is no sure way to tell, but I have some theories. I don't think it was any one thing that killed the show.

To start out with, Port Charles was "in the hole" and would always struggle, no matter how good it became. This is because, when ABC's last half hour soap, "The City" (AKA Loving) was canceled, the ABC affiliates (that is, the stations around the country that show ABC shows) started using that half hour time slot for other things, such as the news. So when Port Charles debuted, many of the affiliates decided to keep that half hour and not give it back to ABC. So either they didn't show PC at all, or they showed it at some odd hour like 1:10 AM. And this was happening in some major markets like San Diego and Minneapolis. How can you expect to get good ratings nationally when a third of the country can't even see your show? The question I wish someone would answer is, what really happened there? Did ABC ever try to put pressure on their affiliates to show PC, or did they not bother? Perhaps they tried a little but didn't want to risk losing their affiliates to other networks. I can understand that, but it seems like ABC should want to have the upper hand in these deals and try to wield their power. I can't see why a channel would want to stop being an ABC channel and start being a FOX channel, for instance. Maybe it's just me. Or maybe ABC was just gutless. I have no answers to this question because no one is saying. Not ABC, not Daytime President Brian Frons, and not even the soap magazines, from what I have seen. If ABC knew that they wouldn't have a good time slot for PC, why did they bother making it at all? That's the real question.

So, PC had an uphill battle from the beginning. I think that ABC rushed the show into production to capitalize on General Hospital's popularity and hoping that they could get it done so quickly that people would hardly notice the time span between Loving/The City and Port Charles, and maybe they would then be able to convince the affiliates that they have this hot new soap....but it didn't work out that way.

PC was a mess when it first started. The writing, and some of the acting, was not too great. I'm sure that ABC was hoping that faithful GH viewers would follow Kevin, Scott, and Lucy to the new show and then stick around because they liked the new people and stories. For me, that did work, but for others, it did not. They had high ratings from the first episode but it went downhill after that. The first episode was exciting but based on something kind of ridiculous (Joe saving Audrey's life by using a power drill on her head). While it did have our favorites, it concentrated on a bunch of new characters we didn't care about, and some of which, like Jake and Danielle, were not very good actors. Fortunately, they left the show or were killed off within a year.

Another character brought over from GH was Karen, Scott's daughter. Unfortunately they couldn't get the actress who had left GH, so they had to recast. The new actress was fine but she wasn't really Karen, and why did we want to see Karen broken up from Jagger anyway? We wanted her with Jagger or Jason, or even Sonny, but not Joe, who we didn't care much about. They also had great actress Debbi Morgan, who had played Angie on both All My Children and The City, but then they paired her with Matt and it was very boring.

The core family of the Scanlons was a great one and reminded me of the Ryans from Ryan's Hope. But there was no father figure and we really didn't learn much about the mother, Mary, because the writers were concentrating so much on the younger people. once again soaps haven't learned that we don't care about the younger people if we don't see their families as well. Personally I didn't like Michael Dietz much so I didn't like Joe; I liked the character better when David Gail took over. So Joe and Karen were a little boring to me. I did like Frank and Julie. Someone must have realized that there were too many good or happy people on the show because then they started messing with it. Julie became a bad guy, and later, so did Frank. Eve and Chris were sort of bad, but not too bad. Some of their later characters such as Courtney, Rachel, and Livvie, were much better at being bad than any of the original characters, except Greg Cooper. I always found Greg to interesting, but he was a bad guy from the get-go, so we never really got to spend much time with him or find out about him.

Then they started with the General Homicide killings, which were very interesting at the start. That dragged on way too long, though, and we were never sure who really was the killer, Julie or Cooper. It got very convoluted.

So, a lot of people probably did tune out during that whole time, when Port Charles was kind of boring and had bad writing (and they were constantly changing writers during the show's tenure, which didn't help).

At that point the only reason you were watching was because you were a die-hard fan of one of the actors, such as Jon Lindstrom, or you just watched the whole ABC lineup from start to finish. It probably didn't help when Passions debuted, either, because it gave soap fans another show to watch. Then after that, Passions and PC fought over who had the lowest ratings (with PC usually winning). One thing I don't understand, is, why does PC get canceled and Passions is called a "hit", even though they are not that far apart in the ratings?

Then ABC got the bright idea to copy the Spanish Telenovela idea and make PC have "books". I thought this was a bad idea from day one and I was proven right time and time again. While it's true that it gave the writers a shorter time-span to write for and thus could tie up a story quicker, especially if the audience didn't like it, it also accellerated everything else in the writing, and that is not necessarily a good thing. Soap operas need character development. They need stories to go at a certain pace so that they are believable to the audience. And also, the books forced them to bring in a lot of new characters for each book, as well as have the existing characters change bed partners each book!

I don't know why soap writers haven't learned this lesson, but we've seen it from primetime soaps, and now PC: if you have the characters of the show sleep around with each other too much, and too quickly, the audience does not have as much rooting interest in them, and the stories "burn out" too quickly. At some point the characters have no one else to sleep with except for new characters, which we may or may not like. By the time they started the books, they'd already had Kevin and Lucy/Lucy and Scott/Kevin and Eve/Eve and Scott....
they'd already had Frank/Karen/Joe/Courtney et al. The books just made it worse. It was especially bad for Kevin and Lucy fans, who had been rooting for the couple already for years on General Hospital, only to watch them get torn apart time after time. The last straw of the books was when Ian and Lucy just slept together for no apparent reason (it was later explained that Caleb was responsible, via magic). No wonder Scotty jumped bail to GH the first chance he got!

Then if the books weren't bad enough, they brought in the supernatural stuff, along with a ton of new characters. In the course of a year we lost most of the rest of the original cast: Joe, Matt, Eve, Ellen, and Julie. I'm guessing that must have pissed off a lot of people who had been watching since the beginning, and that probably helped the ratings slip further. You can't just throw out half the cast and expect it not to affect the show. So often the cast suffers when it's the writing that's bad, not the acting.

I'm sure some people stopped watching the minute they started doing weird stuff on Port Chares. I wasn't too fond of it taking over the show myself. I am a scifi fan and I don't mind scifi/fantasty in my soaps. I enjoyed the vampire stuff. But I didn't like them taking MY show and totally turning it into a scifi show. There should have been more balance between the soap opera stuff and the scifi stuff, like there is in on Passions.

Also, if you're going to have a supernatural show, you can only go about it two ways. You can either make it campy and ridiculous, like Passions, so people watch it tongue and cheek, and don't take it too seriously. Or you can make it serious, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer; but if you do that, you then have to have great writing and acting to support the special effects and silly plots. You have to be consistent and yes, realistic, within the frame work of supernatural stuff. You can't one day say that Caleb is able to walk around in daylight because he has a special talisman that allows him to do that, and then make it so that EVERy vampire can do that, for no apparent reason (including Caleb, who had lost his talisman). Like other soaps, you have to pay attention to history and logic, and not let down the fans. Port Charles had a lot of inconsistencies that were never explained, and that drives people nuts.

Like how was Frank able to travel back in time (never mind about how did Ronda have a PC in the early 70's or how they were able to communicate through their computers across time)? It was a great romantic book but it needed a little more logic. All of the books did. Some of them failed misterably because they relied too much on hokey affects (like the Avatar) or untalented newbies (like the three angel women). These are the types of things that drive fans away, especially when the show has not been on the air all that long to start with. It's not like Days of Our Lives where fans have been watching since they were children or their grandmothers watched it, too. You have to grab people and keep them there.

I realize it's easy to be an armchair TV critic. We can say, "Write good stories with interesting characters, believable dialogue, and compelling day-to-day plotting". It's much harder to actually do it. I doubt I could do it. But I don't think that for the most part, Port Charles had the best writers it should have had.

In the later books, Port Charles writers succeeded better. The stories were gripping. Something exciting happened every day. The shows frequently ended with a BANG and left you thinking, Oh my God! The actors were great and the characters interesting. They were so good that it didn't even matter who was sleeping with whom; they all made good couples. That's what all TV should do, but few shows actually achieve that. But by that time, they had lost most of their audience and the network had probably already made the decision to cancel the show.

That's what's really sad here. This show was finally hitting its stride. It had figured out what it was and how the story should be told. Now we will never know whether it could have reached even better heights or whether it could have sustained the level of story-telling that it had. A legion of PC fans is disappointed and a lot of good people have lots their jobs. So now it really doesn't matter why Port Charles was canceled. The new questions are: How will we live without it? When will the next soap get canceled? and, will the networks and writers learn anything from this?

Page updated 6/3/10

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