Port Charles: Why It's Over
Written 10/7/03 by Suzanne originally for
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
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
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
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?
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