Severely pissing off a shload of soap-opera viewers is probably not the most strategic career move that chef Mario Batali has ever made, but then, again neither was his alleged Food Network blackmail attempt -- and he's still sitting on a fat pile of cash. But will his latest television move permanently turn off a throng of torked stay-at-home moms and couch-snuggling Susan Lucci fans?
ABC announced that longtime soaps All My Children and One Life to Live will both be dumped like fugly prom dates by September 2011 (for AMC) and January 2012 ( for OLTL), and in their place will be two new "lifestyle" shows: The Revolution (working title), a makeover show hosted by Tim Gunn that focuses on "health and lifestyle transformations," and Batali's new show, The Chew, which is being billed as "covering food from every angle -- as a source of joy, health, family ritual, friendship, breaking news, dating, fitness, weight loss, travel adventures and life's moments." ABC executives explained this death-to-daytime-drama move by stating that "today's audience craves lifestyle shows with a transformational bent, as opposed to the over-the-top soap genre, which has been losing viewers for many years."
Batali appears to be getting the bulk of the popular blame for the demise of the soaps, and since One Life to Live has been feeding the masses with interracial lovin', gang wars, knocked-up teenagers and a homosexual Ryan Phillipe since 1968, and since 1970 All My Children has been serving up groundbreaking viewer grub like the first female-on-female smooching, the first transgender coming-out and the first lesbian wedding, Batali and company will have to bust out some bread and circuses to keep daytime-TV watchers from roasting him over an open flame with sun-dried tomatoes and a handful of fresh thyme. "While we are excited about our new shows and the shift in our business, I can't help but recognize how bittersweet the change is," said Brian Frons, president of daytime for Disney ABC/Television Group, in explaining the switch.
This may be code for "We are desperately trying to break off a chunk of cable viewers by desperately trying to appeal to the up-and-coming yuppie college kids who desperately love flatbread with feta cheese and shows about how to get their online dates to want their supple, toned bodies all while watching cool European people doing cool European things." Frons continued, "We are taking this bold step to expand our business because viewers are looking for different types of programming these days. They are telling us there is room for informative, authentic and fun shows that are relatable, offer a wide variety of opinions and focus on 'real life' takeaways."
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This is probably code for "We are so incredibly done with catering to bored housewives and unemployed armchair succubae, because catering to successful, Vitamin Water-gulping twenty-somethings is gonna hopefully grab us some fat advertising sales revenues from Vitamin Water commercials stuffed in between our new shows."
Ticked-off soapsters are burning up soapcentral.com message boards, blogging with an unholy vengeance, and blasting Batali in his seasoned meatballs. A non-apology apology came from Batali when TMZ reporters browbeat him into squealing, "It wasn't like I voted them out." As for his new show, he said, "It's not gonna be better, it's an interesting little format, it'll be fun to play and do.... I certainly don't want anyone out of a job. I love everyone that works in the industry."
So ABC soap watchers will have to swap Erica Kane's manicured red claws for Mario Batali's orange Crocs. Batali may yet survive this onslaught of soap-deprived viewer fury, as long as he steers clear of Bed Bath & Beyond. Otherwise rabid fans may send his cannoli-fed hind parts straight to General Hospital.