- Associated Press - Friday, September 23, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Tissues were on hand but there were few tears among two dozen soap opera fans gathered to watch “All My Children” sign off from ABC 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 that is hoping to keep the “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 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, Pa., 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.

Story Continues →