Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Marriage has many incarnations on television.

There is marriage as shock theater, for example. Few will forget Fox TV’s nervy nuptials between millionaire and gold digger.

Hair-raising wedding videos are also a mainstay, as are real news stories of brides murdered or arrested on their wedding day.

There is marriage as social gauge. Television constantly analyzes the data of modern-day marriage the 2.5 million couples who get hitched each year, the $19,000 reception. Incidentally, they spend the same on “wedding favors” as they do on the pastor about $250.

The curiosities of celebrity marriage also provide TV fodder. ABC will feature its fourth special on the topic next week, detailing the fetes of such brides as Raquel Welch and Celine Dion.

Lastly, marriage is the consummate screenwriter’s crutch: When all else fails, marry a character off for better or worse, usually in time for ratings, or a cliffhanger.

The public is ravenous for it. In the past year, two guides to TV weddings were published; one covers only soap opera weddings, in fact.

Which brings us back to ABC, which is about to test the very bounds of media credibility through its soap “All My Children.”

It’s hanky time, followed perhaps by a Visa moment. The network is merging soap opera with an on-line wedding service.

Which seems harmless. But it represents a powerful media genre that is only in its infancy.

As borders between broadcast and cyberspace mingle, we get the unholy alliance of TV show with interactive Web site plus merchandise, deftly packaged into seamless infotainment product.

On Friday, ABC will link “AMC,” as devotees call the soap, to, in what is billed as “an unprecedented multimedia wedding event.”

And a little surreal, too.

One of the girl stars, who hosts a show on a fictional ABC station, plans to marry a handsome waiter whose own teen-age marriage has not been annulled yet. The big event will be broadcast June 12.

ABC, meanwhile, is treating this like reality.

The network will give the faux wedding a real page on its own Web site, with the girl star modeling Vera Wang gowns and sharing her wedding plans with all. Fans can vote for which dress she will wear on the big day.

Such frou-frou sounds right out of Radio & TV Mirror magazine, circa 1952. At ABC, though, it’s science and focus group studies.

It is an “opportunity for our viewers to extend their on-air experience with two extremely popular characters to the Internet for an enhanced viewing destination,” noted Angela Shapiro, president of ABC daytime programming.

Part of this enhancement includes the commercial prowess of the Wedding Channel, which has a guide to “18,000 wedding gowns” and “strategic alliances” with Bloomingdales, Tiffany & Co. and Neiman Marcus, among others.

Women who watch soaps and women who visit the Web site are two of a kind, the companies reason. They may be right. Already, the ABC message board is roiling over the soap wedding, and the wedding dress poll.

“It is exciting to have the destiny of a television show be determined by its Internet-savvy viewing audience,” said Jenny Lefcourt of

This “event” is complicated and manipulative, but part of an evolving media marketplace.

Who can blame ABC for getting inventive? The network is rated No. 1 in daytime programming and must protect its territory, even as daytime TV comes under fire from consumer groups for irresponsible sexual content.

There’s competition elsewhere.

“In the wake of the O.J. Simpson case, the soaps have lost roughly half of their audience,” noted Victor Miller, head writer for “All My Children.

“The viewers,” he said, “are hooked on news as soap.”

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