Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Changes Planned to Save ATWT and GL

CBS is readying plans to cut costs and modernize the production process of two of the longest-running shows on television—“Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns.”

The low-rated vintage soaps are on the bubble for renewal in July and CBS is taking dramatic steps to try and keep the classic series on the air.

Plans include ditching their traditional soap opera production sets—which use three cameras shooting simultaneously into an expansive series of three-wall sets—in favor of using smaller crews shooting with nimble digital cameras inside enclosed four-wall sets. "Light" is considering using multiple crews to shoot scenes simultaneously, reducing the number of production hours. All exterior scenes will be shot on location—a rarity on daytime soaps—on permanent sets built in a small town outside New York City (on-location shots are typically more expensive, but the reduced crews and digital production process will offset the extra costs).

For viewers, the effect is supposed to add some realism to the staging, as rooms will not lack a fourth wall and shooting can be done in a more cinematic style. The outside location shots will give the shows a more natural sense of setting.

But the bottom-line benefit to CBS is finding a way to reduce the shows’ cost. Daytime soaps typically run more than $1 million a week and shoot nearly year round compared to syndicated daytime fare like court shows (about $10 million a year) or talk shows (about $20 million for 26 to 33 weeks a year). CBS met with “Light” and “Turns” producers two weeks ago and gave them a mandate to “evolve” their production process.

“We all agree now is the time to really challenge the form,” says Barbara Bloom, senior VP of daytime for CBS. “We know what the audience loves about this form. But are we still doing that in a way that’s relevant to our audience in a way that’s the best business and production model? I have partners rising to the challenge in terms of evaluating that. How can we do it different better faster and more impactfully.”

The shows are not going to change cast members as part of the revamp, Bloom says.

“Light” has been on the air for 55 years and is the longest-running drama on television. “Turns” has been on for 51 years. But both have become a ratings drag on the ticket amid CBS’s daytime lineup. The shows typically rank as two of the three lowest-rated daytime soaps.

The new production model launches in January. CBS sees the changes as part of a larger effort to overhaul daytime, which started this morning with the re-launch of “Price is Right” with new host Drew Carey.

“This is not just about the space of CBS daytime, this is about the evolution of a daypart,” Bloom says.

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