Saturday, May 30, 2009

FLASHBACK: Fans Mourn Loss of Interracial Soap 1991

Fans Mourn Loss of an Interracial Soap Opera

By C. Gerald Fraser
New York Times
March 5, 1991

Washed out by low ratings, television's first interracial soap opera devoted to the adventures and misadventures of black and white families, GENERATIONS, has left behind a group of disappointed viewers, many of them black professionals, still yearning to tune in tomorrow.

After broadcasting 407 episodes, NBC took GENERATIONS off the air at the end of January. It had lasted for 13 months.

Describing the serial in 1989, as it was about to go on, the network said that it was "a contemporary daytime drama set in Chicago" and that it centered "on the relationships of two families -- one white, the Whitmores; one black, the Marshalls -- whose lives have been linked for generations."

Now it is gone for good. An NBC spokesman, Rob Maynor, said, "If it doesn't deliver, it doesn't stay on the air."

The cancellation annoyed a number of the show's regular viewers. One New Jersey working couple taped the 30-minute show daily for evening viewing. They were perturbed "on the day of the final segment to find out that most of it was superseded by a war bulletin, leaving a seemingly inexplicable ending and adding insult to injury." 'It Was Different'

The cancellation also upset Marsha Hunt, a Philadelphia novelist. "It was a very good show," she said in a telephone interview. "It was different. The story line was not who's sleeping with whom. It showed a real relationship between the two women."

Ms. Hunt did not rest on her disappointment. "I don't sit back," she said. "When people say blacks don't write in, I'm not one of them. When they say blacks don't call in, I'm not one of them." She wrote, she called and she organized "The Coalition to Save 'Generations.' "

She said she had 12 people in 12 states "running groups" that had sent "around a thousand" save-GENERATIONS letters to local stations, NBC, prospective syndicators and PBS, which they view as a potential broadcaster of the serial.

Ms. Hunt voiced several complaints, echoed in the letters. One was that the serial had been broadcast in poor time slots. In New York, it came on at 12:30 P.M., opposite the No. 1 soap, "The Young and the Restless." In some cities, Ms. Hunt said, GENERATIONS came on at 2:30 A.M. She also said that the soap had not been given enough time on the air to develop an audience. Were Ratings Accurate?

She questioned whether the show's low Nielsen ratings accurately reflected the number of viewers. "There are few Nielsen boxes in homes in minority communities," she said. A Nielsen Media Research vice president, Jack Loftus, said yesterday that 11 percent of households in the Nielsen population sample are black.

Mr. Maynor, the NBC spokesman, said the network had dropped GENERATIONS "because it didn't get the size of audience we wanted."

"We wanted more than we had," he continued. "It was the lowest-rated soap opera on the air. It had the smallest audience, it didn't deliver for advertisers and it wasn't attractive to affiliates."

Consequently, he said, the network does not intend to revive the show. Creator of the Show

Sally Sussman, a writer who had received two Emmy award nominations as a member of the writing staff of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, created GENERATIONS, serving as both its executive producer and head writer.

In a telephone interview, she said, "I came up with the idea four years ago and sold it to NBC to create the first racially balanced show." She said it had been well received .

"Most shows are given more than two years to find an audience," she said. "The nature of the soap opera business is that it takes two years to find itself and find an audience. The current climate at NBC, in terms of economics, did not lend itself to continuing the show. It was expensive to produce and had a soft advertising market. And they decided to cancel. It was a valid reason from their perspective, but I think it was short-sighted."

In New York, the editor in chief of Soap Opera Weekly, Mimi Torchin, agreed. "It was intelligent and fast moving," she said. "A new show always gets off to a slow start. They're always terrible in the beginning. Until you are in these people's lives, know the background, it's hard to get involved, until you care about them."

The probationary period for most serials is, she agreed, usually two years. For example, she said, NBC dropped TEXAS only after 28 months. She also cited LOVING and SANTA BARBARA as two long-running soaps that have never achieved high ratings.

Ms. Torchin, speaking of the GENERATIONS cancellation, said: "Blacks are only 11 percent of the total viewing audience, and there was not enough of a black audience to watch it." She added: "It was known as 'the black soap' in the heartland. There's still a lot of racism and whether it was racism per se, there was resistance."


  1. Interesting article there. Thanks for posting it.

    But the article does contain a bit of wrong information. Generations did not run 13 months. It ran 22 months. Debuted on March 27, 1989 and aired its last show on January 25, 1991.

  2. Generations was really getting good at end. Dorothy Lyman was on fire and it was nice to see her in a slightly different role.