By Lynette Rice
Updated June 06, 2011 at 07:33 PM EDT
Credit: Ron Tom/ABC

Buried in the announcement about Katie Couric’s talk show deal with ABC-Disney was the news that the Alphabet will be giving the last hour of daytime back to its affiliates in September 2012. That’s the hour currently occupied by General Hospital, which airs either at 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. across the country. (Couric’s show, which will be syndicated, will air at 3 p.m. on the ABC owned-and-operated stations only). The entertainment conglomerate made a point to say that it still supports the sudser, but at this point it can’t say for certain whether the long-running soap will have a place on ABC’s daytime lineup 15 months from now.

Once it gives that fourth hour back to the stations, ABC will only have three to fill but four shows to do it with — The View, General Hospital, and the yet-to-debut lifestyle shows The Chew and The Revolution. There’s a chance that one — or both — of the latter programs will fail, which means GH could continue to have a spot on the lineup. But what if the two yakkers, which are ultimately cheaper to produce than a soap, thrive on ABC? The network just can’t say, though it’s possible the two talk shows can be cut back to half-hours so GH can continue its storied run. Or, worse for soap fans, GH could go the way of The Bold and the Beautiful and become a half hour, too. From ABC’s point of view, it’s nice to have options, but that’s not particularly reassuring for soap fans who are already reeling from all the cuts to their beloved genre.

Either way, ABC has made it clear that soaps will not play a big role in its future. Besides shuttering SOAPnet to make way for Disney Junior in January 2012, the net also canceled All My Children and One Life to Live to make way for The Chew and The Revolution. (AMC will end in September, followed by OLTL in January 2012.) The enormous costs of maintaining old (and many think outdated) soaps was the primary reason behind the network’s decision to yank the two, but ratings have been pretty dismal. For the 2010-11 season that ended May 22, AMC was down 18 percent in the key women 18-49 demo (0.9 rating versus last year’s 1.1 rating). That makes it the lowest-rated soap in daytime, not to mention the least-watched (2.4 million this season, down from last year’s 2.7 million). Remarkably, OLTL remained flat this season versus last (1.1), while its numbers went up slightly (from 2.5 million to 2.6 million). And it was the only soap not to dip in the key demo. Every show was down, including The Young and the Restless (1.6 versus last year’s 1.9), GH (1.4 versus 1.5), Bold and the Beautiful (1.0 versus 1.1), and Days of Our Lives (1.2 versus 1.4). Each women 18-49 ratings point equals 659,000 viewers.

Y&R remained the most watched soap at 5.1 million for the season, followed by Bold (3.1 million), General Hospital (2.8 million), and Days (2.7 million).

Keeping the daytime soap genre relevant and profitable remains job one at the three broadcast networks, and NBC and CBS have gone to great lengths to slash the budgets on shows like Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless to keep them on the air for rabid fans. GH faces the same challenges, but it is in a good position to keep fans entertained (at least through September 2012): The network just announced that Garin Wolf is the new head writer, replacing Robert Guza, Jr.

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