Soaps' fans want their programs back

January 25, 1995|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer Staff writer Jean Marbella contributed to this report.

Television's real-life soap opera, the O.J. Simpson trial, is stirring angst among fans of the fictional daytime serials this week as the networks opt to provide live trial coverage instead of scripted emotional anguish.

The Baltimore affiliates of ABC, CBS and NBC report receiving hundreds of telephone calls over the last two days from viewers objecting to the news coverage or inquiring what will happen to the soap story lines.

WMAR-TV (Channel 2) got about 125 complaints yesterday after ABC, which had not pre-empted its soaps Monday, joined the opening arguments of the trial 20 minutes into the 1 p.m. serial "All My Children."

The local affiliate was not told by the network what would happen to the rest of the episode, so it could not definitively tell callers, said Toni Wright of WMAR's programming department.

But Cheryl Fuchs, an ABC official, said late yesterday that the remainder of the episode would not be shown. The network will update viewers on the missing action at the beginning of the next airing of "All My Children."

In anticipation of such problems, ABC this week launched "Soapline," a soap opera news program.

"We will inform viewers, 'Sorry you missed part of the episode because of the trial but here's what happened,' " said Ms. Fuchs, noting that "it's a tricky thing" because ABC News decides whether to cover the trial on a day-to-day basis.

But soap fans may have caught a break. Coverage by ABC and other networks might be in jeopardy pending a noon (EST) hearing today on whether cameras will be pulled from the court. Yesterday, Superior Court Judge Lance Ito angrily pulled the plug on live coverage after a robot camera in the courtroom inadvertently showed the face of an alternate juror. Judge Ito called it a violation of a cardinal rule of the trial.

When the trial broke for lunch yesterday at about 3:15 p.m. (EST), "General Hospital" was joined in progress after a "Soapline" spot updated viewers on what had happened in the first 15 minutes.

At the CBS affiliate, WJZ-TV (Channel 13), operators have handled more than 500 phone calls in two days from soap fans, said public affairs manager Susan Otravodec. The station carries the network's long-running "The Young and the Restless," "As the World Turns" and "Guiding Light."

"They are concerned they are going to miss their stories," she said. The station passes on the network's policy: If all or most of a soap is pre-empted by the trial, the episode will be broadcast in the program's next regular, non-pre-empted, time slot.

If trial coverage requires that a soap be joined in progress, CBS will air "soap classics" -- notable episodes from the past -- instead of the scheduled episode to assure that no story lines are skipped.

"I've had some irate callers, but I haven't had anyone say he [Mr. Simpson] is a murderer or that he's innocent. They're just upset that their soap operas aren't on," said Elizabeth Francis, in the public information office of WBAL-TV (Channel 11). The NBC affiliate carries "Days of Our Lives" and "Another World."

"NBC is trying not to run any soap operas while the trial tTC coverage is a possibility," said Kerry Richards, WBAL's public relations manager. But that policy resulted in an odd afternoon of programming Monday.

NBC News broke away from the trial earlier than expected, at 2:15 p.m. Rather than try to pick up the usual 2 p.m. soap, "Another World," the network fed stations the talk show "Leeza" -- the same installment that aired at 11 a.m.

On Monday afternoon, in the Southway bar on Cross Street in South Baltimore, patrons switched from Channel 13, which was airing the Simpson trial, to Channel 2 to watch "All My Children."

"It's been like this all month, arguing about this or that, I'm bored with it," said Deborah Raglin, waiting to meet her husband for lunch. "I was interested when it started, but now I just hope they don't take my shows off."

However, Marjorie Goodman of North Baltimore, said in a telephone call to The Sun, "I think it [the trial] is gripping, better than soaps. I think it's interesting watching the process."

Computer users have been commiserating and complaining over America Online, where ABC posts a cheery daily soap opera update. Yesterday's edition included the note, "Hopefully, it won't be a long siege without our soaps."

"One tack would be to ask the network to give us a synopsis of the trial instead of the soaps!" suggested one user.

Another, however, said of the trial: "It could be said that it'll be the ULTIMATE soap."

Yet another computer correspondent lectured: "If you don't want to watch it that is what the channel change button or off button is for. You could get up off your couch and go do some volunteer work."

SUNDIAL

To hear daily developments on these soap operas, call Sundial at 783-1800 and punch in the 4-digit code from the following selections.

Directory, 7600

"All My Children," 7601

"Another World," 7607

"As The World Turns," 7606

"Bold & Beautiful," 7605

"Days of Our Lives," 7603

"General Hospital," 7609

"The Guiding Light," 7610

"Loving," 7602

"One Life To Live," 7608

"Young & Restless," 7604

For other Sundial numbers, see the SunSource directory on Page A2.

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