Every now and then, the good guys win. David slays Goliath. The 1980 U.S. Hockey team beats the USSR. Optimism prevails over cynicism. A sketchy, unsourced story in the New York Post turns out to be true. “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” surviving ABC’s cancellation to live on as web soaps, thanks to a new online network created by production company Prospect Park, ranks right up there in the annals of improbable victories.
I will admit to be a cynic about this one. The past couple years have been one punch in the face after another for anyone who works in or loves daytime dramas. This year’s Daytime Emmys felt like a wake. Nobody I talked to seemed to think that the shows had any chance of being saved. In my opinion, the credit for the show’s salvation goes entirely to the one group of people who never gave up on the shows: the fans. I admired all of the efforts to protest and organize, but deep down I thought they did not have any chance of working. I thought those of who were involved would only gain the satisfaction of fighting the good fight. Only one advertiser canceled ads on ABC. Only about 30 people showed up to protest at the Upfronts. Oprah Winfrey said she had no interest in carrying the soaps on her OWN network, and that the genre had run its course. (You guys! You proved Oprah wrong! Oprah!) Yet none of you gave up. You made the entertainment industry take notice, getting coverage of your fight in mainstream publications. Nor, fortunately, did anybody stop watching. I have to believe that OLTL rising in the ratings after being canceled, becoming the only soap to gain viewers versus a year ago, helped convince Prospect Park that it was a show worth saving.
Watch “All My Children:”
When I read the New York Post article, I thought “This can’t possibly be right.” I was wrong, but, contrary to what the article implies, this is going to be far from a seamless transition from ABC to the web. Soaps In Depth has confirmed that Prospect Park does not have contracts with anyone who works on AMC. They are going to have to sign new deals with every actor, writer, director and crew member. In all likelihood, not everyone will stay. People may be asked to take salary cuts. There are union scales for programming created for the internet, but the minimum salaries are far lower than for broadcast television. The press release stated that the episodes would continue to be the same length that they are now, but said nothing about how many episodes would be produced. If AMC and OLTL become weekly shows, there will not be a need for as many actors or writers. I suspect that there were so few details because Prospect Park and ABC have not figured everything out yet. I spoke to a representative for Prospect Park who said the company was not ready to issue any comments beyond the press statement. The article in the Post may have forced ABC to issue a statement earlier than it had planned. The on-line AMC and OLTL may be a lot different than the ABC version.
It is unclear whether Ron Carlivati, OLTL’s headwriter who planned to join the writing staff of “General Hospital” after OLTL concluded will remain with OLTL. Soaps in Depth reports that AMC star Debbi Morgan (Angie) was on the verge of closing a deal to join “The Young & the Restless.” Obviously, nobody working on the soaps was aware of the deal with Prospect Park. It is also unclear how this will alter the writing of what was going to be the show’s finales. Writers may be scrambling to change happily ever afters to huge cliffhangers that will inspire people to seek the shows out on-line.
Watch “One Life To Live:”
This deal is not just a big deal for daytime. It is a big deal for all of television. If AMC and OLTL can generate a substantial audience and – this is key – make a profit on-line, other canceled television shows with passionate fanbases could continue as web series. (Sorry “Firefly” fans. The market for original on-line television series developed a few years too late to save your show.) Prospect Park is not some rinky dink production company that has to turn shows into near-infomercials in order to get them on the air. The company is run by heavy hitters Jeff Kwatinetz and Rich Frank. Kwatinetz has managed the careers of major stars including Jennifer Lopez and OLTL fanboy Snoop Dogg. Rich Frank is a former chairman of ABC/Disney television (which means he knows a great deal about AMC and OLTL), and one of the founders of the USA network. Prospect Park produces two hip primetime shows: USA’s hit “Royal Pains” and edgy FX comedy “Wilfred.” These guys know what they are doing. Their support is a huge vote of confidence for the soap genre.
During the 1950s, soaps made the huge shift from radio to television. “Guiding Light” survived the transition. Now AMC and OLTL are moving from television to the internet. I hope that they thrive, and usher in the next era of soap operas.