Deep Soap: ‘One Life To Live’s’ Haunting Thanksgiving Episode

by | November 25, 2011 at 2:25 PM | Deep Soap

Kassie DePaiva of "One Life To Live" (ABC)

Kassie DePaiva of "One Life To Live" (ABC)

One Life To Live’s On-Screen Death Mirrors Its Off-Screen Demise

It’s an understatement to say that the timing of the announcement that the on-line versions of “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” were dead was cruel. It was days after the production of “OLTL” wrapped, making it impossible to change the show’s finale. It was also the day before Thanksgiving, insuring that everyone who worked on or watched the show had an unhappy holiday. In a strange, sad coincidence, the episode that aired Wednesday seemed like a farewell. Matthew (Eddie Alderson), who has been in a coma for months, narrated as the Buchanans celebrated the holiday. It was an hour that was bursting with love and compassion. Jessica (Bree Williamson) and Shane (Austin Williams) went to visit Brody (Mark Lawson) in St. Anne’s, instead of condemning him for his brief kidnapping of Liam. Clint (Jerry VerDorn) asked Shane to think of him as a grandfather. Then, in a twist ending, reminiscent of “The Lovely Bones” and “Our Town,” the episode took a tragic turn. If you haven’t seen it, you need to watch the whole thing right now.

I cried for a half hour after I watched, mourning both the loss of a character that I watched grow up and a show that is, for millions of people, a second family.

More Thoughts On The Demise of On-Line Soaps

Fans are still reeling from Wednesday’s announcement that there will be no online version of “One Life To Live” and “All My Children.” The reaction to Prospect Park’s press release, which cited fundraising issues as well as difficulties negotiating deals with entertainment unions, as the reasons why it proved impossible to bring the project to fruition, was swift. Both the WGA and AFTRA quickly  issued their own statements, refuting Prospect Park’s claims that the unions were making unreasonable demands.

The WGA made it clear that they had been negotiating with the company and thought that a deal was imminent, stating, “We were disappointed to learn that Prospect Park’s financing fell through. Prior to the end of last week, we were close to a fair deal for the writers.” AFTRA revealed that Prospect Park canceled meetings with them: “Despite initial progress in our negotiations with Prospect Park toward resolving a fair agreement to cover the performers appearing on these programs, we were perplexed and disappointed that for the past month Prospect Park has not responded to our repeated inquiries to resume those discussions.”

As a WGA member, I know that the union is willing to negotiate low budget deals in order to insure that writers get health insurance and a pension. For example, the minimum salary for writing a movie that costs under two million dollars is far  lower than it is for writing a big budget studio film. For both writers and actors, the payscales for daytime are already a fraction of those for primetime. If they went much lower, it would be difficult for people who worked for the soaps to make a decent living.

The claims that the unions were demanding Prospect Park pay  contrast with the narrative of the past few months that Prospect Park was offering actors contracts identical to what they were making at ABC. The unions’ only mistake was in not establishing pay scales for full length internet productions back in 2007 when new contracts with the studios were negotiated. If they had done that, Prospect Park would have known exactly how much it would cost to produce the shows before they decided to license the rights to them. Back in 2007, the conventional wisdom was that people would only watch short videos online, which is why there are scales for short webisodes based on existing TV shows, like the “What If” series that ABC Daytime produced in 2009, but no consideration of longer programs.

Several “OLTL” cast members reached out to fans via social networking Wednesday night offering candid explanations of what they believe happened. Said Kassie DePaiva (Blair),

“I think what upsets me the most is how this whole deal has been handled from the get go. I wanted more than anything not to have been canceled by ABC. I find it mind boggling that a company can spend 45 years building the strongest brand in daytime… launch a cable network to support it and then decide to cancel both broadcast and cable airings leaving the beloved fans with no where to turn for that brand. Then PP shows up out of nowhere as the great white hope promising to continue these shows…. I was happy to sign on… I was asked to take a cut in pay and was happy to do it if it meant our show would go on. That was the first week of September. But other than a very quick speech on the studio floor by PP in late September the company did not give out any information regarding when and where we would be working.”

DePaiva also revealed that she, and everyone else who had signed deals with the online version of the show learned about the cancellation of the online version of the show at the same time everybody else did, via news reports. Hillary B. Smith (Nora) revealed via Twitter that “OLTL” had changed the ending of the show at Prospect Park’s request saying, “The endings were changed to accommodate the move. I wish they would have left us alone. So sad!!!!” Jerry VerDorn (Clint) shed a little light on how the deal fell apart. “Don’t blame Prospect Park but rather blame the economy. They lost some financing that was too hard to replace. Start-up money is near impossible to find these days.”

The New York Times Media Decoder blog has the best analysis that I have read of what went wrong: “Prospect Park had secured some financing for the online productions, according to two people involved in the company’s plans — but not enough to meet the expectations of the unions…” Again, I wonder, how little were they planning to pay people? Were they not aware that this deal would set the precedent for all other shows that moved from TV to the internet, as well as any original hour long series that were developed for the web?

The article also goes into detail about Prospect Park’s attempts to secure financing. “One of the people involved in the plan suggested that Prospect Park had misjudged Hollywood’s willingness to try a new business and distribution model. ‘We thought we were going to get so much support from the community, but that support wasn’t there.’” I suspect that is the crux of the matter. Nobody was willing to take a bet on shows that ABC had repeatedly publicly declared were unprofitable and were out of step with what contemporary audiences want to watch.

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