Soap operas have new life on the web
Cady McClain is a famous soap actress whose character -- Dixie Louise Cooney Chandler Martin Bodine Martin -- once died, then came back, then died again, and . . . came back . . . over the course of about 300 episodes on "All My Children." Long story, but poison pancakes, angels, dream sequences and other soap tropes played a role.
"I'm very familiar with the back-from-dead story," McClain said in a recent interview.
Except, she admits, this one. It is the most unexpected back-from-from-the-dead story in soap TV history, unfolding not far from where she is sitting, in a nondescript Stamford, Conn., office building that houses a cavernous studio half the size of a football field. On a spring day, it is humming with life: Actors running through their lines, crew members milling around, a director telling someone to hit their mark.
"AMC," which ended Sept. 23, 2011, at age 41, along with 44-year-old sister show "One Life to Life" -- dearly departed Jan. 13, 2012 -- have been reborn right here. And unless appearances deceive, the delivery has been a success. Fans will be the final arbiter, of course. Both can be watched for free starting today on Hulu.com, iTunes and the Online Network.
These are not intended to be in-name-only knockoffs of the beloved originals. Most cast members -- including Erica Slezak's Victoria Lord Buchanan of "OLTL" -- have returned, though key holdouts include "AMC's" Michael Knight and Susan Lucci (she's starring in Lifetime's summer series "Devious Maids"). Both are expected back, though it's unclear when.
And at about 26 minutes in length, each is only slightly shorter than its old ABC versions (which contained about 35 minutes of drama). Original episodes will run every day.
Even Agnes Nixon, the doyenne of soaps and creator of both, is involved.
So, really: They're back.
"A lot of the actors felt burned and were not exactly trusting when we asked them" to return, said "AMC" showrunner Ginger Smith. Now, "the energy is unbelievable. It's stressful, but not the kind of stress where we know the end is coming, but the kind that we know we're working toward something. Everybody wants to be here."
"There's a positive energy throughout this building because this is a second chance for us, and you don't get a second chance that often," says "OLTL" boss Jennifer Pepperman.
The guys who wrote this particular soap script are Hollywood vets familiar with one of the cardinal rules of TV -- that when a show is canceled, it almost always stays canceled. But not long after Rich Frank, a former president of Walt Disney Studios, and Jeff Kwatinetz, former chief of a Hollywood talent agency, the Firm, launched their Internet TV company Prospect Park, ABC unexpectedly -- no doubt unintentionally, too -- handed them a gift. Two, in fact.
"These shows have 40 years of fans and 40 years of advertising relationships," Kwatinetz said from his Stamford office. "They're shows we liked and also thought we could add to and help creatively."
Prospect Park's model is to stream shows embedded with ads on any device at any time. It's a model the rest of the TV business is scrutinizing.
"Online is more convenient" than broadcast for viewers, he said, "and to me this was always about convenience."
Meanwhile, Prospect Park owns the rights to "General Hospital," too. "I don't know what ABC's going to do," Kwatinetz says, "but I didn't read about any two- or three-year pickup." In fact, "GH" got just a one-year deal, and if ABC gets out of the soap business this fall -- as some in the TV industry expect -- there may be a guardian angel in Stamford.