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Online Soaps an Intriguing Prospect for Daytime Emmys

Digital revivals of "All My Children," "One Life to Live" poised to be gamechangers, but predictions vary on their potential.

Agnes Nixon’s socially relevant serials “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” were groundbreaking in content when they debuted on ABC over 40 years ago.

Now, those same programs, which the Alphabet net canceled in 2011, stand poised to chart new territory — as business models for online programming — when they return with fresh episodes starting April 29.

Production company Prospect Park has licensed the serials from ABC and will be presenting them on Hulu Plus, iTunes and Prospect Park’s own network, dubbed the Online Network.

“A while back, Jeff (Kwatinetz, my business partner) and I started to believe that the world was about to change in terms of how viewers receive their programs,” says Rich Frank of Prospect Park. “Almost 20% of college graduates don’t buy television sets. Today, there’s the ability to feed anything to anybody’s screen — TV, iPad, or telephone — and give them programming that they want.”

While the two canceled serials were no longer wanted by ABC, Frank and Kwatinetz felt that the programs could serve as the foundation for an entire online network.

“At first, we had trouble explaining what we were trying to do, and we couldn’t make the deals,” Frank says. “After a year of (people) being out of work, there was a lot more openness to it. The guilds worked with us.”

There’s buzz that the new versions of ‘Children’ and ‘Life’ will outpace their broadcast counterparts in terms of provocative material, in order to capture new and younger viewers.

“We are going to be a little hotter and sexier,” Rich says. “That doesn’t mean we’ll be doing anything that’s offensive. We’re trying to be contemporary and have storylines that are relevant to people’s lives.”

But online soaps may find it challenging to do doing eye-grabbing material that’s more timely and provocative than what broadcast serials are already providing. For example, “The Young and the Restless” recently told a cyberbullying storyline with some of its teen characters; “Days of Our Lives” is telling an ongoing gay teen love story that has shown two young men kissing and in bed together.

“Nobody tunes in for the bells and whistles,” says “Days” co-exec producer Greg Meng. “This genre’s all about the written word.”

Steve Kent, senior exec programming veep of Sony Pictures Television (which produces “Restless” and “Days”) says he isn’t sure that the Prospect Park endeavor is a true gamechanger.

“This is an evolution of the viewing mechanism,” Kent says, “People have long predicted the demise of network television, but it still exists and will for the foreseeable future.”

As for potentially racier content, Kent says, “If they turn ‘All My Children’ into porn — and I’m sure they won’t — then nobody is going to watch. Soap audiences are more traditional.”

Kent hastens to add, however, that the definition of what’s traditional is “constantly changing.”

No matter what, the industry will be tuning in (logging on?) to see if this venture succeeds both creatively and financially.

“We all have our fingers crossed that this is successful,” says Meng. “(But) these shows won’t be competitive with us.”
Says Frank: “If we’re right, we’ll have started something. If not, then we’ll have spent a lot of time seeing if this would work. But we’re very confident that this will happen and that people will come to us. This is just the start. After we’re up on the air and running we’re going to look at doing other things.”

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