In Soap Opera Land, a character who dies isn’t always dead. Just think of Bobby Ewing on ’80s nighttime soap “Dallas” whose demise was just a bad dream of wife Pamela after actor Patrick Duffy announced he wanted to return to the show.
And so it appears to be with two popular soaps, “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.” ABC pulled the plug on OLTL last year and AMC in 2011, after each program had run more than 40 years on network daytime television.
Now the shows are back, resurrected on the Internet as the debut offerings of the Online Network. It took months of legal wrangling over licensing agreements, but production company Prospect Park persevered, and today you can return to Llanview and Pine Valley, the fictional towns made famous by soap creator Agnes Nixon.
New 30-minute shows of each program will premiere Monday through Thursday, with a recap offered Friday that features interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. You can watch for free at Hulu.com on your computer or, if you subscribe to Hulu Plus, on other devices, or buy the shows from iTunes for download.
What time are the shows on? Anytime. That’s the beauty of online television. Touted as “anytime” soaps instead of daytime soaps, the shows offer a flexibility for viewers who no longer have the freedom to sit down each day at a regular time for “my story.”
My great-aunt Alice stopped everything at 11 a.m. Central Time each weekday to watch her story, “The Young and the Restless.” I got hooked on “The Bold and the Beautiful” early in my freelancing career, taking a 30-minute break to eat lunch and escape to the world of the Forresters at 12:30.
Judging from the response on Twitter, fans of OLTL and AMC are thrilled to have their stories return. Only four soap operas are left on daytime television; reality shows and talk shows are said to be cheaper to produce.
“As few as five years ago, this move of an established TV series to online exhibition would have sounded like folly,” Jim McKairnes, a former CBS executive and now TV consultant, college professor and author told me. “But in today’s quickly changing world of pipelines and platforms and new-business-models, of ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Hemlock Grove’ and ‘Arrested Development’ on Netflix, of content rather than programming, it seems merely to represent the next phase of storytelling,” McKairnes said.
The challenge, of course, will be the bottom line: Will these shows make money? “I’m loath to use the word, but monetizing is still being figured out,” McKairnes said.
“The way to ensure that this is going to work, because we’re really totally advertiser-supported, is that we’ve got to get the eyeballs to be watching this,” Prospect Park studio co-partner Rich Frank told Soap Opera Digest. “It’s just a matter of rallying the troops and getting them to watch.”
Soap opera fans may be the most loyal television fans on the planet, so somehow I don’t think that will be a problem. And it seems fitting, somehow, that soaps — maligned as “fluff” and “women’s entertainment,” despite the fact that they often address serious issues prime-time shows won’t touch — will lead the charge in the digital revolution on television.