Why Online TV Couldn’t Save ABC Soaps

RIP One Life To Live. It’s official: the 11th hour online deal that would have saved beloved soaps One Life To Live and All My Children from the cancellation has fallen through.

ABC  announced earlier  this year that AMC and OLTL would be replaced by daytime lifestyle shows, “The Chew” and “The Revolution”. (I’ve seen The Chew  and it’s pretty grating, imagine “The View” with C -level Food Network hosts).

Expectedly, the fan outcry was swift and passionate after the announcement, but a ray of light emerged when indie production company Prospect Park acquired the rights to both shows, with plans to reincarnate the soaps as web-based series. Unfortunately hefty production costs and union squabbles derailed the plans, so in January, One Life to Live fans will say the same goodbyes that All My Children fans did in September. (Hopefully with a much more satisfying ending than AMC)

Admittedly, I haven’t followed daytime soaps in several years, but  I grew up watching the ABC soaps at my grandmother’s knee, and I was a One Life To Live CRAZY FAN when I was in high school  so I followed the Prospect Park story with interest. I was skeptical about the Prospect Park deal, mostly because it was hard for me to imagine how Prospect Park could successfully recreate a genre as expansive as soaps for an online audience. With decades of history, huge casts and 45 minutes of story, Prospect Park would have  had to make drastic changes to the format to bring the shows online. Clearly the shows would have been shorter, the casts smaller and the sets/costumes less lavish.  I figured that veteran stars would likely not make the cut in favor of less expensive younger talent. Would the soaps even look like the ones fans followed and loved for years?

I still think online TV is the future of entertainment; I think the resurrection of Arrested Development on Netflix will mean good things for producers with great pilot ideas that are too” niche” or “risky” for traditional TV and even cable, but daytime soaps as a genre may not be able to find new life here. It’s not that hardcore soap fans wouldn’t have followed the shows to the web; I have no doubt they would have. If anything, the shows would have been able to take advantage of Facebook and Twitter’s 30+ and female skewing demographics to keep fans engaged.

But the rich history and intertwining relationships of soaps, the slow burn of daily storytelling that makes soaps what they are, I’m not sure if Prospect Park would have been able to pull it off, and if they did, I’m not sure how long. I think they would have been a shadow of what soap fans have been enjoying for decades, and not financially sustainable. Still, it’s sad to see all of those years of storytelling history fade away. Much like comics, soap opera lore was something passed down through generations and to know that there will be a point where the names “Pine Valley” and Llanview” will have no pop culture resonance is a pity.

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