Pine Valley and Llanview are open for business again … in a much different place.
Fans of “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” will recognize the names of those fictional locales immediately. Proving the seemingly impossible can happen, the former ABC daytime serials return with fresh weekday episodes in a new and very contemporary home Monday, April 29. They’ll be used to launch The Online Network on iTunes and the Internet platforms Hulu (for free) and Hulu Plus (by subscription).
Many actors are back for the new iterations. “All My Children” again features Vincent Irizarry (alias that show’s David), Debbi Morgan (Angela), Thorsten Kaye (Zach), Lindsay Hartley (Cara) and Darnell Williams (Jesse). The “One Life to Live” cast reunion includes seven-time Daytime Emmy winner Erika Slezak (Viki), Robert S. Woods (Bo), Robin Strasser (Dorian), Kassie DePaiva (Blair), Roger Howarth (Todd), Melissa Archer (Natalie), Hillary B. Smith (Nora) and Jerry verDorn (Clint).
Prospect Park, which also makes “Royal Pains” for USA Network and “Wilfred” for FX, is the production company behind the two soap revivals. Co-founder Rich Frank – a former president of Walt Disney Studios and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences – and his business partner, previous talent agency chief Jeff Kwatinetz, drew on their connections with “our friends at Disney” to acquire the rights to the serials after Disney-owned ABC canceled them.
(Prospect Park recently filed a $25 million lawsuit against ABC, claiming the network broke aspects of the licensing agreement the parties reached.)
“I couldn’t think of anything more dramatic to start a network with than these two shows, which had 40 years of history and were each doing between 3.2 and 3.8 million viewers every day,” Frank tells Zap2it. “And these were passionate viewers. After the ABC cancellations, when you called there, (the answering message) said, ‘If you’re calling about the soaps, press 1. If you’re calling about anything else, press 2.’ “
“All My Children” co-star Irizarry tried to downplay his hopes of returning, especially after Prospect Park’s first run at the idea was suspended. “We were all a little gun-shy,” he admits. “We didn’t know if they’d really be able to pull this off. I have to say that if there was one thing I had confidence in, it was that if anybody could do it, it would be (returning ‘AMC’ producer) Ginger Smith. She was with the show at ABC for almost 25 years, and she is beloved by all of us.”
For “One Life to Live” veteran Slezak, one of the genre’s true legends, giving Victoria “Viki” Lord an online rebirth was a no-brainer. She reflects, “I thought, ‘What a brilliant idea.’ My son is a child of the Internet, and he said, ‘Mom, this is awesome. That’s where everybody gets their information, their content, everything – and it’s only going to go farther and farther.’
“Jeff called me after the whole thing had died the first time and said, ‘I just want to thank you for being such a supporter.’ I said, ‘I’m just so sorry it’s over.’ And he said, ‘Well, maybe it’s not. We’re going to keep trying.’ Then I didn’t hear anything until last November. And I thought, ‘Wow. It actually is going to happen.’ It’s so smart. This goes deeper into what everyone is going to be using for their entertainment communication.”
While “All My Children” is advancing five years in its stories, “One Life to Live” also resumes at a significant point past where it stopped.
“Numerous complications were taken care of by moving it forward like that,” Irizarry says of the “AMC” jump. “Some (actors) didn’t come back by their own choice, so you couldn’t expect that every person who was in that room when the gun went off (in the cliffhanger that closed the ABC run) was going to be able to be there. But everything is answered. I’m really impressed with the writing.”
Frank maintains the aim is to stay true to the earlier fan base while also appealing to new viewers, partially by adding such newcomers as Corbin Bleu (“High School Musical”) and Jenni “JWoww” Farley (“Jersey Shore”) to “One Life to?Live.”
“And we’re doing stories that are very contemporary,” Frank notes. “Agnes Nixon (who created both serials) broke ground on subjects like abortion and interracial marriage, and we’re going to do that. We’re going to talk about things that are in the newspaper every day.”
The two soaps are now being made – in high definition – in Stamford, Conn., owing largely to the state’s tax incentives for film and television production.
“It looks the same,” Slezak says of the sets constructed for the shows, “so we’re all very comfortable. It’s not like we have to act differently for the Internet. And the schedule is brilliant; it’s five weeks on, five weeks off. My agent said, ‘Do you want vacation?’ And I said, ‘Are you crazy? I get five weeks off every five weeks!’ “
Of course, a huge “All My Children” question is whether Susan Lucci will reprise one of the most iconic characters in daytime drama history, Erica Kane.
“We haven’t been able to figure out dates,” Frank says. “She didn’t know this was coming along, and she had other commitments, but she’s already gone on (ABC’s) ‘The View’ and said, ‘There’s nothing I’d rather do than come back.’ We’re crossing our fingers that it’ll work out.”
The initial commitment to the “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” revivals is for one year.
“When the numbers for May and June come in and hopefully start to build, we’ll know where we’re going to be,” Frank confirms. “We didn’t say, ‘Let’s do a pilot, or do 13 weeks.’ When it comes to soaps, you have to hire the people and write the scripts and build the sets. It’s a big process.”
So is determining other programming for The Online Network, and Frank cites the success Netflix has had with this year’s “House of Cards” as one barometer.
“We could buy (shows) from someone,” he reasons, “but our business in television generally has been the development of something that we go and sell to somebody. That’s where the financial (profit) really comes from, but there’s no reason we can’t add a comedy or a drama, or maybe somebody will produce another soap we want to put on. There are all kinds of shows we can do.”