Old soap operas bubble up online

Gary Levin, USA TODAY
Will 'All My Children' fans keep following the show?
  • Former ABC soaps %27All My Children%27 and %27One Life to Live%27 debut online Monday
  • %27Soaps have gone from radio to TV and now online%27
  • Shortened half-hour weekday episodes will be available at Hulu and iTunes

Will fans flock back to Pine Valley and Llanview?

Those fictional Philadelphia suburbs, home base for former ABC soaps All My Children and One Life to Live, are looking for more visitors Monday when the shows migrate online.

Both will be available Monday in a shortened half-hour weekday format at Hulu and iTunes from the Prospect Park studio's The Online Network, which licensed the rights to both shows in 2011 as part of a push into original online programming.

Many returning cast members, including OLTL's Erica Slezak and Robin Strasser and AMC's Darnell Williams and Debbi Morgan, will be joined by younger newcomers including OLTL's Corbin Bleu (High School Musical). But AMC's biggest star, Susan Lucci, won't be part of the initial series. And three of seven OLTL characters that were "loaned" to ABC's General Hospital will be back, though the untimely demise of others led Prospect Park to file a lawsuit last week, which ABC dismissed as "baseless."

"Soaps have gone from radio to TV and now online," says Williams. "What an honor to be at the forefront of this brand new day." More pointedly, says Morgan, "it was great to be offered a job again."

Their characters, introduced in the late 1970s as the first black couple on a daytime soap, were dreamed up by Agnes Nixon, 85, the creator of both series who got her own start on radio serials and remains a consultant as they move to a third medium online.

"People say, 'How does that make you feel?'" Nixon says. "It makes me feel like the planet's oldest person." But she's grateful that both series were "rescued" after ABC dumped AMC in September 2011 and OLTL four months later, after more than 40 years, due to low ratings.

They were meant to stay in production seamlessly, but contractual disputes with Hollywood unions hurt financing efforts and delayed the shows' return.

"The silver lining was that in the year we were delayed, many more people started watching more online," says Prospect Park partner and former Walt Disney Studios chief Rich Frank. That leads him to believe that even older, less tech-savvy viewers "are going to be able to type in and find it." (Or, says Nixon, "they'll have to ask their grandchildren how to use a computer.")

Episodes will be available there free for 10 days; they can also be viewed anytime with a Hulu Plus subscription for $7.99 a month or downloaded on iTunes for 99 cents apiece or in 20-episode batches for $9.99.

Though they have fewer commercials, the new versions are "in some fashion the shows that they were," Frank says. "We have a history that we watched and followed them for 41 or 44 years. On the other hand, the story lines are a little more contemporary, and the shows are much quicker-paced, because we do them in a half-hour form."

The online home also allows for racier dialogue, Williams says, especially in early episodes.

Prospect Park has obtained financing for a year, committing to 42 weeks of originals. Regular episodes will be posted Mondays through Thursdays, while Fridays feature recaps and behind-the-scenes footage from production in Stamford, Conn., where both are taped in alternating five-week cycles. Whether they extend past that will be determined by viewership and ad revenues, just as on TV.

But the studio pulled out all the stops, staging a splashy red-carpet premiere in Manhattan Tuesday night attended by hundreds of fans, unheard of in the soap world. "We kind of felt like real actors for a minute," Williams jokes.