I haven't written about soap operas for over a year, since As The World Turns ended in 2010. So much has happened since then - most notably, the sad cancellations of All My Children and One Life to Live from the ABC lineup.
But there's also been some promising elements in the genre and industry. Web soaps are growing and garnering more attention. Someone finally got a smidgeon of sense and got the rights to some P&G soaps; an ATWT set is out and hopefully more are coming.
And then, there's Prospect Park, who picked up the rights to continue OLTL and AMC from ABC. This production company is launching a new online network, and they have a history of creating and/or producing successful shows (including Royal Pains). Marlena Delacroix outlined many of the reasons why PP seemed to be a good choice to lead this initiative.
I think the idea is awesomely awesome, covered in a thick gravy of awesome sauce. But is it practical? Is it sound? Is it executable? I don't know.
A while back, the Wall Street Journal outlined PP's plans for their new network and these shows. Among their stated goals: to keep the show exactly as is now - length, sets, lights, everything. Actors are assumed to be making nearly the same money in some cases, though newer actors or B-story performers are undoubtedly taking a hit.
My question: WHY make the same show at the same length? The size and shape of a network TV hour is formatted for that platform. I think it would be far, far wiser to make a show that's essentially 25 minutes of actual show, and five minutes of ads/interstitials. This is similar to how ABC, for example, currently has its primetime programs online.
Yes, it's a little bit shorter. But not by much - most daytime shows are now programming only 35 minutes of an hour. And let's be honest: these shows will already have to fill some time if they lose as many actors as they have thus far, particularly AMC (which now appears to be in limbo, but that's a whole different story).
More importantly, putting it in a half-hour box makes more sense than what it is now - essentially a half-hour show in an hour box, padded by ads. 25 minutes would be easier to digest after work - or on the way to work - since watching a show "live" is nearly dead at this point. I can't tell you many things for sure, but I can tell you that fans are very unlikely to watch 24 minutes of ads in an online program, particularly if there is no fast forward button to pass them by.
The other main mistake that I think they're making is the promise to make the shows look exactly the same as they were on ABC. If having a studio with sets in the middle of the most expensive city in the country made financial sense, ABC would still be doing it. In order to make a show more cost efficiently, PP is going to have to "go a little Peapack" and look at the attempted production model on Guiding Light to see if there's anything to take from it.
All shows need to also learn the lessons that reality TV is teaching in terms of production. Instead of mimicking the over the top misogyny and anti-intellectual aspects of these shows, soaps should instead look to see what can be co-opted. We know the "shaky cam" is unpopular, but there are other ways to simplify production. Give us a good story and the audience will not care if the actors are sitting on a park bench.
We all know online programming is growing every day. iPads are spiking that trend, and when/if Apple comes out with Apple TV, the separation between our televisions and our tech gadgets will disappear. So this idea has enormous promise.
But just as the platform is changing, the way shows are produced needs to change too. Breaking away from the conventional wisdom of making shows only in NYC or LA would be a good idea. Cheaper production costs, possible tax rebates, and a pool of actors who would be happy to work for a fair and equitable - but not bank breaking - salary? Sounds like a great foundation for a new show to launch in. The industry needs to learn they are now narrowcasting, not broadcasting, and figure out the financial balance that makes sense.
I want to celebrate the possibilities that an online network could bring to launching new serialized stories, and even resurrecting new ones. And I'll be the first one at the party to celebrate those possibilities. But at this moment, the Prospect Park plan is murky, and as for the party, it feels like someone left their cake out in the rain.