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Entertainment

Plans to move canceled ABC soap operas online fall apart, producers say

November 25th, 2011 3:19 pm by Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Ambitious plans to create Internet versions of the doomed daytime soap operas "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" have collapsed.

Five months ago, independent production firm Prospect Park acquired the rights to the two long-running ABC melodramas with the hopes of turning them into widely watched Web series. But on Wednesday, the company announced that it was abandoning its efforts after failing to make financially viable deals with brand-name online distributors, such as Hulu or Google, and after failing to get cost-cutting concessions from Hollywood's powerful talent guilds.

The company had hoped the unions would accept lower wages for their members, as the shows were moving from TV to the Internet. But the two sides could not come to terms, Prospect Park said. Advertisers also were skeptical that enough viewers, particularly the loyal over-50 crowd, would watch online.

"We always knew it would be an uphill battle to create something historical, and unfortunately we couldn't ultimately secure the backing and clear all the hurdles in time," Prospect Park partners Rich Frank and Jeffrey Kwatinetz said in a statement. "We believe we exhausted all reasonable options apparent to us, but despite enormous personal, as well as financial cost to ourselves, we failed to find a solution."

The move was another gut-punch for soap opera fans who have been in mourning since ABC announced earlier this year that it was canceling the two soaps due to financial pressures. The two programs, created by the doyenne of the genre, Agnes Nixon, had been on the air for more than 40 years each. "All My Children" made a household name out of Susan Lucci. "One Life to Live" helped launch the careers for Tommy Lee Jones, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Cross.

Daytime drama viewers were hopeful that Prospect Park would transform the fading TV genre into a thriving niche on the Internet.

"They had an amazing vision for not only the soap opera genre but for television," said Linda Marshall-Smith, founder of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based website Soapdom, which follows daytime dramas.

"This was going to be a new place to watch TV-quality entertainment, and you could do it on the go, watching on your iPad or laptop, whether you were in the grocery store, in a doctor's office or waiting to catch a plane," Marshall-Smith said. "Maybe they were just a little bit ahead of their time."

Only four network soap operas will remain on the air after this season — CBS' "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful"; NBC's "Days of Our Lives"; and ABC's "General Hospital." Two decades ago, daytime dramas were among the most profitable shows on TV, but over the years they have struggled against increased competition from social media, online games and talk shows, which typically cost 30 percent less than the annual $50 million price tag for a soap opera, industry executives said.

Union representatives said they were sorry about the soaps' demise. "We were disappointed to learn that Prospect Park's financing fell through," a Writers Guild of America spokesperson said. "Prior to the end of last week, we were close to a fair deal for the writers."

Since its announcement in July that it had acquired the rights to ABC's fading dramas, Prospect Park had signed several of the "One Life to Live" actors, with a view to debuting new episodes early next year.

"Prospect Park may have bitten off more than they could chew trying to produce the shows at the same length and frequency as they were on broadcast television," said Roger Newcomb, editor of the website We Love Soaps. "Perhaps a 30-minute version of the shows, or even 15, might have been easier to pull off in a short amount of time."

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