Well, that answers that: apparently, soap operas can work online.
For those who have been following the years-long saga of One Life to Live and All My Children, the June 26 announcement that the two venerable soaps would get airtime on Oprah Winfrey‘s OWN network is a bit of a full-circle moment. Here’s what went down:
Late 2011/Early 2012: Both shows are cancelled by ABC after nearly four decades on broadcast television. Production company Prospect Park picks up the license to recreate the dramas online, but momentum stalls.
December 2012: News breaks that Prospect Park is trying again.
February 2013: Production begins on revamped versions of both shows.
April 2013: The online soap operas resume broadcast, via Hulu, iTunes and a dedicated website.
It was a moment of optimism in the world of soap fans, but it soon became clear that there were a few kinks to work out. For example, broadcast schedules were tweaked several times. Initially, both shows had a new half-hour episode every day; by mid-May, Prospect Park cut back to two episodes a week for each, adding up to one new half-hour a day (including a Friday recap series). Though producers had counted on the ability to watch on demand would keep the audience from missing episodes, viewers were falling behind. Then, just this week, on June 25, the company announced that beginning July 1, every one of the week’s episodes would become available on Monday, allowing binging or spacing-out at the viewer’s leisure.
(Timing wasn’t the only thing that needed to be ironed out: the crew-members’ union, IATSE, was in a payment dispute with producers, in June, but it was resolved shortly after. The production hiatus caused by the dispute will not affect release schedules.)
Now comes word that OWN will air at least the first 40 episodes of the shows, Monday through Thursday, starting July 15. It’s a reversal from Winfrey’s previous position on the soaps: as the Associated Press reports, she told fans that it made no sense for her to rescue the soaps after their cancellations because there were “not enough people who are home in the daytime to watch them.”
In many ways, this news should be a pure victory for fans and producers alike. The very person who once thought there weren’t enough viewers is putting her money where her mouth is, proving that AMC and OLTL have been drawing enough eyeballs (and creating a product of high enough quality) to merit that decision. And many fans had held out hope, up until the last minute, that their favorite shows would return to television, because it’s familiar and easy, particularly for older viewers. Their wishes have been granted.
On the other hand, the shows didn’t make the transition to the Internet without changes. They’re specifically designed for viewers who can watch every episode at the time of their choosing, and what those viewers see on screen is tailored for the intimate setting of watching on a phone or a laptop. Many of the old-fashioned markers of a TV soap were left by the wayside in the move online, and fans have shown they like the new look (or at least don’t mind). And, while binge-watching isn’t watercooler-friendly in the same way that daily broadcast was, fans who want to watch on OWN for the first time will be months behind their tech-savvy fellow fans.
So AMC and OLTL are in a familiar position, waiting to see what happens when they’re shown via a new medium. At least we all know soap fans can handle a cliffhanger well.