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2 beloved TV soaps revived online starting Monday

Friday - 4/26/2013, 2:52am  ET

This undated publicity image released by The Online Network shows Cady McClain as Dixie Cooney on the set of "All My Children," in Stamford, Conn. Two soap operas "All My Children," and "One Life to Live," canceled by ABC, will unveil four daily half-hours per week, plus a recap/behind-the-scenes episode on Fridays, with 42 weeks of original programming promised for the first year, on the Hulu website. (AP Photo/The Online Network, Eric Leibowitz)

FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Taped to a wall at the entrance to the Connecticut Film Center in Stamford is this greeting: "Welcome (back) to Pine Valley."

Pine Valley, of course, is the mythical setting of "All My Children," a daytime drama that ran on ABC for nearly 41 years until it was snuffed in 2011.

But now, in one of those plot twists so common to soap operas but so rare in the real world, "All My Children" has been raised from the dead.

Was its cancellation just a bad dream, from which the show is now awakening? In any case, "AMC" will be back starting Monday with much of its august cast intact (including David Canary, Julia Barr, Jill Larson, Debbi Morgan and Cady McClain, and perhaps even Susan Lucci eventually returning to the fold), along with shiny new actors to add more pizazz.

But this time, "AMC" will not be on a broadcast network. It will be online.

So will "One Life to Live," another venerable soap cut down by ABC after 44 seasons. It, too, will spring back to life on Monday. (Welcome back to Llanview, everybody!) Returning fan favorites include Erika Slezak, Robert S. Woods, Robin Strasser and Hillary B. Smith, each of whom has logged decades on the show.

Each serial will unveil four daily half-hours per week, plus a recap/behind-the-scenes episode on Fridays, with 42 weeks of original programming promised for the first year.

They will be available for streaming on computers on the Hulu website. Subscribers to Hulu Plus can watch on a variety of other devices. And the episodes will be available for purchase on iTunes.

This resurrection could reverse the doomsday plot that has plagued soaps for decades as their viewership withered and their numbers sank (there are only four left on the broadcast networks; there were a dozen in 1991).

And it is somehow fitting that TV's oldest genre, carried over from radio, should now be making the transition to a 21st-century online platform complete with Agnes Nixon, who created both shows, as a digital pioneer. It's a potentially restorative move that could prove the TV medium failed soaps, not the other way around.

Reflecting a new age of viewing patterns and business strategy, "AMC" and "OLTL" will be the first offerings of The Online Network, an ad-supported outlet for first-run entertainment delivered online.

"What better way to start than with two shows that have been watched by fanatical fans for as much as 40 years?" says Rich Frank, a partner of Prospect Park studios, which owns The Online Network.

He notes that even as ABC pronounced death for these two soaps, "AMC" was averaging 3.2 million viewers a day and "OLTL" had 3.8 million viewers. He sets the threshold of success for his new venture at "a very conservative percentage" of that broadcast audience.

"Being online is going to draw people in," predicts Jennifer Pepperman, "OLTL" executive producer. "You can click on it and watch it any time you like."

Meanwhile, the drama will adapt to its new medium.

"We don't want to totally reinvent the wheel, but we want to make the wheel turn better and turn quicker," Pepperman says.

"AMC" executive producer Ginger Smith echoes Pepperman from her office a few steps away at the just-moved-in-looking, bustling headquarters the two shows share.

"We want to keep the core," says Smith, who has risen on "AMC" from production assistant in 1988. "I still want escapism and romance, but we're going to have stories that are sometimes a little darker and edgier than we did on ABC."

As she is speaking, "AMC" is wrapping its first weeks in front of the cameras. Then "OLTL" takes over the 27,000-square-foot soundstage to start production. In this back-and-forth arrangement, each series will tape 210 episodes in the year ahead.

"But these are not webisodes," Frank says. "We are shooting television as everyone knows it. This is traditional TV storytelling distributed a different way -- and it's a superior way."

Frank is a veteran entertainment exec who headed The Walt Disney Studios and served as president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. With his Prospect Park partner Jeff Kwatinetz, he produces TV series including USA network's "Royal Pains" and FX's "Wilfred."

But even as their company was doing business with traditional networks, Frank envisioned an online network delivering content to devices not limited to TV, and sidestepping traditional cable delivery.

Then ABC canceled those two soaps.

"They fell into our lap," says Frank, though minimizing the lengthy process of licensing them.

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