"All My Children" stars Debbi Morgan and Darnell Williams, who have starred on the daytime drama off and on for more than 30 years, were soapdom's first African American supercouple (and there's nothing daytime soaps love more than bringing characters back from the dead, aging kiddie characters a decade or more overnight, and creating supercouples).
So, it's fitting that the co-stars will now help lead the soap known affectionately to its fans as "All My Kids" through a new trailblazing move, as "AMC" and "One Life to Live," another series canceled by ABC, make their debuts as online series on April 29.
"Debbi and I were talking last night about the fact that soaps have gone from radio to TV, [and] now to online, and what an honor to be at the forefront of this brand-new day," Williams said in a conference call.
Added Morgan, "Yes, I think it's huge, because I really think, in about four or five years or so, television is just going to be a monitor and everything's going to be done through the Internet. So to be [a part of] something that's so groundbreaking ... like Darnell said, to be a part of that is just fantastic on so many different levels.
"When all of this stuff came together the way it was ... and I knew Darnell was coming onboard, it didn't take long to make a decision that I wanted to be a part of it."
ABC canceled the soaps in April 2011, citing low ratings, high production costs, and waning viewer interest. In July 2011, Prospect Park -- the production company behind FX's "Wilfred" and USA's "Royal Pains" -- announced plans to continue the shows as online series.
Behind-the-scenes drama, including negotiations with labor unions and difficulty getting investors to get behind a genre that has only lost steam in the last couple of decades, nearly felled Prospect Park's plans, but with an innovative production plan and many of the TV series' stars returning, both shows will debut 30-minute episodes every Monday through Thursday, with weekly recap episodes every Friday.
Here, a guide to everything you need to know about the soaps' new incarnations, via the Online Network from Prospect Park:
Where can I watch the shows?
The daytime dramas are now 24/7 dramas -- Hulu, Hulu Plus, and iTunes will premiere new episodes at 5 AM every Monday through Thursday, with recap episodes on Friday, and the shows can be watched any time of day. The most recent 10 episodes of the ad-supported shows (about five minutes of commercials will pepper each 30-minute installment) will be available to watch for free on Hulu, while Hulu Plus subscribers can watch episodes in HD and on mobile devices, and iTunes users can buy (ad-free) episodes for 99 cents each, or $10 for a month of shows.
Are stars from the TV shows also in the online series?
Yes. Both online soaps will include many major cast members from the TV series, including the aforementioned Morgan and Williams on "AMC," as well as David Canary, Jill Larson, Cady McClain, Lindsay Hartley, Vincent Irizarry, Julia Barr, Thorsten Kaye, Jordi Vilasuso, and Ray MacDonnell. And additional TV vets may join the show soon, as soap queen Susan Lucci and fan favorites Michael E. Knight and Cameron Mathison are reportedly in negotiations to return to "AMC" in the near future.
Returning "One Life to Live" stars include Erika Slezak, Robin Strasser, Robert S. Woods, Jerry verDorn, Hillary B. Smith, Kassie DePaiva, Tuc Watkins, Melissa Archer, Roger Howarth, and Josh Kelly, while "AMC" and "OLTL" Emmy-winning series creator Agnes Nixon is acting as a story consultant for both online series.
Any major new stars on the soaps?
There are some familiar faces that viewers will know from other TV shows. "High School Musical" star Corbin Bleu will play Jeffrey King, a new reporter at Viki Lord's (Slezak) newspaper the Banner on "OLTL," while "Jersey Shore" and "Snooki & JWoww" star Jenni "JWoww" Farley has a recurring role as Nikki, a bartender at Blair Cramer's (DePaiva) hipster club Shelter, on "OLTL."
Snoop Lion (aka Snoop Dogg), a longtime "OLTL" fan, will not only make guest appearances as himself on the online series, but he also wrote and performs on the show's new, infectious theme song, "Brand New Start."
How do the online series look?
Prospect Park has spent a lot of time and money setting up a 65,000-square-foot studio in Stamford, Connecticut, where both soaps are shot. Prospect Park co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz told Variety that production on both series will cost roughly what it costs to produce one season of an hourlong soap like "The Young and the Restless," which, while relatively a bargain, still means tens of millions of dollars invested in the online venture. "AMC" and "OLTL" share the space -- and even some sets -- and both series have an updated look, a more modern overall vibe, with a variety of camera angles, new exterior filming locations, and a more intimate feel to a lot of the regular sets, that should give them a chance at attracting new, and possibly younger, viewers.
Are there any major differences between the online versions and TV versions of the shows?
Yes, both on camera and behind the scenes. On camera, viewers may notice steamier sex scenes and more colorful, suggestive language, as the online series obviously don't have the same constraints as soaps on TV. In the premiere episode, for instance, Williams and Morgan's Jesse and Angie engage in some morning lovin' that ends with Jesse promising Angie a "big" surprise, and her responding very playfully, "I don't think I can take anything else big this morning," prompting Jesse to join her in the shower.
"Some of the restrictions have been lowered but, you know, I think we really got a little excited that first week with the freedom of speech," Williams says, laughing. "And when we came back the second week, [they said] 'OK, guys, we need to, you know, kind of tone it down a bit,' because everybody was 'f-ing this' and 'f-ing that.'"
Behind the scenes, because the shows share a studio and sets in Stamford (the city where both "Maury" and "The Jerry Springer Show" are now filmed), each works on a unique five-week production cycle. One show films for five weeks and then gets five weeks off while the other soap films its five-week run.
Do the online series pick up where the TV series left off?
"All My Children" ended its TV run on Sept. 23, 2011, with an episode in which J.R. Chandler (who has been aged -- classic soap move -- and will now be played by Ryan Bittle) shot someone at Stuart Chandler's (Canary) welcome-home party. In the show's online premiere, which is set five years after the TV series' finale, the action opens on Brooke (Barr) having a nightmare about the shooting in the TV finale, just as J.R. walks in. But we don't find out who was shot and what happened in the aftermath until the May 2 episode.
Meanwhile, the premiere's first few minutes offer an example of the sexier scenes we'll see in the online series, Morgan and Williams's Angie and Jesse have a sweet scene that hints their characters are going to continue to be front and center, and Pete Cortland (Robert Scott Wilson) gives a cheeky shout-out to the new shows when he tells someone in a phone call that "everyone's watching TV online now."
Morgan also hints at a major, action-packed storyline coming up for her and Williams that will involve a ripped-from-the-headlines element.
"I don't want to give it away, but I will say this particular story is going to remind you very much of a real big thriller-ride film that came out a number of years ago," says the actress, who finished a stint on "The Young and the Restless" before returning to "AMC" and Pine Valley. "I won't say who starred in it or what it's about, but once you see the story, you're going to know immediately. It's very closely related, and it's something that's happening right now, unfortunately. And it's just a real exciting story to be involved in."
Watch Chapter 1, Part 1 of "AMC":
"One Life to Live" aired its final TV episode on Jan. 13, 2012, with Todd Manning (Howarth) getting arrested for the murder of Victor Lord Jr., who was not dead, but instead had been kidnapped by Allison Perkins. In the online premiere episode, which picks up six months after the TV finale, two major characters make surprise returns to Llanview, and not everyone is happy to see them. Much of the premiere action takes place at the opening of Blair's club, and the first week will find Viki and Clint planning their (latest) wedding, while Viki and Dorian kick off the (latest) new chapter of their long-running feud.
Watch Chapter 1, Part 1 of "OLTL":
"All My Children" and "One Life to Live" premiere on Hulu and iTunes on April 29.
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