Canceled TV soaps find new life online

'All My Children' and 'One Life to Live' are back with original episodes on Hulu. This could be a model that spreads.

By Jonathan Berr Apr 30, 2013 9:56AM
Publicity photo released by The Online Network showing actors Corbin Bleu and Erika Slezak on the set of The second act for "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" (pictured), two soap operas that Walt Disney's (DIS) ABC canceled in 2011, appears to be off to a good start.

According to data from Hulu, which began offering the shows on Monday along with Apple's (AAPL) iTunes, they're ranking Nos. 1 and 2 on its list of popular programs. Hulu, which is owned by Disney, Comcast (CMCSA) and News Corp. (NWS), doesn't release streaming data about specific shows. Still, soap opera fans are naturally overjoyed that their favorite programs are living to fight another day. Critical response seems also to be largely positive.

Although pundits, including me, have long declared soap operas to be passé, the genre has proved to be surprisingly resilient. As I wrote earlier this year, "General Hospital," the surviving TV soap on ABC has done well in the ratings. That's due in part to the creative way the program celebrated its 50th anniversary by bringing back stars from its heyday in the 1980s and providing viewers with what they want most, an interesting story.

Yes, quality matters to soap fans.

Prospect Park, a closely held production company, bought the rights to "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" after they were canceled, with the intent of relaunching them online. As The New York Times recently noted, this took longer than expected. Prospect Park also has filed a strange $25 million lawsuit against the network, accusing it of "undermining" its efforts by misusing characters from "One Life to Live" on "General Hospital." ABC denies any wrongdoing.

The odds of the online initiative succeeding are strong. As The Times notes, Prospect Park has slashed the show's production costs to $80,000 from $175,000, in part by changing the format from an hour to a half-hour. The shows have to attract only a fraction of their former audiences to be profitable.

If Prospect Park succeeds and Netflix's (NFLX) attempt to resurrect the cult comedy "Arrested Development" proves fruitful, other companies will no doubt try to bring back shows that fans believe were taken off the air before their time. 

Some resurrected shows do great. News Corp.'s Fox brought back "Family Guy" a few years ago because its reruns on The Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, which is part of Time Warner (TWX), proved to be hugely popular. Another canceled Fox show, "Futurama," was revived by Viacom's (VIA) Comedy Central.

Imitation isn't only the sincerest form of flattery in Hollywood, it's a business model.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter@jdberr.

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May 1, 2013 8:45PM
I saw the new versions of All My Children and One Life to Live and I must say I am impressed.  These shows look even better than they did on network television and sexier.  I know people of all ages that also enjoyed them - I think they will be a hit.  :)  They already are with me!
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