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11.23.11

Why ‘All My Children’ and ‘One Life to Live’ Are Dead

In July, Prospect Park saved the day when it licensed "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" to continue the beloved shows online. But those plans are now over.

Agnes Nixon has been living her own kind of cliffhanger for the past few months, waiting to hear whether Prospect Park, a production company, would make good on plans to continue the two soaps she created, All My Children and One Life to Live, as daily serials streamed online.

On Wednesday, the mystery was finally over when Prospect Park first leaked, then announced, that it is officially backing out of its plans to create an online network geared toward women, anchored by the two soap operas. No one from Prospect Park notified Nixon, who is nearly 84 and who learned of the disappointing, but not surprising, development from the media. But Nixon said she doesn’t blame Prospect Park founders, Jeff Kwatinetz and Rich Frank, for calling it quits.

“I am sorry they had to give up the intent to put it on and I’m very grateful to Rich and Jeff for their efforts, but I know that no matter what happens, there is still much story to be told in both One Life to Live and All My Children, and in my heart, I believe, it may still be told. And I’d love to be part of the telling. I’m also grateful to [One Life executive producer] Frank Valentini and the cast and crews. But more than anyone to our fans who have been so loyal and who are a part of our big family.”

Responding to widespread fan outcry over the cancellation of two of daytime’s most beloved serials—ABC axed them both in April—Prospect Park announced in July that it would launch the two soaps immediately after One Life to Live ends on ABC on Jan. 13. The shift from television to the Internet demands significant reductions to each show’s $50 million annual production budget—and that’s precisely where Prospect Park got stuck.

On Wednesday, in a lengthy statement, the 2-year-old Prospect Park wrote in part, “We couldn’t ultimately secure the backing and clear all the hurdles in time. 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.”

Depending on whom you ask, Prospect Park either took a bold step toward innovative programming but underestimated how long it would take to raise the amount of money it would take to produce 250 episodes a year of each show, or the unions and guilds were recalcitrant in their demands that contracts for the actors, writers, and producers be on par with their broadcast deals. The contracts would set an industry precedent, which made every item—from compensation and overtime pay to retirement benefits and working conditions—equally significant, sources familiar with the conversations say. Kwatinetz told The Wall Street Journal that he projected Prospect Park would need $80 million to produce both soaps for a year, and $65 million in hand to start up production. So far, no shows originally created for the Internet have been profitable, and the content has tended to be short and oriented for men.

On Wednesday, Agnes Nixon said she has still has plenty of stories to tell—“if there’s anyone around with money to help.”

A source familiar with the negotiations told The Daily Beast that the deal essentially collapsed because the guilds and unions representing the actors, writers, producers, and other employees were demanding “broadcast rates.” But in a statement on Wednesday, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said that they haven’t even spoken to the company in a month. Earlier this month, Susan Lucci also refuted claims that the deal with All My Children was falling apart because she had turned down an offer. Lucci wrote on her Facebook page that she had not heard from Prospect Park since early September. The Writers Guild, however, said in a statement Wednesday that "we were close to a fair deal for the writers" prior to the end of last week.

“Despite initial progress in our negotiations with Prospect Park toward resolving a fair agreement to cover the performers appearing on these programs, we were perplexed and disappointed that for the past month Prospect Park has not responded to our repeated inquiries to resume those discussions,” the AFTRA statement said. We now conclude from the press reports that Prospect Park faced other challenges unrelated to our negotiations, which prevented continuation of those discussions.  We remain hopeful that an opportunity to revive these two popular series will emerge in the future, and remain ready to resume discussions should that opportunity arise."

Adding to the complex labor and financing issues was the fact that although both soaps have a built-in audience, it was never clear how much ad revenue the online venture would garner. Soap viewers tend to be older and less affluent than the typical Internet audience, said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research for Horizon Media. All My Children, which ended on Sept. 23, averaged 2.4 million viewers in its last season; One Life to Live is averaging 2.6 million.

“It was a good idea, I think, because of the passion and the loyalty that these shows have and the outcry and the protests,” Adgate said. “But I don’t really know whether it’s sustainable beyond that. Maybe [Prospect Park] was thinking with their hearts and not their heads.”

In its statement Prospect Park seemed to agree: “While we narrowed in on a financial infrastructure, the contractual demands of the guilds, which regulate our industry, coupled with the program’s inherent economic challenges ultimately led to this final decision. In the end, the constraints of the current marketplace, including the evolution and impact of new media on our industry simply proved too great a match for even our passion.”

On Wednesday, Nixon said she has still has plenty of stories to tell—“if there’s anyone around with money to help.” In fact, in the same breath that she spoke about saying goodbye to Pine Valley and Llanview permanently, the queen of daytime TV started spinning a compelling plot focused on the All My Children character played by J. R. Martinez, capitalizing on the actor’s Dancing With the Stars win.

If anyone knows what it takes to transfer a soap opera from an old medium to a new one, it’s Nixon, who helped Guiding Light make the transition from radio to television and was very excited by the prospect of pioneering the age of premium video programming on the Internet. Nixon’s only regret is that All My Children ended with a huge whodunit that will now never be answered. The writers themselves never figured out who J. R. shot at the party because they were waiting to learn which actors would continue with the soap online. Nixon, who prefers more nuanced resolutions, says she would have liked it more if Pine Valley could have lived on in the minds of fans in a different way.

“I would have never written an ‘end’ because life doesn’t end,” she said.