Though an official announcement has yet to be made, multiple sources have confirmed to soapcentral.com that Prospect Park has made the decision to end its groundbreaking relaunch of All My Children and One Life to Live. The company has been quietly informing both the on- and off-screen talent that they won't be returning to their jobs in the near future. The non-announcement is just the latest twist in an effort that proved to be no walk in the park.
Despite the seemingly great promise, the relaunch of both soaps was rife with missteps, some of which may have unwittingly alienated viewers who otherwise would have steadfastly supported both shows.
More than 60 years ago, soaps transitioned from radio to a new broadcast medium: television. Naysayers didn't think that television would catch on and quickly dismissed it as a passing fad. When Prospect Park revealed its plans to dust off the two middle-aged soaps and spruce them up for the online generation, naysayers again surfaced, saying that an Internet-based soap opera would never succeed. At least for now, those doubts seem to have been legitimized.
But in getting to the latest jaw-dropping plot twist, it's important to understand the road that brought soap fans to where they are today... a flashback, if you will.
On April 14, 2011, ABC announced that it was canceling the two long-running soaps in favor of cheaper-to-produce talk shows. At the time, All My Children had just marked its 41st anniversary, and One Life to Live was just months away from its 43rd birthday.
"While we are excited about our new shows and the shift in our business, I can't help but recognize how bittersweet the change is," then-President of ABC Daytime Brian Frons said in a statement. "We are taking this bold step to expand our business because viewers are looking for different types of programming these days. They are telling us there is room for informative, authentic and fun shows that are relatable, offer a wide variety of opinions and focus on 'real life' takeaways."
Heartbroken fans, who referred to the announcement date as Black Thursday, inundated other networks with requests to spare the soaps created by legendary soap writer Agnes Nixon. The avalanche of emails, letters, and phone calls resulted in a now-infamous video response from Oprah Winfrey.
"I appreciate that you all think that I could save the soaps," Winfrey remarked in what she called the "bone marrow truth." The media mogul added, that "[i]f there was a dime left to be made from them on broadcast television, it would still be happening… All good things come to an end. All things have their time… I will not be taking on the responsibility of trying to revive an institution that, for all intent and all purpose, indicates that that time has come for it to be over. Thank for you for believing I can save them, but I really can't."
In an ironic twist worthy of any great soap, Winfrey later had a change of heart, and her OWN cable channel played a part in relaunching the two shows.
In July 2011, the New York Post reported that ABC had licensed the rights to both All My Children and One Life to Live to Prospect Park, a production company with plans to broadcast both soaps on the Internet. Insiders say that the Post's announcement came before ABC and Prospect Park could get all their ducks in a row, but ABC issued a press release the following day to confirm that a deal had been made.
"From the time the shift in the daytime strategy was announced, our hope was to find a new home for these treasured shows," Janice Marinelli, President, Disney/ABC Domestic Television explained. "We are thrilled to license them to Prospect Park so the stories of life in Pine Valley and Llanview can continue to be told for the passionate and loyal fans that enjoy watching each day."
Reaction from fans and the stars of both soaps was jubilant and immediate. There was, however, an unforeseen side effect of the licensing deal: All My Children's writers were forced to rewrite the show's ending. Instead of trying to neatly wrap up 41 years of history, the writers were tasked with creating a cliffhanger that would encourage people to transition to the show's new Internet home.
Several months of silence followed the announcement, and as the anticipated January 2012 relaunch date approached, many All My Children actors revealed that they had not been approached about signing on for the Internet version of the show. Meanwhile, nearly every one of their One Life to Live counterparts had agreed to make the move to the new medium. Reports surfaced that Prospect Park would focus on the then-higher-rated One Life to Live.
The day before Thanksgiving 2011, Prospect Park announced that it was suspending its plans to revive All My Children and One Life to Live. The company blamed the economy and the unions for derailing the process, and fans, whose hopes had already been dashed just months earlier, focused their rage on Prospect Park.
"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," Prospect Park said in a statement. "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."
By that time, All My Children had already aired its final episode, and viewers were left with a cliffhanger that they feared would never be resolved. One Life to Live aired its final episode on January 13, 2012, but an agreement between ABC and Prospect Park ensured that the show would live on in an unexpected way. Three of the show's core characters -- John McBain, Starr Manning, and Todd Manning -- were transitioned from One Life to Live to ABC's only remaining soap, General Hospital.
"We have a very exciting story planned for the citizens of Port Charles, with Sonny Corinthos at the center of it! I am confident viewers and fans alike will be excited for the arrival of John, Starr, Blair, and Todd," General Hospital's executive producer, Frank Valentini, said in a statement. "Incorporating characters from One Life to Live continue[s] the legacy of the show as we weave them into General Hospital."
Upon Prospect Park suspending its efforts, General Hospital quickly snapped up Valentini and OLTL head writer Ron Carlivati, both of whom were to be integral parts in Prospect Park's online venture.
General Hospital quickly put the three One Life to Live characters front and center in its storylines. It also brought in several other characters for short-term visits, and made the decision to kill off three characters for storyline reasons.
Meanwhile, as fans were gradually adjusting to the notion that they might never see their favorite Pine Valley and Llanview residents again, whispers started to swell by year's end that Prospect Park was going to make a second attempt to revive AMC and OLTL.
"While the online venture was formally dead [in November 2011], I hear [Rich] Frank and Kwatinetz never lost hope, and had been quietly working since the summer on putting their plan back together and had been talking with the guilds, resulting in agreements with SAG-AFTRA and DGA," Deadline's Nellie Andreeva reported.
Just days into 2013, Agnes Nixon released a statement confirming that her beloved soaps were returning to production.
"I'm especially grateful to Prospect Park for deploying the power of you, our fans, to enable this exciting transition to dramatic production for the Internet. It's a historic moment, comparable to how life was changed when television took over from radio," Nixon added. "We hope this wonderful opportunity will be embraced by all as our creative teams gear up to bring our beloved serials back to our daily lives."
Two weeks later, Prospect Park announced that episodes of All My Children and One Life to Live would be broadcast online via Hulu and Hulu Plus. 30-minute installments would be made available Monday through Thursday, with a special catch-up and behind-the-scenes episode airing on Friday. Many fans were confused by the differences between Hulu and Hulu Plus, and some expressed outrage over the idea that they'd be required to pay to watch their soaps, unaware that the Hulu service is free to use.
In addition to explaining how to watch the programs online to an audience that was largely unfamiliar with the process, Prospect Park also faced two other challenges. First, the company had to win over skeptical fans still fuming from 2011's false start. The company also faced a looming deadline to get the productions off the ground quickly, or they'd risk violating the terms of their licensing agreement with ABC. In order to meet the deadline, actors were signed before storylines had been completely fleshed out. More than a dozen One Life to Live stars agreed to take part in the relaunch, but many All My Children stars had moved on to other projects or decided that they didn't want to uproot their lives again for the uncertainty posed by an untested format.
AMC executives made the decision to work around potential casting problems by having All My Children relaunch five years into the future. One Life to Live, meanwhile, had chosen to move forward with plans to reincorporate the characters that it had loaned to ABC for use on General Hospital. By that time, however, the three actors who played those roles -- Kristen Alderson, Michael Easton, and Roger Howarth -- had been signed to long-term contracts with ABC's General Hospital. This presented a first of its kind dilemma: one company, Prospect Park, owned the rights to the characters, while another company, ABC, had the rights to the actors.
Shortly before All My Children and One Life to Live were set to debut on the Internet, Prospect Park filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against ABC over the network's use of One Life to Live characters.
According to documents first obtained by Deadline.com, Prospect Park contended that "for over a year, ABC outright failed and refused to consult with Prospect on any storylines involving these characters, rendering Prospect's approval rights meaningless."
In its lawsuit, which is still making its way through the courts, Prospect Park contends that decisions made by ABC -- including signing Alderson, Easton, and Howarth to long-term contracts -- negatively affected Prospect Park's plans for One Life to Live. Howarth did agree to appear on One Life to Live for a limited time to help the show find its footing.
Still, the launch of both All My Children and One Life to Live moved forward. On April 23, Prospect Park held a lavish, red carpet premiere at New York University's Skirball Center. The stars of the refreshed, now-Internet-based soaps walked the red carpet and watched the first episodes on a larger-than-life movie theater screen. A week later, both AMC and OLTL were topping Hulu's most-watched and iTunes' most-downloaded lists.
Just two weeks after the series returned, Prospect Park announced that the shows would shift from four, 30-minute episodes per week to only two. In what many view as a poorly worded press release, the company called the four episode model "too challenging for viewers to keep up" with. Fans immediately took offense, taking to social media to blast Prospect Park for insulting them. For many soap fans, who had watched both soaps in their hour-long formats on ABC for decades, the idea that they were unable to keep up with the 30-minute versions was offensive.
As part of its trek into uncharted territory, Prospect Park sought to broaden the appeal of the soaps beyond their traditional audiences. This included the use of racier storylines and a palette of four-letter words that are banned from network television. Some fans immediately expressed concerns over what they saw as the gratuitous use of obscenities. By late June, Prospect Park announced that it would be removing all of the naughty words from all future broadcasts. That decision left fans who didn't have an issue with the coarse language muttering a few naughty words of their own.
The removal of four-letter words came in advance of a deal that returned All My Children and One Life to Live to broadcast television. On June 26, Prospect Park announced that it had reached a deal for a "summer fling" on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. For ten weeks, OWN aired encore presentations of both AMC and OLTL. While the ratings were nowhere near what the soaps had pulled in during their runs on ABC, both AMC and OLTL quickly became two of OWN's most-watched programs.
However, a somewhat muddied programming schedule offered viewers no incentive to watch episodes at a given time. For the first two weeks of their fling on OWN, All My Children and One Life to Live aired in multi-hour blocks every Monday through Thursday, with a four-block marathon of the week's new episodes airing on Friday. The per-episode viewership totals were low, but cumulatively more than a million viewers had tuned in. By August, OWN reconfigured its lineup, opting to air AMC and OLTL back-to-back in an hour-long block every Monday through Thursday.
Prospect Park's efforts to rapidly expand the reach of its fledging soaps inadvertently backfired. A deal that had both shows airing in Canada may have breached the terms of an agreement with one of the behind-the-scenes unions. The International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees -- Local 52 -- accused Prospect Park of going over the agreed $125,000 per episode budget for All My Children. The dispute resulted in a work stoppage for both All My Children and One Life to Live.
The impasse lasted two weeks, and the terms of the resolution were not disclosed.
Little more than a month after the labor dispute was resolved, Prospect Park abruptly announced that AMC and OLTL would have their first season finales by the end of summer. Fans were taken aback by the announcement, as there had been no previous indication that there would be gaps in the broadcast schedule.
Production of All My Children was set to resume in August. As August came and went, several of the show's stars took to Twitter to express their uncertainty about when they'd head back to work.
In September, buried in a Los Angeles Times article about the struggles Prospect Park faced in transforming two soaps in the digital format, was an announcement that production on One Life to Live would be indefinitely shelved as a result of the company's ongoing legal spat with ABC.
"Agnes [Nixon] told me this job wasn't for sissies," Kwatinetz remarked. "If I didn't want to make any mistakes, I would sit back and let other people go figure it out and then just copy them. But then we wouldn't be helping to shape the future of television."
Kwatinetz told the Times that Prospect Park was to focus its attention on All My Children, which had been drawing larger audiences both in online viewing and during the brief summer fling on OWN.
As the uncertainty over when All My Children would resume production continued, one of the show's biggest names, Thorsten Kaye (Zach Slater), stunned the soap world by signing a deal with CBS's The Bold and the Beautiful.
"I don't have a contract [with AMC] anymore. It's sad, you know? And I hope it all works out for them," Kaye told TV Guide's Michael Logan. "And I certainly hope that my leaving will not affect the show in some bad way. There is just so much uncertainty in this business, especially in what we've been trying to do with AMC."
On November 6, Logan shared on Twitter that insiders had told him that Prospect Park was preparing an announcement that would reveal they were suspending production of All My Children as well. The purported deadline for the announcement came and went, but that did little to ease fans' jittery nerves.
AMC star Debbi Morgan expressed her "disappointment" on Twitter, stating, "Thanks 4 all the support and luv U gave hoping this would work. We never know what's in God's plan. I do know there's always a bigger picture!"
Emmy winner Cady McClain assured fans on Facebook that Prospect Park and "'the powers that be' involved in making AMC and OLTL truly loved the shows and did their utmost to make continuing them possible." McClain admitted that she was not sure why the company had chosen now to pull the plug.
It is unclear when -- or if -- Prospect Park will make an official announcement. The company is reportedly still in the process of making sure that everyone involved with the two soaps is notified of the decision not to resume production. Requests for a statement went unanswered.
Perhaps one of the most telling indicators of the challenges Prospect Park faced came in response to a soapcentral.com news item about the end of the two soaps' Internet run. One fan remarked, "I didn't know they came back. What channel are they on?" Several others shared similar sentiments.
On November 13, 2013, Prospect Park amended its lawsuit against ABC, announcing it is seeking $95 million in damages and $30 million in out-of-pocket expenses.
Is this truly the end for the legendary soaps? Fans are holding out hope, however unlikely, that the storied pasts of these shows will once again prove that nothing is ever truly dead.
Will there be more life for One Life to Live and All My Children? Share your thoughts on the whirlwind that has been the past two years in our Comments section.