Magazine article Variety

The Bold and the Digital

Magazine article Variety

The Bold and the Digital

Article excerpt

Inside the online revival of All My Children and One Life to Live, where production and distribution are getting a radical rethink

On his 4th birthday earlier this month Jeff Kwatinetz spent seven hours visiting with Agnes Nixon, the grande dame of modern soaps, in her suburban Philly home. The octogenarian served him a cupcake with a candle.

The duo discussed the imminent rebirth of two of Nixon's creations, All My Children and One Life to Live, which ABC canceled in 2011 after 40-plus years as daytime staples. Kwatinetz, topper of production and talent-management firm Prospect Park, parsed storyline arcs and went over production notes with her. It was three weeks before the April 29 premiere of the shows' new incarnations, which include many of the same characters and actors. But at least in the States, they won't be on regular TV - they're coming exclusively to the Internet.

If Kwatinetz made any kind of birthday wish, it was surely that the two weekday serials will have long and fruitful lives ahead of them as digital natives. In the TV biz, there's never a sure thing. But Prospect Park is making a particularly uncertain gamble: It wants to create an online "network" of shows on par with the quality and viewer reach of traditional television, but for less coin.

The challenge is tantamount to producing an Olympics-class athlete with a small-college athletic budget. That said, while Prospect Park has taken pains to maintain a lower-than-TV cost profile, these shows aren't being shot by a guy with a Handycam in his buddy's apartment. The firm and its backers are sinking tens of millions of dollars into the venture to hire professional cast and crew and build the infrastructure necessary to be a studio, producer and network ah in one.

"Make no mistake - we need these shows to succeed," Kwatinetz said, sitting in his cluttered corner office in Prospect Park's Stamford, Conn., studio space.

Kwatinetz wouldn't talk specific production costs. But he estimated that a full season of a traditional hourlong TV soap like The Young and the Restless is around $45 million. All My Children and One Life to Live combined are "not far off from that," he said.

In a last-minute legal twist, ABC - which cut a licensing pact with Prospect Park for both shows - was sued for breach of contract last Thursday by the production firm after loaning some of the "OLTL" actors back to the network for usage on "General Hospital," only to see three of the characters killed off. ABC has declined comment on the suit.

The Connecticut Film Center is the new home of the soap's fictional suburban Pennsylvania locales, All My Children's Pine Valley and One Life to Live's Llanview. Prospect Park moved into the facility just after the New Year, and shooting commenced Feb. 25.

Prospect Park occupies 65,000 square feet at the center, which includes a 27,500-sq.-ft. main soundstage. The building's other tenants are Ralph Edwards Prods.' syndie The People's Court and medical device manufacturer Gyrus ACMI.

The Nutmeg State studio space is a linchpin for Prospect Park's business model. The company looked for facilities in Brooklyn, where it shoots primetime drama Royal Pains for USA. But it couldn't find any place in New York that had enough space to accommodate the soaps, said Prospect Park partner Rich Frank, former Walt Disney Studios prexy.

"One of the biggest costs on soaps is the constant changing of sets," Frank said. "We wanted both shows in one location. The idea is to share the same area and the same crew."

At ABC, each show had amassed upwards of 100 sets over the years on both coasts One Life to Live in NYC, All My Children in L.A.). Prospect Park uses only about a dozen sets for each series, built in a large shop adjacent to the soundstage, which remain in place during filming. Lights stay rigged where they are, too, which also saves time and money.

Walking onto the jam-packed soundstage, with 20-foot ceiling-height high-bay space, requires descending the staircase for One Life to Live's nightclub, Shelter. …

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