In roughly two months, the long-running ABC soap opera "All My Children" will end its run on the network -- and three days after that, thanks to an unprecedented licensing agreement between ABC and the production company Prospect Park, it will enter the history books as the first broadcast television series to move intact from television to the Internet.
If "AMC" succeeds there, either as a free advertiser-supported Web series, or on a pay-per-month or pay-per-view and/or download platform, everything we know about the production, distribution and potential longevity of broadcast and cable programming will likely change forever. (What a shame that "Guiding Light," which Procter and Gamble and CBS gave up on two years ago, wasn't allowed a similar shot at Web redemption -- which would have made it the only entertainment series ever to move from radio to television to the Internet.)
Strangely, there has been almost no new information about Prospect Park's specific plans for "AMC" since the big news about its big move broke last month. ("AMC" will stop producing new episodes for ABC in late August.) The same is true of its companion soap, "One Life to Live," which is set to end production in November, will present its final episodes on ABC in January, and will then follow "AMC" to Prospect Park's new online home, whatever it may be.
ABC's much-publicized plans for "AMC's" final weeks on its air, which are said to include an influx of former stars from the show returning as their long-departed characters and numerous long-running storylines are brought to satisfying conclusions, will seemingly have to be altered if Prospect Park's plan to continue the show without interruption are to happen. Actors currently on the show will need to commit to the Web version -- if they're still wanted, that is -- while casting notices will have to go out for newcomers. With only two months to go, it would seem that bits of news about the future of "AMC" will start flying any day now.
The immediate impact of the ABC-Prospect Park arrangement will center on "AMC," but it will accelerate overnight if this soap opera proves more popular online than it has been in recent years on TV, especially if millions of fans agree to pay to watch it, or its performance is strong enough to entice the right advertisers. Imagine the impact on television research if hits or downloads or other measurements of Internet viewing and engagement show that "AMC" is stronger than traditional television ratings have led us all to believe. Further, if "AMC" enjoys robust new life online, think of the firestorm of fan-fueled campaigns to come for on-the-bubble prime-time broadcast and cable shows. (It isn't that far a stretch to suggest that under these circumstances, advertisers might prove similarly enthusiastic about the continuation of certain shows even if broadcast or cable networks have lost interest.)
If an established television series can be shown to survive and thrive online with no further TV presence of any kind, then everything is going to change -- and that change is going to happen fast. If a show's cancellation by a television network becomes potentially irrelevant, can the creation of half-hour and hour-long "traditional" television series specifically for the Internet be far behind?
Some folks are saying that a soap opera like "AMC" is not the best test case for a TV-to-Web transfer, because soap viewers are perceived as older, less tech-savvy and not as likely as younger people to commit to watching a show of any kind online. There may be some truth to some of that, but as one of the millions of young people who were hooked on "General Hospital" during its glory years (that would be immediately before, during and for quite a while after the fabled Luke and Laura period) and who somehow managed to keep up with the show without benefit of a VCR, let alone any other electronic device, I'm here to tell you that we would have killed to be able to watch "GH" on a laptop, phone or other mobile device on our own schedules. Then again, I wonder if the "GH" phenomenon would have been as phenomenal if it had been that easy to watch the show. Half the fun at the time was the increasingly creative lengths people went to just to see it and be in on the excitement.
Of course, "GH" was what it was in its heyday because of the quality of the show, which was youthful and inviting to new viewers without being disrespectful to veteran viewers or the history of its characters and their stories. This is a particular creative skill set that has largely eluded soap writers and producers, not to mention the network executives to whom they have reported, for so many years that together they have brought the entire genre to its knees. I like to think that, under the creative control of a forward-thinking company like Prospect Park, all those broadcast content barriers and outdated creative challenges will be shunted aside, allowing both "AMC" and "OLTL" to become as interesting, relevant and relatively uninhibited today as "GH" was under the guidance of the legendary executive producer Gloria Monty. But that's another column for another time.