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Prospects Renewed Cover Story

Monday, January 14, 2013

Prospect Park's Efforts To Save AMC And OLTL Begin Anew.

Digest Separates Fact From fiction.

Its a story fans of ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE know well. Back in April 2011, ABC pulled the plug on the two venerable sudsers, which were 41 and nearly 43, respectively. In July. Prospect Park — headed by Jeff Kwatinetz and Rich Frank — announced that it had licensed the rights to both shows, which they planned to relaunch on the Internet as part of its new online television network, The Online Network, or TOLN, pledging that AMC and OLTL would "continue to be delivered with the same quality and in the same format and length," meaning, five-times-a-week. year- round, 60-minute broadcasts. AMC would make its digital debut on the Monday following its Friday, September 23 swan song on ABC. OLTL would follow, premiering on January 16, the Monday after its own network finale.

Over the next few months, the execs sought funds to cover the considerable cost of production (around $40 million per show, said published reports), worked with the actors', writers' and directors' unions to strike accords and signed several top-tier players — including OLTL's Erika Slezak (Viki) and Kassie DePaiva (Blair) and AMC's Cameron Mathison (Ryan) — to new contracts. OLTL Executive Producer Frank Valentini and Head Writer Ron Carlivati were also secured to remain at the helm of the new OLTL.

But moving the series online proved tricky, and after putting its plans for AMC on hold, PP announced on November 23, 2011. that it was shelving the OLTL reboot, as well. "After five months of negotiations with various guilds, hundreds of presentations to potential financial and technology partners, and a hope that we could pioneer a new network for the future, it is with great disappointment that we are suspending our aspirations to revive ONE LIFE TO LIVE and ALL MY CHILDREN via online distribution," said the company in a statement. "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."

In the wake of PP's announcement. Valentini and Carlivati accepted new posts at OH. and though PP held the rights to AMC and OLTL's cast of characters, an agreement was reached allowing several familiar faces from OLTL to visit GH. Three actors, Roger Howarth (Todd), Kristen Alderson (Starr) and Michael Easton (John), signed long-term contracts to remain in Port Charles.

With PP's license of AMC and OLTL still in play (we hear its current pact with ABC is set to expire in February 2013). the company continued to court investors in the hopes of moving forward with online iterations of the shows. In December 2012, these efforts were made public, with reporting that PP had reached agreements with SAG-AFTRA (the actors' union), as well as the DGA (the directors' guild). and remained in talks with the Writers' Guild of America and aimed to begin production in January 2013.

Some fans met the news with skepticism, but Digest has learned that PP is actively hiring behindthe-scenes production personnel (the names being floated all have soap-producing credits, though none have previously served as EPs), trying to secure studio space in Connecticut and reaching out to cast members from AMC and OLTL — and that one former Pine Valley resident is taking the prospect of moving online seriously enough that they recently turned down another project. (Though GH viewers have fretted online that PP could possibly poach Valentini and Carlivati from ABC, both men are under contract to OH and "not going anywhere," according to one well-placed source.)

"I think the Prospect Park thing is for sure," offers Talent Manager Michael Bruno, who represents stars like Lynn Herring (Lucy, GH) and Robin Mattson (Heather, GH) and has already gotten calls from PP about his actors. "It looks like it's happening. Everyone is holding their breath and if it happens, it will be fantastic. And if it ends up making money, it could really be the resurgence of daytime. They're rolling the dice and if there's an upswing to this, it's great for everyone, including the magazines, agents and managers."

"I absolutely think that PP could be successful this time around, however they chose to format their shows," enthuses Cady McClain (ex-Dixie, AMC). "I am hopeful for all the production people who worked behind the scenes for so many years and have so much to give to the process of running these shows. Soap production is incredibly complex work. Five shows a week is no joke! There are lots of professionals out there who suffered from the loss of these shows, and I hope that the people at PP will find them and bring them back into the fold. There is really no need to re-invent the wheel, you just need the best people who know how to make that wheel turn 24n. As far as I know they are out there and ready and willing to return. They, too, are the daytime family."

As for PP's success in coming to terms with SAG-AFIRA, one AMC actor, who has not been approached by PP, shares, haven't spoken with anyone who has been contacted, but I know that the SAG-AFTRA contract was run past the actors [with whom PP had been in discussions!
and that they were fine with it." Digest has also learned that what many performers considered to be the chief sticking points in the earlier round of SAG-AFIRA negotiations concerned issues like overtime and the length of lunch breaks. "We were trying to keep protections in place for the actors," explains an insider who was active in the talks. "There was nothing to stop them from working us into the ground." But this time around, "All of that was handled differently [by PP]. It's a much more humane deal," and will expire in one year. "If this works, if it's successful, that can only be good for the actors," says our source of the short length of the agreement, adding that while the base pay for performers in the contract is union scale, "None of us worked for scale when we were on ABC. And in this contract, there is room for them to negotiate the pay scale for individual actors, just as before." Adds Bruno. "I don't have solid numbers yet, [but] I don't think the pay is going to be that bad. I was concerned it would be $100 a day and it's not that."

Perhaps the most interesting twist in the winding tale of PP concerns its original intent to deliver the shows "with the same quality and in the same format and length." Digest hears that PP has revised its plans for the revamp, and that instead of 52 weeks of daily, hour-long dramas, it intends to reincarnate the series telenovela-style, somewhat akin to the "book" format PORT CHARLES featured on ABC. "It will be five or six weeks of ONE LIFE, a complete kind of arc, followed by five or six weeks of ALL MY CHILDREN, and then back to ONE LIFE," explains a source. "It's a completely different ballgame from what they were trying to do before. It's a much more manageable plan, much easier to produce." The same source reports, "The shows would tape in the same studio using the same sets, from what I hear, though I am not completely sure how that would work!" Bruno approves of the modifications PP has made. "I think their business plan is very smart. I think the fact that it's a half hour and streamlined is fantastic."

PP's earlier goal was to pick up the shows from where their network finales left off, but hewing to that original vision may no longer be possible, concur our sources. Points out one former AMC cast member, "You've got to think about who's available. Jacob's [Young, ex-JR, AMC] on B&B [as Rick]. Susan's [Lucci, ex- Erica, AMC] doing DEVIOUS tf, MAIDS for Lifetime. So how
do you pick up the ALL MY t CHILDREN cliffhanger?" But there are also popular performers who would be able to sign on, like Debbi Morgan (ex-Angie), who just left her role as Y&R's Harmony.

Industry publication Showbiz 411 reports that Lucci is in preliminary talks with PP, and especially since Lifetime is partly owned by ABC, her commitment to DEVIOUS MAIDS may not preclude her joining the new AMC. But that's not the only issue. PP has no deal in place with the WGA as it races to begin production on the shows. "Who's going to write for them is an interesting question," muses an AMC actress. The speculation is that PP will hire writers who have "financial core," known as "fi-core," status with the WGA. (Such scribes pay lower dues and are covered by deals such as the one PP presumably hopes eventually to reach with WGA, but are not full voting members of the union.) "I hope that the WGA is soon to follow," says McClain of PP's union agreements.

An AMC star acknowledges that in the wake of PP's 2011 failure to save the soaps, "There were some hard feelings. some hurt feelings, and the feeling that some things could have been handled better by [PP execs]. But what we all share is the desire for these shows to go on. So, I think people, myself included, are willing to wipe the slate clean." Concurs McClain, "The actors that I know are interested, but we have been through a lot. I think everyone has an open mind and an open heart. We all love the soaps, and I think it is fair to say no matter what, we are all connected still as a family. Many years of working together will do that. We had too many marriages and births and Thanksgiving dinners together to not feel bonded in some way and to not want the best for the soaps, whether we are asked to come play again or not.

"My hope is that if they do revive these shows, they do not forget the core families that made the viewers feel like they were visiting home." McClain continues. "Julia Barr [ex-Brooke l.
Ray MacDonnell [ex-Joe]. Jill Larson [ex-Opal]. Vincent Irizzary [ex-David J. Michael E. Knight [ex-Tad], Walt Wille [ex-Jack], and more to me, these actor. say ALL MY CHILDREN just as much as Susan Lucci does. They are the people whose lives we followed on-screen for the past 20 or more years, and as a fan of the shows myself, I [could] not imagine AMC without them."

"I think what they're going to do and what one should do is take your top 12 wish list of people from ONE LIFE TO LIVE and ALL MY CHILDREN, like Erika Slezak, Trevor St. John [ex-Victor], Bree Williamson [ex-Jessica] and Susan Lucci [ex-Erica], Alicia Minshew [ex- Kendall] and Thorsten Kaye [ex-Zach] and then you fill in the blanks," shares Bruno. "I think they're going to get most of the people they want. This year has really proven that any job is a good job. There's not a lot of work out there. Last year, they may have gone to people who would have said, `You know, I've been on the show a long time. I want to take a break and see what else is out there.' Guess what? There's nothing else out there. I think you're going to be shocked by the big names on their wish list they get. I think what they'll do next is fill around, like, `We need another leading man.' and at that point, I think you'll see stars from AS THE WORLD TURNS and GUIDING LIGHT. If there is space, I'm sure they're smart enough to go to other soap stars."

Rumors abound that PP is interested in airing AMC and OLTL on television in addition to TOLN, with particular speculation focused on Lifetime. "I hadn't heard that, but I hope it's true!" says an AMC star. "And I hope their ratings go through the roof!" Nods McClain, "It would be great if they could work out something with a cable network, as well, so there will be all kinds of cross- platform opportunities for people of all ages and technical abilities to have access to their soaps. The fellows at PP seem quite smart about their media, and quite connected, so I am not worried about the shows in this regard."

Nadia Bjorlin (Chloe, DAYS OF OUR LIVES) seems to speak on behalf of many interested parties, from the actors to the fans, when she offers, "It would be an incredible thing [to see AMC and OLTL return]. There is definitely an audience, a loyal audience, for soaps. Canceling [AMC and OLTL] and replacing them with failing talk shows has definitely proven that. They tried to have the same results with less money and time is proving that doesn't work. It'd be a smart business move for them to put these shows back on. It would be pretty brilliant."
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