All My Children: From Old School Television to New Media

In a melding of old school television and new school media, n April 29th, Hulu will begin airing online episodes of the long running soap operas, One Life to Life and All My Children, beginning on Monday, April 29th.

Those thinking the switch to online is a low-budget, half-hearted attempt to grab onto long-term fans and thrown them a bone are going to be surprised. The online episodes will be first class productions, featuring much of the original casts, run by the same creators who made the soaps successful at their heyday, and have full sets and crews.

There will be some new, younger faces as well, as the shows hope to bring in new viewers, including a cast member from Big Time Rush.

I spent a few hours on the Stamford, Connecticut set of All My Children (which doubles as the OLTL set as well), talking with cast members, familiar and newly cast, and received an on-set tour which included taping of a future episode. The show picks up five years after the cliffhanger that ended the television run, in which one cast member was about to shoot someone. The teaser trailer seems to indicate somebody died but that’s being kept a state secret. While the show has cast several new actors to bring a youthful infusion to the show, though it will also still feature familiar favorites, much like the way Dallas is a mix of old and new.

And it will keep on pushing boundaries. AMC had a storyline about abortion in 1973, the first legal abortion on American television, was the first soap opera to feature a lesbian relationship in 1983, and a transgender storyline in the 2000s.

Julia Barr (Brooke English), Eric Nelson (A.J. Chandler), Heather Roop (Jane McIntyre), Vincent Irizarry (Dr. David Hayward), Paula Garces (Lea Marquez), Denyse Tontz (Miranda Montgomery), Cady McClain (Dixie Cooney), Darnell Williams (Jesse Hubbard) and Thorsten Kaye (Zach Slater) all talked with incredible enthusiasm and love for the rebooted show, that the new format should allow them to increase pacing and the intensity of storylines, and how excited they are that the web will bring in new fans. The show films for five weeks, then is off for five weeks, a schedule that allows the actors freedom for other projects as well.

Sadly, all of them were under orders not to spoil any plotlines, giving away nothing that’s not already in the teaser trailer. But they all agreed it would feature all the fun stuff that makes soaps great. I’m not an AMC viewer–General Hospital was my soap back in the day–but talking to the cast has me very interested in checking out the series.

soap operas, One Life to Life, Hulu
The new cast of All My Children, featuring familiar faces mixed in with new one. photo from All My Children.

“I’ve known Ginger Smith for I don’t know how long. I followed along the news of the revival with everyone else,” Barr, a long-time star of the soap, said. “Ginger is the force and energy behind this, along with Agnes Nixon. If they hadn’t been involved, I’m not sure I would have done it.”

“Everyone was concerned that the show be treated with respect,” she added. “And the combination of actors and producers and directions and production has been first rate.”

Nelson is one of the new cast members, now assuming the role of  A.J. Chandler. I was going to recap the history of A.J.’s childhood but it’s easier to say his childhood was like the one of Nathan Summers (Cable) of the X-Men, with less time travel, and leave it at that. Nelson said he was thrilled to be part of the revival.

“It all seems like working on a prime time show,” Nelson said.  “This is not a low budget production, if anything, they’re throwing more at it.”

Roop is new to the show as well.  She wore a Jane’s Addiction Cafe shirt during the interview and said the new show moves quickly and really engages the actors as well. She’s excited for the current fans and believes they will gain new ones as well on the web.

Irizarry, the winner of a Daytime Emmy for playing AMC’s villain, said he had become resigned to the fact the show was over. “I thought it was a losing battle and I was just as shocked as everyone else when I got the call from Ginger Smith.”  A quick glimpse of a scene on the set confirmed that Hayward is still up to his old nefarious tricks.

Irizarry did say that viewers wouldn’t see quite the steamy R-rated scenes that are available on cable. “It will be a little more risque but in context.” He went out of his way to praise how wonderful the crew has been and how glad he’s back in the role.

Garces is new to AMC but not to soaps, as she’s a veteran of Guiding Light. She said the role has been great fun and that “Thorsten already making fun of me,” and that the two actors have great chemistry. Kaye dropped in during Garces interview to tease her. Garces also has some geek cred, being the creator of Aluna Comics.

Tontz is another newcomer to the show, is a veteran of Big Time Rush. I asked her what drew her to a soap opera. “I always wanted to do one,” she said. “This is a crazy lifestyle and a lot of fun.” She said she often receives thirty pages of script for filming the next day. Her favorite day so far was the guest appearance of the band, Hot Chelle Rae. She said the familiar cast members have been great in helping her out with backstory and she hopes that all the younger cast members can add a new life to the show without losing any of the characters that made it great.

McClain brought her dog, Mr. Peanut, to the interview, a dog that is much better behaved than any I have ever had. She beamed when talking about the revival. “This is magic stuff that is happening, and I’m so, so lucky and grateful to be a part of it. It’s going to be incredibly modern but it’s still keeping true to the genre. It’s all about relationships, love and values.”

McClain has been spending her time writing a memoir of her experiences growing up in an alcoholic family, and about being a child actor, as she first started working in front of the camera at 19. She says she wrote the book to be “free of the dysfunction” finally.

Darnell Williams was the last to be interviewed, and was very laid back. He says she’s spent his time renovating a house in Los Angeles but had to come back for the revival. It still surprises him how much reach the show has and talked about how someone came up to him years ago at a Hollywood party and gushed about the show.

“It was Bruce Springsteen,” he said. “So you never quite know who’s out there watching.” He said he’s a big fan of the Seth McFarlane shows. “I’d love to do one of his,” Williams said with a smile. “He needs to call me.”

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Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.