With All My Children , One Life to Live and The Haves And The Have Nots, Will OWN Own the Soap Genre?

Oprah Winfrey has finally listened to the television viewing public! Beginning next week, the first 40 episodes of the online versions of All My Children and One Life to Live that have been playing since late April on Hulu, HuluPlus and iTunes will run in afternoon time periods on OWN.

Fans of these long-running shows, which were canceled by ABC and had their final broadcast airings in September 2011 and January 2012, respectively, have been crying out via social media for a basic cable network to televise them even before Prospect Park came along with lifelines for both. Viewers thought OWN would be the perfect place for AMC and OLTL - and for General Hospital, had ABC decided to dump it, too - because Winfrey has been and will forever be associated with daytime television in general and ABC's daytime lineup in particular. (Her massively influential syndicated daytime talk show was not produced by ABC but it ran on most ABC stations.) For some reason Winfrey came somewhat slowly to this party, even though she has always admitted to being a soap opera enthusiast.

It has been rumored that Winfrey and her team reconsidered the value of soap operas on their network because of the success of Tyler Perry's primetime sudser The Haves and the Have Nots, which debuted on May 28 and has apparently doubled whatever rating OWN was already enjoying in its time period. That makes it a winner on several levels, which is somewhat surprising, because Haves hardly qualifies as a game-changer of any kind. In fact, with the exception of a naughty word or two it plays like a long-forgotten soap from the Sixties, albeit one with more African Americans in its cast than in all soaps from the Sixties combined.

But Perry nevertheless is off to a decent start. His show, to its credit, doesn't perpetually lunge for outrageous plot turns to propel the drama of it all. Rather, the characters actually talk to each other in scenes that run much longer than those of almost any other current television series you care to name. And they are often talking about concerns almost everyone can relate to, from family relationships to money problems. Perry is actually writing conversation and allowing characters to converse in the way they often did in scripted daytime and primetime broadcast entertainment back in the day - in other words, in the Seventies and earlier, before all of our attention spans were demolished by various media influences.

The big questions here are these: Will Winfrey let "Haves" loosen up a bit and develop more of an edge, and will she look to develop more original serialized dramas? The answers may depend on how well AMC and OLTL play on OWN.

From what I've seen of both shows since they returned from the dead as online programs they aren't nearly as robust as they had been on broadcast. I think the new AMC has been the more successful of the two, because the strength of this show was always the intimacy shared between its characters and its viewers. The smaller scale of the online experience actually enhances the enjoyment of this show, even if a couple of its storylines have been simply awful (such as the kidnapping and torture of Angie and Jesse's daughter). OLTL on the other hand was always at its best when it was indulging in over-the-top drama, sometimes bordering on the lunatic. (Characters careened through crises brought on by multiple personalities, visited underground cities, interacted with the great beyond and time traveled, among other narrative roller-coaster rides.) The online version of OLTL has been way more restrained and therefore far less interesting.

This column continues on the MediaPost TV Board.

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