I planned to run a nice piece today on last week’s “General Hospital” event at the Paley Center. Then, Thursday afternoon all soap opera hell broke loose when Deadline broke the news that Prospect Park, producer of the new “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” is suing ABC for $25 million for alleged contractual violations. According to Prospect Park, ABC’s attempts to keep actors Roger Howarth, Kristen Alderson, and Michael Easton — as well as the the characters that they played on OLTL, Todd, Star, and John on GH, amount to sabotage.
Prospect Park issued a statement about the lawsuit:
“Prospect Park has been and continues to be committed to creating and delivering exceptional episodes of All My Children and One Life to Live. We have overcome each and every obstacle in an effort to make this dream become a reality. Over and over again our effort to bring these shows to audiences has faced challenges, and yet we along with the actors, the writers, producers and the directors as well as our fans have confronted and then overcome these challenges, and we have every confidence that we will prevail again. We look forward to our April 29 launch now more than ever.”
ABC followed up with a statement of its own: ”We haven’t seen the complaint or been served so we can’t comment.”
The entire, ten page lawsuit is available on-line, thanks to the Hollywood Reporter. I highly recommend everyone read it for no other reason than to see the word “soapocalypse” used in a legal document.
The lawsuit sheds a lot of light on how what began as a friendly partnership devolved into a battle. The crux of Prospect Park’s claim is that GH was only supposed to use the OLTL characters briefly, and that ABC ignored the clause in the contract that stipulated Prospect Park had tp approve all storylines involving the use of OLTL characters. The suit also claims that ABC did not give Prospect Park the websites allmychildren.com and onelifetolive.com. Those sites now take users to Prospect Park’s The Online Network, but numerous soap fans on twitter reported that, prior to this week, they were linked to abc.com.
I am not a lawyer. I have no idea whether ABC is in breach of its contract or if the loss of three characters is properly valued at 25 million dollars, or why Prospect Park’s lawsuit omits any mention of the original, failed plan to launch the online soaps in January 2012 which probably impacted everything that has happened since. What I do know is that this lawsuit is hilarious because it attempts to put basic tenets of soap writing on trial, and because it is written like a soap opera. I can’t resist highlighting some of my favorite passages.
Page 1: On April 14, 2011 , to the astonishment and dismay of millions of soap fans, ABC publicly announced its ill conceived decision to cancel two of the most beloved and iconic soap operas ever produced… The national media was quick to dub this day the Soapocalypse.
This reads like a soap blog. Maybe my alternate personality has gotten a job as a paralegal.
Page 3: Prospect has since learned that at least one ABC executive responsible for these egregious programming decisions has openly declared his desire to see Prospect fail.
It’s the wrong network, but I can’t read this without imagining Victor Newman telling Jack Abbott, “I will crush you!” Telling your rival that you hope he crashes and burns is standard issue soap business dialogue.
Page 3: In the ultimate act of bad faith, ABC inexplicably killed off two OLTL characters by having their car forced off a cliff. The suit is referring to Cole and Hope. Hope is a toddler who was only onscreen about once a month. It’s difficult to envision her playing a significant role in the new soap. Cole was a character who had been written off OLTL and was only brought back for the finale to give the character of Starr, who was not skated to be a part of the 2012 online version of the show, a happy ending. So I doubt ABC considered him significant enough to be a possible issue. But none of that matters because Cole and Hope’s bodies were never found. In soap terms that means they aren’t really dead! OLTL could easily have both characters stumbling around Llanview with amnesia. I would love it of soap writers were called to testify about this. “Your honor, on GH alone in the past year, A.J. Duke and Stavros have come back from the dead, and their deaths were far more definitive than Hope and Cole’s. A.J. died in a hospital .Stavros fell into a bottomless pit!”
Page 7: ABC damaged OLTL characters… by, among other things, creating absurd storylines, having characters do things they would never do, and destroying critical relationships popular with soap fans.
I really want to see two lawyers arguing about what constitutes an absurd soap storyline. ABC’s OLTL had Eterna, time travel, a woman who got plastic surgery so she would look identical to her sister with the intention of taking over her life, and a man who was held hostage for eight years in an undisclosed location so his twin, who no longer looked like him, could assume his identity. With those precedents, how could anything be deemed too absurd? I regularly rail against characters who, in my opinion, are doing things they would never do. By that criteria, every soap fan can join in a massive class action lawsuit against every single soap headwriter. Even the most talented writers occasionally sacrifice character consistency in the service of plot. Is it too late to sue Jill Farren Phelps for killing off Maureen Bauer, and in the process destroying numerous critical relationships, on “Guiding Light”?