As the old saying goes, a happy employee is a productive employee. And that must be a mantra Prospect Park believes in. According to the actors who have signed on to the serial dramas, “All My Children” and “One Life to Live,” the production company — headed by Jeff Kwatinetz and Richard Frank — has batted a thousand when it comes to being respectfully in charge. And the end result, as the performers preview, is pure magic.
First thing’s first: All of the actors agree that one of Prospect Park’s smartest moves was putting the shows’ creator, Agnes Nixon, back at the helm as a story consultant — a position many wish she would have had while the shows were on ABC. “Before we went off the air, this woman, who created this show, who is so brilliant with story, which made the mark for what ‘AMC’ had always been, was sort of shut out,” says “AMC’s” Debbi Morgan (Angie Hubbard) of one area in which ABC went wrong. “She became, to me, less appreciated…. during the [former President of ABC Daytime] Brian Frons era. We can say it now! It was a shame and a sin for her to be treated that way and not be able to have her participation and her input into the show.”
“Having Agnes on board is just an incomparable benefit,” says “OLTL’s” Florencia Lozano (Téa Delgado) in agreement. “Agnes is so honest about character. Things can go wonky every once in a while, but basically, it’s really about character, and I think that makes a difference.”
Julia Barr (Brooke English, “AMC”) also believes that placing Nixon in the captain’s chair was the exact right move and something that should have been done much earlier. “The fact that Agnes is involved is probably the… best part that we can have,” she says of the shows’ new direction. “[The storylines have] gone back to the integrity of the characters and what comes from them. But it also has intrigue, and it has pop. It has what it needs to move into a new medium.”
Crazy enough, “OLTL” already had the wow factor Barr mentions. As Erika Slezak (Victoria Lord, “OLTL”) points out, the show’s ratings were up and growing when ABC decided to pull the plug. “That’s why people were so angry. Not just the fans, but the actors and people within ABC, too. ‘Why are you cancelling a show that is doing so well?’”
“ABC, they cut us loose pretty cruelly,” Slezak continues. “Just, ‘That’s it, goodbye.’ And it wasn’t Brian Frons who did it. People blame Brian Frons because he was the president of daytime. He didn’t do that. He didn’t have the power to do that. That was a Disney decision, and it was made by a lot of executives. Brian didn’t fight for us, but to blame Brian Frons, that was silly. He couldn’t have done that by himself.”
Fortunately, Prospect Park saw treasure in ABC’s “trash,” and the revamp of “AMC” and “OLTL” began. Slezak couldn’t be more thrilled, because, in her opinion, ABC lost something very valuable for very misguided reasons. “The excuse they gave was that people don’t want entertainment anymore, they want information,” she shares, adding that it was that thought that ultimately steered ABC in the wrong direction. “My great vindication was “The Revolution,” which replaced us, [was cancelled]… And ‘General Hospital,’ thank God, is doing brilliantly. I think they have an audience that is 500,000 more than last year. So that tells you what people want to see.”
Kassie DePaiva (Blair Cramer, “OLTL”) is confident that Prospect Park will blow ABC’s final “OLTL” success out of the water. “We were the strongest show on the ABC [daytime] lineup, and I do think we are going to come back stronger,” she previews. “You’re going to have the same exciting characters, and hopefully, we’ll have exciting stories to keep people entertained.”
That starts with Nixon, but Jennifer Pepperman, the executive producer Prospect Park chose for “OLTL,” will also play a large part in the series’ success. “She doesn’t want it to be the same [that it was],” DePaiva continues. “She doesn’t want to be in the shadow of what was… And she’s looking for solutions to make it better all the time.”
In fact, the entire Prospect Park team seems to be looking for ways to not only continue both soaps but also to improve them, from content, to actor relations and beyond — something “AMC’s” Cady McClain (Dixie Cooney) says was missing toward the shows’ final years on network TV. “When I first started working for ABC, it was phenomenal. There were wonderful people there, and they treated us incredibly well,” she says. “And they continued to try and have that same sort of graciousness for their actors, but I think things got kind of hard, because of the budgets. But this is an entirely different experience, and it’s not all having to do with the budgets or the way we’re being treated. [It’s] sort of like going from classical music to rock ‘n’ roll. You almost can’t compare it.”
“There aren’t so many restraints on the people that are in control, because it’s only them,” she continues about how the Prospect Park creative process is different than it was on ABC. “They don’t have to go through any bureaucracy or lists of anyone. If they want to do [something], they do it. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t. If they want to change it, they do. And you’re like, ‘Great! We can work with that!’ It’s a kind of fun feeling.”
“Everybody seems so happy,” Morgan says in agreement of the good vibes all around. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard [“AMC’s” new executive producer Ginger Smith] say, ‘We just want you guys to be happy, because you guys being happy is going to be great for the show.’ We’ve never had people caring if we were happy or not! [It was] ‘Just do your job!’”
The positive vibes are so strong, even Darnell Williams (Jesse Hubbard, “AMC”), who usually steers away from doing press events, is having no problem participating in publicity for the show. “I was like, ‘Ginger, whatever you need me to do, I want to take part in this and [help] you be successful at this,’” he says.
“AMC’s” Jordi Vilasuso (Griffin Castillo) is also riding the positivity train. “From Ginger, to Jeff, to Rick, this crew… you’re able to talk to them, whether it’s you have an idea or you want to share something. It’s like they know that everybody who signed on wants to do this for the right reasons and wants it to be a success,” he says. “And I think that’s very important, having a great working environment and being happy about coming to work in the morning.”
Speaking of crew, that’s another element that won over the actors, particularly those on “AMC.” Prospect Park reached out to many behind-the-scenes people that ABC let go when it moved the show’s production from New York to Los Angeles in 2010. “We thought we might never see them again, and certainly, never thought that we’d be working together again,” says “AMC’s” Jill Larson (Opal Cortlandt). “And then, to walk in and to see them all there and to hear their stories of where they’ve been since we saw them last — some of them were working at Home Depot, and this and that and the other thing — and you have the A-team. It’s all back.”
“They’ve got an incredible crew and cast together,” “OLTL’s” Tuc Watkins (David Vickers) says in agreement. “And it’s almost like starting a new job rather than continuing an old job.”
And that positive feeling is rumored to be transferring to the screen in terms of enthusiastic acting and strong storylines. “I think the audience is going to love what they’re seeing,” opines Vincent Irizarry (David Hayward, “AMC”). “I think it’s going to be very special for all involved.”
“All My Children” and “One Life to Live” both premiere on Monday, April 29 on Hulu, Hulu Plus and iTunes.