One Life to Live looks like live TV because it’s shot like live TV. The editing happens on the fly. In the command center, a dark rectangular room full of televisions, two rows of writers, directors, and producers call out directions and camera changes like NASA Mission Control. Two female characters are in conversation on a bench in one of the set’s outdoor locations. The more grief-stricken of the two hands her confidante a letter. The director calls for a switch to Camera 2 as the character passes the letter to the other woman. The main TV now displays a medium close-up of that person as she reads the letter. Cut.
“It’s all surface,” one of the members of Mission Control says, dismayed. “We need to find the moments,” she says. The actress takes back the letter from the actress. She looks around, saying that she’s “a bad actress today.” They try again.
Years ago, when there was the big shift to cable, where all of a sudden some viewers couldn’t get soaps with their antennas, they went out and got cable. So why wouldn’t they get on the computer? - Jennifer Pepperman, OLTL Executive Producer
Because soaps have so many more episodes per season than a prime-time drama, the production schedule is insane. The day of Riff’s episode, they’re running through 57.75 pages of script, and that’s just the a.m. shoot.
On the Facebook page for One Life to Live, which boasts over half-a-million likes, you’ll find some viewers griping that the show needs to be on TV, not online. On a March 28 announcement update about the three ways to watch the show—on your computer with Hulu, on your mobile device with Hulu Plus, or by purchasing episodes from iTunes—OLTL fan Joyce Bargas commented: “It needs to be bk on tv [unhappy face emoji].” Her comment received 218 likes.
The OnLine Network’s Head of Marketing Angelica Cob-Baehler, who watched the record industry negotiate the rise of the Internet, isn’t surprised by these sentiments. But she’s quick to point out all the people on set, all the men and women working behind the scenes. “This isn’t a web series from some kids in Brooklyn,” she says. She’s right. This is an honest-to-God TV show, just one you’ll watch on your computer. Or on your Internet-connected television set.
Executive Producer Jennifer Pepperman gives the fans much credit for bringing the show back. “The fans didn’t give up, and now that we’re back, I don’t think the fact that they have to go on a computer and click some stuff to watch is going to be a deterrent. Years ago, when there was the big shift to cable, where all of a sudden some viewers couldn’t get soaps with their antennas, they went out and got cable. So why wouldn’t they get on the computer?”
But who are the fans? A streaming Netflix-exclusive show like House of Cards is aimed at the TV elite, folks who are tech-savvy and obsessed with the medium; they’re already online, because they’re tweeting and blogging about their new favorite show. They’re the people who make Girls feel like it must be one of America’s most-watched shows—even though it isn’t.
On April 23, One Life to Live had its gala premiere, to an audience that included many lucky fans. I sat in a row behind one of them. After OLTL and All My Children were introduced and the lights went down, this fan loosed a single hiccuped sob. She was older, in her late 50s, but every single time she applauded and whooped at each introduction of a classic character, I became more and more convinced that she would crawl over barbed wire to get to her soaps come April 29, when they premiere online. And if the older soap demographic comes to the Internet to watch, that’s excellent proof that, in no time at all, we’ll all be watching TV without the help of cable companies.
All the Internet commotion caused by the announcement of Riff’s role indicates that new viewers will seek out One Life to Live, too. Viewers who, unlike Snoop Lion, didn’t have a loved one who watched the program religiously now have a reason to watch—for one episode, anyway. That reason’s name is Riff Raff.
Or is it Blueberry Jones? In a cordoned-off area of the studio, Riff tells his manager that his character shouldn’t have been called Jamie Franko. Wearing butter-soft leather loafers and a trim electric blue suit, Riff christens himself Blueberry Jones. I bear witness. (Later, he’ll change his Twitter handle to read the same. We are all witnesses.)
He takes alternating sips from a can of sugar-free Red Bull and a Corona long-neck as the crew readies the cameras, lights, and extras in Shelter, the nightclub where he’ll try to get Franko’s money back. And then it’s time.
Of course Riff Raff is good at acting. He takes directions like a pro. Oh, he’s jangling his lower body too much after the cameras cut in for a close up while he demands his money, and it’s messing up the framing? Then he’ll just chill from the shoulders down. He improvises intimidation tactics like removing his sunglasses to better stare hard at his victim, and his goofy faces look fucking great. He’s funny. All of the extras gawk at him as he stunts. He ad libs lines, refers to money as “fettucinis.”
After a few takes, they’ve got the first short scene. It’s a wrap. Riff Raff, it must be said, is a natural.
Written by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)