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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 17th, 2013
07:11 PM ET

Soap operas back from the dead, get new life online

Like many characters in the crazy plot lines, soap operas have come back from the dead, resurrected online.

When ABC cancelled "All My Children" at the end of 2011, the show had more than two million viewers.

Now the soap is being made available online through Hulu, iTunes, and The Online Network.

Vincent Irizzary had spent 12 years as Dr. David Hayward on "All My Children" when the show was cancelled by ABC in 2011. Then, in a twist as dramatic as the soap's story lines, the show, and his character, were brought back from the dead.

"I get a phone call saying that we're back on track. And it was like one of those scenes that I've played on soap operas before, where somebody died for three years then you open a door, and there they are standing before you and you're like, 'what the?'" said Irizzary, with a laugh.

There was a time when daytime dramas were an ATM machine for the networks. They were cheap to produce, yet the ratings were huge.

According to The Washington Post, in 2005 ABC's "General Hospital" averaged 3.4 million viewers, compared to the nearly 12 million who tuned in to watch characters "Luke" and "Laura" get married in 1981. The wedding was one of the most famous TV moments and the high-water mark for the show.

In their heyday, soaps made so much money that they helped fund prime-time programs. But over the years, the audience literally began to die off and housewives became an endangered species.

Production company Prospect Park acquired the rights to "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" from ABC after the network decided to cancel the soaps and replace them with talk shows.

Prospect Park has since filed a lawsuit against ABC for story lines involving "One Life to Live" characters in the soap opera that did not get the ax, "General Hospital." Partner and former Disney executive Rich Frank saw money making potential in bringing them back online.

"The viewers love the shows and the advertisers have been with the shows for years. It seemed like a perfect match," said Frank.

But television fans may notice some differences in the online version.

"All My Children" veteran Susan Lucci is gone. They didn't kill off her character, "Erica Kane," Lucci said she had scheduling conflicts. And those cute little kids from the ABC version of the soaps aren't so little and innocent anymore. "All My Children's" story lines have moved ahead five years to create a new set of teenage characters.

Denyse Tahntz and Eric Nelsen play the soap's young "it" couple “Miranda” and “A.J.” Producers hope their story line grabs a younger audience, one that is already used to watching shows on smartphones. They also paid attention to the habits of their audience, knocking down the number of episodes from four to two days a week to keep viewers from falling behind.

"They want to binge view at the end of the week, and having less shows for them to catch up on is more important than having more shows," said Frank.

Online soaps are also cheaper to produce. Prospect Park cut costs by moving the shooting location to Connecticut for tax breaks, and cutting new contracts, although they are currently in a labor dispute with the technical crew.

But to save a few extra bucks, the producers took a huge risk, casting Jake Tapper of CNN’s "The Lead" to play TV investigative reporter "Spencer Phillips." Tapper needed some acting advice, so he turned to Torsten Kaye, who plays "Zach Slater."

Asked if there is such a thing as "overdoing it" when acting on a soap, Kaye said, "Of course you can." But "if people are okay with it, there are no guidelines to it. If people think what you're doing is great, then it's great."

Get a glimpse of CNN "The Lead's" Jake Tapper's acting chops in the video above, for the full performance watch "All My Children" on August 19.

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