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A Tangled Web We Weave

Alien abductions, a search for Elvis' lost journals: In the Internet's interactive soap operas, bad acting is banished, and content runs wild and free.

June 30, 1996|Ivy Brown | Ivy Brown is managing editor of MultiMedia Merchandising magazine

It's all about Eve. She's a neurotic 24-year-old editor and aspiring celebrity whose daily triumphs and torments are the centerpiece of the sexy new soap "The East Village." Like most of her soap counterparts, Eve struggles with the problems of the day, like whether to go to a supercool party or stay home and worry about a drug-using friend. (She opts for the party.)

Eve's stylish pals would make the cast of "Melrose Place" envious, but you won't find this bunch on television--not even on the Fox network. To see this hyper-hip East Coast sudser, you'll need a computer and modem. "The East Village" (on the World Wide Web at http://www.theeastvillage.com) is one of the hottest cybersoaps on the Internet.

It's a partnership of unlikely bedfellows.

Soap operas, one of the most traditional forms of television, have been adapted to the Internet, potentially the most progressive forum for a diversity of entertainment. And the cybersoaps are proving to be among the most successful marriages of entertainment and the Net.

It's not hard to see why.

The World Wide Web offers a level of freedom of content that doesn't exist on television, and the purveyors of these new soaps have been quick to take advantage of this frontier playground.

Bad acting is not a concern, because the majority of cyberdramas are played out through text and still photographs. Yet cybersoaps offer a strangely intimate experience. Unlike television, they are highly interactive, in many cases allowing the audience to e-mail questions and comments to the show's cast of characters, send "private" messages and even talk in live chat rooms. Many of the soaps provide each character's in-depth biography, detailing everything from astrological signs to everyone's deepest, darkest secrets. Some even allow fans to download steamy photos of the cyberstars. And they are accessible 24 hours a day--no need for fans to program a VCR.

This genre, which only turned up on the Web during the last year, is bubbling up all over cyberspace. The list is long and growing.

For example, there's "MelrosEast" (at http://www.inx.net/ ~mvo/melroseast.html), a tongue-in-cheek soap that features mad cow barbecues amid heaping dollops of twentysomething yearning.

"Union2" (http://www.totalny.com/city/union/) is an urban photo-novella about "love, lust and libations in the big city," following Carla and Joe in their search for true ecstasy.

At "101 Hollywood Blvd." (http://home.navisoft.com/brewpubclub/101.htm), fans watch the antics of "a six-pack of young filmmakers in and out of movies and love."

And for those who miss their dazed-and-confused college years, there's "T@P Virtual Dorm" (http://www.taponline.com/tap/voyeur/vdorm/).

The Net also offers a gay and lesbian soap titled "Gay Daze" (http://www.gaydaze.com/).

And those are the more traditional cybersoaps.

Because anybody with an idea, the right software and enough time can create his or her own cybersoap, specialized subjects and settings continue to emerge.

Serials deal with topics ranging from alien abductions to complex government conspiracies and from exploding pigs to the search for the lost journals of Elvis.

If psychological maladies appeal to you, there's the odd satirical soap "Ferndale" (http://www.ferndale.com/), set in a mental facility.

Others include the slacker soap "Chiphead Harry" (http://exp1.mobius.net/baudeville/html/chiphead.html), the cyberpunk futuristic "Generation War" (http://www.webmovie.com/ffwd.htm) and the adventures in corporate incompetence of "Cretins, Inc" (http://www.nembley.com/).

*

The incredible proliferation of cybersuds can be tracked to June 5, 1995, in Marina del Rey.Russell Collins of the advertising agency Fattal & Collins came up with "The Spot" (http://www.thespot.com/), which follows the life and times of five young and tanned people living in a funky Santa Monica beach house. During its first 24 hours, "The Spot" received more than 17,000 hits. Today, that's not a staggering number, but it was back then. Collins knew he was on to something.

"The Internet community recognized that this was a very good formula and copied it," says Collins, executive producer of "The Spot." "Obviously, it was the first and the biggest of the cybersoaps."

Others soon joined in.

"We've tried to create a community around 'The East Village,' " says Charles Stuart Platkin, executive producer of the soap, which provides e-mail, chat rooms and "The East Village" radio station for Web surfers to listen to as they view the soap. "We've developed cliques [that] audience members can join. It's analogous to becoming a friend of one of the characters."

In addition, Platkin says, he is working an "East Village" clothing line and plans an alternative music CD.

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