Soaps hit the Web, and they're interactive

February 27, 1996|By Lini S. Kadaba | Lini S. Kadaba,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Lon tries to kiss Carrie, but he gets blown off. Lon starts to feel trapped in his relationship with his actress friend Joanne, but that doesn't stop him from letting her spend the night. Michelle drinks too much and flirts her way out of trouble with the cops.

Your typical soap opera? Nope. This is "The Spot," where a Santa Monica bunch of the young (twentysomethings) and restless (everyone's sleeping around) muses about, like, their love lives and, like, other important issues by way of journal entries, complete with snapshots and sound bites, updated seven days a week.

It's your typical "Melrose Place" meets "Baywatch."

The soap is just one in a lineup of entertainment programs hitting the Net in recent months with a Web-sized wallop. Besides "The Spot," its creator, American Cybercast in Marina del Rey, Calif., plans to launch four more programs, from sci-fi to drama.

There is also "The East Village," another Net-head soap serial that debuted last month and some highbrow fare at sites such as the Discovery Channel Online. There are even a couple of spoofs, including "The Squat," a takeoff of "The Spot" that features the character Cleitus and his companions who live in a ** trailer park, and "Cereal," a comedy planned for later this year from K2 Interactive Productions.

"This will be TV interactive TV," said Scott Zakarin, 32, creator and producer of "The Spot." "You want to yell at the TV screen when you watch your favorite show. 'Hey, don't go in there!' Well, now you can do that."

Consider "The Spot," where an impostor was tried by an Internet jury of "viewers" who deliberated in a chat room, and where story lines regularly include suggestions from the audience.

Others, however, think "cybertainment" won't amount to a hill of bits and bytes in this crazy world.

"It will be a big flash in the pan," Nelson Thall, research director of the Center for Media Sciences in Toronto, said of cybersoaps and other such fare as sci-fi and dramas. With a heavy dose of imagery from mass communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, Mr. Thall said that "the mass man is realizing he no longer can be entertained to death. To survive under electronic conditions, you have to become an information hunter." The Internet, he said, is the medium of the Information Age. It will, he said, sound a death knell for the age of Hollywood-style entertainment.

Even cybertainment, with its element of interactivity, he contended, will eventually fade into the virtual sunset.

For the moment, though, the rush is on to saturate the Net with cybershows. Soaps rank among the hottest programs, with "The Spot" capturing the spotlight. It attracts about 40,000 fans a day, its creators say, and won "Cool Site of the Year" -- the Emmy of the Web World -- last year.

It also has started attracting interactive ads to offset the $70,000 a month it costs to produce the show.

What's the lure? Think "Melrose Place," throw in your favorite day-time soap and a splash of "Baywatch."

"The serial form has always been a very, very popular way of storytelling," said Jason Bonderoff, deputy editor of Soap Opera Digest. Each medium has had its share of "soaps," from Charles Dickens' novels and the "Perils of Pauline" on film to radio's "The Guiding Light," which debuted on television in 1952.

Now, the new outlet is the Internet. Mr. Bonderoff said the programs lack sophistication (even the producers say cybertainment resembles the early days of television) but show potential.

Click here for more.

Come on in! If you're visiting for the first time, click on Spot Virgins to "lose it." You'll be zipped through cyberspace to the June 6 pilot episode of the show steaming up computer screens around the world.

L Right away, it's clear this is a sort of "As the Web Turns."

There's Michelle Foster, whose wardrobe appears to consist of nothing but bikinis. In addition to Spotnik, a "cyberian husky" and canine cutup, Ms. Foster's mates at this seven-bedroom, Santa Monica beach house include a bold and beautiful cast: sweet Carrie Seaver, a sales associate at a local bookstore; hunky Lon Oliver, the actor and the waiter who regularly bares his chest; moody Jeff Benton, the landlord with the mysterious childhood, and cute, 23-year-old film student Tara Hartwick. Click.

Tara reveals in a real-life interview that she's actress/writer/everything but the kitchen sink Laurie Plaksin. 11 "The Spot," she reminds, is make-believe even though her character has had several marriage offers. No acceptances, yet, she says.

She works for American Cybercast, the newly created production company and syndicator that has big dreams, envisioning itself as the NBC of the Net.

Before that, Ms. Plaksin worked as an assistant for a division of Fattal & Collins, the Marina del Rey, Calif., ad agency that is bankrolling "The Spot" and the network's other programs, including "EON IV," a sci-fi serial to premiere in a few weeks.

"I enjoy the writing," said Ms. Plaksin, 24, whose Tara is a prolific journal keeper. (Each actor writes the journal entry for his or her character, which is posted a few minutes after 3 a.m. EST, and responds personally to e-mail from viewers.)

On the computer screen you'll see Tara's journal entries alongside playful snapshots of her.

Soaps on-line

* "The Spot" http://www.thespot.com

* "The East Village" http://www. theeastvillage.com

G; * "The Squat" http://theory.physics. missouri.edu/squat

5/8

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