August 9, 2004 3:41 PM PDT

Online soap opera returns from the dead

Long buried in the ashes of a bygone era, online soap opera "The Spot" has miraculously found a second life.

The story of seven 20-somethings living in a Santa Monica, Calif., beach house is trying to find new life in a new world. The creators of the new incarnation of "The Spot," many of whom were involved with the original show, are taking another stab at fusing television and the Internet into a new form of low-brow drama. This time, they believe that things will be different.

"We're much more ready as a society to have this kind of interactive experience to put ourselves into," said Stewart St. John, the show's returning executive producer.

"The Spot," which launched in February, posts daily episodes on its Web site and lets people watch video clips. The show's format seems like a typical reality TV show, except the characters are all actors following a story line.

The show revolves around daily journal entries posted by the characters. Video clips of 1 minute to 5 minutes accompany some entries. Viewers can follow these entries by visiting the Web site or through Sprint PCS Vision phones, which receive photo and text updates.

St. John calls the format "blurred reality," because plotlines can shift, based on audience feedback. Indeed, viewers can exchange messages with the characters or get updates from the cast through video clips and e-mails.

"The Spot" was originally conceived in 1995 as a pioneer for online entertainment. Although the new version has a new cast and story line, it uses the original's approach. Daily episodes are presented on its Web site, where viewers and characters post comments about the show's plot twists.

But in the real world, the show's behind-the-scenes business woes took on a American Cybercast's financial troubles became more compelling than the show's story lines. A series of management changes and financial losses led to the eventual death of the show and its parent company.

In July 1997, Cyber Oasys, which now runs "The Spot," paid $114,000 in bankruptcy court for American Cybercast's assets.

This time, the show's creators hope that fate will deal them a better hand. They consider its deal to offer text updates and photos on Sprint phones a major step forward.

Eventually, St. John would like the show to find a home on television to create interaction with three mediums: TV, the Internet and mobile phones.

 

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