March 11, 2007
Y&R/ATWT's L.A. Diaries on CBS innertube: An Intriguing Approach to Transmedia Storytelling

Following up on the reality show InTurn on CBS innertube, As the World Turns is now partnering with fellow CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless to produce a transmedia Webisode series called L.A. Diaries. The project, branded "Daytime Digital," takes an interesting and innovative approach in how to use a Webisode in several ways, which I will get into below.

The plot? As Linda Marshall-Smith with Soapdom explains, "It's a five-week series and takes place in a recent flashback sometime after Alison left ATWT in 2005 and before Amber arrived at Y&R last fall. Apparently, the two met while working at a dive bar in Venice, California where both young women resorted to a life of - get this - internet porn in order to make ends meet."

In short, I think the L.A. Diaries approach is instructive because of the way it appeals to the fan bases of multiple existing shows, the tight focus of the story, the way the series reintroduces characters by explaining their backstories, the way the series is used to launch a new storyline on the shows, and the crossovers back onto both ATWT and Y&R.

1.) Cross-show appeal. L.A. Diaries does what has occasionally been attempted with the main shows themselves. It becomes a space to tell a crossover story between two long-running shows. The Young and the Restless has crossed over with As the World Turns before, but it was a one-off deal, when Y&R attorney Michael Baldwin was called into Oakdale to help out in a custody case. Since Genoa City, Wisc., is reasonably close to Oakdale, Ill., in the fictional world of soaps, the two worlds can indeed have some crossover, and this digital offering expands on what has been a long-standing soap tradition of occasional crossover.

2.) Tight focus. These Webisodes can expand on exploring the crossover of characters from two different shows because it puts them in a special situation, outside of Oakdale and Genoa City, that allows fans of either show to watch and not be bogged down with such a learning curve in trying to figure out who all the characters are. By focusing on Y&R's Amber Moore and ATWT's Alison Stewart and their exploits in Los Angeles, this approach can delve further into the storytelling potential in a crossover than having a character pop up for a onetime appearance on another show.

3.) Reintroducing characters. In this case, both Amber and Alison have been off the canvas. Alison left town some time back with her boyfriend Aaron to help care for his mother in Seattle. Only this week did ATWT viewers learn that Alison and Aaron had broken up around Christmas. To further complicate things, Amber was formerly a character on The Bold and the Beautiful, played by the same actress, from 1997 until 2005, which is set in L.A. She showed up on Y&R back in November, making her a crossover character before even appearing in L.A. Diaries, but viewers who knew her from B&B did not know where she had been in the interim. L.A. Diaries presents a chance to explore what Amber was up to while she was between these two shows. For more info on Amber's character history, look here.

Meanwhile, Alison Stewart left Oakdale in 2005, last played by Jessica Dunphy, and will return played by Marnie Schulenberg. L.A. Diaries not only gives new viewers the chance to see Alison and older viewers the chance to learn where Alison has been, but it also gives Schulenberg the chance to bond with the audience as the new version of Alison before she ever debuts on the main show. Taking over as a recast can often be hard, and previous actress Dunphy was well-liked in the role, so L.A. Diaries may act as a way to overcome that barrier. For more about Alison, look here.

4.) Launching a new storyline. ATWT seems to be going quite a different direction with Alison, and L.A. Diaries acts as a chance to fill viewers in on how and why Alison's life has changed to help explain why she is so much different when she pops onto ATWT.

5.) Crossovers with the main show. L.A. Diaries kicked off with Alison showing up on Y&R. Amber went to Las Vegas, and Alison showed up as her old best friend from L.A. for one episode, as the girls pulled a con to make a man think he had married Amber in a drunken stupor (Alison actually dressed up as a man and used his ID to really marry him). During that one appearance, it was never acknowledged she was the same Alison as from ATWT, since the character is now played by a different actress, but that led to the beginning of L.A. Diaries. Soon, Emily, Alison's sister, will set out on a quest to find her sister after finding out what she's been up to in L.A. (reportedly involving pornography), and she'll end up making an appearance on Y&R later this month.

Overall, as Marshall-Smith points out, the storyline stretches across three of four CBS soap operas through this transmedia Webisode series. As the folks over at Soap Central point out, "CBS has embarked on what will be a first for the network - a storyline crossover that will span two daytime drama series, two different production companies and two different entertainment mediums."

Some viewers are questioning how much real depth there is in L.A. Diaries, in that there's probably more potential in the idea than in the actual product, but I like this idea of introducing a returning character through a Webisode series to help prepare viewers in the ways I listed above. Most people's objections is to the porn storyline itself, but I think this could be a strong new tool to introduce characters or give backstory on a more regular basis, as Barbara Bloom points out in her press release quote from many of the reports.