News Article

The Gaze of Our Lives

On-line soap operas -- ''Chimichange '95,'' ''Techno 3,'' and ''Parellel Lives'' play on the Internet

Will Lon muster the courage to break up with his sex-crazed girlfriend? How will Eddie and Kay deal with each other after their one-night stand? Can Marie stop the potentially toxic development of a superplastic?

Though traditional soap operas may be struggling to defend their popularity from the onslaught of daytime gabfests, these hardy creatures have entered cyberspace, attracting not only Melrose Place fans suffering from summer withdrawal but surfers looking for absorbing on-line fare. ''After spending a lot of time surfing [the Net], we realized...there was nothing compelling that would make you come back day after day,'' says Scott Zakarin, a 31-year-old advertising filmmaker who, with the help of colleagues, created the Internet's The Spot. In The Spot, which Zakarin estimates is seen by 75,000 people a week, five fictional housemates (including Lon) post pseudo-introspective diary entries. Spin magazine's Chimichanga '95 follows the shenanigans surrounding a Lollapalooza-like tour, complete with such rock surrogates as Eddie Vandogh. Techno 3, a Hispanic thriller on the Net, features Marie, Helen, and Jillian, friends by day, enemies on-line.

While lacking TV's live action, cybersoaps offer regularly updated, text-laden episodes flecked with photos and illustrations. Parallel Lives, a 12-week trilogy on America Online this past spring, even incorporated ads, and Zakarin says The Spot expects to add commercials this year. But cybersoaps give audiences, as well as creators, something TV can't — instant response. Most on-line serials include message boards encouraging readers to contribute ideas. ''I had a character who was crude and obnoxious, and everybody started bashing him, so he started to repent. But that doesn't mean he won't be a moron again,'' says Zakarin.

''I have the most intimate relationship with my audience that any programmer could have,'' Zakarin adds, ''because I'm getting 300 E-mails a day.'' ''That kind of immediacy is amazing,'' agrees Mark Gauthier, 39, cocreator of Parallel Lives as well as two new serials for the upcoming Microsoft Network. Neither believes on-line soaps will ever replace their TV counterparts, but they do think their serials, having been thoroughly tested by a discriminating audience, could make the leap to TV, perhaps more easily than if one of the world's most popular shows went on-line. ''People [on-line] don't want to be talked down to. They don't want ludicrous subject matter,'' says Zakarin. '''Baywatch" would not fly.''

Originally posted Aug 04, 1995 Published in issue #286 Aug 04, 1995 Order article reprints