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In 2011, ABC cancelled two daytime soap operas - "All My Children" and "One Life to Live," which together had been on TV a combined total of 84 years. Millions of soap opera fans were devastated. But as Craig LeMoult of member station WSHU reports, soap fans are now celebrating the return of their shows - but not to TV.

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: Previously on "All My Children." JR arrives at Erica and Jack's engagement party drunk, holding a gun and bent on revenge.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

LEMOULT: That was a year and a half ago. And since then, diehard fans of the show have been asking an inversion of the classic question from the TV show "Dallas" - who did JR shoot? And for a while, it looked like they might never find out. Actor Vincent Irizarry played Dr. David Hayward.

VINCENT IRIZARRY: World-renowned cardiologist.

LEMOULT: And he says when the shows were cancelled, it took the cast by surprise too. Just a little over a year before, ABC had moved both shows from New York to L.A. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Only "All My Children" had made that move.]

IRIZARRY: This has been one of the most rewarding, most challenging, exciting characters I've had the opportunity to play in my 30-year career. And, you know, so I had to really put him to rest.

LEMOULT: But if we know one thing about soap opera characters, it's that when they die, it's not always permanent. And it turns out the same is true of these soaps. After they were canceled, a production company run by Rich Frank licensed them with a plan to stream them online, but he hit some roadblocks. Then, six months later, he got a call from the streaming video website Hulu.

RICH FRANK: And they called us up, and they said: The soap fans are dying for this to come back, and we think that there's a lot of them that will watch these shows on Hulu.

LEMOULT: Those fans had created an online and in-person campaign to bring back their shows, including protest rallies at ABC. Shawn Brady is one of those soap show activists.

SHAWN BRADY: It ranged from boycotting to writing the sponsors, to the point where Hoover vacuum cleaner company decided to pull their advertising from ABC daytime.

LEMOULT: For Brady, protesting to bring back a canceled soap opera doesn't seem at all over the top. These shows really mean something to him.

BRADY: I love the fact that whether you're having a good day or a bad day, you know they're there for you. They're like family.

LEMOULT: And now, he's getting his family back.

CROWD: (Singing) Because we only have one life to live.

LEMOULT: On a chilly March day, Brady celebrated with about 25 hardcore soap fans outside the new home of "One Life to Live" and "All My Children" in Stamford, Connecticut. The cast brought them coffee and donuts.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Thank you. It is awesome that you all came out here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We brought you guys some coffee and doughnuts.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: OK, guys, taping in five seconds.

LEMOULT: On the brand-new set, "All My Children" actors Robert Scott Wilson and Jordan Lane Price are sitting on a mattress - his shirt off, her in a silk nightie - sharing an intimate moment. Except that a few feet away from them are about 25 crew members.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Four, kissing, three, two...

LEMOULT: They start, well, making out. It takes a couple of times to get it just right. After the scene, Wilson's back in his dressing room, shirt back on.

It looks like a pretty hard job.

ROBERT SCOTT WILSON: It's got its perks.

LEMOULT: The show's executive producer, Ginger Smith, says the new online format frees up the show to be a little bit more progressive in its storylines, and even a little bit racier.

GINGER SMITH: But I always qualify by saying I went through 12 years of Catholic school. So, you know, it will be a little bit steamier, but obviously, we will always try to do good taste.

LEMOULT: The question is will loyal fans of the TV shows be willing to find them online? If they have enough fans like Tina Gray, they'll be all right.

TINA GRAY: I'm going to cry tears of joy. Actually, I'm crying now just thinking about it.

LEMOULT: "One Life to Live" and "All My Children" debut on Hulu on Monday. For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Connecticut.

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