When it comes to the world of online entertainment, nobody knows more than daytime veteran Crystal Chappell (ex-Carly Manning, Days of our Lives; ex-Olivia Spencer, Guiding Light; ex-Maggie Carpenter, One Life to Live). In 2009, long before streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime made digital content the norm, she jumped headfirst -- bravely and boldly -- into producing Venice, a digital drama that started winning Daytime Emmy Awards right out of the gate. Having learned a lot since that success, she recently took another brave and bold step into a venture that has thus far remained largely unexplored: launching a new streaming platform dedicated to providing content made by women.
Called Reel Women's Network, the new subscription-based streaming service showcases films, shows, web series, documentaries, and digital content created by women and women-identified filmmakers and content creators. Unlike a women's network such as Lifetime, which provides content for women, RWN provides content by women -- which Chappell says is the differentiating factor.
"We have done our research, and there isn't a major platform for women that we know of... nothing online, being on the go, as we are now, where female content creators can actually be showcased," she tells Soap Central. "And I just know, having done Venice for a decade now, what some of the challenges are in getting your show out there, and being very fortunate to have people support Venice, how important it is to showcase other women's talents. There are so many great female writers and directors and producers and editors, and just female entrepreneurs in general, who tell stories through video. And we really want to help showcase that talent."
Reel Women's Network offers a complete mix of genres and styles for viewers to choose from, including dramas, comedies, shorts, and features. Chappel says there's even an exercise video category and a female-produced podcast about women's issues in the pipeline. And what makes it all different from the plethora of content on the market right now is the unique female perspective that goes into getting it made.
"There's nothing that can compare to a woman's voice," the actress says. "I think there are tremendously wonderful men out there, but if you want to tell a woman's story, you have to come to her."
Besides, as she points out, "Women get shit done! We just do. And I see so much out there creatively. Most women that I meet in the independent film world can do many things: they shoot their own show, they edit their own show, they write their own show, they light their own show. They do it ALL. And they have no place to go if they can't get a distribution deal. And even then, you never know where you're going to land and when you're going to see it again. I've been in those pipelines. So, I do think there is something unique about a woman's voice and her creativity. And that is not to disparage men! There is just something unique about a woman's voice."
One would think that when starting an entire streaming platform, it would be a challenge to amass enough quality content to get the network off the ground. But Chappell says the exact opposite has been true. There is a lot of great content out there -- it's just a matter of finding a home for it, which is what RWN provides.
"There are a lot of independent shows out there that are made, and I don't know why, but they're not being seen," she says. "I personally would love to see some of these more obscure shows that don't have names in them get more attention, just because I've watched them, and they're good. They've got good quality acting and writing and directing in them... There are a lot of wonderful, independent filmmakers out there, and it's a matter of letting women know that we are out there."
One way Chappell is getting the word out and making Reel Women's Network as modern and streamlined as possible is by offering the streaming platform via an app.
"My 16-year-old son sleeps next to his desktop and watches whole series on his phone, like all of Stranger Things on his phone, and I'm like, 'How can you see it?!'" she says with a laugh. "But that's just what they do. So, we thought that the app was really important, and I heard that even the Daytime Emmys are doing that, which I thought was really smart; you can just sit and watch it on your phone. There's something very convenient about these online platforms."
Obviously, with an online series and now an online network to her name, Chappell is an expert in the digital entertainment sphere. So, what does she think about soap operas making the move to digital spaces? Could canceled shows like GL, As the World Turns, All My Children, and One Life to Live come back digitally?
"I hope so, but there's a mind shift when you're in my world, which is in the lower monetary [production area]," she explains. "If you are producing with Netflix or Hulu, they have much bigger budgets, but I think they would face the same issues as they did on network television in a lot of ways. You have to think in terms of restructuring and bringing the budget way down. I still think you can have an amazing show, but it's a mindset that needed to shift with popular TV shows like that. You have to be willing to look at it differently and approach it differently. So, I don't know. It depends on who's running things!"
If Guiding Light did get a second chance at life, Chappell is pretty sure that fans would find her Springfield alter ego, Olivia Spencer, still happily partnered with Natalia (Jessica Leccia) -- even though it's been more than a decade since viewers last saw the popular pair.
"I think they're happy. I think they probably have more kids and they're living on a farm and have animals, and Olivia is annoyed with the horses neighing and Natalia has blasted her for that," she says with a laugh. "But I think they're happy. Happy and grounded. And probably homeschooling and making posters for political protests!"
Unfortunately, there is little chance that fans will ever see Olivia's life on the screen again. But luckily for soap opera fans, Chappell still has one soap opera character that could be seen again: Days of our Lives' Carly Manning. As fans may recall, the character battled a drug and alcohol problem when she was last on the canvas in 2011, but the powers that be left the door open for her return. After a stint in rehab, Carly went to Europe to work on herself and could therefore come back to Salem at any time.
"I thought they put a nice button on it, with her going through her addiction and then shutting off with her children and dealing with her family," Chappell says of the storyline that ushered her off the canvas. "If I were to imagine her somewhere, it would be donating her time. She has probably become a lawyer! But I think they did a terrific job. It was a fun story to play on my way out."
As for whether or not she would be open to reprising the character if the opportunity came about, Chappell says she would certainly consider it. "It would just have to be the right time, the right story," she says. "I wouldn't mind doing something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. To do a story like that. It would be interesting to see what life is like beyond Bo [Peter Reckell]!"
A lot of fans would agree, and many would probably love to see what Carly's up to these days -- after all, nothing is more comforting in troubling times like the current coronavirus pandemic than catching up on daytime dramas and the fictional characters viewers have come to love over the years. Tuning in to soap operas is like wrapping up in a big, cozy quilt and hanging out with family members -- which is exactly how Chappell feels, as well.
"I grew up watching All My Children and General Hospital, and I have such really great memories -- and I share those memories with my family," she says of the comfort and nostalgia that soap operas bring. "When a show is on that long, fifty something years, and I would hear stories about Guiding Light specifically, you know, 'I watched it with my grandmother,' or 'I listened to it on the radio.' That's a legacy! That is like remembering great athletes and moments in sports. It's the same kind of feeling, that, 'Yeah, I remember when...' And I think that's what soaps do. They give you that throughline, and it connects to possibly your childhood or moments with your grandmother. That's real stuff that stays with you, and that's what the soaps do."
For more information about Reel Women's Network, check out Soap Central's original report on the streaming platform here.
What do you think about Crystal Chappell launching a platform for female-created content? Do you agree with the actress about what GL's Olivia and DAYS' Carly are up to these days? If not, how do you imagine Olivia and/or Carly's off-screen life? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.