Lauralee Bell is not afraid to try something different. It’s not all that surprising given the pedigree she comes from—her parents William J. Bell and Lee Phillip Bell created a younger, edgier experiment that would become the highest rated daytime soap of all time, The Young and the Restless and later The Bold and the Beautiful. Only now, she’s using the internet as her entertainment playground.
And this isn’t Bell’s first time swimming in the online entertainment pond. The longtime Y&R star’s 2009 series Family Dinner picked up attention on Funny or Die as she captured the all-too-typically dysfunctional antics of a dinner with relatives like Phyllis Diller and Cloris Leachman as her raunchy grandmas.
But this time around, she’s trying a new model for sustaining a show on the internet—one that doesn’t depend on the now pervasive pre-rolls and lower-third ads disrupting the viewers’ limited attention spans. Just Off Rodeo is a scripted comedy set in a hip Beverly Hills (adjacent?) boutique, where fashions from the show itself are available for viewers to purchase all within the same site.
Web viewers will recognize Mike Rose from The Legend of Neil and The Guild as the flamboyant stylist of the shop, Rodrigo. Ciara Hanna and Zoe Taylor round out the shop’s three regulars.
Just released today: Episode 3 of Just Off Rodeo
Few shows have found success deviating from the ad-supported models for online video that dominate the major platforms of YouTube, Hulu, MSN and the like. But Bell thinks differently. Each episode’s fashions, many of them branded with the Just Off Rodeo logo at first, are heavily featured in the narrative, though Bell tells us she wants to “incorporate things that are exciting to young people today and have it make sense without forcing them,” said Bell. “These characters have so much depth of them, and I would never want to content of the show to suffer because I’m trying to sell clothes.”
In terms of conversion rates, Bell tells us that about 1 out of every 40 or 50 viewers purchase the items from watching the episodes. For this latest episode, Bell teamed up with jewelry designer Jessica Elliot for bracelet and necklace-turned-headband.
I asked Bell why the series wasn’t up on YouTube, the video site that doubles as the world’s second most popular search engine, and she reiterated her vision to keep the viewer experience unique. “What’s so important for us,” she said, “is that in the same frame you see the same page the headband that she’s wearing and can buy it right there in the same visual without leaving our site. We’ll have it to your home in days.”
“A huge element of the experience gets erased (on YouTube) if we say click away to our site,” she added. But to be fair, viewers do have to find the site in the first place, something that has become increasingly difficult with the flood of online entertainment content lately.
She says they are talking to distributors, and naturally there are aspirations of a TV home for Just Off Rodeo, but for now Bell says the model is working. Sales from the previous two episodes have been enough to break even in terms of production costs. “I would love [to work with a distributor], and we’ve had two very big sites contact us and start asking for budgets,” Bell added. “We’re very interested but just waiting to see who the right fit is.”
Other soap stars have found their fans will indeed follow them off the TV and onto the internet. Days of Our Lives star Crystal Chappell launched Venice back in 2009 with a subscription fee model that still brought in core fans and a Daytime Emmy nod. All My Children’s Eden Riegel was one of the first with 2008’s Imaginary Bitches that notched several million views for its first season on YouTube.
The big wild card of course, is whether the soaps themselves can make the migration and keep the lights on. For this, eyes are all on Prospect Park and its plans to move cancelled ABC soaps All My Children and One Life to Live. If they are able to successfully draw the legions of daytime viewers online—and navigate the sea of contract negotiations and guilds—it changes the whole equation.
Episode 1 of Just Off Rodeo:
Episode 2 of Just Off Rodeo:
(Top photo by Charles Bush.)