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AS THE WORLD WIDE WEB TURNS

TOO HIP FOR TV, A NEW KING OF SOAP OPERA MAKES A DRAMATIC DEBUT IN CYBERSPACE

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IT’S YOUR TYPICAL soap opera episode: Duncan needs a green card, see, and Maria is marrying him only because she has amnesia after getting hit by a bicycle messenger, has come out of her coma with an entirely different personality, and can’t remember that she’s actually in love with maid of honor Eve’s brother, Owen. And Eve is terribly distraught because she has started sleeping with her best friend, Mick, and — oh, yes — her boss, Norm, was abducted by aliens while at a men’s retreat in the Rockies and now claims that he can communicate telepathically.

Sounds juicy, huh? Well, put down that remote, because this soap isn’t on a TV network, it’s on the Internet. When the first installment of The East Village debuts on the World Wide Web on Jan. 23 (at http://www.theeastvillage.com), it will be the latest in a flurry of romantic serials that have become staple fare for Net surfers the world over. Cybersoaps deliver the over-the-top goods — characters you love to hate doing things you hate to love — while sending a knowing wink down the line to your computer. And now the latest is in production in and around Manhattan’s fabled Lower East Side.

It’s easy to see the appeal of online soaps from a producer’s point of view: While nobody has yet figured out a way to make money off the Internet, a Web serial could build a loyal repeat audience that might attract advertisers and eventually be willing to pay for its addiction.

The genre went big time last year when The Spot settled in at its Web address (http://www.thespot.com). Created by a Marina del Rey ad agency, The Spot is Melrose Place for gearheads: Seven hunks and hunkettes (and one dog) each post a daily diary entry containing text, photos, sound clips, and, occasionally, a video clip. The Spot quickly lived up to its name, winning the Cool Site of the Year award (the Web equivalent of Best Picture; see story on page 55) and bringing in an estimated 35,000 ”viewers” per day. That’s small potatoes for a TV show, but sizable by the standards of the still-growing Web. Perhaps all those snapshots of babes in thong bikinis had something to do with it: Unlike television soaps, The Spot cannily appeals to the Internet’s overwhelmingly androgen-charged audience.

Now comes The East Village, which assuredly does not want to be to The Spot what Central Park West is to Melrose Place. Created by the SoHo-based entertainment company Marinex, East Village filters its story through the journal of Eve Ramsay, a 24-year-old bohemian writer. Scheduled to be posted twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the episodes will describe the peccadilloes of Eve’s 10 closest friends in a tone that’s casually hip, romantically confounded, and amusingly exasperated: A typical entry may start, ”Mick and his new roommate Joe came over after work. We watched The Learning Channel with the sound off, listening to Spiritualized.” The text is hyperlinked, meaning you can click on the word Spiritualized and be spirited to a website devoted to that real-life British dream-pop band. Other offerings will include an archive of back episodes, detailed profiles of the characters, a map of their relationships, an in-depth history of the Lower East Side, and bulletin boards and chat rooms where East Village observers can argue about their favorite characters. Of course, there’ll also be a boutique page selling East Village T-shirts.