Hollywood Online Pioneers Stewart St. John and Todd Fisher’s “California Heaven” Soap Premieres on New Entertainment Website
It’s challenging to sum up the careers of prolific creator-producers Stewart St. John and Todd Fisher. They’ve participated in some of the most high-profile children’s and online projects in Hollywood, from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to the groundbreaking online show The Spot.
St. John started early; he crafted his own soap opera while in high school, turning his campus into a production studio where he filmed his homegrown series that aired on local affiliate stations. Later, he came to Hollywood and landed a deal writing for animated shows like Tom & Jerry and Sabrina, moving on to help develop and pen the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and later the family feature Seventeen Again. He became story editor and eventually executive producer of the groundbreaking online series The Spot at American Cybercast, the first online network that was funded by venture capitalists in the late 90s.
Jumping forward to 2004, St. John and producing partner Todd Fisher had created the first mobile soap for Sprint, and were in discussions with AOL to create a scripted series that would air on the broadband network. While the deal was in process, St. John-Fisher ramped up production and eventually started shooting the show on a shoestring, waiting for the AOL deal to kick in. But when AOL pulled out suddenly due to internal issues the company was dealing with, St. John-Fisher were left in mid-production. Rather than scrap the series, they decided to push forward.
One camera. Two guys. A beautiful cast who doubled as crew. And a gorgeous location: Malibu. Those are the ingredients that came together to make the world’s first scripted online TV series: St. John-Fisher’s California Heaven. Now, almost six years later, the show is ready to debut in a re-mastered and re-edited version with never-before-seen footage. It also comes at a time when social networking is exploding across the internet and daytime soaps are disappearing from network television.
LA’s The Place sat down with Stewart and Todd for a Q and A interview.
LATP: Okay, so tell me about your new online soap, California Heaven! I’ve seen the trailer and it looks beautiful, yet mysterious.
Todd: Great! Thank you. That’s what we were going for. The show is about a wealthy family in Malibu, who own a chain of surf shops… who appear beautiful on the outside…
Stewart: — but in truth it’s only sand deep! (laughs). We wanted to hint at something else going on underneath the surface. And there is! And we slowly reveal it, peeling away layers until we get to the heart of what’s really going on in Malibu!
LATP: I’m guessing that’s the supernatural part, because I definitely got that feeling.
Todd: Exactly. Let’s just say, the show is building to… something. It begins when a distant family relative washes up on shore, practically below the family house which is located up on the Malibu cliffs. That sets everything into motion, and brings a girl named Heaven to Malibu.
Stewart: She’s the daughter of the woman whose body they find. She’s a fish-out-of-water, and the Corrigans — her family — tell her that her mother committed suicide. But then she gets information that the Corrigans are covering something up.
LATP: Of course they are! Love it. Every soap has to have the rich family you love to hate!
LATP: So you guys were part of the very first online network back in the 90s, right?
Stewart: Yes, I was brought on as head writer and story editor of The Spot in 96, and then Todd and I were approached almost 7 years later to bring the show back to the web as well as create a cell phone version and cross the two stories from one platform to another!
Todd: We were the first American cell phone soap… cross-converging with a web counterpart. We did thousands of daily videos and journal entries. We lived that show.
LATP: That’s incredible. And then you created California Heaven… how many episodes do you have in the can?
Todd: We have about a year’s worth of content. Over a hundred episodes, broken into seasons. The first season begins June 1st and lasts through the summer.
LATP: Wow. That’s so cool, because with so many web soaps you get about seven episodes in and that’s it. No more. So as a viewer, it’s difficult to invest your time.
Stewart: Exactly. That’s what’s great about our show, because you know you’re tuning into something that has longevity.
LATP: And it’s airing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, right?
Todd: Yes. New episodes will air on those days on our brand new web site, http://www.stjohn-fisher.com
LATP: Tell me about the cast.
Stewart: The most amazing group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. We created a family with one another. Absolute mutual respect between everyone. We brought them over from the revamped Spot series we did, to California Heaven, where they were real troopers to come and do this crazy internet series that basically had no budget.
Todd: Sometimes they had to double as production crew and go on coffee runs. There was no money. Looking back it’s incredible what we all achieved.
Megan: Yeah, and the show looks so beautiful.
Todd: That’s all Stewart. He just knows how to take whatever he’s given and make it look stunning.
Stewart: Todd is there every step of the way, trust me. (laughs) The cast made it easy because we’d developed such a short hand from working together on The Spot.
LATP: So you wrote it, shot it, and even scored it, right?
Stewart: Yep. And I just finished editing the new trailer that’s up now at the web site. Very excited about being able to go back and tweak the show to give it a new feel. We hope that people will enjoy the sense of humor the show has underneath, it’s sort of our sense of humor.
Todd: It’s family drama. A bit over the top. But fun. And definitely quirky.
LATP: Hey, nothing wrong with quirky! So how does writing for online differ than television?
Stewart: There used to be a bigger difference than there is today, but really it’s about making compelling content and connecting with — and respecting — your audience. When we did the Spot, we used to weave our fans into the storyline, going so far as to throw live event parties that were a part of the show where fans could be part of. They’d actually fly to the parties to take part in the story.
Todd: That was pretty crazy. We definitely know how to be interactive, whether it be with fans or advertisers… we love creating an immersive world that blurs the boundaries of reality.
Stewart: We’re just plain crazy is the truth. (laughs)
LATP: And California Heaven is not the only thing you have going on. You guys have launched a brand new web site, too!
Stewart: We’re really excited. We’re introducing all of our different projects on the site.
Todd: Stewart has two different children’s book series he’s been working on, and so those are launching. Plus all the music he’s done.
LATP: It’s pretty overwhelming. Do you guys ever sleep?
Stewart: No, we’re too busy! (laughs) Actually, once you get the train moving, it just starts pulling you. And that’s what it feels like right now.
Todd: We’re developing all these different projects in-house at St. John-Fisher, and want to build them into successful properties with studios and networks. But no matter what, we want to have a good time doing it!
LATP: Well, it sounds like you guys are. Thank you for sitting down with me and discussing California Heaven. Once again, when does it premiere?
Stewart: Wednesday, June 1st at http://www.stjohn-fisher.com
Stewart St. John
The St. John-Fisher Company
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Written by Jane Emery