Just like the old ABC Daytime promos used to say, I have a confession to make: this is a column I did not want to be around to write. I love One Life to Live, and I am proud to do this column, but I had been planned to be out of the "Two Scoops" business by the time ABC got around to sunsetting its soaps -- an eventuality I accepted to be very likely, though I did not accept (and still don't) that it was inevitable. I also didn't think it was going to happen quite this soon, until a few weeks before it did, and even then there seemed to be so many variables, so many unsuspected moves -- the return of Roger Howarth, the re-hiring of Lorraine Broderick at All My Children -- and between those sudden changes and the fact that the show simply went on everyday just as before, I hesitated.
I had considered pulling out before now, and tendering my resignation. I certainly considered it last year, when the show purged the majority of its minority characters and interesting new additions to return to the status quo and infest the canvas with the Ford brothers. Loyalty kept me here, and love for the show, even as my personal and professional life went through some major changes. As OLTL slowly began to improve again, I decided, why not wait? Give it a little longer, then when your other work piles up, say goodbye while the show is still around. It doesn't seem to be going anywhere just yet. Things seem stable; things are okay. Give it another few weeks, then another month, then another three. Just make sure you're not locked in when or if it is cancelled, because you couldn't handle doing that.
But here I am. I will try to keep this relatively, mercifully brief, and save my longer comments on OLTL for a later date closer to January and 2012.
I am a film geek, and that is my other life. So perversely, when I think of my relationship with One Life to Live, I think of a line from a horror movie: Alien 3. To provide you with a little context here, at that point in the Alien film series, Sigourney Weaver has pretty much had her fill of the alien in question; it's killed just about everyone she's ever met or shared a subway train with, it caused her to crash-land on a prison planet where she got space lice and had to shave her head, and then it knocked her up with a baby that's going to bust out of her chest in about ninety minutes. By this time, this sci-fi franchise has been in existence for almost twenty years. When Weaver's character confronts her otherworldly nemesis in a darkened room, the only words that come to her mind are darkly romantic: "You've been in my life so long, I can't remember anything else." This is me and One Life to Live.
My earliest memories of OLTL are of my babysitter watching it and Y&R every day; "Nadia's Theme" drove me nuts, but I did like the peppy Peabo Bryson OLTL theme song. I remember Tina, Viki, Clint, Eterna. She alternated between OLTL and ATWT. Some years later, I became hooked in the early '90s. I remember a little of Max and Gabrielle, Jake and Megan, of the Billy Douglas affair, but I really came in with the Marty Saybrooke rape storyline. I've been watching ever since, through thick and thin, good, bad, and ugly. I have been a regular viewer of OLTL for over half my life. These people have become a strange kind of family; Llanview has become a home to me as well.
My story is perhaps not dissimilar from yours. I've talked often about the moments burned into me from my history with the show: Todd and Marty, Andrew and the AIDS quilt, Max and Luna, Todd and Rebecca, Todd and Blair's early courtship which won me over even though I detested Blair for what she had done to Luna. Cain and Tina. Cord and his beard of angst. Dorian in prison, defiant and beautiful. Viki's DID breakdown in 1995, which terrified me because at that time, as a young viewer, I'd had no idea Viki had a history of mental illness, so when she screamed at Dorian, called her a bitch, and flung her down the stairs, it was the most frightening and shocking thing I'd ever seen.
Carlo Hesser as "Poseidon;" Asa and Alex; Patrick and Marty in Ireland. Antonio and Andy, and Patricia Mauceri's heartbreaking portrayal of Carlotta when Antonio first emerged from Statesville. Joey and Dorian. David Vickers. Dorian and Mel. Carlotta's affairs with Hank and Clint, and her daily diner fantasies. The Cramer family secrets in Canton, Ohio. Kevin and Kelly, as portrayed by Dan Gauthier and Heather Tom. R.J. Gannon, still one of the most fascinating characters of color daytime has ever produced, an antihero I could watch all day every day. Bo and Nora. Finding out Matthew was Bo's son. Kassie DePaiva proving to me she was an incredible actress on live television when she stole "Live Week" 2002 from Roger Howarth and everyone else during the Jack baby theft storyline. Al's death. Marcie singing "This Year's Love." Todd trying to shoot Mitch after discovering he almost raped Viki. Blair exposing "Walker" as "Todd" (or is he?) and a feral, animalistic Todd raising a hand to almost strike her. Viki and Charlie. And on and on and on.
I will not bother debating the points ABC Daytime has laid out regarding its cancellation of AMC and OLTL. Everyone's been over that ad nauseum in the last two weeks; the controversy rages on, the campaigning, the boycotts, the advertiser pullouts, probably in vain, possibly not. The fact is that this was years in the making. ABC had decided long ago that the soap opera was a relic, regardless of any relevant financial bottom line, regardless of the fact that OLTL has reportedly been working well under budget and turning a profit, regardless of some advertisers reportedly preferring longtime viewer brand loyalty to thirty-year-old soap operas versus poorly-named cooking shows or weight loss dramas.
Despite the fact that every scripted or unscripted program currently in the Top 10 or 20 in primetime or cable contains some of the building blocks of serialized drama, the soap opera itself -- the originator of the televisual form in question -- was deemed obsolete some time ago. There are ways to ensure its future viability, but no one is interested. Because the truth is that most of the people working in television today -- especially daytime -- hate daytime. They hate the soap opera; working in it shames many of them. Why else insist Grey's Anatomy is a medical drama, that the "shipper" fans for House or Bones bear no resemblance to soaps' couples' fans, that the cable-based Dallas revival is not, repeat, not a primetime soap? How much animosity do you have to have for a soap opera to replace it with something named The Chew?
"Soap opera" became a dirty word to television executives well over a decade ago, as well as to any number of tired, jaded, burnt-out and incompetent daytime personnel, many of whom fail to realize that despite their contorting these shows into pretzels of idiot plotting and logic via their annihilation of a variety of characters and shows, their endless "dry runs" for future primetime, cable, or feature film careers are never going to produce career results because they are purely and simply not good enough -- not good enough for primetime, and not good enough, it turned out, for daytime. Unfortunately, hacks re-circulate through daytime like bad air because precious few in the industry want to take any pride in daytime again -- the perception being that it is, after all, merely daytime. This is not the case in Europe or the United Kingdom. The British soaps, such as Eastenders and Coronation Street, have thrived and prospered for decades because they have been cared for and treated with respect as beloved cultural institutions, just like any other long-running program on the BBC, regardless of their focus or content. They may not run all five days of the week, they may run in the evening, but make no mistake, they are soap opera. Our long-running soaps, on the other hand, are treated like poor relations.
Were our soaps perfect? No. Despite a dedicated creative team, OLTL has problems. AMC has major problems. Every soap left on the air has problems. There were ways to streamline budgets and modernize our soaps, to heal their wounds and fix their shortcomings whatever they might be, and bolster what works in Llanview and Pine Valley, or Springfield or Bay City or Oakdale. The plain facts are these networks are not interested. OLTL and AMC did not die; they were murdered. OLTL in particular, a show that has always had a multicultural brand and a feel for the "renegades," for people on the fringes of society like Marco Dane, or damaged and harboring dark secrets like Viki, or Karen Wolek, or Carla Hall -- its brand, I feel, is still extremely contemporary.
A little over a year ago OLTL had a strong multicultural canvas and was well on its way back to its roots in that kind of storytelling, before suddenly whitewashing itself, either by network fiat, blithering incompetence, or both. But the truth is that could have been fixed, and I think it is being fixed and has been for a while this year. No soap stays perfect. They fail, they make mistakes, they recover and rise, then they do it all over again. As would any five-day-a-week serial on the air since the 1960s. Everything is cyclical, and so I forgave OLTL most of its trespasses because I knew it would all come around again. Until now.
This is a lot of meandering and not getting around to the key issues, and I apologize for that. I'm not talking about Jack getting beaten up this week, or Clint's heart attack, or Niki, or Echo and Charlie, or the mysterious file on Todd which has me very interested, or Marty spilling the beans about Liam. The bottom line is this is still a show that has a pulse, that has come back from the brink again. There's a lot wrong with it, but it is fixing that, and can still go on. It could go on for a while, if only these networks cared about their soaps. But the fact is they don't, and they haven't, and they won't, because in 2011, nobody wants to look uncool by still being in the soap opera business -- at least, on a show that admits that it's a soap opera.
So what do we do with all that? Well, if you want to campaign, campaign, and if you want to call, you call. Me, I don't know what I'm going to do just yet. I'm just trying to make some peace for the moment. Because the truth is that soap opera, serialized, regular storytelling, will always be with us, and so, yes, soap operas will come back. Maybe not in two years, but perhaps in five or ten, and certainly in fifteen. They might be all-new; they might not all have the same names or the same people, maybe not the same timeslot or frequency, but they will be back, and they will have their revenge on media as we know it.
Everything we've ever read or watched in the last several centuries has an element of what we now call soap, deep in its DNA; look to Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, or The Wire or Lost or even to those awful Twilight books, and you'll know soap opera will always be around, through continuing stories of families, or people, or towns, or lovers, or shared secrets. Like I said, everything is cyclical. And someday ABC might even realize it made a mistake demolishing its daypart, and resurrect their soap brands in some new way, shape, or form. Perhaps online, perhaps in primetime, perhaps something else entirely. Perhaps not. It truthfully doesn't matter, because well after Disney has sold ABC off to the highest bidder, soaps will still come back from the dead, and you will most likely be here to see it.
I've said this before, but I think one of the most crucial elements of soap opera as a multi-day-per-week vehicle is its ability to create a relentless consistency of narrative for the viewing audience, and a kind of total immersion which allows a daily viewer to live a life almost in tandem with the fictional towns they visit and the characters who exist there. I'm not talking about delusion, but rather about comfort; this is particularly key, I think, for people who grew up watching these shows as children. Knowing these people are there, day in, day out -- Viki, Dorian, Nora, Bo, etcetera -- can be a source of tremendous comfort for people in trying times. The bond created with the audience, that kind of hyper-awareness, is something no mere one-day-a-week program can replicate. When a soap opera is there every single day of the week, it takes on a life of its own that other scripted programs can't compare to, forming its own daily mood, language, rhythms. Why else do some "soap days" last six weeks? This is perhaps what I'll miss most about the daily soap opera; the sense of learning, growing, changing alongside people you see everyday. It's hard to imagine not seeing Llanview everyday, and not knowing Viki is out there. But I'm going to have to get used to it. I'll just choose to believe she still is.
Because of my pragmatism regarding soaps' future, the cancellation I can kind of handle, though there will surely be tears and alcohol in the coming months. What really upsets me is what I started out telling you about -- the fact that I am still going to be here writing about my show to the end, and that soon, I am going to have to take an active role in helping to put OLTL to rest. That is something I cannot fathom having a responsibility for or finding the words to adequately discuss. It is not a task I am up to, and it is one I did not want, which is why I wanted out of this job before OLTL went to its reward. I thought I had more time to make a graceful exit; I was wrong.
So here I am, and I'm going to be here 'til January, albeit perhaps with some hiccups due to my "real life." It's what I owe you, and it's certainly what I owe OLTL and everyone who's worked on it. It's been a part of my life so long that it becomes, in a sick sort of way, a part of me. It's going to be like cutting off a phantom limb, especially when I know this show in particular has, I feel, so much more that it could and should give. This is not a soap on its last legs. And soaps, and OLTL, deserve better. They're not getting it right now, but they will again someday. I hope that is some comfort.
I have been a regular viewer of this show since I was twelve years old. I would never have abandoned it for anything -- even when it pissed me off, I always came back. I love it a lot, and I know you do too. I can't say to you that this is okay, and I can't say to you that it's not going to hurt. What I can say is that soap operas are built to survive anything, and whatever happens after January 2012 and I'm done with this job, what you must remember is that the people and places you love are still out there, soap opera is still out there, and shared serialized fiction goes on however you choose to think of it.
We've got a lot to cover between now and January, at which point Llanview's future becomes what we all make of it in our own private imaginings. So I'll see you in two weeks, and we'll start getting to the business of things -- not of death, but just of looking at tomorrow. Until then, please take care.