Saturday, January 7, 2012

'One Life to Live' officially goes off the air on Friday the 13th after more than 40 years

It’s like a death in the family.

When you grow up watching something – maybe not every day, but religiously still – when it’s suddenly gone you feel lost. Empty.

That’s what’s happening to ABC’s ‘One Life to Live’ on Friday.

When the cancellation was announced months ago, fans were crushed. There was a slight reprieve when Prospect Park said they were going to take over production of ‘One Life to Live’ and ‘All My Children’ and maintain the same cast a few weeks after the announcement.

That fantasy died a few weeks ago when Prospect Park acknowledged they couldn’t raise the capital needed (a rumored $80 million) for the endeavor -- and now fans are left with nothing to do but mourn.

When you think about it, ‘One Life to Live’ has been around longer than a lot of us have been alive. It debuted in 1968 as a half hour show created by Agnes Nixon. Eight years later it expanded to 45 minutes and finally to an hour in 1978.

Since that time, the show has given us some pretty fantastical stories – especially given it was initially launched as more of a “blue collar” show featuring a more diverse cast.

I can’t really say what my favorite storyline was through the years, but I can honestly say what I hated. I hated when Kevin and Joey were shuttled off screen in favor of vapid leading men like John “mullet” McBain and Rex “my eyebrows don’t match my dye job” Balsom.

I hated when Dorian’s family was decimated in favor of nameless and faceless beefcake like the talentless Ford trio.

And I hated it when the writing took a turn for the worse and the characters we’d grown to love throughout the years did something totally out of character – like gang rapist Todd trying to romance his victim.

Despite all that, though, ‘One Life to Live’ managed to leave a legacy of love in the afternoon that gave us some wonderful couples – including Viki and Clint, Asa and Renee, Tina and Cord, Jake and Megan and Bo and Nora.

In a weird way, ‘One Life to Live’ is indicative of all the storylines people make fun of soaps for. There have been numerous characters come back from the dead, there’s been time travel, time travel television and a forgotten city full of gold under the mountains.

There’s also been riveting gang rape stories, lost children, gay teenagers and white collar prostitution.
‘One Life to Live’ literally featured it all throughout its run.

I think one of the things that really makes fans of the show bitter is that it’s the best soap currently on the air as far as quality goes – and it’s not even the lowest rated soap on ABC. That honor would go to ‘General Hospital,” which not only is the worst soap currently on daytime but has the highest payroll.

So, what will the legacy of ‘One Life to Live’ be? Will it be something you laugh at or something you treasure? For me, I think it will actually be a mixture of both. I’ll laugh at the absurd – but remember it all the same.

There are certain stories I’ll never forget – whether they were ridiculous or ridiculously wonderful. I thought, just for fun, we might revisit a few in honor of ‘One Life to Live’ as it goes to that great big heaven for bad acting in the sky (which, by the way, the soap has visited at least twice over its run).

(Note: Links in storylines will take you to vintage footage of that story on You Tube)

In no particular order:

Eterna – The 80s were hard on everyone. Soaps were no exception. Aside from the ridiculously large hairdos women were forced to have, OLTL decided to send the 1980s out with a whopper of a story in 1989. They introduced the underground city of Eterna, housed under the Lantano Mountains in Pennsylvania. There, Viki’s former lover Roger Gordon admitted that he was raised in the city (which has since been conveniently forgotten) but later escaped. While away from the city, he slept with Viki, impregnated her with their daughter Megan, and then was believed dead. Nine months later, one of Viki’s alternate personalities gave birth to Megan, and Viki conveniently “forgot.” Yeah, it was convoluted. Ironically, this wasn’t the only child Viki had “forgotten” she gave birth to. A lot of people list Eterna as one of OLTL’s worst storylines. Me, however, I was 14 years old and in love with the Tina and Cord love story. I thought it was great.

Patrick London pretends to be Bo – OLTL has never been known for its subtlety. Bob Woods, the beloved Bo Buchanan, had left the show in the mid-1980s to pursue other projects. When he returned in 1988, the character was a little “off” to say the least. He was a little bit meaner, a little bit ruder and, oh yeah, he was pursuing Tina. As viewers, we found out that the man we thought was Bo was really an imposter who was trying to mastermind a takeover of Buchanan Enterprises. The real Bo, his ex-wife Delilah and his current wife, Didi, were being held in a bunker. The real Bo managed to escape and take out the imposter – but not before his wife Didi died. As any fan of OLTL knows, however, Bo would never run out of wives so while the loss of Didi was sad, it did pave the way for one of my favorite pairings on the show – Bo and Sarah.

Viki and Clint go back in time – It was a risk to go into the science fiction territory that OLTL often found itself mired in. Thankfully, it worked for the soap for a good number of years. The 1988 time travel story was no exception. The whole story came about when Clint was shot in the head and went blind. He later went for a ride on his horse, fell and was transported back to 1888 where his eyesight had miraculously returned and all the ancestors in the old west and very familiar faces. Rumor has it that the story was supposed to be left purposely vague, with Clint waking up back in the present and leaving the viewers to decide themselves whether he had actually time traveled. Instead, however, a writer’s strike forced the rewrite of the storyline, having Viki travel back in time to save Clint and making the story “officially” part of the OLTL history.

Viki and Niki Smith – If I’m being honest, OLTL has went to the alternate personality well a few too many times (Jess, Bess, Wes and Tess comes to mind, but I digress). However, in 1985 the Niki Smith alter returned after Tina convinced Viki that she was Victor Lord’s illegitimate daughter – and oh, yeah, Victor Lord was a big old pervert that messed with anyone in his general vicinity – including his daughter. Fans genuinely loved Niki Smith’s antics – especially since Viki was such a straight-laced character and Slezak looked like she was having a ball playing the role. A few years later, OLTL revisited the alternate personalities again and introduced Jean, Tommy and a few other denizens of Viki’s head – however Niki Smith was always the best alter.

Megan’s death – Jessica Tuck and Joe Lando had fantastic chemistry as the star-crossed Jake and Megan. Right after the titular two-some got married, private investigator Jake took off on a case and disappeared, leaving his distraught wife to wonder if he was alive or dead. At the same time, Megan was diagnosed with lupus and her health started to fail. Despite his crush on Megan, local minister Andrew managed to rescue Jake from the men holding him captive in time to get him home to his dying wife. Once reunited, Jake lifted Megan up and took her to the window to see a tree he’d decorated in hearts. Megan died in her beloved’s arms, dropping one of the paper hearts to the ground as she went. She later appeared as a ghost to stop a bereaved Jake from killing himself without her. The scenes were heartbreakingly real, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Marty’s gang rape – Not only was this story powerful, it was also a departure for OLTL. The show had become known as something of a fantastical realm where science fiction was the reality. However, with the graphic rape of bad girl Marty – and her subsequent announcement that show hero Kevin Buchanan was one of the perpetrators – Marty’s rape became one of the most important stories in OLTL’s history. It also introduced an actor named Roger Howarth – who played Todd Manning – the leader of the gang rape attack on Marty. Todd was supposed to be a day player – only around for the fallout from the rape. Instead, Todd became the show’s leading man, brother to show heroine Viki and father to tot tyrant Starr before “dying.” He was later resurrected with a new face, but just this year Howarth returned for the fans to give them the Todd they really wanted – even if he is an acknowledged gang rapist.

A tale of two Todds – When Roger Howarth left, he took one of the greatest soap characters ever to grace the screen with him. In a smart move, OLTL recast Todd with Trevor St. John in a story that allowed fans to decide if they liked him before it was revealed he was the real Todd (with plastic surgery, of course). St. John was a true talent. In fact, he’s one of the better recasts in soap history. Right up until his almost death by lethal injection, St. John embodied Todd and acted his little heart out. Things drastically changed after that. The writing for Todd was decidedly worse, for sure, but St. John seemed to lose his passion for the character. Between the bad writing and lackluster acting, the character of Todd became, well, obnoxious. Between plotting to steal his own grandchild and abandon his own children to be with the woman he once gang raped and physically abusing his wife, Tea, this was not the Todd we’d grown to love. Then, Roger Howarth made himself available to come back as the real Todd and all was right with the world. St. John’s acting as Todd’s twin brother, “special” Victor was back at top-notch levels and fans helped the now cancelled soap rebound with huge gains in viewership. Alas, the convoluted mess behind the story of the two Todds was a ridiculous flub, but those few months with both Todd and Frodd on the canvas together were must-see TV.

Jessica and Antonio
Jessica’s teen pregnancy – Erin Torpey was one of the few soap actresses to play a character from childhood into adulthood. Soaps are notorious for aging their kids rapidly, or even having them grow up in the attic – so to have one actress play a part from when she was a small child through her teens is not something you see every day. That’s what made the storyline of Jessica’s teen pregnancy so powerful, though. To have the virginal Jessica give it up in a fit of angst to a stepbrother she barely knew, then get hit by a car late in the pregnancy – thus causing a still birth -- was both heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time. Viewers cried right along with Jessica as the family lost another Megan.

Karen Wolek admits she’s a hooker – Most viewers think of Angela on “Who’s the Boss” when they think of Judith Light. Before Angela, though, there was Karen Wolek. One of OLTL’s defining moments came at Viki’s trial for killing Marco Dane (we’d later find out it was Marco’s twin brother who was killed – but that’s a really long story in and of itself). At Viki’s trial, Karen was forced to admit her hooker lifestyle. In some of the most well acted and breathtaking scenes, Light took control of an entire storyline and made it her own. Any fan of OLTL never forgot Karen’s breakdown on the stand and Light’s performance is still lauded today – more than 30 years later.

Tina goes over the falls – Tina and Cord’s love story was never easy – I mean we just got a happy ending to it (finally) a few weeks ago. But, back at the height of the couple’s wackiness, there was Tina’s water “fall.” Back when Cord’s mother Maria was trying to keep her son from Tina (who she couldn’t stand) and with boring Kate (‘Desperate Housewives’ Marcia Cross), Maria hired Max Holden to keep a pregnant Tina away from true love Cord. In Buenos Aires, both couples collided and Kate’s psychotic brother put Tina in a boat and both Tina and her unborn baby were believed killed when going over the waterfall. Not long after, when Cord was at the altar about to marry Kate, Tina interrupted the wedding with a baby before fainting. Of course, we all know that baby was Al (Tina and Cord would eventually find their own child) – but the moment is a soap legacy.

Honorable mentions:

Tina says the wrong name at the altar: Long before Ross said Rachel when he was marrying Emily on ‘Friends,’ Tina accidentally did the same when trying to marry Max and move on from true love Cord. We all know how that ended.

Homophobia hits Llanview: Ryan Phillippe’s tenure on the show may not have been a long one, but it was powerful. When Joey’s best friend Billy came out as gay, a then overtly devious Marty told everyone in town that Andrew had molested Billy (mainly because Andrew had rebuffed her advances) and eventually everyone in town had to pick a side. The stories and acting were powerful – especially in a social story that needed to be told.

Blair and Todd’s unusual romance: As the two town losers, Blair and Todd may have been destined to hook up. The fact that they became the show’s signature couple is beyond anyone’s comprehension. After almost 20 years together, Roger Howarth and Kassie DePaiva still have mad chemistry and fans are rooting for the duo to hook up before the end.

 What are your favorite ‘One Life to Live’ storylines?

Click here for their worst couples?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great choices! But I also have fond memories of some now (often) forgotten characters - Herb Callisan, Dorian's daughter Cassie and sister Melinda, Marco Dane, Delilah, The Woleks, Joe Riley/Tom Dennison - so many. And the wonderful boy actors who played Kevin and Joey for years and years, till someone decided to age them into college-age "hunks." But the backbone has always been Viki, Dorian, and Tina. Together, they could run the gamut.

January 8, 2012 at 9:34 AM 
Blogger Amanda Lee said...

I agree on your stories, too. It was a lot harder to narrow down story choices than I thought it would in the end. There was so much to choose from.

January 8, 2012 at 10:19 AM 
Blogger Quackerz1138 said...

I would only add Viki's journey to Heaven story. It was a fun story and gave a creative way to have a reunion/retrospective (though I would agree, the death of Megan created an even more comprehensive and touching retrospective).

January 8, 2012 at 9:39 PM 
Blogger Trent said...

I'll probably be stoned for heresy or blasphemy, but what got me watching OLTL in the first place was the baby switching story linking the show with All My Children. I had been an AMC addict before, kicked the habit, and then had caught an episode one day by chance with Babe, Bianca, and Bess. It didn't take long to get me hooked into the Llanview landscape as well. Frankly, I think if someone ever does get the backing to bring these shows back, it would be smart to link them again. Perhaps, Dr. David could save Victor Lord, Jr. with his miracles?

January 9, 2012 at 12:21 AM 

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