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RIP OLTL

April 18, 2011

I was all set to write about the National Association of Broadcasters convention, when something unexpected happened that demanded my attention.  After nearly 43 years, ABC cancelled their daytime drama “One Life to Live”.  It was the first soap that addressed cultural diversity and serious real-world issues including drug addiction, mental disorders and gang rape.  But it was the escapism factor and the respite it provided that meant so much to me.

While I haven’t seen any daytime soap in fifteen years, there was a time in my life when lunch and OLTL went hand in hand.  I was introduced to life in Llandview as a freshman in college.  (I just love the touch of that second “L” in the fictional suburb’s name.)  By sophomore year, my friends and I shunned any class held at 1:00 PM in order to spend that hour together.  I remember one afternoon when the entire quad erupted with students screaming “Get the gun!  Get the gun!”  I don’t recall what gun or who we hoped would get it, but that uniting cry still echos fresh in my memory.  This bonding ritual continued when I secured a job at a game show company.  The television was always on in our break room and checking in on Max and Blair over a salad from California Chicken Cafe was an almost daily routine.  It was practically the only time I was able to spend with the women in other departments and it was very precious to all of us. These days, people rarely have a breather during work hours, much less 60 minutes to indulge in a shared non-work experience.  It’s understandable, but still a shame.

What I didn’t appreciate until I began training as a stage manager was how immensely difficult it is to produce a soap opera.  Through my Directors Guild network, I was able to spend time on the sets of “Days of Our Lives,” “All My Children” and “The Bold and The Beautiful”.  I was positively stunned by the amount of work accomplished and the high level of professionalism exhibited on these stages.  Imagine creating over 40 minutes of drama five days a week, fifty weeks a year.  That’s a lot of scenes to block, costumes to buy and lines to learn.  Some actors left themselves hint cards and key lines hidden beneath living room sofa cushions, under night club drink coasters and behind bedroom mirrors.  That’s not in any way a knock against the talent, some of whom portrayed their characters for decades.  It’s merely one small way people figured out how to get a massive job done and please the audience.

The days of prep needed to get a weeks worth of shows ready to tape rivaled the action in the studio.  The directing team of OLTL has won 5 daytime Emmy awards, with Gary Donatelli having directed 400 episodes since 1990.  IMDB lists over thirty credited writers who have worked on that team in the last decade.  While some have only contributed to a handful of episodes, several have put their stamp on well over 100.  In 1998, All Business magazine conducted an interview with the post-production coordinator for OLTL, Margo Husin Call. One of her jobs was to keep track of all past storylines so that new members of the writing team wouldn’t create a plot that contradicted the established backstory of Llandview and its residents.  Given everything these characters have been through — including trips to heaven, outer space and in one case their own personal past — I can only imagine how challenging that would be.  But what delicious fun to be able to recount with accuracy all of Victoria Lord’s husbands.

So it is with great respect that I bow my head for a moment of silence for “One Life to Live” and the hundreds of people associated with her long history. No matter what sort of news broadcast, chat show or cooking program ends up filling the time slot, it can never replicate that feeling of sitting down with an old friend.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Maria permalink
    April 19, 2011 2:55 am

    If OLTL is not saved, you may consider the Soap Opera officially dead. GH and DOOL will go next, undoubtedly. Then YR and BB will be the last to go – likely at the same time. Brian Frons will have single-handedly eradicated an American institution – for reasons that are just NOT GOOD ENOUGH. How foolish? How sad? Robin Strasser described his genius maneuver as: “…a cavalier and utterly irresponsible decision.” Amen . . . SAVE OLTL !

    • April 19, 2011 10:55 am

      Hi Maria,
      I know there are some in the industry who hope that OLTL and AMC fans will support the remaining soaps and, by improving their numbers, keep them on the air. What do you think? Will you give GH, DOOL etc. a try if your favorite daytime drama is no longer available?

  2. Terry permalink
    April 19, 2011 2:57 am

    This genius move by ABC execs is a confession of their lack of creativity and utter incompetence. Canceling and replacing American Institutions is a wiser move than capitalizing on the Unique Marketing Vehicles that already exist?

    Brian Fronz only cares about keeping his job. He had to do something because Soaps were continuing to decline on his watch. He was clueless how to market an American Institution that has a deep and loyal fan base like no other programming has. He did not know how to re-energize it, rebrand it and expand it. He did not know how to restore Soaps into the Unique Marketing Vehicles in which they were originally intended to be. AMC and OLTL were canceled due to his lack of vision and grossly poor judgment. FRONS NEEDS TO BE CANCELED!

    • April 19, 2011 10:52 am

      Hi Terry,
      I’m curious to know who makes up the fan base these days. Certainly, the available audience in real time has declined. Workers don’t take real lunch breaks and the number of full time housewives is considerably smaller because of economic shifts. I’m sure there are people who watch soaps from their DVRs and online sources, but as I described in my article on the cost of drama this doesn’t bring in the same kind of income that traditional viewing does. And unfortunately, the entertainment industry is at its core a business like any other. Soaps aren’t nearly as expensive as their late night counterparts, but they cost much more to produce than other forms of daytime. I realize you are only one person, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on how the network could bring in enough income to keep these programs on the air.

  3. April 19, 2011 10:06 pm

    Cathy,

    I completely agree. It’s been years since I watched a soap, but it was a bonding experience; first with my grandmother when I was a child, then in college with other women in the dorms. It’s sad the networks decided to cancel so many iconic shows.

    a.e. Tyree

    • April 20, 2011 10:12 am

      A.E.,
      Thank you for sharing your memory. OLTL and AMC appear to be casualties of our society’s overall increased busyness. The audience has shrunk in all age groups. Still, I am impressed by the passion expressed by the remaining fans of these programs, particularly the marketing executive from Hoover who is reported to be removing his company’s advertising from ABC altogether in protest. Perhaps some clever network soul will be motivated to make the numbers work after all.

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