The Murder of the Iconic Daytime Television Show: One Life to Live

Friday, January 13th (a very unlucky day, indeed) will be the end of an era; it is the day that The Executioner, ABC, puts One Life to Live under the guillotine. ABC believed that OLTL was unwanted, that the murder may go unnoticed by television viewers. Perhaps they also thought that the generation of Soap Opera viewers was dying off – ratings were lower than in the past. But when the news was announced that, after 43 years of unmatchable drama, OLTL was receiving the death sentence, fans came out with pitchforks and torches – well, maybe just petitions, boycotts, letters and fury.

Inspired by their rage and my own sorrow about the show’s cancellation, I have come up with a list of reasons the Soap Operas, particularly, One Life to Live, should not be cancelled.

Erika Slezak – One Life to Live – playing Viki Lord

1. Soap Operas are Iconic

Before television, “serialized radio dramas ruled the airwaves. The radio programs were commercially sponsored by the manufacturers of household cleaning products – hence the use of the word “soap” in soap opera. The term “opera” refers to any form of elaborate dramatic entertainment…” (soapcentral.com). For some time, both radio and television Soaps coexisted, but in 1960 the last radio soap left the airwaves and the television soap rose in popularity.  Between 1963 and 1973, we see some of the Soap Operas that are still known today: 1963 – General Hospital, 1965 –  Days of Our Lives, 1968 – One Life to Live, 1970 – All My Children, 1973 – Young and the Restless (for a full list, see here).

2. It’s impossible for networks to know if popularity of the Soaps is actually in decline.

In 1980, the amount of viewers that Soaps rallied began to decline. This is not necessarily due to a lack of interest, but instead it’s more likely that there were fewer women home during the day, because they began to work more frequently. Even if groups of women tuned in to catch up on their favorite stories during lunch break, the networks have no way of evaluating how many people are watching the shows on one TV. Another, more current, thing to consider is DVR. When a network evaluates their ratings, it does not include the multitude of people who have to record the soaps to watch them later – which is ever increasing as more women continue to join the workforce. (To be fair, some men may watch the soaps, but from my experience it is almost exclusively women.) Also, people like me who don’t own a TV, may watch the soaps online. I might not make the network as much money through advertising, but there are still about 6-10 minutes worth of ads every time I watch One Life to Live on Hulu or ABC.com.

3. You don’t have to wait a week to watch the next episode

Soap Operas are unique because fans get to watch the stories unfold everyday, rather than once a week.* This has the potential to build much more of a following than a once a week show. Honestly, I tend to forget that The Office is on Thursday, or How I Met Your Mother on Mondays…and I CERTAINLY forget what time reality shows are on because a. there is so damn many of them and b. they’re awful. P.S. ABC, even if The Chew is on everyday, it’s a stupid show.

*Sure, the argument could be made that we should not be watching that much TV during the day. Generally, I agree with that (as mentioned, I don’t have a TV). But instead of watching 25 minutes worth of commercials during the hour duration of your favorite Soap (literally, that is actually the amount of commercials you will watch) get up and do something else!

4. The stories are unmatchable.

Soaps are usually unbelievable, true. But do they hold your attention? Yes. Just when you think they cannot possibly get any more outrageous, they top themselves. For a few examples – Viki’s spaceship adventure to Heaven, “Gigi” was actually Stacy and Gigi wasn’t dead, Viki and Jess/Niki and Tess, Erica Cane’s plastic surgery double, Natalie and Jess twins but from two different fathers****…and most of those are RECENT. Please do not forget that I have only viewed  about the last 10 years of 3 different Soaps (OLTL, AMC and GH), and there are 30+ years that I missed out on.

**** Updated and edited: On one of the final OLTL episodes, just DAYS after I wrote this post, it was revealed that Mitch Laurence and his accomplice Allison Perkins had actually been LYING about Mitch being Jessica’s father and Natalie being Clint’s. They were both Clint’s and the paternity test was revealed on the last day of OLTL.

5. Soap Operas have the most drama and don’t actually ruin people’s lives like Reality shows do.

As mentioned you get the craziest stories in daytime drama, without invading privacy, destroying lives and giving Americans a very false sense of what is real. Some might say that Soaps make people expect unrealistic lifestyles or scenarios, but at least it is not going under the guise of WHAT IS REAL, because it is so very obviously FICTION.To name a few people harmed by reality television…

Nick and Jessica – first year of marriage is hard enough without cameras around.

Any little girl on Toddlers and Tiaras..though their parents are hurting them just as much.

Any person on The Bachelor/Bachelorette – seriously, force falling in love in 2 months while competing against 24 other people…or trying to choose between 25 men/women. Ludicrous.

Jersey Shore* – Hurts the people on the show and promotes an unhealthy (at best) lifestyle to viewers.

*I Just Want my Pants Back, Laguna Beach, Real Housewives, The Simple Life, etc. also fall under this category.

Some reality shows may be less harmful than others, but very few are actually worth watching. Here’s a list of all the nonsense on television.

6. Soap Operas bring generations together.

From the time I was a little girl, my Nana watched All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital. When I was little, this meant it was “Nana’s TV time” from 12-3. I remember Nana standing in front of the television, watching as she cleaned the living room. I used to make fun of her for following the outrageous stories, coming back for more every day. But when I went to college, things changed. I would come home for Christmas and summer break, and during many afternoons, I would hang out with Nana. Together we would catch up on the Soaps; she would fill me in on what I had missed, and we would discuss all the various twists the stories could take in the upcoming weeks. This last summer when my favorite character Gigi Marasco died, I was heart broken and sobbing as my Nana and I watched her taken out of the hospital room. And then months later we were able to rejoice that it wasn’t really Gigi, it was her evil twin sister Stacy who had had plastic surgery to look like her! Gigi was alive! Now that I’ve moved away and cannot come home as often, I watch the One Life to Live (since AMC was cancelled, and I never really got invested into GH) and call Nana several times throughout the week to talk about what happened. We have so much fun doing this together, and really, it has brought us closer.

In conclusion…

Of course, I don’t morally approve of all the actions on Soaps – the affairs, rape, murder, lies. Of course, it’s not believable. But it’s better than the majority of what’s on television, and it is a large part of the foundation of television history. It’s tradition. Its longevity makes it so attractive, so interesting. What other shows have lasted as long as these? Some may see that as a reason to get rid of it, but I think its a reason to keep it.

ABC, this is our final plea….keep One Life to Live alive.


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