By Silas Kain
Many of you may not know that the working title for One Life to Live was Between Heaven and Hell.
These days there seems to be a heck of a lot more Hell and very little Heaven as the writers drop one opportunity after another for the only soap on ABC Daytime that has staying power. And that’s where it’s at for me.
One Life to Live has become the daytime serial of lost opportunities and I see only one motivation – pulling the plug. The way I see it, ABC Daytime began this descent when they replaced visionary Angela Shapiro with studio pit bull Brian Frons.
That’s right I said it.
He’s a pit bull who has no clue what it is to be a Daytime fan. He’s surrounded himself with his own groupies who worship at his altar of ratings and power while sacrificing the compelling story lines which ABC Daytime had come to be known for.
While actors, producers, crew and Agnes Nixon herself would never publicly utter a negative word in Frons’ direction those of us behind the scenes know the truth.
Nevertheless, I digress. Back to OLTL and why I am flipping mad…
There was one thing fans of OLTL appreciated – the diversity of stories.
Sure, some were over the top – but woven into those surreal stories were valuable lessons to be learned.
Take the Eterna story, for instance. There was something mystical, almost magical about it. It was a parable for making new beginnings. It was a story of hope, of being steadfast and opening one’s eyes to alternatives to the reality one may find him or herself.
Getting to the heart of the matter, OLTL writers “got it”. They understood their role in the American conversation.
Over the years they brilliantly portrayed the struggles of a “white looking” African American. They introduced interracial romance and, yes, they even introduced viewers to Jewish customs and traditions with the show’s heroine, Nora Hanan Gannon Buchanan. (I just LOVE typing that out).
I may have been a rabid Another World fan but with the birth of the VCR, I was able to keep up directly with its competition. So, we’ve got the hype out of the way. Let’s get on to the missed opportunities and why I see OLTL as being primed for Brian Frons’ chopping block.
It all began a year ago. Oliver Fish – overall good guy, cop and cute as an All American Apple Pie button. Enter Kyle. Past lover. Has issues. That’s right, Oliver’s gay. But in the end, they do love each other. Fans become part of a movement known as KISH.
Meanwhile there’s another storyline going on where Carlotta is questioning Cristian’s sexuality. It’s all very innocent. Part of the whole scenario.
But behind the scenes Patricia Mauceri was let go because, she claims, it was due to her personal religious beliefs and those of her character.
First of all, I don’t agree with Ms. Mauceri’s personal religious beliefs with regard to homosexuality.
However, I do believe she is entitled to her opinion because that is a part of her faith and culture. And it was that exact faith immersed in her culture which propelled her to the role of Carlotta Vega for 14 years.
Like it or not, Mauceri was right. No self respecting very Catholic Latina woman is going to embrace the notion of a gay son without drama. That, my friends, is reality. And that is what OLTL was known for portraying for a quarter century. The first opportunity lost was exploring Carlotta’s apprehension and fear.
Then there’s the angst of Cristian hiding his friend’s secret at great cost. There could have been such a compelling storyline written here about the love of a mother, the loyalty of a son and the price paid for respect of an individual’s choices.
But it doesn’t end there.
There was the Stacy baby story line that was shoved down our throats because Brian Frons was enamored with the thought of Crystal Hunt being on an ABC soap. Isn’t it amazing how the whims of one man can destroy 30 years of Daytime?
Again, I digress. Back to the point.
The baby, as we all know, was Oliver’s thanks to a one night stand when Oliver had to prove to himself that he was straight – oh my! Believe it or not, that entire storyline was plausible. Ask any gay guy. He’ll tell you. And there they were – Oliver, Kyle and Sierra Rose.
And off they went. Off the canvas, away from our hearts robbing us of some great Daytime Drama.
You see, there were Oliver’s parents. A custody battle for Sierra Rose. The delineation of factions in the fight for that child. It could have drawn many in Llanview into the fray. We could have seen Carlotta take the side of Oliver’s parents which would lead to more angst between her and Cristian. This could have dragged on for months as we watched characters get in touch with their core values in deciding which side of the equation was the right one.
But that story will never come to pass.
Instead, Frons gave us the insidiously stupid (faux) lesbian wedding of Dorian. That was going to be enough placate the “gays”. Sorry, Fronsie bear, that’s not how Daytime works.
Now let’s get to Geraldo “Markko” Rivera and his family. Again, another missed opportunity.
In the old days of soaps, writers would take their cues from the newspapers. Somehow that which was dominant in the national conversation made its journey in some small or major way to a Daytime script.
Think the Woleks. Think drug abuse. Think Karen Wolek’s life. Think GREAT Daytime.
Imagine if Langston had fallen in love with a young Muslim man who came from a traditional Muslim family. I know it’s risky. I know it’s not popular. But I also know that this type of story could have opened to doors to a discussion among the fan base which would have led to discussions in living rooms across America. See, that’s the beauty of great Daytime writing. It opens doors.
Instead, we see Markko going off for a short stint at UCLA. He succumbs to his parents’ wishes. And we’ll just have to wait and see if there will be a reunion of Langston and Markko.
There’s one slight problem here. I’m not invested at all in Langston, Markko or the Riveras. That ship has sailed right off the edge of the globe. As much as I like Langston as a character, I feel that she’s lost her place in Llanview.
Picking up with Bobby or James isn’t going to miraculously transform Langston into a character worth rooting for. And we have the writers to thank for that.
That brings me to the current arc of Bobby, James and Nate. The Kennedy brothers of Llanview.
All good looking, all flawed, all complicated.
See, I look at the introduction of the Fords as Frons’ twisted attempt to satisfy the KISH base.
In his small mind, he figures that by populating the screen with incredibly hunky studs he will satisfy these “superficial” KISH fans. Again, it’s proof positive of Frons’ complete lack of understanding the Daytime dynamic.
Having a bunch of hunks parading around in their BVDs isn’t Daytime – it’s MTV or soft core porn.
I’m not saying that there’s no hope for the Fords – quite the contrary. But, once again, it begins with the vision of the Head Writer who is subject to Frons’ every whim.
Take Bobby, for instance. I hated the character in the beginning.
But now that I know his background, I see vulnerability. I see a frightened little boy who escaped a cruel father and regretfully abandoned his little brother in the process.
I see a young man who is torn between his love and hate for his own mother. I understand his misogynist behavior. And I would like to see a story where there is some kind of redemption as we watch Bobby grow and face his own demons.
I’m not so sure about James yet but I do know one thing. He and Starr (Kris Alderson) have an on screen chemistry that rivals many a Daytime super couple.
They are the Carly & Jack, Mac & Rachel, Lily & Holden of this generation of viewers. That is their potential. And none of it could be accomplished without Alderson herself.
We’ve been fortunate OLTL fans. We’ve watched this kid grow before our very eyes from the spider collecting little brat to a ferocious young mother. Starr Manning is a heroine on so many levels without even trying – and that is a testament to the brilliant acting of Ms. Alderson herself.
Of course, I can’t continue without commenting on the “mother.”
I like Jessica Leccia a lot but I don’t like the casting for Inez. We needed someone a little older. A bit wiser and a woman who can do “tough as nails.” It should have been Martha Byrne.
Leccia’s casting as Inez may have satisfied Leccia fans in the short term but in the long run I see Inez Salinger as being a short lived part of Llanview. There are rumors that Bo is going to go into “rescue mode” and that Inez may become an issue between Bo and Nora.
First of all, there is only ONE issue between Bo and Nora and her name is Lindsay Rappaport. No matter how much Bo loves Nora, he still has a weak spot in his soul for Lindsay.
And no one but Cat Hickland’s version of Lindsay can get to that soft spot better. She knew how to work Bo and drive him into that rescue mode he’s so well known for. Leccia’s Inez doesn’t have that grit. She doesn’t have that “presence” in a scene with Robert S. Woods.
The casting directors blew it in a big way this time. This was a role made for Martha Byrne – or dare I say it – Nancy Lee Grahn. Every soap marriage or relationship has its ups and downs.
Those of us who have been Bo and Nora fans from day one are entitled to a better story line than that which we seem to be experiencing.
Once again, I blame the writers – but I note they work for Frons.
And then there’s the baby brother Nate. He’s got the greatest battles ahead. Discovering two brothers. Learning his Dad is a monster worse than Todd.
Oh, then there’s dealing with Todd. We all know how Todd feels about his girls. There could have been great drama here with the right mother. There could be great drama here as Todd discovers Nate’s past and the parallels. Perhaps Todd may even find it in his heart to accept Nate as a “suitable” love for Dani.
The problem here is that with the way the stories have been playing out – I hold very little hope for the real possibilities. Having been let down so much this last year, I really am concerned about the direction of OLTL.
And, here we are, at Todd Manning.
I hated Roger Howarth’s Todd. I admit it.
I detested Todd and the credit goes to Howarth.
When Todd returned via Trevor St. John, something changed drastically. St. John made Todd his own on every level. Suddenly I saw the vulnerable side – the side worthy of redemption. I respect Todd’s love for his kids. It’s unconditional. It’s gut level; it’s as real as it gets. Todd’s scenes with Starr, Dani and even Jack are some of the best in Daytime today.
Trevor St. John has delivered on the redemption of Todd Manning. He’s given us a character that is at the verge of being a hero. He’s taken that broken down little boy who was a victim of Victor Lord and transformed him into a loving, loyal father.
Sure, Todd has his weaknesses. He’s not very good at interpersonal relationships. He sucks at love – except with Tea.
But that which is locked deep inside Todd is recognized by his sister Vicki and niece Jessica. They see it. They recognize his potential. And the both of them are better people as beneficiaries of his love. And that is as it will be for Dani.
At the start of the Tea brain tumor story I have to admit I was pretty angry. I adore Florencia Lozano. I find the dynamic of Todd and Tea to be fresh and entertaining. And then I saw the possibilities of loss. As much as I would hate to see Tea die, I saw so many stories unfolding in the aftermath as Todd dealt with his own grief and that of his new found daughter.
Instead, it seems that we’re embroiled in some sinister plot by Eli Clark a/k/a Bennett Thompson. And in that little scam we see Dr. Greg Evans (Terrell Tilford) immersed as a conspirator.
I don’t know how this one will end – what I DO know is that Matt Walton played a great character full of potential.
He and Kassie DePaiva as Blair are great on screen. Their relationship has been fun to watch. Eli, the swashbuckling pirate sweeping Blair off her feet in a way she’s never experienced.
It would have been an awesome ride and I’m getting the feeling it just isn’t going to happen.
And what of Greg? How will this affect Shaun and Destiny?
The Evans family is yet another family in Llanview worth exploring. I love Shaun. He’s a big huggie bear of a guy with such a great heart. He’s on that quest to find his little piece of happiness and we’re all rooting for him. He and Rachel were great together. Don’t worry; I’ll spare you the rant I have for the way the writers unceremoniously threw Rachel out with Fronsie’s bath water.
Destiny is a great character.
Her teenage crush on Matthew was something many of us identified with. And she’s growing up into a beautiful young woman. There’s so much promise in an adolescence story line with Destiny Evans. And as a sidebar, I want to see more of Mom and Dad Evans, too. I miss Tonye Patano. She’s a great actress as many Weeds fans will attest.
I was chatting with a younger viewer of OLTL yesterday and she expressed an “ick” at the thought of David and Dorian. Those of us who have been Tuc Watkins fans over the last 14 years understand David. He’s that male version of Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In. He’s the himbo we all fantasize about. He’s tall, dark, and exquisitely handsome but lacks the common sense of a turtle.
And now he is Bo’s oldest son – and I LOVE it!
When he and Matthew (Edward Alderson) have scenes together I see that side of David I love most. He has such a need for family bonding. Remember now, he’s Spencer Truman’s kid brother, too. David means well. He’s not vicious and his agendas are simple. All he wants is his father’s respect and love. He wants that family connection. And he wants the love of his life – Dorian. That’s how I explained David to that repulsed young woman. I presented David Vickers Buchanan as I saw him and explained why he was the way he was.
And she was like, um, are you a history buff or something? She learned more about OLTL in 15 minutes than she has in three years of viewing. And that, my friends, is what we’re missing. We’re missing the connection we had with our Moms (and Dads) and grandparents who secretly watched “their stories.”
And I learned something in those 15 minutes as well.
I learned that I’ve been right all along. There remains a place for soap opera on television. Oh, and for the record, she now understands all the “jokes” between David and Dorian. And she actually sees the humor in the dialogue!
Sorry, I tend to go off in different directions when I write. I try to be true to myself. When I sit at the keyboard to put something on paper, I just go with what I’m saying in my mind. I don’t filter it out, I run with it.
Back to Llanview again.
So, we’ve covered some of the so-called “major” stuff. Are there additional lost opportunities? Well, to quote a former Governor of Alaska, “you betcha!”
Let’s recap. We have the lost opportunities of the Vega’s and KISH. We had to suffer through a miserable story line involving Rex and Gigi’s tribulations with Stacy all because reports have it that Mr. Frons just adored Ms. Hunt. We have the new Ford family – filled with potential led by a miscast matriarch.
Of course, we haven’t explored the twin baby saga of Jess and Natalie.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Jess and Brody.
They rescued each other. I totally get why Brody turned to Natalie and vice versa. But you know what? It’s just too milquetoast for me.
If Natalie and John are going to be together, give me some old-fashioned Daytime romance. Breathe some life into John McBain for a change.
This whole Edge of Night version of Detective McBain is getting on my nerves. He’s an onion. Start peeling the layers. Give us emotion. Give us John McBain dealing with his past. The surface has been scratched but there’s so much more which we are being deprived of here. Brooding only goes so far before the glass breaks and the emotions rise – even if it’s temporary. Bring back Marcie and Michael and round out John’s family.
That’s what it has always been about in Llanview – family. Whether it’s the Buchanans, Lords, Woleks or Vega clans that’s what engages us.
And that brings me to the ultimate heroine of the show – Victoria Lord.
Those of us who have been around for 30-plus years know Erika Slezak well.
She’s delivered every time whether it’s a DID story involving Joan Randolph or Nicki Smith or suffering through breast cancer. Ms. Slezak proves that quality acting begins with Daytime. Those who know (her father) Walter Slezak’s work will know where she gets her acting skill. It’s embedded deeply in her genetic code.
They don’t write much for Vicki these days. They’re almost turning her into the Alice Horton of Llanview. And that, quite frankly, pisses me off.
Sure, Vicki and Charlie Banks is a cute couple. But there’s just no sizzle. Did somebody forget that beating in Vicki’s chest is the heart of her dead husband? Anyone who remembers Ben Davidson knows he was a vibrant, energetic and extremely passionate man.
That’s what Vicki needs to be. She deserves a buck a little younger than herself – like Ben.
Take her out of that damn kitchen where she’s planting peonies and get her back in the publishing world. There was a time when the Banner and The Sun were integral parts of Llanview life.
Bring them back. Give us some juicy investigative reporting. Give us a war of words. Remind the soap fans that we’re lacking something in our own lives – local newspapers!
But, you see, Mr. Frons and the advertisers on Wall Street are of the opinion that television viewers don’t want to see a woman over 50 on screen.
Obviously they’re completely oblivious to the Betty White phenomenon.
Perhaps they don’t read the fine print in the trade papers which proclaim that TVLand’s Hot in Cleveland is huge. The powers that be at Mickey Mouse Land need to take off their Mickey Mouse hats and let some oxygen in. Mr. Frons needs to take off his propeller beanie and wake up to the dynamics of Daytime and its relationship with viewers.
The handwriting is on the wall.
All My Children was moved to LA as a “cost cutting” measure. Fans were told nothing would change. Sets would be the same. Pine Valley’s “look” would remain. Ding. Ding. Wrong again. Everything about AMC has changed. But we’ll save that one for another rant.
And now the studios of One Life to Live are relocated. They’re sharing a building with The View. For the record, that’s known as consolidation – ABC style. Now that the As the World Turns studios are dark, there remains one soap in New York City: One Life to Live.
And, as we all are aware, the days of soap opera seem numbered. Within the OLTL community rumors abound that the days are numbered. Studios deny it. ABC scoffs at the idea. But remember who remains at the helm.
And this week they’ve announced Kim Zimmer’s return to Daytime. Of course, I’m thrilled for her! She’s Daytime Royalty (by virtue of her being Nola Aldrich, mind you). But with every “major acquisition” there comes a cost cutting measure be it cast, crew or set. So the enthusiasm is tempered. The concern great.
See, that’s the other thing management doesn’t seem to comprehend. Soap fans “get it”. We understand costs, we appreciate good writing. We even appreciate producers and directors. We’re the engaged bunch. We’re the ones that appreciate the dedication and we repay that by purchasing the products advertised.
We could always count on the Llanview saga to be contemporary. It used to be the cutting edge show which challenged us to look at ourselves. There remains an opportunity for the writers to give us juicy stuff like the character of Carla Benari Hall, brilliantly portrayed by Ellen Holly. There remains a cast of characters who are worthy of deep exploration as they confront issues which reflect what’s going on today in our own society. That’s the beauty of One Life to Live. It’s always been our microcosm of daily life. It was that one place we could visit and see a little bit of ourselves.
We learned something along the way with Victoria Lord. We laugh at the antics of David and Dorian. We’ve been ripped to shreds as we watched Blair and Tea bond in Tea’s final days. Oh, the possibilities! Oh the journeys we could take if the powers that be would just return to Agnes Nixon’s simple vision. That’s what we’ve come to know and to expect.
Sure, the times have changed dramatically since the 70’s. And, for the most part, OLTL could be counted on to stay with the times.
I hope Kim Zimmer delivers those ratings Mr. Frons seems desperate to achieve. But Mr. Frons has to remember one thing – it’s the story. It’s the dedication to the spirit of the show that creates the success.
If ABC delivers and renews its commitment to OLTL the fans could very well reciprocate. We could cut out the UPC codes from advertisers and mail them. Maybe a few thousand written thank you notes accompanied by UPC codes will make somebody somewhere stop and take notice. Anyway, that’s all for now. The catharsis is complete.
And rememeber – we only have ONE LIFE TO LIVE!