The best argument the soap opera genre can make in favor of its own survival airs at 2pm EST on ABC/ 9pm EST on SOAPnet. Its name is One Life to Live.
OLTL's fictional town of Llanview, PA. is a town rich in history, overflowing with talent, boisterous in personality and uninhibited by an addiction to one or two characters.
Monday’s nod to Grey Gardens–acted out by the fantastic foursome of Robin Strasser, Kassie DePaiva, Trevor St. John and Florencia Lozano–and the seamlessness with which it was woven into the double wedding ceremony of Viki to Charlie and Nora to Clint is one of many examples of why OLTL has surpassed The Young and the Restless as the genre’s most well-written soap opera.
Unlike the majority of their competitors, Ron Carlivati and his team of writers are not bankrupt of fresh ideas. Guided by the steady hand of Executive Producer Frank Valentini, the team at OLTL is willing to think outside the box, put new twists on classic soap opera clichés and pull from their show’s storied past, even if it means confronting controversial topics, or the possibility that a storyline could bomb.
Critics have accused Valentini and Carlivati's version of OLTL of recycling old storylines, but in the words Eddie Cibrian's alleged temptress LeAnn Rimes “there is nothing new under the moon.” The difference is Ron & Co. turn what they recycle into fertilizer. Some of it may stink–i.e. the Morasco Fiasco– at times, but almost always something significantly better or beautiful grows up out of it.
The against-all-odds determination to make the best out of bad story ideas handed down from above, has given OLTL viewers innumerable episodic gems. This would not be possible without the genre’s most malleable stable of actors. No soap opera boasts a more well-rounded, diversified cast of veteran actors or legacy characters, twentysomethings, integrated new actors and characters, racial and sexual minorities, or as strong a stable of teen actors and characters.
OLTL is a true ensemble drama. Unlike network siblings General Hospital or All My Children, OLTL rotates its cast in A, B and C storylines. OLTL's storylines don't revolve around the same five characters over and over again.
No other soap currently on the air— save for Y&R— drives storyline by showcasing its veteran and/or legacy characters the way OLTL does. Erika Slezak as Viki, Robin Strasser as Dorian, Hillary B. Smith as Nora, Robert S. Woods as Bo, Kassie DePaiva as Blair, Florencia Lozano as Tea and Susan Haskell as Marty, Trevor St. John as Todd and Jerry Ver Dorn as Clint, are utilized day in and day out.
While Y&R may also embrace their vets, you could fly the Starship Enterprise through the gaping hole left by its under 20-cast. OLTL doesn't have that problem. OLTL features the best stable of teen/young adult actors and characters in daytime. Austin Williams (Jack), Brittany Underwood (Langston), Eddie Alderson (Matthew), Jason Tam (Markko), Kristen Alderson (Starr), Shenell Edmonds (Destiny)and Brandon Buddy (Cole) outshine most of their industry peers five-days-a-week.
By comparison, All My Children, a soap operaobsessed with youth and beauty, unfortunately doesn't take the necessary steps to ensure their pretty, young faces actually know how to act. Perhaps Julie Hanan Caruthers can approach the Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency about the possibility of merging the two shows? They could rename it All My Modeling Agencies and air it on NoSOAPsnet.
With the exception of Billy Miller (who is now on Y&R), Adam Mayfield (Scott), Daniel Kennedy (Petey), Ambyr Childers (ex-Colby) and Lucy Merriam (Emma), AMC hasn’t cast anyone who can act under 30— let alone 20— in at least three or four years.
OLTL actually embraces its rich history of ethnic diversity. For years the Vega family has provided Llanview with a vital Latino presence, and in recent months, Vega family friend Tea has been back in town to mix it up with Todd and Blair. Vega brothers, Christian and Antonio—who has moved on from Llanview—have been featured in front burner storylines opposite some of the show’s most popular young actresses in recent years.
The only other show to feature so many Latino characters during the past decade was Passions. OLTL has also taken great care in rebuilding its African American cast recently. Even though Timothy Stickney is sorely missed as RJ Gannon, OLTL deserves major credit for integrating Layla Williamson (Tika Sumpter) , Shaun (Sean Ringold), Destiny, and Greg Evans (Terrell Tilford) and bringing back Nora’s daughter Rachel (Daphnee Duplaix). Look around the rest of the soap opera landscape and you’ll find either the lack of interest or the outright inability to do what OLTL is doing in the field of ethnic diversity.
OLTL also embraces sexual diversity. Gone are the days of gay serial killers in Llanview. Unrestricted by the alleged kissing ban that prevented Luke and Noah on As the World Turns from being treated like an equal soap pairing, or the "visions" of showrunners like Ellen Wheeler who is basically refusing to give the Otalia pairing a proper sendoff the fans can enjoy, OLTL’s Kyle and Fish (Scott Evans and Brett Claywell) will kiss this week.
In a very short time OLTL’s decision to go with the “homosexual next door” approach appears to be paying off, both in storytelling and media buzz. This contrasts sharply with The Bold and the Beautiful–set in the fashion industry–which feature no gay characters whatsoever. ABC’s “marquee” soap GH made Bobbie Spencer’s (Jackie Zeman) son Lucas (Ben Hogestyn) gay, had him beaten up and then shipped him off never to be seen again. How was that for inspiring same sex storytelling? Something tells me even if Kish turns out to be a failure, we won't see class act Ron Carlivati giving interviews to Michael Logan blaming the actors, like his peer Chuck Pratt did in regards to Eden Riegel.
The majority of soap fans, myself included, complain about the introduction of new characters unrelated to core families on their favorite soaps. It isn’t an easy task for writers to hook fans on new characters. Most of the time they fail miserably. OLTL is no exception to this rule. Can anyone say Stacy Morasco (Crystal Hunt), or the Montez clan? Dig a little though and you’ll find several of OLTL's newcomers have become quite popular.
Oliver Fish, Kyle Lewis, Schuyler Joplin (Scott Clifton), Brody Lovett (Mark Lawson), Destiny and Greg Evans have all debuted since 2008, and all have proven hits with fans. Fish was introduced then sat on the back burner for a long time. Now he’s paired with Kyle in the increasingly popular Kish.
Adriana’s (Melissa Fumero) insecurities and checkbook brought Brody to town in order to keep Gigi (Farah Fath) away from Rex (John-Paul Lavoisier). Today he is in a hot pairing with Jessica and an undercover cop for the Llanview PD.
Destiny was introduced as Matthew’s friend before we ever learned of her connection to Shaun, a character we’ve seen around Llanview for years. Her relationship with Matthew has become a highlight for many fans. Destiny's brother Greg just arrived this summer as a surgeon who might be able to help Matthew. Now OLTL is creating a romantic triangle as the Evans brothers vie for Rachel Gannon’s attention allowing OLTL to capitalize on a attracting a demographic that was once dominated by shows like AMC and Y&R.
Schuyler debuted as the high school teacher who shared a connection with his student Starr. Today, he has moved past Starr’s inappropriate crush or just being Stacy’s ex, and is poised to embark on a liquid hot storyline with Gigi. No other show has been so successful at integrating new characters into their canvas during the same period of time.
Why is it so important to recognize OLTL as soap opera’s last best argument for why the genre should be saved? Because if someone doesn’t, it could be too late, both for the show and for soaps in general.
Day in and day out OLTL features the best storytelling and acting the genre has to offer. It may not sparkle under mainstream media attention for being the soap of Luke and Laura, or Erica Kane, but. Look past the once shiny surfaces of those soaps and you’ll discover they've become Fool's Gold.
Unlike AMC, OLTL isn’t suffering from an intensely-painful-to-watch identity crisis. It isn’t on its last creative breath or recycling the same ugly, depraived mob storylines like GH. TPTB at OLTL truly seem to have the show and the genre’s best interest at heart, unlike most of their peers.
Compare AMC’s Erica Kane to OLTL’s Dorian Lord side-by-side under a microscope and you’ll immediately recognize which Agnes Nixon creation is the more dynamic, vital, substantive character today, right now in 2009, and It isn’t the one whose portrayer appeared on Dancing With the Stars. Brass tacks, if and when a soap opera has to go on ABC, it most certainly shouldn't be OLTL that bites the bullet first. The OLTL writing, production and acting family so exemplify the true spirit of what a soap opera is supposed to be, it's high time those of us who love the show embrace and endorse the one ABC show that deserves to outlive the current ratings crisis the most, and that show is One Life to Live.