Soap opera's grandest dame is ready for her second act. I recently caught up with six-time Daytime Emmy winner Erika Slezak to discuss the return of her beloved One Life to Live. How is television's—and soon-to-be the Internet's—Viki Lord dealing with her second life to live? After Prospect Park's first attempt to reboot the sudser fell through, what made Slezak sign on for a second time?
She answers those questions, as well as providing insight into what her legendary father, Walter Slezak, would make of soaps on the web. Slezak also goes into detail on why she feels Brian Frons isn't responsible for OLTL and All My Children being cancelled by Disney-ABC.
Daytime Confidential: How does it feel to slip back into the role of Viki?
Erika Slezak: I’m very excited. After the whole thing kind of fell apart almost two years ago, we thought, “Oh boy, what a shame.” Because it was such a good idea. When it came back, I thought, “You know when you die on daytime, you don’t really die!” You can always come back, even without a head! So why can’t that be true for the show? Even though someone said to me, “The show’s dead.” I said, “You’re never really dead in daytime. Ever!” So it turns out we’re not dead.
DC: Were you a little bit apprehensive of coming back to the show?
ES: Sure. With a year off, I thought, “Can I still learn lines? Is my brain still functioning?” And it turns out, yes it is. So I think day one we all fell back into it, all of us. As if no time had gone by, I felt it was just a long weekend. It happened so quickly, we were back so soon and everything is so similar. We have new sets, but they are so close to the old ones. We have the same costume designer, Susan Gammie, who is so brilliant. We have a lot of our directors back, a lot of our old crew back, so it really was like a long vacation.
DC: What ultimately made you sign back on with Prospect Park?
ES: I have always loved this lady that I play, Viki. I had a wonderful time playing her for 41 years, and I thought I was given the opportunity to push this along a little bit, and to be part of a very groundbreaking medium. I couldn’t say no. I wasn’t doing anything else, I couldn’t say no. They said, “ Do you want to be Viki again?” and I said, "Yeah, I want to be Viki again and all the others!" I am so proud to be a part of this, the opportunity to go into a whole new medium, whatever you call it; to be on the internet, to be worldwide. you can’t say no, I couldn’t anyway.
DC: Your father, Walter Slezak acted in silent films, on the Broadway stage, in talkies and on television. If he were here today, what advice would he give you about making the transition to doing drama on the internet?
ES: [Laughs] I think he would say, do what you’ve always done. Because there’s nothing different with what we’re doing. We’re doing exactly the same stuff. We’re acting; we’re playing the characters. We have cameras. We have sets. We have props. The only difference is where we’re going to see it. That doesn’t affect us at all. I realize the cameras don’t have tape going inside; they have digital something going inside. There’s not a difference, and my father would’ve recognized that immediately. He would’ve been so glad, because he always said to me, “Don’t ever give up that job! Don’t ever give up that job!” [Laughs].
DC: You've been vocal concerning your feelings about Disney-ABC cancelling One Life to Live and All My Children and replacing them with lifestyle programming. Do you think the ratings strength of General Hospital proves they missed the mark?
ES: I think they did. We were told it was not a question of money; it was because audiences didn't want entertainment anymore; they wanted information. I think they were wrong. Not that people don’t want information, but the viewers who had for many, many years—or for just two years—watched from one o’clock to four o’clock, they were watching for entertainment. When you take that away and say, “We’re not giving you that anymore. We’re giving you a cooking show, a weight loss show,and a talk show.” And they say, “No, I want entertainment! That’s what I was doing all this time, when my children were napping, or when I was sitting down at lunch. I want to sit there and say, 'Oh my God, oh my God, what’s going to happen?' You don’t do that. They replaced us and I think that’s why it didn’t work. There’s a time and a place for every kind of show, but I don’t think in the middle of the afternoon was the time or the place.
DC: Soaps across the board are on the rise in the ratings, after Brian Frons said, "Nobody’s watching soaps anymore". In your opinion, is this proof that he wasn’t in touch with the daytime audience?
ES: Yes I do. Brian was not responsible for all this. Yes he was the president of ABC Daytime, but that was not a decision that he could make all on his own. He was told to say one thing or another. This was a decision that was made by Disney. I’m sure there were a lot of factors involved. I’m not sure what they all were. I’m sure money was one of them. It’s expensive to produce a soap. It’s cheaper to produce a talk show or a cooking show or whatever, with one set and five people and an audience. I’m not blaming Brian Frons. I don’t think, number one, that he would’ve had the power to do this all on his own. He took the rap for it. I think that Disney had to rethink it afterwards. They kept General Hospital, thank God! They moved it to two o’clock and the ratings are higher, which is a very, very important factor in how successful it is. When you move a show, generally the ratings drop because people don’t know where to go anymore, but the show is doing better. Thanks to Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati, who are quite amazing, my guys! I’m sorry they aren’t with us, but I know they are doing very well.
One Life to Live returns April 29 on Hulu, Hulu Plus and iTunes.