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The Edge of Night: An Anniversary Tribute

Edge of Night

When I was approached to write about The Edge of Night for its anniversary week, I was — wait for it — at a loss for words. I wanted to honor the show and its contributions to daytime without falling too far or deeply into recitations and lists of the most memorable storylines, heroes and heroines, villains, and “characters we loved to hate”. For a series that premiered 62 years ago, which has been off the air for over 30 years, it is difficult to find a fresh angle unless one has an encyclopedic knowledge of said series, which this writer does not. Then it hit me: the best way to honor Edge was not to look at it as a relic of the past, but rather to appreciate it from the perspective of the present.

The Edge of Night premiered on April 2, 1956 on the same day as As the World Turns, part of what would become Proctor & Gamble’s dominant role as daytime’s most prolific producer of serials. By the 1969-1970 TV season when there were 19 soaps on the air, Edge was the #2 daytime serial drawing roughly 11 million viewers a day behind ATWT, a position it held for two years. At the time of its 1984 cancellation, after surviving time slot moves by various TV station affiliates, a network jump from CBS to ABC, and drastic budget cuts, Edge’s final season averaged between 2.5-2.7 million viewers, comparable to any of the four soaps currently airing.

Within this context it helps to understand why Edge was and remains a beloved icon of the genre. Edge was no “ordinary” serial. While other soaps primarily appealed to women, Edge’s unique crime and mystery format equally attracted men. Reportedly, it boasted roughly a 50/50 male to female ratio. Other soaps that we loved and/or aired long after Edge’s demise, like All My Children, Another World, One Life to Live, or Guiding Light, may be better remembered for their illicit melodrama, memorable characters, family dynamics, and willingness to tackle social issues (sometimes more successfully than others). On the other hand, Edge never tried to be all things to all people. Yes, Edge had great romances, affairs, sibling rivalries and all the soapy skullduggery we’re used to. However, every relationship served the various plots of the show and vice versa. In this day and age where limited series are praised for their singular visions, Edge also knew exactly what it was during the vast majority of its long run as courtroom and mystery serial, long before “it’s like a novel” became popular shorthand for quality.

Because of that focus, Edge was a series of outstanding intelligence and maturity that rarely talked down to its audience. It all highlighted the consistently in the work of Edge’s sole head writer for 16 years, the brilliant, late Henry Slesar. His work graced our screens longer than any other sole, continuous head writer in daytime history, then or now. Yes, today, right now, if you are fan of solid, old school soap opera or simply exceptional writing, one can pick up nearly any episode online and watch a master in action. Many of Edge’s episodes have been long lost to history, thanks to this very medium's practice called wiping. Fortunately, several years worth of its stories are now online thanks to a small group of intrepid fans.

What is the true mystery of the Mansion of the Damned, in which Oscar winner Kim Hunter (Nola Madison) essays a bravura Emmy-winning, multi-role performance in a Sunset Boulevard-esque story of moviemaking, jealousy, and insanity? Who really killed Margo Dorn (Ann Williams)? Will Draper (Tony Craig) ever find his way back to his beloved April (Terry Davis) as she falls in love with his best friend Logan Swift (Joe Lambie)? Be amazed at how the famous Jefferson Brown/Schuyler Whitney story rips the city apart. Witness the rise, fall, and rise again of Raven Alexander Jamison Swift Whitney Devereaux Whitney, played by the incomparable Sharon Gabet — who is very active on several Facebook Edge forums. Raven is a worthy rival to some of daytime’s baddest “bad girls” as she vamped, slept, lied, cheated, blackmailed, and all but murdered her way through the streets of Monticello. She eventually become a heroine in her own right, alongside her partner-in-crime, Sky Whitney (the late and much missed Larkin Malloy). Even when Edge’s budget was so tiny one could see the metaphorical tape holding the sets together, the show remained a daily thrill ride. I’ve left out far too many highlights, so if you’re fan add your favorites in the comments section.

What I want to convey most on this 62nd anniversary of The Edge of Night (my first soap)'s the one I learned to love as the art form of daytime drama, literally at my mother’s knee as a child. I give a tremendous thanks to the entire team behind this most unique of daytime dramas. Edge’s last episode doesn’t seem like it to those of us who still love it so because it lives on today. Out of all the soaps that many of us wish would or could return (or given the disastrous outcome of those that tried), only Edge has a built-in format that would allow a seamless pickup in 2018. Edge was one of the few series that consistently introduced new characters, plots, and subplots every few months. The only constants during its entire run were lawyer Mike Karr (last played by the great Forrest Compton) and his wife, intrepid reporter Nancy Pollock (played for 22 years by the brilliant Ann Flood). Therefore, if we imagine Edge if it were on the air today, it would be a modernized soap version of Law & Order, Blue Bloods, True Detective, or even Seven Seconds.

It is true we can relive many of our past soaps online, but to this writer at least, they feel like nostalgia of days gone by. The Edge of Night, as we watched it then and can watch it again, feels as alive, vibrant and even unpredictable today as any of the four remaining daytime dramas left on the air. On this 62nd anniversary of one of daytime’s treasures, we salute you!

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