Slate's podcast Decoder Ring is taking on the wild world of daytime. In a new episode called "The Soap Opera Machine," Decoder Ring looks at soaps through the lens of one controversial storyline: One Life to Live's Todd Manning (Roger Howarth) raping Marty Saybrooke (Susan Haskell) and his subsequent "redemption" on screen.
In 1991, Linda Gottlieb was brought on to EP the show. She hadn't seen soaps before and admitted she thought "only stupid people watched them." Gottlieb explained:
And I sat there and I watched two weeks of One Life to Live and I thought it was the worst thing I had ever seen. And I called her [the head of ABC Daytime] back and I told her exactly that. And she said, 'Well, if you took it over, you could change it.' And then I got interested because I learned early on that real power in the movie or television industry does not rest with your titles. It rests with your ability to be able to put out your own vision.
Gottlieb wanted to bring "real" storylines to Llanview and its residents. In the early 1990s, a national conversation about date rape was ongoing. Host Willa Paskin explained:
One of the events that inspired it was a Time magazine cover story about Katie Koestner, a college student at William and Mary Koestner had told school officials that she had been raped by a student she invited to her dorm room. Many Americans saw Koestner's story and others like it as an example of a crime that was hideous, common, and not taken nearly seriously enough. Others pointed out that Kosner had agreed to go out with her assailant and invited him in. It’s the latter group the writers of One Life to Live wanted to reach.
After Todd assaulted Marty and went to jail, the writers and producers slowly began to delve into his backstory and flesh out his future, while not forgetting the horrible things he had done. But Howarth felt uncomfortable with Todd becoming a romantic lead. He said:
I felt somehow that we were actually promoting violence against women. And it was confusing to me because the show was produced by women, written by women and designed to be watched by women. And I just felt really it just didn’t sit right with me. And I left the show.
Take a listen to the episode below.