Saturday, March 15, 2008 7:59 PM| By Scotty Gore
(SoapOperaNetwork.com) – A study of Llanview’s silver anniversary.
Greetings everyone. Hope all my fellow “One Life to Live” fans are having a wonderful weekend and a great month of March. I cannot believe that it is nearly springtime already. My how time flies when you are swamped with work. The last few days have been very hectic for me with homework, field trips, papers to grade, and the PRAXIS Test. For those of you unfamiliar with the exam, it is a test you are required to take over your content area in order to become certified to teach in your state. It is a nationwide testing system, that is modified to fit the curriculum taught in each U.S. state and territory. For me, there are three parts, one over classroom management and discipline, one over language arts, and one over social studies (which I took this morning). You must have a certain score on each test before you gain certification. Here is the basic set-up, remember all the material you covered in your social studies classes in school from 5th-9th grades, and cram it into a two hour block of time, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Needless to say it was exhausting, and has put me a little behind in other things (such as my “OLTL” viewing).
Due to that fact I am again taking a trip down memory lane with my column. My apologizes again for lack of original comments and content recently in my column, but student teaching is very time consuming and important to me, and because of that, everything else has to set in the back seat for awhile. Sorry if this upsets anyone, but I do have a life outside of “SON” and “OLTL,” and I intend to continue to make it my number one priority right now.
So, since the 40th anniversary of “OLTL” is coming up in just a few short months, here is a look back at an article about another Llanview milestone-the 25th anniversary of “OLTL.” The date was July 11, 1993 (three days before “OLTL’s” silver anniversary), when the following article appeared in “Newsweek” magazine. It is entitled “ABC Serial Hits a Quarter-Century, Still the Soap with a Social Conscience,” and was written by Libby Slate. As you read see if you notice many similarities between the “OLTL” of 1993 and of 2008.
“I had a recurring nightmare when I took over the show, ” says Linda Gottleib, executive producer of daytime’s “One Life to Live ” for the last two years. “I would turn on the set and there was the opening logo and theme music — and then a blank screen, nothing but static. ”
Gottleib needn’t have worried. On Thursday she will help celebrate the ABC soap opera’s 25th anniversary. During that quarter century, life in the fictional Philadelphia suburb of Llanview has overflowed with the romances, trials and tribulations of the families Lord, Wolek, Riley and Buchanan.
Along the way there have been side trips to heaven, the Old West and even a buried underground city named Eterna. The show made stars of Judith Light, who won back-to-back Daytime Emmy Awards in 1980 and 1981 as prostitute Karen Wolek, and fellow Emmy winners Erika Slezak as Victoria Buchanan and Robin Strasser as Dorian Lord. The first black actor to win a Daytime Emmy, Al Freeman Jr. in 1979, did so portraying police Capt. Ed Hall. Other “One Life ” alums include Tom Berenger, Tommy Lee Jones, Jameson Parker, Phylicia Rashad and Esther Rolle.
The show was created in 1968 by the venerable Agnes Nixon, after ABC asked her to come up with a soap for the network. Nixon proposed a serial called “Between Heaven and Hell, ” dealing with relationships among different social classes and ethnic groups rather than the traditionally WASPish daytime characters.
The name may have changed before its debut, but the premise remained. The soap initially spotlighted the wealthy Lord family, whose patriarch Victor published the town’s newspaper; the working-class Woleks, and the Irish-Catholic Riley clan.
“When I started, ” Gottleib recalls, “I asked Agnes what the core of the show was, in her view. She said, ‘The haves and the have-nots.’ ”
Nixon wasted no time delving into socially relevant issues as well, with a story about African-American secretary Carla Gray (Ellen Holly) passing as white and becoming involved with both a white man and a black man; numerous ABC affiliates refused to air the show. When Cathy Craig (Amy Levitt), the daughter of a Llanview doctor, became addicted to drugs, cameras showed the teen-ager at the New York rehab center Odyssey House in therapy with real addicts.
“Agnes felt a real moral responsibility to teach, to do something worthwhile for a half hour, ” says Slezak, who has been on the show since St. Patrick’s Day, 1971. “I agree. You can do that and entertain at the same time. ”
Slezak, the show’s longest-running cast member, plays stalwart Viki, who periodically has suffered from a split-personality disorder resulting in psychologically suspenseful Viki-Niki story lines. Slezak’s favorite plot twists: a 1987 out-of-body experience in which she went to heaven for two weeks, and an Old West fantasy the following year, in which she played her own great-grandmother.
The show first took on a Western flavor in 1979 — the era of the prime-time soap “Dallas ” — with the advent of the oil-rich Buchanan family. By the late 1980s, it took on a fantasy bent. But the ratings were anything but fantastic, with “One Life ” usually at or near the bottom of the Nielsens.
In 1991, ABC daytime executive Mary Alice Dwyer-Dobbin recruited Gottleib to resurrect the once highly rated show. They had worked together in the early days of the “ABC Afterschool Special. ” Gottleib, who had had no previous soap experience (her credits include HBO’s “Citizen Cohn ” and the hit film “Dirty Dancing “), in turn hired novelist and fellow serial novice Michael Malone as head writer.
The two have worked to develop existing characters, create new ones and return to Nixon’s original mission to be the soap with a social conscience. “One Life ” now consistently finishes in fourth, fifth or sixth place among 10 soaps.
“The show has an even richer tapestry of characters than it did before, ” says Robin Strasser, who in February returned as Dorian after a five-year absence. “Linda and Michael have filled out this town, peopled it with quirky, interesting, full characters. ”
Both Gottleib, who has brought feature-film editing and music- scoring techniques to the show, and Malone say they believe in taking risks. Last summer they launched a soap first — a story line about homophobia that generated thousands of letters of gratitude from gay teens and their parents and has since been studied in college courses on popular culture.
Thursday’s anniversary episode brings together many of the show’s characters, including a confrontation between longtime adversaries Viki and Dorian. A future plot line, Malone says, will focus on the right-to-die issue.
Why has the soap been on so long? “I think it’s because it’s character-driven and has had a string of good actors, ” says Strasser. “It has deserved to stay around 25 years, because it’s never been afraid to change and evolve. ”
Saving the best for last, it’s time to take a quick look at some of the plotlines coming up on “OLTL” a couple of weeks down the road. A mother admits that she has no idea who her son’s real father is. One brother is surprised by the other’s behavior. Someone gets slapped for a false accusation. A mother turns to the cops for help protecting her daughter. An ice storm traps two in a cabin. A possessive father receives valuable advice from his newly independent mother-in-law. A young lady spots her best friend with a pregnancy test.
Well, that’s all for this edition of the column. I hope you enjoyed this edition of the column. My apologizes again for posting another article instead of rambling on like I usually do. But there are only so many hours in the day, and so many things to do. That’s all for now; please be sure and join me again on March 30th See you next time. Take care and stay safe.
And until next time remember, we only have “One Life to Live” …..
Pictured: My View of Llanview courtesy Matt Smith/Soap Opera Network