Wednesday, July 15, 2009 2:47 PM ET | By Scotty Gore
(SoapOperaNetwork.com) — “One Life to Live” celebrates 41 years of delivering drama, passion, and romance to millions of viewers.
Editors Note: I first wrote the following article in celebration of “One Life to Live’s” 39th anniversary in 2007. I am re-posting it again this year, in honor of the show’s 41st anniversary. Only slight revisions to the original article have been made, mainly in the last paragraph, to reflect events during which occurred during the past two years, including “OLTL’s” 40th anniversary last July, at which time SON posted several special articles commerating the event.
Forty-one years ago today, a new soap named “One Life to Live” debuted on ABC. On July 15, 1968, the mythical town of Llanview, Pennsylvania was born as ABC Daytime brought millions of viewers a drama centered around the culturally diverse suburb of Philadelphia. Romance, adventure, racial relations, interracial marriage, AIDS, gang violence, child abuse, split personalities, mental disorders, homosexuality, rape, heart disease, breast cancer, and more have been featured as the soap gained many loyal viewers and fans. Over the decades, “One Life to Live” has become one of Daytime television’s highest rated drama series, and many of its characters household names.
During its nearly four decades on the air, “One Life to Live” has been nominated as Outstanding Daytime Serial four times (1983, 2000, 2002, and 2007), and won once (in 2002). The soap has also gone on to win numerous technical and acting Daytime Emmys and Soap Opera Digest Awards over the years. In 2005, “One Life to Live” veteran Erika Slezak won her record breaking sixth Daytime Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress. Slezak is also the recipient of a Soap Opera Digest Award for Best Daytime Couple, which she shares with her former co-star Mark Derwin.
ABC approached “Another World” writer Agnes Nixon in the mid-1960s about creating a new daytime drama for the network. A short time later “One Life to Live” premiered on ABC as a half hour soap opera on Monday, July 15, 1968 at 3:30 pm et. Unlike other soaps of its day, “One Life to Live” featured a diverse cast of characters representing a number of ethnic, social and religious backgrounds. Groundbreaking storylines such as a black woman trying to pass herself off as being white proved quite relevant during the turbulence of late 1960s America. The early days of Llanview featured daytime’s first Jewish family in the Siegels, as well as the middle class Rileys and Woleks and wealthy Lords. Other families introduced over the years have included the Buchanans, Cramers, Vegas, Walshs, McBain, Vegas, and Rappaports. Since the show’s inception, the character of Victoria Lord has been the focal point of Llanview and “One Life to Live.” Originally portrayed by Gillian Spencer, Viki has been played by the legendary Erika Slezak since March 17, 1971.
“One Life to Live” served as a replacement for the short-lived game show “The Baby Game,” and was part of a scheduling shuffle with “Dark Shadows” and “The Dating Game.” The new soap overcame stiff competition early on from “The Edge of Night” on CBS and the successful game show “You Don’t Say” on NBC. “One Life to Live” expanded to forty-five minutes and moved to 2:30 pm et on July 26, 1976. On January 16, 1978 it would expand to one hour and moved into its present time slot. “One Life to Live” has often been referred to as “the most peculiarly American of soap operas: the first serial to present a vast array of ethnic types, broad comic situations, a constant emphasis on social issues, and strong male characters.”
Nixon’s original title for “One Life to Live” was “Between Heaven and Hell,” but the name was scrapped at the last minute due to fears by sponsors that the name was too controversial. Nonetheless, the first opening sequence for “One Life to Live” featured a close up image of flames in a fireplace with the words “One Life to Live” hovering above it. The Colgate-Palmolive Company was the original sponsor of the new ABC Daytime Drama. Nixon maintained ownership of the show until it was purchased by the network in 1974.
Over the years, “One Life to Live” has tackled many controversial storylines. For its efforts in bringing relevant social issues to the forefront, “One Life to Live” has been rewarded with several awards and honors. In 1992, it became the first soap to show the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, as part of a critically acclaimed homophobia storyline. In 2000, “One Life to Live” received the CDC Sentinel for Health Award for Viki’s breast cancer storyline. That same storyline also featured First Lady Laura Bush appearing on “One Life to Live” in Public Service Announcements concerning the disease.
“One Life to Live” has also been responsible for many “first” in Daytime television over the years. In 1970, it became the first regularly scheduled television program to adhere to a White House request to use commercial airtime to alert the American public about the dangers of drugs. The soap broadcast actual group therapy sessions of teenage drug addicts at Odyssey House in New York City. The storyline featured Dr. Jim Craig taking his daughter Cathy to Odyssey House after she stole her father’s prescription pads, and forged his signature to buy drugs to support her addiction. The idea behind the storyline belonged to none other than Agnes Nixon, who called it “a natural outgrowth of our program.”
“One Life to Live” also traveled to exotic destinations in South America and Europe over the years. The show transported viewers to the Old West, sent them to Heaven, and gave them a glimpse of life down below in the underground city of Eterna. “One Life to Live” has brought us the many marriages of Asa Buchanan and Viki Davidson, as well as numerous unforgettable characters and storylines. “One Life to Live” has also fantasized about the middle ages, amused us with special Trading Places and Babes Behind Bars episodes, and entertained us with a weeklong high school prom musical. In 2005, the sudser tackled cross promotion, when Marcie Walsh (Kathy Brier) “wrote” a book called “The Killing Club.” The book, which cracked the New York Times Bestseller list, was actually written by former “One Life to Live” Head Writer Michael Malone. The soap treated viewers to another Daytime first in 2002 with a week of live episodes, each of which featured a cameo appearance by a former cast member.
Over the years Llanview has been home to many cast members and guest stars that have gone on to become celebrities. Among them are Judith Light, Laurence Fishburne, Phylicia Rahsad, Roma Downey, Tommy Lee Jones, Marcia Cross, Ivana Trump, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Yasmine Bleeth, Dixie Carter, Faith Ford, Ryan Phillippe, and Brandon Routh, just to name a few. “One Life to Live” has also entertained a long list of musicians over the years covering a variety of genres from country, to rap, to hip-hop, to rock and roll. The list includes Bill Anderson, Sammy Davis Jr., The Beach Boys, Peabo Bryson, Darlene Love, Little Richard, Erykah Badu, Reba McEntire, Mary J. Blige, Lifehouse, and Nelly Furtado, among others. Other celebrity guests appearing on “One Life to Live” in recent years have been “Good Morning America Weekend” anchor Marysol Castro, talk show hosts Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, and author Peter Straub. And in 1994, three of the soap’s leading men, John Loprieno, Robert S. Woods, and Clint Ritchie appeared as their “One Life to Live” characters Cord, Bo, and Clint on an episode of the primetime ABC sitcom “Roseanne,” whose star is a longtime fan of the soap.
On August 17, 2007, “One Life to Live” celebrated the airing of their 10,000th episode. The milestone made “One Life to Live” only the fifth of the nine present daytime dramas to reach the coveted achievement. Furthermore, “OLTL” marked their 40th anniversary on July 15, 2008, by revisiting several classic storylines from the show’s four deacde run, including Viki’s trip to heaven, Tina’s horrific fall over the terrifying Iguazu Falls, and Bo and Rex going forty years back to time to the Buchanan ranch of 1968. The show also paid homage to creator Agnes Nixon, by inviting her to appear as herself in the special two-part anniversary episodes, in addition to bringing back several past castmembers and characters for the event.
Over the past 41 years, “One Life to Live” has brought drama, passion, and romance to millions of loyal viewers five days a week, and they will continue to be rewarded for their hard work, dedication, and loyalty to the daytime genre.
”One Life to Live”, an Agnes Nixon creation, can be seen weekdays at 2:00 pm ET on the ABC Television Network. Taped in New York City, Ron Carlivati is the Head Writer and Frank Valentini the Executive Producer. For more information on “One Live to Live,” visit abc.com.
“One Life to Live” airs Weekdays on ABC. Weeknights on SOAPnet. Check local listings.
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