An Open Letter to Anne Sweeney, Co-chair, Disney Media Networks and President, Disney-ABC Television Group

Dear Ms. Sweeney:

I am writing to strongly protest the current Todd and Marty storyline on One Life to Live. It’s in effect the long delayed second chapter of a story that began in 1993, when Todd was the leader of three college students who gang raped Marty. The two chapters couldn’t be more shockingly different in intent.Todd and Marty 

The 1993 chapter, though brutal,  was told with intelligence and sensitivity, shedding light on the humanity and compassion gained through this tragic crime. It deservedly won numerous Daytime Emmys. The current chapter — in which an “amnesiac” Marty was kept in captivity again by Todd for five months,  fell in “love” with him and begged him to have sex with her (which he did) — lacks any such redeeming insight. Instead, it is simply revolting.

Starting with the hackneyed soap opera device of amnesia, the current writing team seeks to exploit the audience rather than enlighten it. The current story extends ancient rape myths (“I raped her because she wanted it”).  The story’s aim is far from social issue education. Rather, it is the tale of a woman who haplessly becomes the victim of her rapist all over again and is being done solely to titillate during a sweeps month.   Lacking depth or heart or an iota of believability  this cruel exercise is thoroughly off-putting. It’s nothing less than a betrayal of the audience for a once-great soap opera.

I am a woman who grew up watching OLTL, a soap that was founded by the great and progressive Agnes Nixon, whose aim  was to spotlight the humanity of all races and ethnic groups peaceably  living together.  The offensive and exploitative nature of the Todd and Marty story completely betrays the 40 years of trust I have invested into both OLTL and ABC Daytime.  The latest Todd- Marty exercise is offensive by any standard, but especially so to women, who have always been and continue to be the core audience for soap operas.   Why have OLTL and ABC chosen a story which is abhorrent to women?   To vamp  a new, young/ and or male audience?    The ratings are so low, can you afford to lose  most of your audience  just to tell a flashy, eventful  story which is, at heart, misogynistic?

As a programming executive and a woman, how could you sign off on this story?   This is the first time in the history of ABC Daytime that a team of  male executives oversees a soap opera — ABC VP/Daytime Brian Frons, executive producer Frank Valentini and head writer Ron Carlivati.  The only female sensibility on the show is your own.

I urge you to end this story, and to remember that your audience is still women at home and in the workplace, not solely young male internet posters who do not see the sexism in this story and think its absurd and hateful plot twists are ”exciting.”  Seeing the suffering of a woman raped twice by the same man may work well as a sexually twisted and titillating  video game,  but it certainly is all wrong and totally offensive, and a real turn-off to the longtime, supportive audience of One Life to Live.

                                       Sincerely,

                                       Connie Passalacqua Hayman, a.k.a. Marlena De Lacroix

Comments

  1. Marlene says:

    Marlena, Brava! I have no words.

    After posting a comment to your column on this subject last week, I sent yet another letter to Anne Sweeney about this and the state of ABC daytime in general. I hope she is not as hearing impaired as Frons and the rest of his male chauvinists are.

    Beautifully put. I hope Anne Sweeney reads this and acts on it.

    Marlena says: Merci beaucoups! Great Marlenes/Marlenas think alike. Thanks for taking the time to write in again about those “male chauvinists.” A term we used in college, with the term “pigs” attached to it. LOL!

  2. S. Woods says:

    Marlena,
    I wholeheartedly agree with your beautifully expressed sentiments. Since Anne Sweeney is in a position to change ABC Daytime, I suggest she gets busy and devolves these brutal [GH & OLTL] story lines. I have no appetite for violence against women! Rock On, Marlena!!

    Marlena says: Thanks for your beautiful support, Ms. S. I have such wonderful, wonderful TF’s!

  3. Roman says:

    Marlena, thank you so much for continuing to echo my sentiments and I dare say the sentiments of many female viewers. I reconized that some men don’t get it, but presumeably those in charge has the advantage of research to guide them in storytelling. I can’t believe with everything available to Frons and company, they would proceeded so indifferently with this travesty call a story.

    I continue to be so angry that I don’t know what to do with myself with regard to this story. Seriously, words fail me and worse, the belief that they just don’t get how demoralizing this tale is to most women.

    This is literally the first time I’ve been unable to suspend belief when viewing fiction. You said it best, we saw the beginning and no matter how you felt back then, you agreed it was told with intelligence and without tittilation, not so this time.

    Even though I’ve discontinued watching, I am still outrage over this story and the feeling of being forced to give up a show I once loved so very dearly.

    Marlena says: What a beautiful letter! You are exactly the viewer I am fighting for!

  4. J Jackson says:

    Bravo Marlena! Well stated and you hit the nail directly on the head! I am one of the rare bread of male soap viewers, who has loved OLTL for well over twenty years. This story insults me as a human first and foremost. What kind of mind would come up with such a tale, and think that others would want to watch it. I’ll never forget the original story that aired when I was about fourteen, because OLTL played all the beats that I had never seen on television before. I was riveted and intrigued by all the layers.

    It would have been easy if the story ended with Todd going off to jail, but due to several circumstances he was allowed to walk the streets of Llanview, and Marty was forced to deal with him. I think that’s what resonated the most for me as viewer, is that this woman who had undergone a horrific ordeal, confronted her issues, and dealt with Todd Manning. Marty and Todd shared a bizarre bond, because the initial rape was a turning point in both characters lives. Over the years both characters came to the others defense when they needed it for one reason or another. While they were never comfortable together, I can honestly say that Marty and Todd grew to care about one another. I don’t think for one second that Todd would ever intentionally hurt Marty as bad hid did all those years ago again. I think that’s the other thing the bothers me about this story is that it is so unauthentic.

    Marty and Todd co-existed on and off for years, why take this unnecessary turn. For better or for worst the twisted scenes have aired, and I had to end my time watching the show. I am not riveted or intrigued, and the story that I thought they’d never do, is a story that should have never happened!

    Marlena says: Thanks for your retelling of Marty and Todd’s history, J. And saying what has just happened doesn’t fit their history. As you say, the whole thing is “unauthentic.”

  5. Melanie says:

    Great Letter Marlena! Thank you for (perfectly) putting into words the frustration and disgust that so many of us feel regarding this story.

  6. horselover says:

    Bravo Marlena! I hope this letter sinks in to Anne Sweeney. She is a WOMAN after all!

    Marlena says: Thanks, Renee. You have always been a Marlena supporter, it means a lot to me. You gotta have some feminist principles if you have risen as high in the Disney corporate structure as Ms. Sweeney has.

  7. Tim says:

    I appreciate your opinion but do not agree. I watched the original 1993 rape story and believe the latest chapter in this ongoing story has rejuvenated the show and made it “must-see TV” this November. The story is not yet over; in fact, I think the true implications of Todd’s despicable actions are just now beginning to reverberate. The previous writing regime made Marty a pale imitation of herself and I think did far more injustice to the character. They even had Marty and Todd going on a road trip together! Contrary to what a previous poster said, I think this story is very true to both characters. Todd has always been a psychopath who is out for himself above all else. Marty would never have slept with Todd if she remembered what he had done to her, but I had no doubt believing that she would fall in love with the Todd that was being presented to her. Was it uncomfortable to watch? Yes. But I believe it was also riviting and was leading up to the inevitable reveal, which has been truly amazing to watch.

  8. tess says:

    Again, I HATE the Todd/Marty story, but I have often wondered why did the show retain Todd, going all out to do so, I might add. For example, the writers made Todd Viki’s half-brother, connecting this nutso rapist to the heart and soul of the show.

    Todd is/was an angry rapist (I would imagine all rapists are angry) and should have been expunged from the show.

    Conversely, I know I’m contradicting myself, but Powell, another frat boy in the rape scenario was a character worthy of redeeming. Powell seemed truly contrite for his misdeeds and although, he had participated in the crime, he had an endearing quality. I think it would have been interesting to watch Powell become a better man. We could have seen him encounter hostility from town’s people. There could have been meaningful conversations about peer pressure and mob mentality. It could have worked because Powell came across as deeply remorseful for his role in what happened to Marty.

    I never got a sense that Todd felt a bit of guilt for what he had done. Remember, he continued to commit anti-social misdeeds following the rape. So, why did the show keep Todd around? The guy’s a screw-up.

    Next topic.

    I hope your letter to Anne Sweeney bears fruit. Sadly, I think viewers opinions are ignored these days. And all the shows would benefit greatly from the input of those who watch, I think.

    Marlena says: I feel the same way about Todd as you do, Tess. A few months ago I even wrote a column called “I Hate Todd.” Click the “One Life to Live” icon on the right, scroll down and you’ll find it. And Tess, dear, the network prides itself on never listening to the viewers. That goes back to the dawn of soap opera time.

  9. Yay Marlena !!!

    I have always loved your passion and enthusiasm, and now your activism! Writing letters and standing up for what you believe in is such an eloquent and classy way of taking back control when others have taken advantage or wronged you. I encourage ALL Thinking Fans affected by this story to take back your power in this manner.

  10. Steve says:

    I 100% agree with what you wrote. I think we’re going to hear a lot of “This story was worth it because Susan Haskell is doing such amazing work.” Never mind that this work involves making Marty a victim yet again, and glorifying the violation of women for ratings and attention.

    I find this story to be incredibly depressing and demeaning to a legion of women, all the women in Todd’s life. They are all victims, and Todd himself? A soulless, boring sociopath. So lacking in any personality at this point that they had to brutally beat him just to try to show any sort of suffering from his point of view. He’s the one who plows ahead, never changing, never paying a price, while the women in his life continue to be put through physical and mental agony.

    Marlena says: Well, bless you Steve and your fabulous eloquence! You’ve written to me lots before and I know you are truly a Thinking Fan. And a special thanks for recognizing all the inane things said about this storyline. Don’t fans know a “great” perfomance is no excuse for a disgusting, tasteless story?

    And I adore that you call Todd, “a soul-less, boring sociopath.” Because he certainly is just as boring … and still as sick as always … after all these years!

  11. David says:

    Marlena, excellent article!

    I hate this story too, but I hate the Frons tone of ABC daytime more than anything. This is just the final nail for me. I am a man, but I am also a feminist, and I can’t watch this network’s soaps anymore, really any network it seems.

    I grew up watching 1980′s ABC daytime. ABC’s shows, especially GH, had a large male following thanks to action and adventure, and Gloria Monty’s style. Other than the issues with Luke/Laura, (which was onscreen before my time), the women on GH were not victims, and the plots were not created to repeatedly rape and torture the women of Port Charles.

    Why can’t TPTB see that a part of their audience running away is that they are sick of the pointless violence and one dimensional characters?

    Does anyone remember the storyline on GH when Grant Putman kidnapped Anna Devane, and had his dog watch over her? In a town full of male heroes (Robert, Frisco, Sean,) Anna rescues herself! She never lost any of her romantic appeal by being a mother, or a spy, women loved her just as much as men! Felicia, Bobbie, Tiffany, Lois, Tracey, Robin, Monica, Lucy Coe. Think of these women! Now you are either a Carly or a Liz, and most of the women like Liz end up raped and or killed, or both (Emily Q I am talking about you).

    When was the last time we saw women being allowed to be friends on soaps? Where is my Lois/Brenda? I miss real friendships between people on these shows, but that takes time away from mob hits invloving young boys.

    AMC- Where are my Brooke Englishes? My Liza Colbys? Women of strength!

    GL- No Maureen, no Holly, no Alexandra (the real one).

    I miss these women. I would trade Carly Corinthos for a Maureen Bauer any day, if for no other reason than just because characters like Maureen are now as mythical and rare on soaps as bigfoot is in the real world.

    OLTL should know better than this, and anyone involved in this storyline should think long and hard about the cost of the sweeps payoff.

    Sorry about the length, I just love soaps, and this is the true death of them- the idea that viewers want to see nothing but baby daddy/switch stories, and women being the victims of rape and violence, over and over again. Where is the love?

    Marlena says: Thank you! I hereby anoint you one of the Monty Men, a real life group of my male friends who grew up on Gloria Monty’s General Hospital and never got over it. (Members: Ed Martin, founder; Jeffy, Robert Shorke, Chrissie) The women of the 80s on all the soaps were stronger because writers in this era clearly knew that the audience was made up mostly of women OR men (like all my friends above) who loved strong women. And these writers knew what soaps were about: romance. “Where is the love?” was the line spoken by Doug Marland when he’d watch soaps other than his own that clearly had none. (I heard him say it myself numerous times.)

    The women of the last ten years ago either fire-eating dragonesses (GH’s Carly) or pathetic victims (OLTL’s Marty, raped twice by the same guy.) Friends? Save for GH’s Alexis and Diane (both of whom Guza treats as old prunes) there aren’t many female friendships on soaps anymore.

    TPTB must know that they’ve lost their audiences because of the one dimensional characters and pointless violence. But like the band that played on and on as the Titanic sank, they’re tragically choosing to play the same tune over and over again … until …

  12. n69n says:

    Speaking of friendships between women …

    Did you see the scenes between TINA & ROXY? There were only two, but they were soap magic. If anyone at ABC had a brain, they would’ve built the TINA & ROXY friendship to PATSY & EDINA/LUCY & ETHEL proportions … and that would’ve been CAN’T MISS TV!

    Marlena says: Norn, dear. I agree about Tina and Roxy. As soon as you said “I Love Lucy” I envisioned in my head the famous grape stomping episode in Italy when Lucy got into a messy fight in a giant vap of grapes — complete with hair-pulling — with the a local female grape stomper. How long is it until we see Viki and Dorian doing the same exact thing on OLTL?

  13. Cyber says:

    Is it me or is it in nearly characters are chanting in their dialog “he raped her all over again?”

    Just wondering why the heavy handedness of driving this point…I got it I got it.. you are trying to fix this awfully error in judgement. But see for me it can’t be fixed, the only way to have repaired this irrepairable damage is to pull the storyline. They didn’t. Instead, they chose to air this horror show and spend time trying to shove down my throat…I guess trying to train me to accept it. They can ring the bells of Pavlov dogs and I ain’t bitin.. This was an awful storyline that’s it. period.

    Don’t try to fix it just drop it. It doesn’t matter because what is more horrifying is the Frons and his band of merry men’s era of ABC who has control of what airs on television.. This is a dangerous man to have any kind of control over what I see on public airwaves. He is truly a warped, power hungry individual.

    Marlena says: Just like when you wrote in last time, Cyber, we are of one mind. Get rid of this awful story!

  14. John says:

    Marlena, first of all I applaud you for your concerns about the rampant sexism in daytime and for speaking out against a story that you feel is ethically wrong, and for doing it so eloquently. I have not bought a soap magazine in going on a decade, and when I see the tabloidy covers in line at the supermarket, I can’t help but wonder how much better all of these shows might be if more of your colleagues approached their jobs with your integrity and rigor.

    I should also make the disclaimer that I am one of those male viewers you mentioned, and I don’t pretend to be able to speak for any woman who has been raped – although sexual violence has certainly been committed against men throughout history, but I am not one of those men. So maybe I truly do not get it, although for the record I am hardly a fan of this story. I stopped watching for long stretches of time over the summer and early fall, because I wasn’t entertained seeing a rape survivor and her rapist in this implausible and unnecessary scenario, any more than I was by the 1968 story or the Tess nonsense. I also do not argue that what happened between Todd and Marty in 2008 was rape. But I still respect Ron Carlivati as a writer and what (I think) he has been trying to do, and I don’t think this story has been the kind of last straw for daytime as far as offensiveness.

    I do not see the brilliance of the original Todd and Marty story. I didn’t watch at the time, but I have seen the episode of the rape and a number of scenes from the trial and aftermath on YouTube. Perhaps the graphic and frank nature of the story was groundbreaking, but I think even from the outset its message was compromised because it echoed a lazy trend in daytime of “bad” girls being punished/redeemed via rape. Maybe it could have transcended that, but in redeeming Todd the show lost any good will it had going for it in my book. I don’t care that Marty and Todd were never romantically involved – the number of far-fetched scenarios employed to bring these two together and have Todd save Marty’s life made no more sense and was no more entertaining than what we witnessed this summer. Sorry, I don’t care that Michael Malone taught creative writing at Yale – a plot that hinged on a woman’s rapist rescuing her from international terrorists and taking a bullet for her while she was whisked home on his private jet in order to fulfill the last wish of a dying child who had no history in the storyline or priot connection to any of these character’s lives was embarrassingly bad writing to me. And having Viki grow to love her new brother Todd in the midst of her own (otherwise superior) story of coming to terms with being raped was really appalling.

    Now, compared to that, I actually see this latest chapter as less offensive. No, I don’t understand why anyone would think viewers would want to see Marty re-victimized, and there is no larger relevance to this story that would take precedence over that lack of entertainment value. But, once it was decided to tell this story, for whatever reason, I can’t find a lot of fault with the way it was handled. This could have been another retro mid-1990s story in which Todd altruistically rescued Marty when he coincidentally stumbled upon her. I get the feeling some people would have liked to see that, but instead this story has actually shown that rapists are fundamentally selfish people who feed their own twisted egos by exerting power over women they see as weaker than themselves. Given the chance to exercise power over Marty all of these years later when she was just as helpless as the night of the rape, Todd reverted back to form. I don’t think we’re supposed to see him as a romantic hero here. Marty clearly would never have done this if she knew who he was, and now that she knows she is horrified and (rightly) furious at him. The show is calling it rape, Marty even took the morning after pill because she had no intention of having her rapist’s baby, and all of the characters are in unison in their outrage at what Todd has done.

    As for OLTL, I’ve been entertained by the Todd character at times over the years, particularly in his brief relationship with Tea (I tuned out before he punched her). But the fact that he continues to be the center of this show, even after the role was recast at a time that would have been a perfect opportunity to retire the character, is an albatross for OLTL and daytime as a whole at this point. I can’t even get my hopes up that this latest atrocity will finally be the end of the character, because after the rape, the punch, selling his baby and telling Blair their baby was dead, etc. one would think he would be beyond redemption. But if this is finally the end of this character, then I would go so far as to say that something good has come from this story.

    For now, though, I am interested to see what happens next (whereas I was admittedly not interested in seeing Marty living with or sleeping with Todd over the past few months). I don’t think any line has been crossed that sets daytime back any further – for the reasons I mentioned, I think this is actually an improvement over past stories – and while this show is far from perfect, I am impressed with the way they are tying together several imperfect stories that have mercifully ended and moving forward in ways that have repercussions for many characters. (Nearly all of which are actually being explored.) Marty can recover from this and rebuild her life, hopefully with the support of a community that does not buy the notion of a rapist with a heart of gold that some of her closest friends bought into the last time around. And Todd can finally be brought to justice. If that’s what happens, I may stick around and watch.

  15. JR says:

    No matter what you think of the story (which I agree is a disgrace to all women), the last two weeks of OLTL has been the best it has been in years. Susan Haskell and Trevor St. John have never been better. The show, for those two weeks, were interwoven in a way in which it has been for years.

    Marlena says: So you say this story is a disgrace to women and you say you STILL enjoy it? Mama didn’t raise you right, JR!

  16. BL says:

    Marlena, have you seen the Nielsen ratings for last week? OLTL was number three in total viewers, and had other rises in demos. I bet ABC is thrilled with the reaction to this plot for that reason alone.

    I miss aspirational soap characters of either sex as daytime gave us images of women we seldom got elsewhere.

    Marlena says: Blossy, trainwrecks and car crashes get good ratings too! Come see me in January and let’s see what the ratings are. Remember about a year ago, when Carlivati was declared God and everyone was so excited that He had arrived? And how very disappointing the show had been until this November, sweeps month?

    Do you mean “aspirational” or “inspirational?” Of course there used to be women characters we all wanted to emulate in the past. Alexis on General Hospital, Brooke on All My Children, Nora on One Life to Live. Where are they now or are they all now just shadows of their former selves?

  17. TivoFan says:

    Great letter. Five years ago, a vulgar story like this would have had me firing off a missive to anyone and everyone at ABCD, but today, it’s just not worth the effort. No one cares. If they did, this story would have never seen the light of day for us to be having this conversation. What ABCD has failed to grasp is that professional, educated women have better things to do with their time than be insulted by these stories. As I said in my earlier post, I’m gone and this certainly won’t bring me back. Daytime is on the way out, but contrary to popular belief that it’s dying, I personally believe it’s being killed by the likes of Frons, Valentini and Carlivatti. I admire your efforts to try to save the patient, but I truly believe it’s much too late. My advice, save yourself. ;-) Rock on, Marlena!

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