Murder By Death: The End of OLTL

By Marlena De Lacroix

aka Connie Passalacqua Hayman

I just finished watching the last episode of One Life to Live and I am feeling depressed and betrayed.   Not by the last second gonzo surprise that Victor is alive, but by the show’s cancellation itself. 

Compared to soaps that were mostly played out (like Guiding Light and my once beloved All My ChildrenOLTL was vital and vibrant with active, watchable stories. Families and entire generations were fully intact; it was a show you could really look forward to seeing on a lonely afternoon.  But OLTL was cancelled unfairly in a package deal with AMC last April — despite the fact that it was fully alive!  Not to be melodramatic, (who moi? Marlena?) but in soap world terms, OLTL was murdered by ABC. 

The episodes leading up to the finale were finely crafted, as was befitting a show no longer limited by the short sight of the network’s longtime daytime president, Mr. Meddler.  On Thursday’s episode, everyone in Llanview, from Roxy to Viki, sat around in groups watching the show’s soap within a soap, Fraternity Row. It was a gem. Everything was tongue in cheek and replete with inside jokes, as when Bo remarked, “The soap press says when I produced the show it was in its Golden Age.” (Et tu, Paul?) Viki’s speech in which she related soaps to family and fans being as attached to their characters as they are to their families was beautifully wrought and delivered. As if we soap journalists hadn’t been writing this for centuries! 

Disappointingly, however, the show’s finale episode was severely compromised because when it was written and performed, the widely held belief was that OLTL would likely be continued by our friends (?) at Prospect Park. Alison Perkins narrating was a bit too Desperate Housewives for moi, but at least some plots were resolved. Naming Matthew and Destiny’s new baby Drew after his dead brother was so sweet.   And did Todd really have gray chest hair (as seen in his bed scene with the reunited Blair)?  I feel so old! 

But then again, I’ve been watching OLTL since 1969 when it followed Another World and came before Dark Shadows.  There was a different Viki then, (Gillian Spencer) and the show was a lot more sharply drawn between the rich (the Lords) and the poor (the Woleks and Siegels.)  What a long strange trip it’s been since then. Only yesterday (1992) I was the only reporter at the AIDS quilt episode in New Vernon, New Jersey and a young Ryan Phillippe was kissing me on the cheek, thanking me for naming him one of the best new actors of the year.  I remember when I first started editing soap mags how gaga the women execs at ABC were about Bob Woods when he was younger, and he indeed turned out to be a doll. Tres charmant!  I loved David and Dorian and I consider it one of my big accomplishments that the first words written about them as a couple (by me) hung in the make-up room at the studio for a time. Wasn’t Victor’s “murder” a big slap in the face not that long ago? I always felt really entertained by OLTL, whether or not I was writing about it over all these decades. I never once turned away in boredom or disappointment as I did with other soaps from time to time.  I even  named my dog Nigel! 

I’ll miss One Life as I am missing the rest of my soaps.  I feel bereft. They don’t take baseball and football away from men, do they? I just don’t know what to do with my afternoons anymore!   Now you, I and all the fans of One Life to Live have big holes in their life. 

Please write and commiserate.  There are so many good things about OLTL to remember! 

Comments

  1. Coggie says:

    I feel shell-shocked, Marlena. The end is not sinking in. OLTL wasn’t my first soap (AMC was). It wasn’t even my first love (DOOL was). Or my cheat (GH). But it stole my heart with the kind of in-depth, raw, almost unbearable profiles of unusual, tortured, emotionally and mentally dysfunctional characters who balanced the fine line between functioning citizen and nervous breakdown.

    Judith Light’s portrayal of a housewife by day and hooker by night started it off for me. Then, Viki’s alters and Dorian’s reluctantly heroic part in keeping the molestation secret. And of course Marty’s rape.

    These are characterizations and explorations primetime and movies only hope to get right.

    I feel like I just lost my childhood friend. I feel alone and very lonely.

    Marlena says: You sharing this made me feel a lot better, Coggie!

  2. Raymond P says:

    When I was in my pre- to early teens I would visit my maternal grandmother during the summer to mow the lawn or stay and visit while my mother would be out and about. Whenever I was done with my work, I’d plop down in a chair with my cold soda, my grandmother in her rocker next to me. She’d be watching her “stories” and most of the time I was there the one that was on was OLTL.

    As I grew into adulthood I’d check in with the show and keep up during certain storylines (Viki/Niki during the summer of 1985 and Eterna anyone?) When I’d go back and visit my grandmother we’d catch up and I’d inevitably ask her about OLTL. She *always* had an opinion.

    The years continued and her viewing of soaps dwindled and eventually stopped. She passed away some years ago and since then from time to time I have found myself stopping on the local ABC channel and checking out the antics of the residents of Llanview. Not because I was necessarily enthralled by what I saw onscreen but because of the comfort I found in my memories of watching it with her.

    As a long time soap fan I wanted to watch the final week of episodes out of respect for the genre, those who found employment through soaps and my fellow fans. However, I was unable to do it. To watch the end of the show would be almost like severing the last link to my grandmother. I just couldn’t do it.

    I can’t help but think my grandmother would be devastated at the loss of her stories, especially OLTL. For it was more than some television show. It was one of the few pleasures she had later in life. One that took her away from her pain and declining health. And one that built a deeper – if odd – connection with her grandson.

    R.I.P. OLTL. Thanks for all the memories and thanks most of all for giving me the gift of knowing my grandmother in that special way.

    Marlena says: What a writer you are Ray! Fabulouso. XO, Your Contessa

  3. Gary Warner says:

    A “spot on” assessment from La Grande Dame of Soap Criticism!

    As you poignantly expressed, it is terribly tragic to see a show cut down at a time when it is/was so incredibly intact.

    The emptiness I felt after watching yesterday’s show echoed the sadness I vividly recall experiencing when the beloved Meredith Lord died or when Dave Siegel suddenly met his maker after suffering a fatal heart attack. I sat stunned in front of my black and white TV, as these unthinkably horrid happenings played out in real time to my Llanview loved ones. (Alas, those were the days before the networks and the soap media cannibalized the product by revealing every secret in advance! Argghhhh)

    One Life To Live was family, a clan that remarkably remained as tight in their final days as they were in their infancy. A sad day indeed…….. :-/

    Marlena says: Dave Siegel! Meredith! You and I have been comrades forever, Gary.

  4. Justin Murphy says:

    This is one of the best articles I ever read on OLTL’s ending, my grandmother raised me on the show since I was small (the Paul Rauch era), and had been watching herself since Viki was dating Joe Riley and first dealing with her father Victor Lord’s crap! She raised a daughter and two grandsons (myself included) in those years watching off and on.

    It is beyond sad that ABC canceled the show before its time, and that the whole deal with Prospect Park could not be worked out. OLTL ended a week or so before her 66th birthday, and will be the end of the first week in 40 years that no semblance of her favorite soap will be any part of her life. While she hasn’t exactly been overly upset over the cancellations of AMC and OLTL, she now tunes into Y&R and B&B to get her soap fix.

    Above all, it’s just plain sad ABC has ripped out Agnes Nixon’s legacy like this.

  5. James says:

    Marlena!

    Was hoping you’d write a commentary about the OLTL finale. Good to know you’re still out there in soapland, crying with all the rest of us.

    I’ve watched OLTL since July 4, 1980, so I have a lot of time invested with Llanview. I’m terribly sad that it’s over now, especially since, as you pointed out, it was still so vibrant, alive and watchable.

    Overall, I’d give the final episode a B-. Not the best finale, but not the worst either. I was spoiled in that Texas, the first soap I ever watched that got canceled, created in my mind, the gold standard for how to wrap up a soap — entire cast gathered for a farewell party, toasting each other and the show. So, all other finales pale in my mind in comparison to that 1982 finale.

    Frankly, Thursday’s OLTL episode felt more like the finale. Friday’s show seemed more like a addendum designed to lure people online for the continuation.

    I would have preferred they combined the two into a single show. They could have done it easily just by moving the Fraternity Row finale with everyone gathered around watching to the end of Friday’s show. And use Viki’s speech about what soap operas mean to the viewers as the final words spoken.

    They could have still included the cliffhangers. While Viki was giving her soap opera speech, they could have added a few lines with her saying something about how Friday cliffhangers always leave you wanting more. As she is saying that, you see Todd getting arrested and Victor still alive but held captive.

    Then, after Viki’s speech about soaps, a brief montage of all the people crying after Fraternity Row aired its last episode.

    And of course, the final shot would be of Erika Slezak, as it should have been.

    I realize they had to end on a cliffhanger to get people to tune in online on Monday, but it was a slap in the face to Slezak’s 41 years and to all the loyal fans that the final shot was of Allison Perkins and Victor, Jr rather than of Viki.

    That aside, the last several months have been quite satisfying, a nice wrap up to a show that gave me so much pleasure over the years.

  6. JONNYSBRO says:

    Marlena you are so right when saying OLTL was murdered by ABC. OLTL was in such strong shape creatively, ratings wise and it has years of life left in it compared to GL which was a dying dog. You are right without Frons interference it allowed Frank/Ron to become creative visionaries in their vision as a team which thats what soaps used to be about. Wendy Riche/Claire Labine or Michael Malone/Linda Gottlieb. Soaps used to be run by two person extreme visionaries. The two part finale of OLTL delivered like no other finale. They were book end episodes. Thursday’s OLTL was mostly saying goodbye and it made me bawl my eyes out. Especially Erika speech, the sad goodbyes. The Fraternity Row thing was so clever and done brilliantly by Ron Carlivati.

    Friday’s episode was different it was more of saying goodbyes but more of what the show would be continuing considering ABC/Ron didn’t have time to change things before PP announced they would suspend efforts to bring OLTL online. This episode was really good as the Destiny/Drew stuff made me sad. Also RSW choking up about I love you RED. What I loved is OLTL ended on a thrilling note. We had lot of closure but some things were left open ended and it ended with the big cliffhanger Victor being ALIVE. It was that leaving the airwaves on a huge bang and wanting to tune into Monday. I know the GH story will be the conclusion of this storyline. I bawled and cried my eyes out for OLTL. I started watching OLTL in 1987 when I was 7 years old and it was my escape from childhood and life and now its like I am saying goodbye to a friend that used to bring me such warmth and comfort. Farewell Llanview you will ALWAYS BE MISSED and will be remember as a special, unique and ICONIC show that changed our lives and our hearts.

  7. Raye says:

    Thank you so very much for writing, Marlena. I have so missed your musings on our soap operas. :-)

    One Life to Live was indeed murdered. It was, creatively, the best soap on the air right now. And it loved, was proud of and unashamed of its dying genre. It was a soap opera in the grand tradition that sought to inform and to make its audience laugh, cry and feel; it did all those things, and it did them often. A HUGE Thank You to the One Life to Live cast and crew for soldiering on the last several months (years) and for delivering a show that was truly inspired and, many times, absolutely excellent.

    Continue to share your thoughts with us, Marlena. I would love to know what you think of Y&R, B&B, DOOL and GH.

  8. Chris says:

    Marlena, have you heard about former OLTL head writer Ron Carlivati and fomer OLTL executive producer Frank Valentini (who are both now going to be the new head writer and the new executive producer at GH respectively!) bringing over Roger Howarth (Todd), Kassie DePaivia (Blair), Kristen Alderson (Starr), and Michael Easton (John) to GH to reprise their characters from OLTL? Any thoughts on this new development?

    Marlena says: Sounds like a good idea to me. GH has been awful lately. They are going to have to go a long way to save this show.

  9. pjs says:

    Hi, Marlena/Connie…

    The first thing that I did after screening the OLTL finale episode last night was log in to marlenadelacroix.com…and you didn’t let me down. The one person I wanted to hear from about the end was you…there you were with your column! Smart, emotional, funny, on the money. Special props for being the only blog to mention the name “Wolek!” Not even all the mentions of Judith Light brought up that revered name.

    OLTL had never been one of my favorite soaps. I think Slesar’s EON, Phillips’/Marland’s ATWT, and Nixon’s AMC at its prime will always rate more highly. However, for these past few years, it has been the only soap that didn’t put me to sleep. (Has anyone been able to make it through a single scene of The Lady in White on GH without waking up 2and1/2 hours later!)

    As much as I’m going to miss OLTL and resent, as you have so accurately called it, “the big hole left in my life,” I will always be grateful for the best wrap-up of a soap since EDGE. My first soap finale was “Our Five Daughters,” a soap that none of your might know…except that a young Jackie Courtney was one of the titular 5. Their final air week gave an episode to each daughter and tied their lives up in a happy bow. I’d read that the soap formula was the opposite of life. As soap is born, it’s characters rapidly become unhappy. The overwhelming emotion for the characters as the soap dies is happiness.

    Other than soaps that ended without any chance for the writers to script a satisfactory conclusion (LOVE OF LIFE comes to mind especially) or with life-or-death unfinished story cliffhangers as a deliberate non-wrap-up choice (CAPTIOL) most soap finales have been generally happy and reflective (ATWT, GL) and ultimately, wan. TEXAS ended with a happy characters’ party that sort of called the network on the bad choices of the idiots in charge.

    And then there’s EDGE OF NIGHT. It closed every story satisfactorily with the Miles – Beth wedding, Mike and Nancy Karr reunited with daughter Laurie recalling the long-ago Capice family, and all the other characters relatively settled.
    But EDGE did something no other soap had ever done. It ended with a brand new murder mystery which began in its final week! Theygood guys learn of the latest killing in their town of Monticello, homicide captol of America, in the final episode. Nancy rushes to DA Mike’s side as he picks up the phone and tells the police…”We have to find out…” His voice trails off as the EDGE theme music swells up and tracks under a montage of all the characters. The show is over…but life goes on as always in Monticello.

    EDGE had long been my favorite soap finale… til OLTL. ONE LIFE TO LIVE brought all its characters to a reasonable conflict end-point in its final months and weeks. It didn’t matter that some of the plots were contrived or silly, the end points for the families and characters all made satisfactory sense. But, in addition, OLTL gave those of us who are lifelong soap viewers the gift of allowing our friends, the show’s own characters, to feel just as devasted as we were feeling, as they bewailed the loss of their beloved FRATERNITY ROW.

    Besides giving us the best send-up of soaps ever scripted pushing Carol Burnett’s AS THE STOMACH TURNS to No. 2, ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s finale served as an affirmation of everything that has ever grabbed us about the soap opera genre as scripted for the cameras and as produced behind the scenes. Viki’s love-letter monologue to the soaps in the next-to-final episode was just about as satisfying a summing up of the daytime viewing experience as I’ve ever heard. A fitting commentary about both OLTL and the soap genre.

    The “Victor Jr.’s alive” cliff-hanger gave us as viewers exactly what we wanted. The knowledge that life in Llanview isn’t over with the show’s demise…that it will go on. I think we want to leave our characters still going on, not happy and over. As Viki said between heaven and hell, “I’m not ready.” Congratulations to the show for the way it let us know it’s going on…despite cancellation. Whether or not Prospect Park’s possible continuation influenced all of this or not, I think the sense of life going on for its characters in its usual way is a great way to wind up! Hey, it’s not the first time we’ve seen Victor (aka Todd) tied to a bed! Kudos to the cast and the writers on the best ending ever.

    Sorry for being long, Connie, but when have I ever been brief. Feel free to edit.

    After crying through the show, turning to your blog and seeing that you had already posted your response to it’s finale made me smile! If the powers that be had read you and listened to your as faithfully as we readers of yours over the years, we might not have this “big hole in our lives.” You were the first to call them on what was happening to the shows…and how to fix them. No one listened. Now, we celebrate them in their absence.

    Marlena says: Thanks Phil! XOXO

  10. Dale says:

    Hi, Marlena!

    “Well, it’s over and done, but the heartache lives on inside”…..to quote from a famous song! It’s difficult to articulate what the end of One Life To Live means to me. The folks of Llanview have been my friends and family for 34 years! That I will never see Viki in Llanfair again is unthinkable! I imagine that I will go through the grieving process like so many others will, but I am completely satisfied how it all ended. I really wanted the final shot of the show to be Erika Slezak, but the Victor Lord Jr. reveal was SO completely and thoroughly OLTL!

    I’m trying not to be sad about this. I am trying to hang onto all the memories of all of the passion and excitement OLTL has served up all these years. And I am so damned proud that a show that the network could give two hoots for went out like a champ with its head held high! Really, OLTL has been the best of the best off all the soaps for a long time now, and the way it navigated towards its conclusion was wonderful. The speech Viki made about Fraternity Row perfectly voiced how we viewers feel, but beyond that, let’s not forget all the actors, crew, writers, producers, etc. – who put so much heart and soul into entertaining us so fantastically for four decades! They are grieving, too. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for the skill, passion and LIFE they gave to OLTL!

    Marlena says: Great letter Dale. xxoo!

  11. Cat says:

    Maybe one of the many Disney/ABC stations could show reruns of both soaps starting when the shows went to a 1 hour format. The stories would be practically new for us since so much time has passed and we have forgotten most story lines. Most of the money was in the production of the shows so it wouldn’t be expensive and it would make a lot of us soap addicts happy. There are over 40 years of shows. If they showed 2 episodes of each a day,that is 20 years of shows already made. The time of show wouldn’t be important because most of us have a recording device.
    This could happen IF Disney/ABC isn’t still determine to make the genre extinct.
    What are everyone’s thoughts on this idea?

  12. Patrick Erwin says:

    As you know, I was always a P&G soap fan. But OLTL was a show I came back to several times over its lifetime.

    The end for GL and ATWT – and to a lesser degree, AMC – was not entirely unexpected. But OLTL ending doesn’t make any sense.

    And it doesn’t bode well for the other shows, I’m afraid. When you are profitable (as OLTL was) and getting decent ratings (ditto) and you’re still canceled anyway…well, the laws of logic no longer apply, I’m afraid.

  13. `lynn v says:

    I almost did not get thru the 1:00 hour today my heart was so heavy! I will boycott ABCHEAP! Disney is not in the vocabulary. I was watching when Tommy Lee Jones was on, and Gillian Spencer, look how many stars have made it off of this show, it was still in its prime!

  14. Wendy Adams says:

    As a OLTL fan from its beginning, I really hope that somehow the show can be resurrected. I must share that on March 22, 1978 I was watching OLTL as I was in labor with my daughter. She was born at 1:22 pm. I was out of the delivery room and in front of a TV before the 45 minute show was over! I only wish I remember what the storylines were at the time…. I for one do not want another talk, food, or reality show replacing the folks who have been such a part of my life.

  15. Dee says:

    Well, the finale was a mixed bag, for me, to be honest. There were some happy endings, but for others, not so much: Brody and Jess weren’t reunited, Bobby Ford was seen as a big hero, and some were ended in a confusing way. But there is some hope coming on the way: Todd, Starr, Blair, and John are headed for GENERAL HOSPITAL. Maybe this could be the thing that could turn things around, or maybe not. But we can just hope.

  16. Lynne in Maryland says:

    I’m trying hard not lose hope too quickly. When the announcement was made that the shows were being cancelled, it seemed like there were just tons of fans coming out of the woodwork against it. Soaps aren’t a dying genre. I’m in my mid-twenties, and just about everyone I know watches at least one soap, including many of my teenage students!

    I’ve grown up watching AMC and OLTL. I watched GH briefly years ago, and will now be tuning in there to see what happens with the Manning family and John.

    Soap Zone reported that there is still a war being waged behind the scenes. I truly hope this is the case. Fans just need to keep making sure we’re being heard and let the cable networks know that it would be in their best interest to pick up our soaps. Let’s not go down without a fight!

  17. Dee says:

    Here’s my five best and five worst moments in OLTL history:
    1) The homophobia story/AIDS memorial quilt display
    2) The Marty/Todd rape story- gritty storytelling, great acting, led to the introduction to one of daytime’s most polarizing anti-heroes since Luke on GH, Todd
    3) Karen admitting she was a prostitute in court
    4) Bo and Nora’s wedding
    5) The finale week- Rex and Gigi’s reunion and wedding; Todd and Blair consummating their relationship; Brody returns; Jessica finding out that she’s Clint’s daughter all along; Matt and Des’s baby being born, and Clint and Viki reuniting

    5 worst moments:1) The cancellation, of course
    2) Nora cheating on Bo with Sam
    3) Todd punching Tea
    4) the dismissal of KISH- According to ABCD, it’s OK for mobsters, rapists, murderers to be the moral, ethical centers of their shows, but it’s not OK to portray the GLBTQ lifestyle like any other lifestyle. Shame on you, Disney!
    5) The whole John/Natalie/Brody/Jessica/Ford affair- this dumb story crammed McPain and Natalie down our damned throats, destroyed Brody beyond recognition, ruined Jessica, and made Bobby Freaking Ford into a hero.
    Disgusting.

  18. Moni says:

    Thank you, marlena, for your ever poignant commentary. The final months of OLTL were indeed “must see television”. The Todd and Blair story, in particular, has compelled me since the 90′s, not least because of the immeasurable talent of Kassie Depaiva and Roger Howath. Kristen Alderson, as well, is the best of her generation. I hope the Mannings can bring their star quality to GH and help save the last remaining ABC soap!

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