The death of ‘One Life to Live’

Posted Jan. 12, 2012, at 3:16 p.m.

“One Life to Live” dies Friday, and I am sad.

After 43 years of on-air heartbreak and hope, Emmy-Award-winning love triangles, parallelograms and trapezoids, not to mention dramatic diseases, accidents, serial murders and miraculous return-from-the-dead recoveries — often facilitated by convenient use of plastic surgery to explain a replacement actor’s face — the much-beloved ABC daytime drama gasps a last theatrical breath on its final episode Friday. It’s been canceled in favor of a self-help talk show called “The Revolution” that’s probably loads less expensive but certainly less emotionally engaging than a scripted production with dozens of talented writers, actors and elaborate sets. But, hey, what do I know?

I do know that ABC has been careless with our hearts, first canning “One Life’s” sibling soap, “All My Children,” and replacing it with a foodie show called “The Chew” a few months ago — leaving “General Hospital” as the network’s lone daytime drama.

Thousands of fans now sit poised by “One Life’s” bedside, a box of tissues no doubt at the ready. Many have watched much longer than I — some from the show’s inception in 1968 — embracing every detail, every back story of every character as if they were cherished family members. For such fans, 2012 really is the end of the world. The end of Llanview, Pa. The end of the Buchanans and the Cramers, the Lords and the Mannings, the McBains and the Balsams.

It’s daytime dramageddon.

Seeking solidarity as this mournful day approached, I perused several fan sites last week, their numerous posts revealing a collective anguish at the show’s loss — and serious anger at ABC executives.

“It’s like my friends are dying. They’re killing everyone I know,” one fan wrote. Another posted: “I am going to cry and cry at the end of this show, and then say goodbye to ABC. Except for ‘Castle,’ which I won’t give up, I will not hook up with anything new ABC does ever again.” (“Castle,” not-so-coincidentally, stars “One Life” alum Nathan Fillion.)

Another fan equated the switch toward reality-style offerings to “turning to live wrestling.” Ouch.

ABC has said the daytime demographic — namely, homemakers — is basically gone, so they’re targeting a new audience. But clearly the interest remains. Even Erika Slezak, the lovely actress who for 40 years has portrayed Victoria Lord, Llanview’s matriarch and split-personality queen, slammed the network’s decision in a recent interview with TV Guide.

“We were told the daytime audience doesn’t want entertainment anymore and that they just want information,” she said. “Well, that’s the biggest load of (expletive)! People always want entertainment!”

Wow, that was said in very non-Viki fashion. Maybe her alter ego, Niki, took control.

My history with “One Life to Live” began several years ago when I was on the 2-to-11 p.m. night cops shift at the Oakland Tribune, and the show came on while I was getting ready for work. That was back when a heartless Todd Manning was selling his newborn son, Jack, who he erroneously believed was the product of an affair between (his many times wife) Blair and Max Holden. Years of complications and drama ensued, and I gobbled it all up with relish.

When it was announced in April that “One Life to Live” and “All My Children” would be canceled, there was talk that the shows might continue in an online afterlife. However, that deal fell through.

Alas, somehow I shall soldier on. I might try to get into “General Hospital,” but from what I can tell, it doesn’t have “One Life’s” sense of fun, the comic relief of David Vickers and Dorian Lord, of Madame Delphina and Professor Delbert Fina Jr., or of Roxie Balsam and the English language.

Not that “One Life” was mere fluff — far from it. Over the decades, it tackled teen pregnancy, gang rape, interracial marriage, a black woman passing as white, multiple personality disorders, a gay love story — all back when such topics were taboo on TV.

At least the show’s writers are sending fans off with a bang — quite literally, with a prison break and familiar fiends running amok. So what will the finale bring? Will they wrap it up neatly, or leave it in a cliffhanger like they did with “All My Children” because they thought it would continue online?

Lots of former stars made welcome cameo appearances this week, reminding me all too well how much I’ll miss these characters, these actors, these friends.

“One Life to Live” is over. And I am sad.

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