In what is shaping up as a watershed, telltale year — one marked by radically slashed budgets, by a crumbling ratings, by a series of breath-stealing actor dismissals, and by entire shows coasting on the fumes of asinine plot-propelled drivel (“The Bold and the Beautiful,” anyone?) — for a uniquely American art form — the serialized daytime drama — let’s pause to toast the one soap that’s more or less getting it exactly right: ABC’s “One Life to Live.” The show marked its fortieth year on the air on July 15, and today and tomorrow, they’re pulling out all the stops to mark the occasion by revisiting three of “One Life’s” most successful and most beloved storylines: Tina Lord Roberts’ 1987 tumble over an Argentinian waterfall (today, it’ll be her daughter Sarah taking that plunge); Viki Lord’s infamous trip to Heaven that same year (she’s going back, but this time around she’ll only encounter the folks — like her former father-in-law (and second favorite sparring partner) Asa Buchanan, her dear friend Mel Hayes, and her late husband Ben Davidson — who have died since her first visit); and Clint Buchanan’s lavishly brilliant time-travelling adventure (twenty years ago, he fell off his horse — seriously, you just had to be there — and landed in Arizona in the late 19th century; this month, Bo and Rex are struck by lightning and wake up in 1968 — the year this series hit the air, wink, wink — and faced with a choice to either change the future — will Asa’s bastard son David Vickers even be born? Will Bo not be drafted and sent to Vietnam after all? — or leave it alone). Soaps are all about execution, of course, so the final verdict will be out for a bit, but this ploy feels like a spectacular way to both honor this show’s rich, bountiful history and to re-engage the attention of lapsed fans who have been alienated over the years by shoddy writing and boneheaded plot twists (how many besides me are still infuriated about Nora sleeping with Sam Rappaport ten years ago?!). Contrast this celebration with fellow ABC soap “General Hospital” — which marked its 45th anniversary on April 1 with a dopey thirty-second clip reel tacked onto the end of that day’s episode — and you get the distinct feeling that its network no longer considers “One Life” to be the redheaded stepchild of its daytime lineup.


Damn good thing, too, because “One Life” is in the strongest shape — by, like, far — of the three soaps ABC airs. “General Hospital” is chugging along and is still eminently watchable, but even one episode without its most invaluable asset (the uncommonly brilliant, immensely gorgeous Laura Wright — about whom a Buzz post is forthcoming, mark it — who portrays daytime’s all-time best bitch, Carly Corinthos Jacks) reveals that show’s marked flaws (like, for instance, the huge, unwieldy focus on Robin and Patrick’s baby, an overwrought storyline whose only true purpose, it would seem, is to give me a migraine; as the ever-prescient Sherry Ann ingeniously put it last week as we watched together, “I never thought I’d be as tired of a kid as I am of that one, and it hasn’t even been born yet!”). And “All My Children” — which just installed its third writing team in eleven months — is just a wilting, war-torn mess; they shot themselves in both feet a year and a half ago when they let the infinitely brilliant Julia Barr — who was the star of that show for thirty frickin’ years and won multiple Emmys in the process! — walk out the door without even so much as a farewell scene, and then two months later, in the midst of their achingly ludicrous Satin Slayer serial killer plot, when they killed off Dixie Cooney Martin (played by luminous fan favorite Cady McClain) with a plate of poisoned pancakes. (Not since “Santa Barbara” flattened Mary Capwell with a giant neon “C” — again, you had to be there — on the roof of her new family’s hotel has a soap murdered its primary heroine with such cavalier, gut-punching indifference!) Julie Hanan Carruthers and Brian Frons (the executive producer of “Children” and the president of ABC Daytime, respectively) each went to the soap press earlier this year and flat-out admitted what a massive mistake they made in offing Dixie, and they brought back McClain at the beginning of the summer for a six-week stint as “Ghost Dixie” to help tie up all the character’s loose ends — for a solid year prior to her death, Dixie had been searching for her daughter Kate, whom she had mistakenly given up for adoption; Dixie died before she and her estranged husband Tad could learn what the audience already knew: Kate was actually Kathy, whom Tad and Dixie’s good friend Julia Santos had taken in when Kathy’s adoptive parents were killed in a car wreck — but all that accomplished was to reinforce what an unmanageable crater Dixie’s death left in the show’s canvas. (Frons even went so far as to express utter disbelief that the “baby Kate issue,” as he called it specifically, was still such a huge topic of conversation in all of the network’s focus group discussions. Well, Brian, lemme help you with that one, sir: You made us sit through a full heart-wrenching year of watching Dixie kvetch and moan every single day about giving up that damned baby, and then you senselessly murdered her just when she and Tad were so close to discovering the truth, thereby gypping both the couple (and, more importantly, the couple’s fans, more than one million of whom have abandoned the show in the past eighteen months) of the happy ending they so tirelessly sought and so richly deserved. We understand that it’s a soap opera and that suspense-driven anticipation is the name of the game here, but we don’t take kindly to being so flagrantly jerked around.)


Ghost Dixie helped reunite Tad and Kate, but in order to expedite the event, the show — obviously having learned nothing from the firestorm that erupted behind McClain’s dismissal — chose to kill off (and in the most gruesome way fathomable — the woman literally choked up blood after being shot at close range in the chest!) Julia Santos, as played by the magnificent Sydney Penny (aside from the aforementioned Wright, easily the most talented, most intuitive actress under 40 — if not period — in all of daytime), who had once been this show’s unquestioned female protagonist and whose character’s groundbreaking, dynamite romance with leonine Noah Keefer drove “Children” to the top of the ratings heap in the mid-’90s. I understand that Penny had been woefully underused during the entire three-year length of her latest stint on the show — she left the show in 1996, made sporadic appearances throughout the next decade, and returned full-time in 2005 — but you’ll forgive me if I still find her loss to be an incalculable one for this show: since we watched onscreen Julia’s painstaking evolution from hell-raising bad girl to angelic heroine, as brought to life by the majestic Penny, she was one of the few characters on “Children” we could root for with unqualified vigor and still respect ourselves in the morning. (I dare anybody reading this to say with a straight face that the same holds true for anyone in that ridiculously convoluted Ryan/Annie/Greenlee/Aidan/Kendall/Zach black hole; the only person I root for in that unkempt mess is for barrel-chested Thorsten Kaye to come to his senses and head back to “One Life,” where his former role of heroic poet Patrick Thornhart awaits him with open arms with a storyline so bulletproof it practically writes itself!) Penny revealed in one of her exit interviews that the reason Julia was being killed off was to avoid a lengthy custody battle over Kate/Kathy; I say that’s just the kind of all-encompassing, devastatingly human story that could have put this show on the road to wellness (in much the same way that Todd and Marcie’s battle over baby Tommy snapped “One Life” back into fighting trim last fall), and indeed, the kind of story that dear Agnes Nixon created this show specifically to tell. But since the people who are currently running this show are obviously lazy and aloof, it’s little wonder they wouldn’t touch a tale like that with a ten-foot pole.


Don’t for a second believe the state of things is any better across the dial over at CBS: “The Bold and the Beautiful” is now overrun with Logans we don’t care a whit about, and “The Young and the Restless” is still struggling to recover from Lynn Marie Latham’s brazen attempts to firebomb every last inch of its infrastructure. (Word broke last week that “Y&R” had brought in mighty Paul Rauch — the legendary producer who presided over the glory days of “Another World” and “One Life to Live” during the ’70s and ’80s, and the man who saved “Guiding Light” from certain cancellation in 1996 by making that show’s wishy-washy lead Annie Dutton go batshit bonkers (thereby unleashing the electrifying Cynthia Watros in the decade’s most extraordinary go-for-broke star turn) and spearheading a must-see plot involving Reva going on trial for the “murder” of Annie’s unborn child, a story that brought fans back to the show in droves — as a “creative consultant” to help staunch the bloodletting, which, in soaps, is almost always code for “Josh Griffith had better enjoy being this program’s executive producer while he can, because he won’t hold that title much longer.”) And you just have to know that Rauch is ravaged with regret by what has happened to “Guiding Light” since he stepped down in 2002: that show, an American institution which deserves to run forever and which — assuming it actually lives that long — will celebrate its 72nd (!!) anniversary next January, has tumbled into an apparent death spiral in the five months since producer Ellen Wheeler completely revamped its production style by switching to digital cameras and shifting the series’ home base to Peapack, New Jersey. (What began as a bold, innovative experiment has degenerated into an unwatchable travesty, a tragic amalgam of nonsensical plots — honest to Jesus, there’s not one happy couple anywhere on that show! — and furious, frustrated actors (Ricky Paull Goldin and Beth Ehlers have already bolted for “All My Children,” and word has it that Kim Zimmer — always this show’s ace in the hole — and Crystal Chappell are next in line to depart when their contracts expire; should that come to pass, it seems a safe bet that the party’ll pretty much be over).) And what of “GL’s” sister show, “As the World Turns”? Notwithstanding the fact that, in the combustibly adorable Luke and Noah, they have created the hottest, most buzzed-about young couple in all of soaps, this old warhorse has also descended into unmistakable chaos. Having been rocked by the embarrassingly botched return of the legendary Scott Bryce (whose character — the dashing and dastardly Craig Montgomery — was written this time around with exactly none of the flip panache and roguish charm that made Bryce a soap sensation in the ’80s) and by the heinously perverted departure of “World” mainstay Martha Byrne (whose character Lily Snyder — now portrayed by the wickedly miscast Noelle Beck, of “Loving” fame — is the freakin’ irreplaceable heart of the show!), “Turns'” embattled executive producer Chris Goutman turned to Soap Opera Digest last month — ostensibly to defend himself and his seemingly wacko decisions of late — whereupon he proceeded to swallow his other foot when he admitted with outrageous candor (minus even a trace of jest or sorrow) that he doesn’t give a flying fig what the fans say.

Digest: “Do you get a mail report about what people are saying?”

Goutman: “Vaguely, but I don’t really look at it”

Digest: “So you would recommend that people not bother sending [letters]?”

Goutman: “Yes, I do.”

Digest: “It’s not going to make a difference?”

Goutman: “Not to me.”


(This is good an explanation as any for why he has force-fed us Holden and Carly’s illicit affair — as logic-straining a couple as any I can remember on this (or any other) show — killed off Dusty Donovan (for the love of God, Don’t. Kill. Your. Legacy. Characters!) for utterly no reason earlier this year, and shunted Lucinda, Lisa, and Susan off to the backburner without a speck of remorse.)


Which brings us back, gratefully, to “One Life,” a serial that has experienced an inspiring, explosive rebirth in the past year, thanks solely to a renewed focus on both its own storied history and its audience, which remembers that history with an unyielding, white-hot intensity. New head scribe Ron Carlivati — a recent Emmy winner for his stupendous first year in the top slot — and his crackerjack team of breakdown writers (who hit the ground in a dead sprint last August with the triple triumphs of Asa’s death and the intertwined reveals of Spencer’s murderer and the true identity of baby Tommy McBain) have renovated the show’s canvas brilliantly, folding in intriguing new characters (Jared Banks and Gigi Morasco, to name two) the right way (by tying them to folks we already know and love, natch), shifting the spotlight back to audience favorites (welcome back, Nora, Lindsay, Viki, and Dorian!), and luring back a handful of much-missed stars from yesteryear (most notably Andrea Evans — a most welcome sight back in her signature role as Tina Lord — and Susan Haskell — who needed all of one episode to definitively correct this show’s disastrous attempt to recast her (with a brunette, at that!) in the raw-nerve role of Marty Saybrooke last year).


To be sure, this show is far from flawless (and fail to believe any hype to the contrary, please) — more than a few of the primary characters are being written a tad too simplistically (take David, for instance, whose character is now played strictly for laughs (and broad ones at that), without even a hint of the enigmatic shadiness that writer Michael Malone so deliciously imbued the character with upon his creation in 1994; or Dorian, whose single note of late would seem to be “arch shrewishness,” and while that no doubt makes it much easier for channel-flipping folks to get a quick bead on the action, I’d wager it offends (and by more than a little) longtime fans (hi!) who wistfully recall the days when that character had more than two dimensions), and several of the show’s current couples make zero sense (like, there’s no way in hell that my Nora — the character, as played by the divinely incredible Hillary B. Smith, my all-time favorite soap actress — would fall for Bo’s brother Clint; likewise, there’s no way in hell that my Bo — the character whose outlandishly nutty 1988 storyline in which he was kidnapped and held captive by his evil doppelganger (Faux Bo, natch!) was what turned me on to this show in the first place, and whose throughline has always been dignity and truth — would again get involved with that walking trainwreck Lindsay, not after the wringer she put him through a decade ago!), and those megahyped returns have fallen a little flat heretofore (particularly in Evans’ case: thus far, Tina has been marooned in an island story revolving around the stolen crown jewels of the fictional country of Mendorra, and outside of her hapless daughter Sarah, has had no interaction at all with anyone in her family. Don’t get me wrong: it’s great to see Miss Andrea back onscreen — and, at 52, looking better than ever — in the role that made her one of the television stars of the ’80s, but her version of Tina always needed someone strong to play against, be it a romantic partner (and neither Cord nor Max, her two most prominent sexual matches, are around these days), an archrival (too bad they had Gabrielle Medina fall prey to a serial killer several years back — again, guys, Don’t. Kill. Your. Fucking. Legacy. Characters!!), or a sister (and didn’t Viki’s unconditional love for and acceptance of Tina always keep her grounded, even at her most flighty?).)


Still, even in its current less-than-perfect state, this is the one hour of daytime television that I always look forward to without hesitation each weekday, and that’s something that couldn’t be said at this time last year. So happy 40th birthday, “One Life to Live.” I’ve been watching for just over half that many years, through times great and godawful, and some while ago, I came to the abrupt yet comforting realization that I’ll keep watching until one of us leaves the planet. I’ll tell you right now, I hope I’m first, because you — my favorite soap opera ever — deserve to outlast us all.


You’re a true American treasure, “One Life.”


Love always,


the Buzz.


4 responses to “where you go when it looks like the rain won’t end”

  1. the buzz from A.:

    Yikes! I need a chart, Cliffs Notes, a study group, and a tutor to follow all of that!

    While I am in no position to comment on the content of the post (though, suffice it to say after actually watching the infamous Vat of Acid episode on Days of Our Lives, almost nothing in the more than 2750+ words above is completely surprising), I am duly amazed by the style. With a sentence 300 words long, this may well be called Faulknerian! You do not cease to impress me, Brandon!

  2. the buzz from Chip:

    I’m watching Part One of the anniversary episodes at This. Very. Minute. and enjoying it thoroughly (finally succumbed to the Carlivati hype). But I have to defend my beloved ATWT. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, it was a horrible mistake to let Scott Bryce and Martha Byrne go. But there are cylinders that the show is firing on fairly consistently — Luke & Noah, despite the lack of nookie; Casey & Emily, in part BECAUSE of all of the hot nookie; and the fallout of Carly & Holden. I know — I KNOW — it’s somewhat out of character, especially for Holden, but I love that it’s throwing his hypocrisy back in his face. And anytime Maura West can play miserable and angry, it’s just divine.

    As for OLTL, I’m loving this anniversary stuff for precisely the reason I was disappointed in the 50th anniversary stuff for ATWT. Abandoning most of the show’s divas in the woods for an episode was great fun, and the flashbacks were killer, but the episode was a standalone. As was the campy-but-not-campy-enough sitcom parodies, which were somewhat interesting and had at least some tangential revelations about characters, but could not compare to the history-celebrating and story-propelling stuff I’m seeing on OLTL.

  3. the buzz from Damon:

    Geez, why don’t you learn to form an opinion or something? : )

    Thanks for the report. I couldn’t agree with you more about OLTL — it’s not the best soap ever, but it’s the best we’ve got right now. I too have been stricked with the inconsistencies. Although I love the structure and overall tone of the show, I am amazed how Nora and Dorian appear shallow and watered down.

    I hope you had a great birthday!

  4. the buzz from brandon:

    OK, Chip, this new kid they’ve got playing Casey sure is cute, but this Casey/Emily fling is just… icky. Casey is her son’s big brother! That’s just gross! Furthermore, they’ve botched Paul and Meg so royally that both of those characters seem completely ruined to me. Whenever either of them are onscreen, I haven’t the slightest inclination to care what’s happening. And Holden/Carly? No dice, sir. Holden would NEVER do that to Jack, EVER! (And I’m not even certain that scruple-less Carly would ever do that to Lily!) Having Martha Byrne in that mix would go a long way toward selling that insipid story to me, but I guess the cruel irony is: they would NEVER try that story if Martha Byrne were still on the show! To me, it just reeks of: “Well, we’ve hired this new woman to play Lily, but we don’t trust the decision we’ve just made, so let’s just blindly put Holden with someone else and see if nobody notices the fact that Martha’s not around anymore.” As much balls as it took to replace Sarah Brown on “GH” and Roger Howarth on “OLTL,” those recasts ultimately were quite successful because their respective shows stuck to their guns and wrote those actors playable, human stories. Meanwhile, if THIS is what they had in mind for Lily — being Holden’s doormat and Luke and Noah’s talk-to — then what was the point of the high-profile recast? I say Byrne was lucky to get out when she did.

    As for “One Life,” the anniversary episodes fell a bit flat with me, although I think the fallout from them — Tina having to tell Cord and Viki about the tragic mess she got herself and her daughter mixed up in; Viki finding out Dorian, of all people, saved her life; and the 1968 thing, which is quite intriguing thus far — is going to be pretty extraordinary. It was GREAT seeing Erin Torpey (the original Jessica) back onscreen for a few days, and her chemistry with Erika Slezak is still marvelous, but the single best moment of either episode was at the end of day two, when Mel (played by the still-entrancing Stephen Markle — Don’t. Kill. Your….!) was walking away from Dorian after convincing her to save Viki. As tears welled up in Robin Strasser’s eyes and a look of serene, melancholy awe washed across her face, I actually FELT for Dorian for the single FIRST time in the five years since Strasser returned to the show. If these anniversary installments give us anything that resonates into the future, may it be a reminder that Dorian has served (and shall always serve) MANY purposes on this show, and that she does indeed have a heart somewhere beneath all those pulsating neuroses, and that she is more than just a one-dimensional cackling shrew, as she has been written lately (despite Strasser’s valiant attempts to override it).