My college roommate Erin and I were very different in many ways. Her favorite actors were Christian Slater, Cary Grant, and, for some reason, George Burns. I covered the wall on my side of the room with a very large poster of Brad Pitt in all his Legends of the Fall, pre-Brangelina glory. Her favorite film was Singing in the Rain and mine was the German film Run Lola Run. While she listened to jazz and showtunes, I blasted Garbage, Bush, and Radiohead from a busted up CD player.
We had another major difference - Erin was a diehard fan of General Hospital while I was a diehard fan of One Life To Live. This did not lead to any arguments or need to divide our room in half. Unlike aggressive sports fans who bicker back and forth over their teams, we decided to watch and enjoy both shows together. It lead to a lot a female bonding and deep (at least we thought they were deep) discussions over characters and storyline. We even co-wrote a term paper on General Hospital which discussed Luke’s rape of Laura turned romance among other things.
Erin adored Lucky’s romance with Liz and, being a religious girl, really dug Joshua Jackson’s values. She found Jax utterly dashing and made every Aussie she met pronounce the word “Brenda." In contrast, I enjoyed Todd and Blair’s tormented love affair a la Wuthering Heights while swooning over Roger Howarth’s long hair and goatee.
We were both soap fans and saw the importance in these types of shows. As young women, the show’s influence on us. For Erin, whose uncle had died of aids, the Nurse’s Ball was very important to her. Maurice Benard’s openness about living with bipolar disorder helped her feel more comfortable dealing with her own illness when she realized she had depression. Liz’s rape inspired active involvement in the Take Back The Night March which I helped organize.
For me, One Life to Live provided the companion that I needed during my angsty young life. Coming from working class roots and having gone to high school with mostly upper class kids, I could relate to being "between heaven and hell." When Antonio spoke about feeling inferior to the business men in sharp suits with manicured nails, I knew where he was coming from. Not to mention the messed up Lord family tree made me feel a little better about mine. Mostly though, I was just entertained.
I’m not sure that it would be so easy to find a pair of young women so committed to their stories these days. There are a number of reasons for this but I think the major reason is that soaps just stopped appealing to the younger audiences. Somewhere along the way soap audience stopped being young and just got restless.
While the entertainment industry’s need to only appeal to certain age demographics has gotten near absurdity in my opinion (hey advertisers, my parents have more money than I do!), soaps actually do need to start appealing to younger audiences again. Soap fans should be life long fans. There needs to be a balance of story lines and characters that appeal to all ages and fans. I have noticed that viewership for many fans started when they were young. Certain characters appealed to them during their youth and they stayed loyal viewers because they can still watch these characters’ stories. Soaps stopped having really great young love stories that drew fans though. There isn’t really any modern day Luke and Laura, Sonny and Brenda, Todd and Blair, etc.
So how can this be fixed? Should soaps just shrug and give up on the young audiences who have no interest in them? Should established soap vets be the only ones with story lines? We love the vets because they once started out as young adults on these shows with stories that we loved. Soaps need to not only honor their vets but create new vets.
I think that the trick is that soaps need to bring in young characters that are attached to the canvas already and most importantly these young characters need to be interesting. The stories need to be less Hanna Montana and more relatable. The word “edgy” seem to be a a little unappealing for a lot of soap fans (I blame supposedly edgy shows such as the messy Nip/Tuck for that) however, the stories that drew many young fans in the past were the ones that took some risk. Stories such as One Life to Live’s Spring Fling and General Hospital’s Stone and Robin where told by the twenty something cast yet managed to attract everyone. That’s because these stories had a strong connection to what was happening in real life. They gripped us emotionally unlike some of the recent stories that seem to have been ripped from MTV’s Teen Mom instead of the headlines.
Prospect Park’s reboots of One Life to Live and All My Children are said to have a more prominent younger cast than they did when we last saw them. In a recent interview with Michael Fairman, One Life to Live’s Erika Slezak commented on this new shift.
"You have to have the younger generation take over and become the core characters, but I don’t see that happening now. I know that had we stayed at ABC, Jessica and Natalie would have become Viki, and Viki would have become older, and that is fine. That is what happens in life. You go through ups and downs and arcs. I think Viki will always be a character there. How important she will be after awhile would be determined by who comes to take her place. You do need a vocal morale center of the show, which Viki has always been. If they can replace her with somebody else then they should. Hell, I am not going to live forever, and Viki’s not going to live forever. But for now, I don’t see that happening at all. Viki is very much in the forefront mixing into everybody’s life, as she always does. She is very concerned about The Banner, and her family, and Clint and Jefrrey, and Natalie, and everybody, so let’s see where this goes. But yes, I think that at some point that should happen. What they have to do is bring in very interesting younger characters and give them time to develop. And, that is something that soaps don’t always do. You can’t just throw a character bing-bang in the middle of a story! The audience doesn’t know who he or she he is. They have to learn to like them, or not like them, one way or the other. You know, the characters you love to hate, as opposed to the ones you love. You have to give them time to grow as characters, and the audience to get to know them. But for now, everything is as it was.” link
Slezak is a smart cookie and I can’t really say it much better than that. When I watch One Life to Live and All My Children tomorrow, I’m hoping to see not only my past favorites but some new characters to fall in love with. After watching the promo, I am as excited to see Vicki and Todd as I am to see what’s going on with Dani. Dani is actually a character that has always been kind of waiting to make her mark and Kelley Missal is a talented young actress. She just hasn’t had a great story of her own to tell yet. The daughter of Todd Manning and Tea Delgado should be rebellious and I should want to root for her even when she makes mistakes. I am hoping this is what I get to see and I hope it can attract new viewers. If her story continues to be entertaining then those new viewers could be hooked for life. Years from now she could have fans that are still watching her.
I had a chance to catch up with my former roomie about a year ago. Between munching on our dinner salads and catching up on real life happenings, I asked her if she was still watching General Hospital. She said she wasn’t anymore. She stopped for a time due to a busy schedule of going to grad school, teaching, and working a part time job. She had started watching again when Joshua Jackson returned to the show but was unhappy with the story line. She commented he was always crying and didn’t have enough scenes with Liz - a common complaint amongst fans. She also said there was too much mob and she didn’t like those kind of people in real life. I had told her that the new creative team were balancing the show more and suggested that she give it a try again. Hopefully she did.