April 29 marks the one year anniversary of the premiere of what some think may be the last season of One Life to Live. Most would concede that season 45 of the venerable daytime turned "anytime" drama was easily its most headline grabbing and anticipated.
Following its sudden cancellation by ABC on April 14, 2011 (along with All My Children), OLTL, which debuted on July 15, 1968, looked to have run its course, despite costing ABC the least of its three soaps (it actually operated under budget) and being its highest rated.
After consistent outcry from soap fans that spilled into streets across the nation, into newspaper ads, made headlines and even saw a major advertiser pull ads from ABC in protest, production company Prospect Park stepped in, saying they negotiated a deal with ABC that would see them produce new episodes of OLTL (and AMC) immediately following its final airing on ABC, Friday, January 13, 2012.
Prospect Park ran into snags with union deals and funding, which collapsed its plans to launch the shows online and it looked as though, again, OLTL (along with AMC) was done.
Noting the popularity of OLTL, ABC then decided to do somewhat of an about-face and transition three of the show’s actors as their characters along with OLTL’s Executive Producer and Head Writer over to General Hospital (the soap ABC chose to keep). Ultimately seven OLTL characters would appear on GH.
Fans had mixed reactions to what amounted to OLTL on GH. Many GH viewers felt (and some currently feel) OLTL was taking over the storylines on GH and taking valuable screen time away from veteran actors. Things started out rocky for viewers and the OLTL characters alike, when right out of the gate, the boyfriend and young daughter (much-liked characters themselves) of longtime OLTL character Starr (portrayed by Kristen Alderson) were abruptly killed off. Following this, it was revealed that Kassie DePaiva who began playing Blair on OLTL in 1992 would not actually be coming on to stay as a contract player, as implied by the ads that promoted the crossover. What this meant was the characters of Todd and Blair, who fans were finally seeing get back together after nearly a decade of waiting (Roger Howarth who played Todd, left the show for eight years), would actually not end up together. Following this, another fan-favorite couple, John (portrayed by Michael Easton) and Natalie were broken up by John cheating on Natalie with a GH character.
Ultimately all of the OLTL characters that ended up on GH (John, Starr and Todd) would see their widely enjoyed relationships from OLTL undone to be paired up with GH characters. Adding to this, the baby of another super couple on OLTL (Victor Jr. and Tea’) was killed off on GH. Many OLTL viewers were growing frustrated with what seemed to be a ransacking and looting of OLTL to boost the ratings of GH.
Then something unexpected happened.
In December 2012, news began to surface that Prospect Park had in-fact secured the deals and finances necessary to actually bring OLTL (and AMC) back. In March 2013 production began and after what seemed like endless roadblocks and false starts, season 45 of OLTL premiered on April 29, 2013.
There were challenges out of the gate with season 45 of OLTL. While Prospect Park had the luxury of jumping ahead five years for storylines to run smoothly on AMC (being built around available cast and the desired story), OLTL’s writers were forced to incorporate the daily changes made to the OLTL characters, and Llanview in general, on GH.
To some extent that struggle showed up on screen and could be said to account for the difference in the way stories played out on OLTL (the stronger show initially) as compared to its sister show AMC. But in no way was “#OLTL45” (as season 45 was hashtagged on social media) all bad. Season 45 served to produce some of the best – and worst - moments in OLTL’s recent history.
Let’s start with what was right about Season 45.
HD. Everything looked fantastic. One concern for longtime OLTL viewers, once the cast was in place, was how things would look. Without knowing if the shows were going to be produced on a shoestring budget, viewers knew it would be a significantly decreased budget from what ABC allotted for the series and while dyed-in-the-wool viewers promised to watch no matter what, there was surprise and relief when viewers realized these shows were going to have a very high-end look, not just with sets and wardrobe, but also in the HD viewing experience.
While ABC had already converted both GH and AMC to high definition, the higher rated OLTL was oddly left in standard definition. Starting in April 2013 viewers got their first look at Llanview in HD and it looked stunning.
The New Sets. Aside from the high definition, season 45 gave an interesting visual take on Llanview. Some of it was good and some of it (which will be touched on later) was not.
Among the good there was the nightclub Shelter. Longtime OLTL viewers will remember Blair owned the club Capricorn for years. Shelter was a “transformed” version of Capricorn. Prospect Park did an incredible job with not only how Shelter looked but the genuine club environment that was created. The season opened with Dani overdosing on drugs at Shelter. Anyone who has ever been to a club can verify that Prospect Park did a phenomenal job of showing how easy it would be for someone to be that out of it for that period of time without anyone noticing.
New Opening Theme. One of the most iconic parts of a daytime serial is its opening sequence. The sands of time opening on NBC’s Days of Our Lives has remained virtually unchanged since the show premiered in 1965. ABC gave OLTL’s opening a major overhaul, roughly every 10 years. TOLN’s new theme is the first since Peabo Bryson’s 1980's version, to have lyrics. While I remain very partial to the tune on ABC’s version and wasn't wild about the idea it would be changed, TOLN brought their A-game here. Following the trend of rapper Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg) having his own theme played when he appeared on the show when it was on ABC, TOLN decided to have him create the new opening for the show altogether. Snoop Lion brought in new artist Iza Lach to perform “Brand New Start” (the trimmed down version becoming the new opening theme). The song is immediately and relentlessly catchy and entirely appropriate for the show’s new beginning.
Dialogue. OLTL has always had great lines and that did not change in season 45. The lines delivered by the characters this season were clever, razor sharp and hilarious. David and Dorian were as funny together as they have ever been and responsible for one of the funniest lines of the season. At one point Dorian tells David that she fears he will leave her for a younger woman, not because she’s younger but because it leaves the option open for him to still have children. It is a sincerely emotional and uncharacteristically vulnerable moment for an often emotionless and villainous character. In true David and Dorian fashion though, David assures Dorian that they do not need to be bonded to one another by a child, telling her they have something deeper, they have, “material possessions that keep us together.” Another great line comes in the final episode of season 45. Earlier in the season, Viki used Dorian’s off the record comments to worsen Dorian’s public relations problems. After Clint goes berserk at the Man of The Year ceremony, while talking to Dorian and Carl, Viki makes a comment about Clint and then says that it is off the record. Dorian replies, “We all know how sacrosanct private communication is.”
Surprises. TOLN managed to pull off, with season 45, something the other networks carrying daily serials have almost abandoned; surprising the audience with casting. Season 45 delivered some great surprises to its viewers (and some not so great, see next section). The biggest surprise was the return of fan favorite Trevor St. John as Victor Lord Jr. in the season premiere. While there were some leaks (an initial promo showed a brief shot of St. John), the majority of the audience had their jaws on the floor when it was revealed that the shadowy figure was in fact Victor, who was last seen tied to a bed by Allison Perkins at the end of OLTL’s ABC run. While other networks tout fan-favorite returns far in advance for ratings purposes, TOLN went the route of giving viewers a great story first by allowing them to be shocked by a cast return (they did something similar with AMC’s season finale, by revealing that fan-favorite Michael E. Night would be returning to the show by having a shadowed figure, voiced by Knight, answer a phone call at the end of the episode ‘A Knight To Remember’).
The New Cast. Recasts and new cast members are not new to soaps or OLTL, so season 45 having a couple of recasts and a few new characters was not surprising. Possibly the best addition to season 45 was High School Musical star Corbin Bleu as Jeffrey King. King was billed as a hot, young new-thinking reporter for The Banner, Viki’s now-struggling newspaper. Everything about Bleu and the character was perfect. He came on as a squeaky clean, good-guy, professional with new ideas but soon viewers discovered he had a secret and Bleu played out the reveal and transition perfectly.
The Storylines. For as well as OLTL was doing on ABC, all was not perfect. Key elements of the show’s history had been long-abandoned. Viewers who joined the show in its most recent years on ABC probably would not have realized that Viki owned a newspaper because that element of Viki’s life (and all of the opportunity for story that it once created) had been discarded. Season 45 returned The Banner to the forefront, allowing it to be responsible for multiple storylines including the renewed feud between Dorian and Viki and Viki's incentive to invest all of her money in the junk Pelligrino fund.
One of the show’s biggest power couples, Bo and Nora, had seen their relationship decimated in previous years on ABC and while they were recently brought back together it was not until season 45 that Bo and Nora as a power couple were returned to the forefront and additions made to some of their most adorable moments. It was a reminder of why soap audiences enjoy "super couples".
One of the most glaring and jarring storyline mistakes made when OLTL was on ABC and when the stories continued on GH, was the breaking up of Blair and Todd. Season 45 repaired the relationship between Todd and Blair convincingly and as fans had seen so many times over the years, saw them subtly re-marry.
Then there's Viki and Dorian. Anyone who has ever watched OLTL will tell you, unequivocally, there is absolutely never a way to get enough of Viki and Dorian. Portrayed by Emmy Award winners Robin Strasser and Erika Slezak, the pair are so brilliant and entertaining together, it would be almost possible to watch a show with just the two of them. Months before OLTL departed from ABC, the character of Dorian Lord was written off (with a ridiculous storyline), ending far too early one of the most successful character relationships in the show’s history. Season 45 rectified this error right away and reignited the feud between the two with one of the best storylines I’ve ever seen on the show.
Viewer interaction. One of the best things Prospect Park did was engage the viewers. They gave the shows an extensive social media presence and used it as almost a command center to find out what viewers wanted to see. They also created MORE. A show designed to fill the void left by having no show for Friday and give viewers more than just a recap. MORE was a quick recap, plus a behind the scenes look at what was happening on OLTL (and AMC), and a question and answer segment with the actors and production team. While it was no stand-in for a Friday show, it was an innovative and interactive replacement. This likely played a key role in the success of the shows on iTunes, Hulu and television when they transitioned to Oprah’s OWN.
As much as this was OLTL’s 45th season, it was also its first (as oddly noted by the titling on Hulu) in so many ways and as is the case with so many first seasons of programs, there were a number of things that could have gone better.
These are the things they got wrong in season 45.
The new sets. Oh Shelter. While Shelter was a gorgeous and realistic addition to season 45 of OLTL, it was obscenely overused. Everything seemed to happen at Shelter. Having dinner? Shelter. Having a memorial? Shelter. Having an awards ceremony? Shelter. It started to make Llanview feel a bit tiny.
New Opening. While the new opening audio was excellent, the visuals were not so appealing. The idea was clear, a simplistic opening highlighting the relationships of the characters on the show. The problem was it looked cheap and out of place, not only in comparison with the previous flashy, high-end look of the opening when the show was on ABC but also in direct comparison to the look of the show itself. Going from the beautiful, creative and well-lit sets to such a dark and overly simplistic opening made it look almost as if this opening was an afterthought, creatively and financially. It also distracted from the storytelling. All previous OLTL openings did not show the characters having any interaction, TOLN’s opening though grouped together certain people, sometimes awkwardly. Why was David dancing with his wife Dorian in one scene but in another dancing with Rama? Did this mean David and Dorian were breaking up? Why is Cutter dancing with Rama when he has no relationship with her and was just dancing with Natalie? Why does it look like Tea’ is giving a come-hither look to her daughter Dani? Why are some of them dancing ballroom style while others seem to be doing creative dance? Why is Jack the only one that isn’t dressed up? Though the opening overall was not the best, two sections were the exception. Bo & Nora and Todd & Blair’s segments were actually very well done because they captured, brilliantly, the dynamic of both pair’s relationships. Bo and Nora starting it off being as adorable and fun as they have always been and the incredible back and forth love/hate tension of Todd and Blair’s relationship that showed through in the opening did give it quite a bit of replay value and almost overshadowed the rest of it.
The sex and profanity. People who watch OLTL and soaps in general, are certainly not new to sex and profanity, it’s as common on soaps as it is in other media and as it has increased other places, so too has it increased on soaps. The problem is season 45 and TOLN went too far with it. While TOLN’s OLTL certainly didn’t have a Petey/Coldby scene (AMC) equivalent, the sex scenes were a bit graphic and intense as were the sexual references. It got to a point where it was uncomfortable and awkward to watch, particularly considering that the last time the returning audience of OLTL saw most of the characters involved in the sexual storylines, they were under age. Watching Dani sucking peanut butter off of her fingers while locking eyes with Mathew, or watching her, Matthew and Jeffrey engage in an overtly sexual game of truth or dare (that involved stripping) did not perpetuate any storyline and was just awkward. The same can be said about the profanity. At first it sounded somewhat interesting, there is already profanity on soaps and if they are freed up to say more and it will make scenes more realistic, it could work (though it seemed like an unnecessary editing hassle if the shows ever went to television, which they eventually did). The problem is that is not how it worked out. The times when Blair and Todd were cursing at each other, using rougher language than they ever had in the past, it actually did work - it went with what one would expect of a couple with two kids that has married and divorced several times. However when Natalie yelled “oh s**t” when she picked up the phone to answer (her mother) Viki’s call or when much of the cast said the same word, almost constantly, it lost its effect and just became aggravating.
Prospect Park made a fundamental error when they chose to ramp up the sex and profanity. Doing this discounted the fact that much of the audience for soaps is either older or younger people watching with their families. It is a bit awkward to sit with your family and watch excessive cursing and sex.
Surprises. While TOLN did give viewers some great surprises with season 45, there were some terrible surprises delivered by the network as well. The most jarring of which was the sudden announcement of seasons. One of the key elements of daytime serials, is they are ongoing, with no real season premiere or finale (though the shows are technically filmed in seasons and renewed behind the scenes). Viewers were shocked to find out just as they were getting back into the rhythm with their longtime favorite shows that they would soon be going away for a time. Not that viewers would not have accepted this. Seasons offer excellent opportunities for surprises and anticipation, while affording the actors the opportunity to both take on other projects and participate in the shows because they aren't such full-time obligations. The problem was, no one knew and after getting the shows back, it was jarring to find out they would be going away, if even for a short time, so soon.
Overall season 45 was not unlike any previous season of OLTL or any other soap.The highs were fantastic and the lows were difficult to watch.
Ultimately though, so much was done properly that it easily compensated for the mistakes. Viki and Dorian’s feud reignited with every element any longtime fan would expect with contemporary storylines and dialogue. Blair and Todd reunited after nearly a decade. Tea’ getting to mourn the loss of her baby and seeing the realistic impact it had on her and her daughter Dani. Bo and Nora reaching new heights of adorable. Great dialogue and being legitimately surprised by great plot twists. It all easily made up for the truly cringe worthy moments of excessive profanity (which to TOLN's credit, they cut mid-season) and incomplete storylines (what happened to Dusky?).
Actually, OLTL in season 45 was better than it had been in several years in many regards. While OLTL had been excellent leading up to its cancellation and ratings were good, it had really abandoned some of the key elements of what made the show hit its highest highs. Season 45 offered both the contemporary and the nostalgic in a package that felt anything but forced or contrived. One of the things that also made season 45 one of the better seasons is that all of the mistakes that were made by ABC in the finale were corrected.
As the legal battle between Prospect Park and ABC rages on, OLTL continues to hang in the balance. In September, veteran actress Erika Slezak posted on her website, "When these issues are worked out between Prospect Park and ABC/Disney, we will resume, but unfortunately there is no timetable." She added, "Keep your fingers crossed for a speedy resolution." Prospect Park has also been very careful not to announce any cancellation.
If it does not return this year, 2014 will be the first year since 1968 that the show has not been in production and new episodes not available to watch.
Though it is unclear what the future holds for OLTL, if season 45 was the last time we got to visit Llanview, for all the things that may have understandably not gone perfectly - well done TOLN, Prospect Park, actors and crew.
That stated, I do hope season 45 is not it. Prospect Park initially began working on season 46 and asked viewers what they wanted to see in that season. How will Viki and Natalie in particular will react when they find out Clint has not been out of control because of his drinking but because he's been being drugged by Jeffrey and the same people that had Victor? How will Viki react when she finds out Jeffrey has been lying to her all this time? How do Jeffrey and the organization he's working for fit into what happened to Victor? Will Dorian and David reconcile? What will this new relationship between two villains, Dorian and Carl, produce? Is Dani in danger by getting closer to Arturo and did he kill Briana Marland? And of course, what is Allison Perkins doing by Clint's bedside at the hospital, what is she planning to do to him?
These questions deserve an answer. Here's to season 46.