The American Tradition, Quality TV, and Bringing Our Soaps Back to Their Original Glory

By Tessa Kendall McKenzie and Akbi Khan

Equality, justice, freedom: these three concepts form part of the core not only of our national lifestyles and outlooks, but the very Constitution that founded the United States of America. It is because of these qualities that our country has become and is becoming what it is today. Every day more and more people are granted rights that allow them to live as liberated and full citizens. Starting with the  founders’ emancipation from England, to abolitionists who demanded an end to slavery to, the suffragettes who championed the right of women to vote, and on to the rights of religious minorities and LGBT citizens, our country has at its core been concerned with ensuring that all its citizens live lives of freedom and just treatment.

In comparison to rights such as the above that are ones basic to human dignity and indicate a respect for human life, the right to quality television may seem a trivial or inconsequential one. But it is not. Television is a quintessential American art form, and like jazz, rock-and-roll, film, or many movements in the visual arts, to disregard or denigrate it is to insult pieces of Americana that have helped shaped the national character not to mention entertained, moved, and become a part of each one of multitudes of U.S. citizens over the last 200-plus years.

The television channels owned by ABC Disney include some of the most beloved and often-viewed ones. Part of the reason behind this is are the soap operas it has aired for decades, which millions of Americans have not only grown up watching but have whose characters have become their families, whose stories have enchanted them, and whose existence has comforted and provided emotional support to many of them. Many daytime (and nighttime) serials have come and gone on ABC, but All My Children (AMC) and One Life to Live (OLTL) had been part of ABC’s daytime landscape for 41 and 43 years, respectively.

And then in 2011, ABC announced with minimal explanation or the proper respect due to such venerated shows, that both would be canceled and had a few short months to live. They cited changing demographics and high soap production costs as their primary reasons for canceling the soaps. In their place would air reality/talk shows “The Revolution” and “The Chew.” ABC yanked the former from the air because of low ratings, and “The Chew” is today ranked as the lowest-rated daytime show on American television.

In response to the cancellation of AMC and OLTL, viewers initiated a boycott of all ABC Disney products and services in 2012. Protests of ABC Disney’s programming policies ensued, whose ultimate aim was to at return AMC and OLTL to the airwaves.  Countless online groups formed to unite fans across the country to right the wrongs done to fans of AMC and OLTL when the shows were cancelled by ABC Disney.

As I said above, one of the reasons ABC gave for cancelling AMC and OLTL was poor ratings. In today’s TV-watching environment, where people watch shows on their computers, record them on DVR’s and watch when it’s convenient for them, or, in the case of AMC and OLTL, watch them in the evening on the ABC-owned and now also-cancelled SOAPnet, ABC would have to take much more into account than simple low daytime ratings.

ABC also said that the AMC and OLTL’s production costs were too high for them to continue airing the soaps. In this economy, they said, producing such elaborate shows didn’t make sense, especially when they could produce reality/talk shows much less. But quality helps the economy. The soaps create jobs, from writers, to producers, to staff, to actors, and a host of other associated positions. Whatever city the soaps are produced in, they would spend in those cities, thereby boosting the economies of those cities, and by extension that of the country as a whole. In terms of ABC Disney’s bottom line, not only did/would they make money of the soaps, but the soap star weekends at Disney world, the soap star cruises, and other fan spending based on the latter’s often unshakable devotion to their shows and the show’s stars, Disney stood/stands to make millions on what I’ll call “merchandise” alone.

Disney also contended that “low ratings” in large part necessitated the cancellation of AMC and OLTL, for how can a network continue to produce shows without revenue. But this argument, too, does not hold water. The only ratings that ABC counted in their estimation of “low ratings for AMC and OLTL were the ones from daytime viewership. If they had included hits on their website, abc.go.com, or people who recorded the soaps on their DVR’s and watched when it suited their schedules and preferences, or those who watched in the evenings or late nights on soap nights, surely “ratings” would have been much, much higher. Soap fans are not disappearing, they are simply changing the timings and formats of their viewing habits. In my research for this article, I spoke to dozens of men and women of all ages who told me they not only loved AMC and OLTL, but counted on them emotionally and psychologically. Such fans would follow their soaps anywhere and in any format.

And to the soap fans: we need you to stand up and be counted with us. ABC Disney will put AMC and OLTL back in their original time slots and in their original length—none of this half-hour talk!—when enough fans demand it. We are their bread and butter, and that’s what matters most to them. If the thousands of men could give their lives for freedom from British rule, we can certainly fight for a high quality of life that includes our beloved soaps back to their original glory.

Love In The Afternoon

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 Every lover of soaps remembers the “Love In The Afternoon” marketing campaign that ABC used to promote its daytime lineup for ten years from 1975 to 1985. While an effective campaign for ABC during the height of its soap’s popularity, the words can be used to describe soap operas in general. For those of us who have watched soaps for most of our lives what attracted us most were the grand love stories that kept us glued to the TV rooting for our favorite couples to overcome the many dramatic twists, turns and tragedies that threatened the happiness we all knew they deserved. No matter if you were rooting for Luke and Laura or Jack and Erica on ABC, Cruz and Eden or Bo and Hope on NBC, or Lily and Holden or Josh and Reva on CBS, all the soaps offered much love in the afternoon, and on this Valentine’s Day, it’s a great time to reflect on what these super couples meant to soaps and the millions of fans who followed their every trial and tribulation.

Soap operas have always been about couples and the troubles they faced in their relationships. Even when the soap characters were only faceless names and voices coming through the radio, storylines centered on the interrelationships between husbands and wives as they dealt with issues of marriage and children or the many things like alcohol and infidelity that were always a threat to a couple’s happiness. These love stories continued when soaps moved to television, but the stories remained more grounded in real life situations that ordinary soap fans could identify with. While interesting, and often riveting, the stories could not be described as enthralling and romantic. That all changed in the late 1970’s and the changes propelled soaps to their most amazing decade ever, the 1980’s.

The 1980’s was the decade when soaps became mainstream and more popular than ever and that can be attributed to one thing, the soap super couple. Love took over the soaps and the soaps took over America and the world. It wasn’t just any love, though. It was star-crossed love. These lovers were meant to be and no one or nothing would keep them apart forever, no matter what obstacles were thrown in their way or how long they might temporarily be separated. In the process, soaps showed fans how to do romance right and for better or worse, millions of viewers wanted what their favorite soap stars had, a grand romance, and set out to find that very type of relationship, minus the tragedy and separation, of course.

The soap super couple followed a tried and true path. First, they came together under the most difficult of circumstances, either because they were from different social walks of life and shouldn’t be together, or they were already in a relationship with a friend/family member and it was taboo to get together, or they simply hated each other, and as we all know, there is a fine line between love and hate. When a soap super couple got togeter it was magic and the fans became loyal boosters for years and even decades.

The first real super couple was General Hospital’s Luke and Laura, and they set the tone for all those who followed. They also took soaps to a level never dreamed of, even making the cover of TIME magazine. She already married and the daughter of successful professionals, he the working class rogue, they simply should not have gotten together, but when they did it was magic! When they ran away to get away from Frank Smith’s organized crime syndicate in the summer of 1980, millions of fans around the world went with them, and when they danced to “Fascination” in the closed department store, women, and some men, knew exactly how they wanted to fall in love and what kind of romance they wanted.

The role model for romance and glamour was All My Children’s Erica Kane. Married many times, and in perpetual love with someone at all times, she seemed unlikely to be in a super couple. Fans knew differently, though, because her one true love was Jackson Montgomery, no matter who else she might find herself with. The couple met in the late 1980’s and there was one problem. Erica was in love with Jackson’s brother Travis! Oh the soaps, how they do tease us. For the next twenty years, this super couple faced tragedy, betrayal and every obstacle in between. Amidst all of that though, there was romantic magic that had fans running to imitate these star crossed lovers.

I have to admit that I often was caught up in the daily roller coaster of my favorite super couple, Josh and Reva from “Guiding Light.” True to form, this couple should never have been together since he was the son of a rich Oklahoma oil baron and she was the daughter of the family maid! Yet, they did find each other, only to have her jealousy and insecurity get the best of her resulting in her marriage to his brother when Josh decided to go away to college and leave her behind! This set the tone for a twenty-five year romance that saw her marry not only his brother but his father as well! Their love/hate relationship also led to one of the most dramatic and memorable soap scenes of all time when Reva baptized herself the “Slut of Springfield” after trying everything possible to accommodate Josh only to have him treat her like dirt at every opportunity. It was soap magic!

Although many of our favorite super couples are no longer with us because their shows have been taken from us, they live in our memories and they live through how we conduct ourselves in our own romances. These super couples taught us that love knows no boundaries and this Valentine’s Day, millions of couples from opposite sides of the socio-economic system, same sex couples, or couples from different races, nationalities, and religions will celebrate their love because they grew up in a culture that taught them that there were no barriers to love; a culture that started with the soaps. Many of these couples will also plan the most romantic evenings filled with good food, dancing, and much love, because that’s what they learned to do watching the soaps!

Please share with us who is your favorite soap couple?

Please, help us support our soaps magic by subscribing to this blog. Thank you and from LTAS we wish you an Happy Valentine.

Viva La Lucci!

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January 16, 2014 marks the 44th anniversary of the first time soap viewers were introduced to Susan Lucci and her character of Erica Kane. When Lucci appeared on television screens as Erica for the first time on January 16, 1970, the world of soaps changed forever. When people think of soaps they think of Susan Lucci. Even the person who has never watched a soap or thinks the genre is beneath them has no doubt heard of Lucci’s and Erica Kane.

Lucci is now known as “Daytime’s Leading Lady” and that is an apt description for the actress who never left the role of Erica Kane until “All My Children” was cancelled and aired for the last time on September 23, 2011 and will retrieved her role as Erica Kane with the reboot of All My Children in 2015. For almost 42 years, Lucci as Erica built a bond with soap viewers that will never be matched. Over those years, Lucci was made “TV Guide’s” list of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time, coming in 37th, received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. She has been one of Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating People and was named one of VH-1’s Top 200 Icons of All Time

Perhaps the most important accolade Lucci and her character of Erica has received is that of an agent of cultural change. When Erica Kane stepped onto the “All My Children” set in late 1969/early 1970, the United States was in the midst of the change brought about by the women’s rights movement, and Erica was the epitome of the modern American young woman of the time who set goals, dreamed dreams and pursued a career outside of the traditional roles women and society at large had been accustomed to.

“All My Children” creator and soap legend Agnes Nixon created the character of Erica Kane to reflect the changes in society for women and commented at the time that characters like Erica were a new breed of woman who wanted love independence and fame. These women felt that is they could attain their dreams they would be satisfied, but often found that dream of satisfaction to be elusive. Susan Lucci took that character treatment and played it to perfection as Erica constantly set new goals and chased new dreams, but never quite found the satisfaction she so desperately desired.

Lucci was cast in the role of Erica as part of Nixon’s attempt to bring younger cast members to the show to attract a younger audience without alienating the older audience. This she hopes would give “All My Children” a contemporary look and feel. Lucci fis auditioned for the role of Tara Martin, but it was quickly apparent that the feisty Italian was not a fit for the young, innocent ingénue. She was a perfect fit for the fiery and goal driven Erica and soap history was born.

Erica Kane was one of the characters that fit into a new soap archetype created by Nixon as well as master soap creators Irna Phillips and Bill Bell. This archetype quickly became known as the “Bitch Goddess” and exhibited traits of materialism and selfishness. Instead of waiting for a man to rescue them, they would go after material things and make it on their own. This was Erica Kane and this was Susan Lucci. As Nixon has said many times, there was never any doubt that Susan Lucci was Erica Kane.

As Erica, Lucci met the issues of the day head on and this in the end may be what Lucci is most known for. From the start, Erica faced the issues modern women were facing and Lucci and the writers at “All My Children” never shied away from even the most controversial topics. In 1973, with the Supreme Court having just issued its landmark “Roe vs. Wade” abortion ruling, Erica Kane had the first legal abortion shown on television. The storyline involved Erica aborting her child with then husband Jeff Martin and in a very controversial decision for the writers the choice for an abortion was made simply because Erica didn’t want to have a child at that time. Lucci moved through the storyline with displaying every emotion possible as Erica made the choice to abort and dealt with the aftermath as her husband found out and she went through the emotional turmoil left in the wake of the decision. The soap writers made sure to portray the choice as the wrong move at the time, but the audience rallied around Erica and Lucci and came to see the character as a champion for free will and choice. The bond between Susan Lucci and her audience was formed here and has never been broken.

Overtime, Lucci successfully navigated each and every storyline given her with her continual zest for life and her desire to make Erica Kane soap’s number one character. Perhaps what Erica is most known for are her numerous marriages and no matter who she was with at the time, Lucci always made sure that audiences believed that Erica had found the love of her life. This is a testament to how well Lucci knew not only her character but her fans as well.

Lucci made sure to work closely with the writers to have Erica face the most current and topical issues. When her beloved daughter Bianca came out as a lesbian, Erica’s first thought was of how the revelation would reflect on her. This was in true Erica fashion, but as she often did, Lucci made her audience identify with Erica’s struggle and brought them along as she slowly accepted this news revealed that she loved her daughter for who she was, no matter what. Lucci always went above and beyond to portray Erica as a woman fiercely loyal to her family, especially her mother and her daughters. Who can forget the Christmas episode when Erica brought her granddaughter and placed her into the arms of a comatose Bianca, only to have Bianca react and awaken just in time for Christmas?

The greatest testament to Lucci’s popularity and legendary status came in May of 1999 when her name was announced as winner of the Emmy for Best Actress. This honor is always something to be celebrated, but for Lucci and her fans it was the moment of a lifetime. In that one moment, years of frustration was swept away and the soap audience and industry was able to recognize Lucci for her contributions to the genre and to their lives. For eighteen years, Lucci had been nominated for best actress only to see another actress take home the statue. As Lucci herself has admitted, she got to the point where she thought she would never actually win. She even started to joke about it and make appearances where the lack of an Emmy became the focus of the skit. Finally, though, in a moment most fans remember very well, Shemar Moore opened the envelope and yelled, “The Streak Is Over!” as he announced that Susan Lucci was the winner. What happened next speaks volumes about the love and respect her fans and her peers have for Susan Lucci. As she rose to take the stage, the audience stood in unison for an ovation that lasted several minutes. Many of her colleagues openly wept and good friends and long time fans like Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah Winfrey yelled encouragement from the sidelines.

No matter what Susan Lucci does from this point on, she will always be Erica Kane and she will always have the distinction of changing American culture for the better. Perhaps there is no greater accomplishment to put on a resume or biography.

 

 

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‘Tis The Season To Remember The Soaps

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Tis The Season To Remember The Soaps

 With Thanksgiving over and Christmas just around the corner, now is the time to take a few moments to remember how the soaps celebrate the holidays. With so many soap operas no longer in production, fans can’t help but reflect on the significance of soaps operas during the holiday season, and just how much the soaps have meant over the years to families who gathered around the TV during Thanksgiving and Christmas to see how their favorite soap families were celebrating.

Over the years, soaps didn’t just celebrate Christmas, they actually became part of the American Christmas mosaic. In short, the soaps know how to do Christmas. Common themes among almost all soaps, from their first television broadcast in the 1950’s all the way through the current holiday season, have been a celebration of family, a remembrance of the meaning of Christmas and finding peace, forgiveness and redemption through the Christmas spirit.

For most fans, the soaps were a blue print of how to celebrate Christmas. Who can forget the elaborate decorations in the Cory Mansion on “Another World”, the Chancellor Mansion on “Young & The Restless” or at “Llanfair” on “One Life to Live.” Every soap household looked like it was fresh from a Currier and Ives catalog. It wasn’t just the grand homes on soaps that prepared for Christmas. The middle class and working class families on the soaps also prepared for Christmas in a big way, and in fact, it was in these homes where the celebration of Christmas connected with the soap audience. The Martins on “All My Children”, the Bauer’s on “Guiding Light” and the Hughes’ on “As The World Turns” opened their homes each year to millions of fans who felt right at home. As these soap families went about their Christmas activities, millions of Americans would follow their lead, and in countless homes across the country, people would decorate their trees, bake Christmas cookies and spend time with loved ones, all while the soaps played in the background. For many, watching the soaps at Christmas was part of the holiday tradition, as much as drinking egg nog, singing carols or wrapping presents.

A soap Christmas was always time for families to gather and no matter what the storyline of the day, for at least one “soap day” all was forgotten and everyone was welcome. The soaps provided a deep lesson about the meaning of Christmas in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There is no better example of this than the Horton Christmas tree on “Days of Our Lives.” Every year, a current family member carries on the tradition started by Tom and Alice Horton of hanging the family ornaments on the Christmas tree, each with the name of a family member. Everyone is represented on the tree whether they are present or not, and whether they are in good standing or not. On Christmas day in soap world, everyone is in good standing.

Soaps have also provided lessons about the true meaning of Christmas. In a world where so many religious symbols are taken from the public square, the soaps have never been shy of reminding viewers that the holiday is a celebration of Christ. Typically it falls to a matriarch to gather people around, especially young children and read the passages from the Bible that speak to the birth of Christ. Memories of H.B. Lewis, Tom Horton or Victor Newman doing this are forever burned into the minds of soap fans.

Soaps have often incorporated the meaning of the birth of Christ into their own storylines at Christmas, and the holiday storylines on soaps often became stories of characters finding peace, acceptance or redemption. It was Christmas 1989 that Reva Shayne received forgiveness and was welcomed back into the family after revealing that she had, many years ago, borne a child, Dylan, but her husband’s brother. Countless super couples have reunited at Christmas after being driven apart by infidelity or misunderstanding. No one does Christmas redemption, though better than “Young & The Restless.” For the past several years, that soap has taken one character and scripted an entire Christmas episode around them. Often these episodes evoke “A Christmas Carol” as the flawed character feels on the verge of giving up, but through the miracle of Christmas realized just what they mean to those around them. In the end they awaken to the possibilities of the future, and even though all is not perfect, things begin to move in the right direction. The most memorable of these led to redemption of Billy Abbott and an awakening of spirit for Nikki Newman who encountered the spirit of her long dead mother and found peace in that exchange. For millions of fans, these themes and images of forgiveness and redemption hit a nerve and help them through the difficult circumstances they find themselves in, which are only exacerbated during the holidays.

 

Fans have been heartbroken as so many of their favorite soaps have been cancelled and no longer provide enjoyment and comfort during the holidays. On a personal note, I am saddened each year as I return to my parent’s home and begin to decorate the tree and house. There is a void because my tradition was to start that process when “Young & The Restless” came on and be finished by the time “Guiding Light” went off. All the while I could hear the joyful sounds of a soap Christmas in the background. Today, I have only “Young & The Restless” and “Bold & The Beautiful” left. The others are gone, and Christmas is not the same. I, like many soap fans however, am resilient and will not let the tradition of a soap Christmas die. Now, as I begin the process, I watch a current episode of “Y&R” and then I pop in a video or DVD that contains classic episodes from all my favorite childhood soaps. As long as I live, the soap Christmas will live, and I know millions of fans feel the same way. We would love to hear your memories of the soaps at Christmas.

 

 

Soaps As A Mirror On Society

The popular perception of soap operas among those who are not fans is that this form of television entertainment is little better than reality TV with outrageously unbelievable storylines, B-grade acting and a genre where actors who can’t make it in prime time TV or movies go to linger. Fans of soaps know better. For the true fan, a soap opera is a family friend, and the place where forbidden topics are first introduced into the American conversation. By that standard, soaps are often a life saver for many who watch on a daily basis. By introducing controversial topics long before they have entered the mainstream, soaps have often acted as a sounding board and test case to determine what Americans think of a particular issue. Many could argue that soap writers and actors have treated the American people with much more respect than so-called main stream media and press, because the soaps trusted Americans to be able to handle controversial issues without slipping into a hysterical panic.

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Hell Hath No Furry Like Soap Star Scorned

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September 2013 marked two years since ABC cancelled the much beloved “All My Children” and took soap icon Susan Lucci and her alter ego Erica Kane away from the daily lives of soap fans. When ABC made this move they cited declining ratings and expensive production costs and they scheduled talk shows to replace these iconic soaps arguing that the cost to produce such shows would be far less than the cost to produce the soaps. What ABC didn’t count on was the fans of “All My Children” and sister show “One Life to Live” rising up to say enough and turning their considerable ire towards ABC and its parent company Disney. Fans even threatened to turn on another beloved daytime icon, Oprah Winfrey, when she announced that she would not carry the two cancelled soaps on her OWN network.

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Will History Repeat Itself In The World Of Soaps?

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Fans of Young & The Restless are growing increasingly anxious as Executive Producer Jill Farren Phelps cements her position on the show. Already, fans have seen their favorite stars like Michelle Stafford fired the show among so many others and they have read of long time employees in costume design and musical score being shown the door and replaces with less expensive and less experienced staff. This makes fans of the show incredibly nervous, since Phelps has a reputation for coming in and taking actions that lead to the cancellation of the shows she works on. The soap world is littered with cancelled shows that have been touched by Phelps. The graveyard includes fan favorites like Santa Barbra, Another World, Guiding Light, not to mention the near death of General Hospital after an experience with Phelps. Now fans are asking if Young & The Restless, the top-rated soap for the past 25 years, is next. Although that may seem impossible, it is not when Jill Farren Phelps has her name attached to the show.

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Alura: We Won’t let Our Soaps Die Music Video

 

This is an open letter to the networks: I hope you are reading this because many soap fans feel the way I do!

I get that all the major networks still operate by the almighty advertising dollar and that their profits are based on viewing figures for every program. It makes no sense to me to keep this model. TV is recorded and ads are fast forwarded at least 70% of the time.

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