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One Life to Live - On the Road Again


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By Donna Hoke Kahwaty

Report Card:

Social Issues A

Couples C-

Character Development C+

Realism B+

Continuity B+

One Life to Live has come a long way.

Just six months ago, this former ratings winner was practically unwatchable. ONE LIFE TO LIVE was in steady decline throughout most of the year; mid-summer found the show in eight place in the ratings, a position around which it hovers to this day. Although the show still hasn't completely recovered, and it will take time to win back former fans, OLTL is taking steps in all the right directions.

How did ONE LIFE TO LIVE reach the point where it was forced to orchestrate a complete show overhaul? The fault doesn't lie with one storyline or a particular set of characters. A pervasive weakness in storytelling and character development is to blame. This is the show that went so far, it had to be reined in; OLTL never came back from Eterna. Stereotyped characters (remember frustrated Father Tony?) abounded. Cliched stories like the Jake/Charlotte marriage were the order of the day. Bo and Cassie fell in love for no reason at all, and Alex was transformed from a sophisticated FAB agent and corporate lawyer to a psychopathic would-be killer. Du Ann blackmailed Renee, who feared Asa would have a heart attack if he learned that Max wasn't his son - a story point so ludicrous, it was topped only by Asa's contention that Max was more his son than his own sons, Clint and Bo. Renee confided her troubles to Carlo, and for a while, as at Soap Opera Digest joked that Renee and Carlo were the show's only potential super couple; they were on that much. When OLTL tried to spice up the show with Du Ann's murder, they counteracted the excitement by offering Renee as the prime suspect (who would ever believe lovable Renee was capable of murder?) and serving up a dull trial. Finally, continuity was at its worst: Consider that the real murderer - Julia - is still in a coma somewhere and we haven't heard a word about her.

Clearly, there was a lot that needed fixing on this show.

OLTL started by making changes at the top. When seven-year OLTL vet Paul Rauch (the executive producer who brought us 1888, heaven, and Eterna) left his post, OLTL went beyond the daytime standbys to find his successor, Linda Gottlieb, who had produced Dirty Dancing and several after-school specials. A co-head writer also departed her job, leaving partner Craig Carlson alone at the helm until Michael Malone (a novelist handpicked by Gottlieb) took over as head writer. The changes these newcomers have wrought are obvious.

For starts, Llanview has experienced a return to normalcy and, as a bonus, it's been injected with a healthy does of reality as well. Dialogue is less stilted, less inane, less trite. Bringing the younger Buchanan brothers - Kevin (Joey Thrower) and Joey (Chris McKenna) - to the forefront is a good start. Not only is the show making use of these talents in realistic and entertaining interactions, it has broadened the character horizons of the stagnant Clint (Clint Ritchie) and Viki (Erika Slezak), who have passed the point at which they should be showcased as OLTL's leading hero and lady. While it's nowhere near time for the show to retire Clint and Viki to backburner status, allowing them to behave like the middle-aged parents they are instead of reckless adventurers lends credibility and sensitivity to the characterizations. The issues the Buchanan couple face are not lightweight, but relevant: Kevin is a typically confused, rebellious teen, who forces his parents to deal head on with teen issues like sexual experimentation and drinking. OLTL has finally recognized that everyday parenting can be an adventure.

The only weak spot during Kevin's coming of age was his contrived Romeo and Juliet relationship with Stephanie: He actually climbed up a balcony to be with her. However, such hokey details were overcome by the powerful message the show delivered when Stephanie lost her virginity to Jason on her Uncle Carlo's couch, and, later, dealt with her confusion at being emotionally unready for such an act - a nineties topic if ever there was one.

The teenage sex story was followed by an exploration of small-town prejudice. When Sheila lost a part in a play because of her color, it was Tina who decided to make her the guest of honor at a Daughters of Llanview tea party - just to stick it to the snobs. The issue allowed Tina to grow up a little; it was the first time she used the prestige of the Buchanan name for a worthy purpose. On the heels of this mini-plot came the story on wife abuse, an issue that hasn't been given comprehensive treatment on soaps in years. OLTL is to be commended for choosing an issue to which it can turn a fresh eye, rather than recycling this year's headlines. This revival of social relevance means a resurgence of compelling drama. Where there is controversy, there is tension, which makes for meaningful interaction between characters.

Megan's debilitating disease is providing OLTL with another chance for compelling drama. This story isn't about a disease-of-the-month; rather, it's about a family facing the heartache of long-term illness. It's been so long since OLTL has shown these character-driven slices of life that it almost seems like we're watching the wrong show. After all, Megan is the daughter of the original underground man, a concept that made viewers laugh - for all the wrong reasons.

Intentional humor in the scripts of OLTL's new regime first happened during Bo and Cassie's camping trip. Granted, the attempted drowning was laughable in a way we're sure the show didn't intend, but the romantic scenes were beautifully done. Bo taught Cassie to fish with witty sexual double entendres, and the slapstick camping situations played nicely against the awkwardness of the couple.

The introduction of Luna (Susan Batten) and Hudson King/Henrich Kaiser (German for King) indicates OLTL's commitment to fun on this show. Played by the intriguing Christopher Cousins, King/Kaiser breathes new life into a very old soap cliche - the dual role. Here we have a man who may have endless personalities. He may not be English and he's certainly not German. We know his alter egos, but we still don't know the man. Perhaps the best example of OLTL's new ability to make fun, even of itself, was displayed by the return of Max Holden. "You look like the old Max," said girls swarming around James DePaiva (the original Max) in a Texas bordello. "I feel like the old Max," he replied, with a meaningful wink at the camera. No reference was made to the plastic surgery story that followed DePaiva's departure; that's probably just as well.

James DePaiva fits well in OLTL's new, more down-to-earth, framework. OLTL has gotten the talented DePaiva back; Max has gotten back his old edge and is set to do battle with Asa. The only negative aspect of DePaiva's return is that OLTL doesn't seem to be able to find a leading lady as well-suited for him as the women he's had before - Tina, Megan, and Gabrielle, three of the show's strongest, most fiery females in recent years. These were hot couples involved in adult romance. Max's new love, Lee Ann, is a kid. Our suggestion: Pair Max with Cassie, or perhaps Tina, with whom Holden shares a rich history. Better yet, a Max/Cassie/Tina/Bo quadrangle would involve the strongest romantic leads on the show.

The soap that lacks a viable romance lacks a viewer hook. While the new OLTL's stories are enjoyable, they don't generate the kind of enthusiasm that a romance does. They won't keep viewers coming back for more. OLTL is sorely deficient in the romance arena, especially in the thirty-something age group. Most shows fill this age bracket with a number of characters. They shuffle them around until they find a pair with chemistry. Not OLTL. Laura Bonnarigo's Cassie should be part of that group, rather than be the twentysomething filly of the fortysomething Bo. Robert S. Woods's Bo is still a wonderful leading man, but why is it that as he gets older, his leading ladies get younger? It's not working anymore. Conversely, in the younger set, Joey Thrower (Kevin) and Mark Brettschneider (Jason) are among the most appealing younger leading men on daytime, but they have no love interests. The folks at OLTL have their work cut out for them in this department.

Character continuity throughout the show's changes has not been sacrificed, especially among the core characters. While the recast Tina (Karen Witter) and Max bear little resemblance to their former selves, Asa is still the bear-like curmudgeon - the Jock Ewing of Llanview. Viki remains the saint; Renee will always be the hooker with the heart of gold; Bo's the one to wear the white hat; and Clint is COACH without a sense of humor.

These stalwarts have aided the transition. The problem is the new characters, whose shaky development hinders the progress OLTL is making. Newcomers like Andrew (Wortham Krimmer), Jason, Hudson/Heinrich and Luna have been introduced and left to become interesting without any help from the writers. Hudson/Heinrich is involved in recurring capers, but he - like the other newcomers - has yet to be woven into the show's fabric. LUna's Tarot cards and past-life regressions were an interesting day's diversion, but passe New Age antics can't be the basis of her character. Wouldn't it be fun to hook her up with perennial loser in love Larry Wolek? The man of science versus the woman who will only do things if the vibes are right.

In the same vein, Carlo Hesser has never been developed into a credible villain. This is a man who puts contracts out on people, yet blithely walks through Llanview. People are only terrified of Carlo when the plot calls for it. And how many villains of this alleged caliber would sustain a romantic interest in the likes of Renee? These guys have hot bimbos at their disposal. Carlo is a cartoon.

Conversely, Sheila (Valerie Pettiford) is on her way to becoming one of OLTL's promising heroines. Unfortunately, OLTL is stagnating her development by not allowing her to have a realistic personal life. While she is everybody's friend and confidante, her boyfriend Troy (Terry Alexander) is used only in police scenes. We like seeing OLTL move minority characters to the front burner, but the real credit will come when the show moves their personal lives off the "black" burner.

For all its improvements, OLTL still has some very basic problems that, solved, would move the show beyond just "getting better" status. OLTL has always had a penchant for the quick fix. Two pieces of trumped up jeopardy equal one Friday tag. Once a week on this show, two people are in such danger that the audience is supposed to believe they won't live through the weekend. For example, Halloween weekend, Doug was on the loose at the party, stalking his wife,; Lee Ann was suffering from smoke inhalation; and Cassie collapsed of what we thought was a nervous breakdown. Everyone turned out fine. The following weekend, Viki and Megan were held hostage in a basement, while Cassie was being stalked by Alex. Contrivances like these create suspense in its most juvenile form, and OLTL viewers expect - and deserve - more than that.

OLTL's second major problem is an extension of the first. OLTL creates a secret, say Tina's sleeping with Johnny Dee. Viewers wait for the revelation: Cord finding out. This might take months, as it does on all shows. The problem is that you could miss everything between the main event and the revelation and it wouldn't matter one whit. OLTL does not know how to create the arc story within the long-term story, the day-to-day events that entice viewers into tuning in to see the small moments in a story, as well as the big ones. There is no two steps forward, one step back progression. Rather, OLTL favors the linear point A to point B structure. Everything in between is filler: meaningless red herrings, plot recap, and false starts. To be fair, this type of storytelling is formulaic and does not lend itself to the social issue stories OLTL is now experimenting with. The show's new direction might very well necessitate an abandonment of this primitive method of storytelling. Small arcs, such as the burning of Llanfair, are appearing. We hope this is the wave of the future.

The future of OLTL seems bright. The risks that the show took in hiring its top dogs are paying off, and the show is once again recognizable as a quality daytime drama. In fact, if former OLTL fans were to pay Llanview a visit, they might find it's like going home.

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One Life to Live has come a long way.

It's also regressed a long way, too.

Just six months ago, this former ratings winner was practically unwatchable.

It still is.

Although the show still hasn't completely recovered, and it will take time to win back former fans--

Not enough time in the world, Donna. Not enough time in the world.

OLTL is taking steps in all the right directions.

No, it didn't -- and no, it hasn't.

Du Ann blackmailed Renee, who feared Asa would have a heart attack if he learned that Max wasn't his son - a story point so ludicrous, it was topped only by Asa's contention that Max was more his son than his own sons, Clint and Bo.

Believe me, rehashing the story years later during the JFP era didn't make it any less ludicrous.

Dialogue is less stilted, less inane, less trite.

It was also less banal, less hackneyed, less mundane. (You're not the only one w/ a thesaurus, Donna. ;-) )

Bringing the younger Buchanan brothers - Kevin (Joey Thrower) and Joey (Chris McKenna) - to the forefront is a good start.

Yeah, too bad their stories were always so damned awful. Excuse me, I meant, "so damned stilted, so damned inane, so damned trite."

The only weak spot during Kevin's coming of age was his contrived Romeo and Juliet relationship with Stephanie.

Not to mention, the fact that he was portrayed by the unbelievable (in a bad way) Joey Thrower.

When Sheila lost a part in a play because of her color, it was Tina who decided to make her the guest of honor at a Daughters of Llanview tea party - just to stick it to the snobs.

Who was the director of the play? Brian Frons?

The issue allowed Tina to grow up a little; it was the first time she used the prestige of the Buchanan name for a worthy purpose.

Sadly, it would be the last.

On the heels of this mini-plot came the story on wife abuse, an issue that hasn't been given comprehensive treatment on soaps in years.

Probably thanks to the heavy-handed treatment soaps like OLTL gave it. (I'm not joking; their mini-arc on spousal abuse was about as "Lifetime Original Movie" as it could get.)

Where there is controversy, there is tension, which makes for meaningful interaction between characters.

Unless Todd Manning is involved.

Megan's debilitating disease is providing OLTL with another chance for compelling drama. This story isn't about a disease-of-the-month; rather, it's about a family facing the heartache of long-term illness.

Actually, it's about Viki telling Megan stories of past (and more well-developed) characters who had absolutely nothing to do with anything going on @ the moment (and whose dramas certainly wouldn't have kept the already-weak Megan from dying); and the Reverend Andrew suddenly becoming Chuck Norris in an attempt to free Jake from Rauch-esque "Jaba City." But whatevs.

After all, Megan is the daughter of the original underground man, a concept that made viewers laugh - for all the wrong reasons.

You know what also made me laugh for all the wrong reasons? The fact that Megan's actual death (in Jake's arms, no less) was straight outta "Wuthering Heights." I mean, yes, if you're going to steal, then steal from the best. But don't make it so freaking obvious!

The only negative aspect of DePaiva's return is that OLTL doesn't seem to be able to find a leading lady as well-suited for him as the women he's had before - Tina, Megan, and Gabrielle, three of the show's strongest, most fiery females in recent years.

Ya got that right!

The soap that lacks a viable romance lacks a viewer hook.

No, the soap that lacks good stories lacks a viewer hook. But don't worry; OLTL didn't have that either.

Wouldn't it be fun to hook [Luna] up with perennial loser in love Larry Wolek?

No.

Carlo [Hesser] is a cartoon.

Understatement.

Conversely, Sheila (Valerie Pettiford) is on her way to becoming one of OLTL's promising heroines.

Good thing ABCD put a stop to that, right, DeeeDee? ;-P

OLTL has always had a penchant for the quick fix.

"Always"? Does everyone think OLTL never existed before 1987 (save for that one random afternoon in '79 when Karen Wolek screamed to the whole world that she was "a common hooker, like Katrina Karr!? That Marco Dane was my pimp!?!?!?!")?

Once a week on this show, two people are in such danger that the audience is supposed to believe they won't live through the weekend. For example, Halloween weekend, Doug was on the loose at the party, stalking his wife,; Lee Ann was suffering from smoke inhalation; and Cassie collapsed of what we thought was a nervous breakdown. Everyone turned out fine. The following weekend, Viki and Megan were held hostage in a basement, while Cassie was being stalked by Alex. Contrivances like these create suspense in its most juvenile form, and OLTL viewers expect - and deserve - more than that.

They still do.

OLTL does not know how to create the arc story within the long-term story, the day-to-day events that entice viewers into tuning in to see the small moments in a story, as well as the big ones.

They used to, but they don't anymore, and they haven't for a very long time.

Rather, OLTL favors the linear point A to point B structure. Everything in between is filler: meaningless red herrings, plot recap, and false starts.

Are you sure we're not talking about the Dena Higley era?

The future of OLTL seems bright.

No, it doesn't.

In fact, if former OLTL fans were to pay Llanview a visit, they might find it's like going home.

No, they won't.

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Not to mention, the fact that he was portrayed by the unbelievable (in a bad way) Joey Thrower.

I was surprised at the praise they had for him. Aside from some good looks (mostly just because he reminded me of Nolan North), there wasn't much. He was a very wooden actor with a poor speaking voice. Then again that seems to be the idea for most Kevin recasts.

Poor Sheila -- she never really rose beyond B player for her whole run, did she?

I wonder how the person who wrote this felt about the show a year or two later. If she wanted Clint and Viki to be the older parents, how did she feel about Viki and Sloan? Did she approve of Max and Luna, given her image (and JDP's image) of what Max's ideal woman would be?

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What did you think of the article? Did you think they had some good points? I know some think that the Gottlieb/Malone era is overrated, although I guess most would agree Rauch needed to go.

I wish she'd mentioned more about the actors who were fired, as I think some of those, like Brenda and Dan Wolek, were mistakes.

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I know some think that the Gottlieb/Malone era is overrated, although I guess most would agree Rauch needed to go.

"Yes" to both. I didn't like the Malone/Gottlieb era, but it was marginally better than post-"Buchanans of the Old West" Rauch. I just wish they had concentrated their efforts more on restoring OLTL's pre-Rauch legacy, and less on their own creations.

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This place is like taking an overdose of downers.

So, I'm supposed to pretend OLTL experienced a tremendous "golden era" under Gottlieb and Malone? Sorry. Don't think so. Many loved the show back then, and that's great. I just happen to believe different.

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So, I'm supposed to pretend OLTL experienced a tremendous "golden era" under Gottlieb and Malone? Sorry. Don't think so. Many loved the show back then, and that's great. I just happen to believe different.

Actually Khan, other than the show's production values improving 1000% (with the exception of the music, I loved Paul Rauch's choice in music) I find this era extremely overrated for the most part (Although I thought the gang rape storyline and Viki's DID were brilliant). After seeing so much of this era again on Youtube, 60& of it was dull, dull, dull. Many of Malone's characters were as dull as dishwater. Anyone remember Suede Pruitt? Luna's brothers? Good god.

And I second Brenda and Dan. Brenda was such an appealing character and down to earth- without being boring or soap opera pretty. Loved her.

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I think Malone brought in some interesting characters but then they seemed to lose purpose once he mellowed them out, or gave them some type of peace, like Marty, Luna. Others like Alex seemed lost after a few years. I think that's perhaps where they needed more of a writer or producer who had more knowledge of daytime pacing.

In general I'd say they did great things for certain characters, like Bo, Viki, Dorian (although Robin might disagree with that); others not as much.

I guess the real downfall of Tina is the ageism of Brian Frons but I do kind of go back to that era for damage done to both Tina and Cord. Even when Tina was getting major stories and was sympathetic, under Karen Witter, she didn't seem all that much like Tina. Tina having sex on a warehouse floor? Based on the way Malone treated Tina later on I wonder if he just liked Karen Witter.

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I think Khan longs for a show absolutely no one would watch.

I have no problem incorporating families from the old, old days - Woleks, Halls, etc. I don't give a [[email protected]#$%^&*] about Katrina Karr, though. And we have to acknowledge what made the show so popular in the '80s and '90s, and yes that includes the Buchanans, Todd, etc.

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I think Khan longs for a show absolutely no one would watch.

I have no problem incorporating families from the old, old days - Woleks, Halls, etc. I don't give a [[email protected]#$%^&*] about Katrina Karr, though. And we have to acknowledge what made the show so popular in the '80s and '90s, and yes that includes the Buchanans, Todd, etc.

Since OLTL has been such a shapeless soap, moreso than many other soaps, I think with effort you can bring back characters or families from the past. I guess Gottlieb did try, since she wanted Ellen Holly to make a guest appearance.

I imagine the show at the time also expected many of the new characters to last, and of course, on a show better run than late 90s OLTL, Andrew and Hank and Rachel should have lasted.

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I think Khan longs for a show absolutely no one would watch.

You mean, the OLTL that, at one point, outperformed every other soap on the ABC lineup, save for one? Yeah, you're right. No one would ever watch that show. ;-P

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You mean, the OLTL that, at one point, outperformed every other soap on the ABC lineup, save for one? Yeah, you're right. No one would ever watch that show. ;-P

The fact is you have provided no viable alternative with which to reintroduce Katrina Karr or her kid or whoever, etc etc. Any reintegration of characters like the Woleks or the Halls would have to be interspersed with what is popular and beloved here, now, today. No one knows a thing about Katrina or Stephen Schnetzer's truck driver, however fine a storyline it was and I understand it was quite good. It has no bearing on today. The Echo DiSavoy return is flimsy as hell, a throwaway obscure character, but it at least has the cachet of Kim Zimmer, a known modern soap star, and is tied into Clint's story as well as Viki and Charlie. How the hell does anyone begin to care about Katrina Karr's kid again?

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The fact is you have provided no viable alternative with which to reintroduce Katrina Karr or her kid or whoever, etc etc. Any reintegration of characters like the Woleks or the Halls would have to be interspersed with what is popular and beloved here, now, today. No one knows a thing about Katrina or Stephen Schnetzer's truck driver, however fine a storyline it was and I understand it was quite good. It has no bearing on today. The Echo DiSavoy return is flimsy as hell, a throwaway obscure character, but it at least has the cachet of Kim Zimmer, a known modern soap star, and is tied into Clint's story as well as Viki and Charlie. How the hell does anyone begin to care about Katrina Karr's kid again?

Easy. After the Woleks, namely Jenny, are brought in, then Katrina and her daughter can make their entrance. Anything is possible. That's like saying creating new characters makes no sense.

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I often see calls for the return of Karen Wolek, and join in on them. I very rarely see calls for the return of her slightly curvaceous hooker friend who only a fraction of the viewing audience can readily recall. It's on par with that Lee Halpern jazz.

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