ABC has announced that it is canceling two soap operas, “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” These daytime dramas go back decades — “All My Children” premiered in January 0f 1970 and “One Life to Live” in July of 1968. Both were created by the legendary Agnes Nixon, who began her career with Irna Phillips, the original creator of the idea of the soap opera, back in the radio era. They had all of the core elements that Phillips pioneered: intertwined, open-ended stories of marriage and family, filled with romance, tragedy, betrayal, suffering, secrets, and lies, but always with a sense of hope and resilience. They give their devoted fans a chance to see characters get older in real time over generations.
When they began, “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” were cutting edge. “All My Children” was designed to focus on the younger characters, a reflection of the 60’s era baby boomers who were coming of age and having an enormous impact on politics and popular culture. Some of its main characters were teenagers, including Erica Kane (future legend Susan Lucci), who became pregnant and had television’s first legal abortion, when she was married to her first husband, Jeff Martin. Erica would go on to get married somewhere around ten more times, though not all of the marriages were valid. How many of her husbands can you name? “One Life to Live” was created to reflect the heightened interest in racial and social conflicts. Nixon said she was “tired of the restraints imposed by the WASPy, noncontroversial nature of daytime drama.” The two shows exist in the same fictional world and characters have appeared in both.
At one time, the daytime schedules were filled with soap operas (the name comes from their sponsors –makers of laundry detergent and other household cleaners — and the epic nature of their plot lines). But they are expensive to produce, requiring writers, actors, sets (mansions, hospitals, courtrooms), and lots of make-up and hair artists. They are being replaced by a couple of talk shows — “The Chew” (really) will be a “View”-style show about food. And, just to balance it out, “The Revolution,” a weight-loss and fitness show. They’ll never last as long or earn the dedication as “All My Children?”‘ and “One Life to Live.”