TV becomes less vibrant Friday with the signoff of one of the medium's longest-running shows.
Many of them topical, too. Soap doyenne Agnes Nixon designed "OLTL" to break ground that way. Fan-favorite actress Ellen Holly had played Carla Gray for the show's first four months in 1968 before it was revealed Carla was a black woman who had been passing as white -- a big "wow" in that era of race upheaval. ("OLTL" premiered three months after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.)
Daytime took notice, as "OLTL" creator Nixon delivered smartly researched tales on issues like drug addiction and dissociative identity disorder (aka split personality), along with soap staples like romantic triangles and murder mysteries. By the '80s, "OLTL" was also shaking up storytelling, launching out-of-body experiences, time travel and fantasy kingdoms beneath its fictional home city of Llanview, Pa.
Top that, "CSI."
Even in its final months, "One Life to Live" has been firing on all cylinders, uncorking riveting story lines about abusive fathers, killer spy-ring moms, secret twins, and even one huge final prison break that brought all kinds of crazy back to town, played by beloved actors who'd left the show years ago.
"It's sad that it's ending, and I really truly can't believe it, because our show is just so delicious right now," says Kassie DePaiva, who has played Blair Cramer Manning (add various other surnames here) for 18 years. "I'm just savoring every little morsel. And it's so bad for the fans."
Ah, yes, the fans -- those of us who've discovered "OLTL" over the years, and stuck with it through rich seasons and weaker ones. "It takes the fans to keep it going," says DePaiva, who's looking forward to Jan. 21's "Loving Llanview" show at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury, when she and nine co-stars talk about the show onstage and meet VIP-ticket fans afterward. (VIP access is already sold out.)
"These meet-and-greets make everybody happy," DePaiva says. "You know, if you watch a football game, you talk about it and wish you could talk to the players. With soap fans, it's the same; we talk about our characters, sign autographs, do a personal one-on-one. These people deserve it. They just want a little piece of you."
Where other stars complain about that -- "They want a piece of me!" -- daytime stars embrace it, another aspect that sets apart their genre and makes its fading so tragic. Just as DePaiva has been in soaps "my whole adult lifetime" -- she met husband James when he was "OLTL's" Max Holden -- so fans follow their daytime dramas, "watching every day for lots of their lives," she says.
What will fans do now? That quandary is shared by daytime casts and crews. "OLTL" was the last soap still produced in New York, where radio/TV soaps once thrived on a rich talent base shared with Broadway and nightclubs. (DePaiva is also a singer who's released three albums.)
"It's gonna leave a void in all of our lives," DePaiva says. "They always say when one door closes, another door opens. Forget that, man. I like being in the room I'm in, thank you very much, with the door shut and firmly locked."
But on Wednesday, that door may just have opened. ABC announced that DePaiva and three of her "OLTL" castmates (Roger Howarth, Michael Easton and Kristen Alderson) will reprise their characters on "General Hospital" as part of a new story line starting later this month.
"The View," hourlong tribute to "OLTL," with stars Erika Slezak, Robin Strasser, Kassie DePaiva, Robert S. Woods, Hillary B. Smith, plus former stars Judith Light and James DePaiva, 11 a.m. Friday, ABC/7
WHAT "Loving Llanview" tribute to "One Life to Live"
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Jan. 21, NYCB Theatre at Westbury
WHO Kassie DePaiva (Blair), Ilene Kristen (Roxy), Michael Easton (John), Melissa Archer (Natalie), John-Paul Lavoisier (Rex), Jerry verDorn (Clint), Kim Zimmer (Echo), Trevor St. John (Todd), Sean Ringgold (Shaun), Gina Tognoni (Kelly).
TICKETS $45, $75 ($175 VIP sold out), livenation.com, 800-745-3000, or Westbury box office