The End of an Era

It has now been exactly one month since ABC announced that it is cancelling two long-standing (over forty years each) soap operas–One Life to Live and All My Children.

This wasn’t a complete shock–or it shouldn’t have been. Guiding Light (which lasted for over 70 years on radio and TV) and As the World Turns have both been cancelled in recent years. And it has been rumored that ABC would cancel one of their soaps sooner rather than later. But to cancel two of them at once, and for neither of the shows cancelled to be General Hospital–well, it left soap fans reeling.

I have to admit, I’m a closet One Life to Live fan. I started watching it when I was on maternity leave following Turkey’s birth over eight years ago. As a matter of fact, I so remember the scene that made me tune in as I was aimlessly channel surfing that I could tell you the exact date I started watching (April 23, 2003–Mitch Lawrence was involved), and I remember well the stories that followed, especially Dorian and Blair gas lighting a temporarily blinded Mitch.

Now, I’m not proud of my soap habit. I know there are better things I can do with my time, although it can be a nice distraction while folding laundry. In my defense, I’ve never been able to watch for extended periods of time, either because I got bored, or I was just too busy. But I’ve always come back, whether it’s after a few months away, or in one instance, over a year. And there’s always been a kind of comfort in knowing how little soaps change over time–anyone who watches soaps knows that one storyline can drag out for months, or even longer! And the characters remain the same, and the places–it’s like a televised version of comfort food!

Which brings me to my real reason for sorrow over the loss of another two soaps, and what is probably the beginning of the end for the genre in general. There’s a history to soap operas that I’m very sad to see go. From their beginning as brief shorts on the radio, to their transition to TV, and eventually to hour-long programs, they’ve been a constant, through wars, and disasters and advancements in technology. Soaps have been a standard of daytime television for so long, it’s hard to imagine what TV looks like without them.

Many (if not all) of these shows are older than I am; some are older than my own mother (or were, at least, before Guiding Light went black). Viewing old clips immediately showcases the change in fashion, hairstyles, and even interior design over the years, not to mention the way camera angles, lighting, and production have changed in TV. They’ve dealt with current events in their own convoluted way, and just looking back at the recaps over the course of decades, it’s obvious what were hot button issues of the times.

There’s also the family aspect. I can’t tell you how many women my age I know that remember watching soaps as a child with their mothers and/or grandmothers. Due to the subject matter, it’s not something I’ve ever shared with my children, which is possibly part of the problem, but there’s something about a show that can unite women across generations that is inspiring. I’ve also heard stories from women my mother’s age who remember everything stopping in their college dorms when a particular show was on, and everyone on the floor would gather to watch. It’s unique the way these kind of shows have drawn women together, and the way they’ve become a part of our pop culture, often without us even realizing it.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, this is hardly a big deal. It’s TV–life will go on. But I’m always sad to see a piece of history lost, even if it’s something as trivial as a soap opera. And no matter what your personal opinion of soap operas is, good, bad or indifferent, it is a part of our history that will simply fade away into distant memory.

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