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The End of a Genre
For the last time in 43 years, the sun is setting on Agnes Nixon’s fictitious city of Llanview, Pennsylvania. Rex and Natalie were both finally reunited with their true loves, Matthew stepped up to the responsibilities of teenage fatherhood just in time for Destiny to bear their child, and finally Clint learned once and for all that he really is Jessica’s biological father (third time’s a charm, right?) just moments before he finally got back together with his ex-wife after many roadblocks kept them romantically separated.
Yes, just like “Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns,” and “All My Children” before it, yet another iconic soap opera is leaving the world of daytime television. Last Friday, ABC’s “One Life to Live” concluded its over 11,000 episode tale and I, after having grown up watching the show with various female (and male) relatives, could not be more upset to see it go. In fact, when I sat down to write this column I was fully prepared to complain about the show leaving like the super-fan that I have become.
I was going to complain that the man who ordered the soap operas to be canceled had lost his position in the network because of the reaction of the fans, yet the shows were not returned. I was going to complain that they canceled the show because it was not performing to their expectations, yet they moved the head writer, executive producer, and even some of the characters to the last remaining ABC soap opera.
I was even going to complain about the two replacement talk shows and how they were a waste of time slots, even though I’d only actually seen one of them. But most of all, I was going to complain about the production company, Prospect Park, who gave soap fans false hope that “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” would continue to air episodes on the Internet, which did drive the writers of “All My Children” to change the ending of the show so it could carry on. Of course, what they didn’t mention was that all the while their efforts to actually move the shows to the web were crashing and burning.
But after watching the final episodes myself I can’t write about any of those things. I can’t write about them because they are no longer the roots of my anger. I am still extremely upset that the show ended, but even more disappointed with the way the writers closed it. Just as I was after its sister soap, “All My Children,” left in September 2011, I was left with more questions than answers; instead of drawing the show to a close and tying up loose ends, the soap concluded the with one of the biggest string of cliff hangers I’ve ever seen any soap opera air.
It wasn’t just that there were so many cliff hangers so much as it was that they untied more story lines than they concluded. The cast and the writers had known long before filming had wrapped that their show would not carry on to the Internet, and still the show took some pretty outlandish chances with their story lines, including a huge jail break from Statesville State Penitentiary (which, of course, was not so ironically on the very same night the city was plagued by a black out), and, of course, the convenient invention of a television that can look into the past just in time to deliver the good news that Gigi was actually Gigi and not her evil sister Stacey.
I get that they wanted to make the show as memorable as possible, and why should they play it safe when it’s leaving anyway? But, aside from the fact the “One Life to Live” was already one of the more popular soaps, for the writers come up with all of these crazy twist and turns and then to leave so many of them unanswered? Why put the audience through even more turmoil? Soap fans are already losing one of the great soap operas, it’s only fair that they get an ending that actually ends and not just cuts off at the very beginning of the falling action.
I’m not trying to say that I hate cliff hangers. They are exciting, they are interesting, and they keep the audience on their toes wondering what crazy thing was going to happen next. If they’re done well and at the right time, it all turns out great and (almost) everyone is happy. But to end the show by throwing out twist after turn after cliff hanger and offer absolutely no resolution to several major story lines in recent history of the show is just flat out ridiculous.
I might be biased because I’ve been such a huge fan of the show for the majority of my young life, but I feel like this is disrespectful to the fans. Week after week over half a million fans, as recorded by the Nielsen ratings, tuned in to the doomed show causing a ratings surge after the cancellation was announced. They loyally following the storylines as the end drew near, and for what? To be left wondering what happened as there were new grudges and new storylines pulled up in the very last episode during the very last minute of the show?
I might as well not have spent the past four months avidly DVR-ing and re-watching episodes. What was the point of savoring every detail they broadcast when in the end they were going to pretty much undo every major thing they had done?
Maybe I feel so strongly about the ambiguous ending because I grew up watching the show with my mother. Maybe I feel so strongly because the show’s cancellation as a whole is a sad suggestion that the end is near for the world of soaps. I don’t agree that people only want information over entertainment nowadays, and I, along with thousands of other soap opera fans, will shake my head in disappointment when one day the four remaining soap operas are also canceled and replaced with talk shows about health, dieting, and general basic self-improvement. Because when that day comes, it will truly be the end of a genre.