Friday, January 13, 2012

A Fond Farewell to ONE LIFE TO LIVE, Part Two

Summer of 1993, the last time clock job I slaved at before quitting to write full-time, I stood through a laborious staff meeting of about forty lost souls, listening to the supervisor blather on.  When the meeting concluded, she asked, "Any questions?"

"Yes," I said.  "Did anybody see yesterday's episode of One Life to Live?"

To this day, a friend who was present at that meeting remembers how the entire place broke up laughing, bosses included.

So here it is.  The Friday of the end.  Mathematically, dating back to November of 1983, I figure I've watched some 7,542 episodes of my favorite afternoon soap opera. Since OLTL's rumored then confirmed cancellation was announced last spring, I've noticed something about my expression. The smile that's almost always there hasn't been in evidence so often. I still wake up with music in my head, but it hasn't found its way to my lips as it regularly used to. People who know me also know how I have a tendency to wake up chirpy -- something that can grate on the nerves of non-morning people.  I sympathize, because I was never a morning sort until the Muse and I went into business together. For the longest time, the wonderful "Tour of Llanview" montage theme song from circa 1985 - 1991, sung for most of that time brilliantly by Peabo Bryson, was one of my favorite ways of greeting the dawn.  The theme that directly preceded it -- the "Sunrise" theme from my introduction to OLTL in 1983 -- haunts my sleep from time to time.  It did in late 2009 when, following an unforgettable dream, I wrote a short story about a man who dreams himself into the golden days of his favorite soap opera (not unlike Roxanne Balsom's recent visit to Fraternity Row). The story, "One Life Unlived," sold on its first visit out to Michael Lea's speculative fiction anthology, Luminosity: Tales From the Edge.  Sadly, the anthology, which was to be published by Twisted Library Press, was also cancelled, a running theme in 2011.  Still, that somber melody often meanders through my dreams and follows me awake. Not as often anymore, the same holds true with the elegant "Champagne" opening that ran from 1991 until 1994, the music I wrote my first published book to and often listen to on a scratchy old cassette tape from that time when I write paranormal romance.  In 2007, during a brief correspondence, Lee Holdridge -- the talented composer behind most of OLTL's music over the past two decades -- sent me a clean MP3 copy of the "Champagne" theme.  Simply breathtaking, but that was then-guru Michael Malone's mandate, that the music should be cinematic.  It sure was!

(From the "Fireplace" to the final Holdridge opening, all of One Life to Live's theme songs)

Snow globes from an OLTL charity breakfast I covered

Over the years, the influence of OLTL on my writing has been tremendous.  As someone who likes to cast his characters, I've often found myself seated at my desk or on the living room sofa, the nib of my fountain pen racing across a fresh page, only to stop as some new character demanded I give them a heartbeat as well as a name. In the winter of 1994, a nightclub songbird called Poor Lara ("Lara? Couldn't your parents afford a 'u'?") took on the guise of the gorgeous Kassie Welsey-DePaiva, who had only just assumed the role of "Blair" from Mia Korf. Some time in the late 1990s, I had a terrifying dream about a woman named Victoria who had one eye in a shockingly vibrant shade of purple-blue.  I wrote the story, "The Indigo Eye," in 2003; the "Victoria" in my dream had been none other than Victoria Lord Gordon Riley Burke Buchanan Carpenter Davidson Banks, as played so beautifully over the years by the show's leading lady, Erika Slezak.  Perhaps no OLTL character has affected me so personally and profoundly as that of Fiona Hutchison in the role of Gabrielle Medina. In 1990, following a five-year hiatus from writing that I blamed on work, the aforementioned tragedy of a lost friend, and my own ridiculous belief in the Writer's Block (I've since turned from believing in the Block to the Muse -- a far healthier approach, one that's led to numerous published novels, hundreds of short stories, thousands of feature articles, and one or two TV episode assignments), I woke from an afternoon nap and an intense dream about a young woman who joined the men and women of Moonbase Alpha, home setting to Gerry Anderson's brilliant deep space parable, Space:1999, territory I had mined often and with great love through my writing (and will one final time in September when I join the cast in Los Angeles). I instantly jotted down the dream on a note card, rightly thinking it too good to risk losing.  That autumn, writing a series of fan fiction stories that would, through building upon my strengths, lead to me selling my first short story to a magazine, I penned that story, "Fiona." The young woman became one of my favorite characters to write about for years after; every time I watched the lovely Fiona Hutchison's portrayal of Gabrielle until the character's death in 2003 -- and during her one-day return from the grave this past Monday -- my breath routinely hitched.  OLTL has given me so much more than an hour of television, five days a week.

(Tom Christopher as the wicked Carlo Hesser, top, and, beneath, as "Hawk" from Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century, as envisioned by a fan.  I had the great pleasure of interviewing Mister Christopher for an article in 2001 and he graciously sent along the two head shots, with his autograph).

In five hours, the last twenty-nine years will wrap, take a final bow, and fade out.  People who don't understand the sense of loss being felt by devoted fans of a soap opera may proclaim it silly to mourn for such a thing; after all, most TV shows last far shorter than forty-three years and so many thousands of episodes.  But clearly, my loyalty as a decades-long viewer didn't matter to the ABC network, any more than the millions of OLTL fans who called, wrote, demonstrated, and pleaded with the murderous head of daytime programming to reconsider his decision; the same soap-hating soap killer who'd not only slain All My Children but also the General Hospital spin-off Port Charles (as well as other soaps on other networks years earlier).  It's not that my life is going to come to a halt, that I'll be prowling the house at 2 p.m. every afternoon wondering what to do with myself.  It's the method and manner in which this all played out, from the reasons behind the cancellation (soaps ARE relevant today -- perhaps more than ever in the mean, ugly, and loud wasteland that television has degenerated into) to the utterly painful broken promise that OLTL would transition to the internet and continue decades of great storytelling online.  OLTL was a bright respite from a world that has lost so much of its joy; fictional Llanview was a place I visited not because I didn't have other, better ones to go to, but because I had so much fun when I was there. The Kramers, Lords, Buchanans, and Balsoms were people I genuinely loved, like family.  And as for stories, well, there were some great ones.  The wild and the wonderful -- from the Lost City of Eterna to Vickie's trips to Heaven to Billy Douglas's coming out to last spring's bullying arc, which was absolutely brilliant.  Me, I'm all about the story.  In fact, I plan to devote that extra hour in the afternoon come this Monday to several exciting romance-themed projects.  I sure won't be tuning in to the ridiculous garbage that replaces One Life to Live.

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