So long, soaps! It’s been (un)real…

Love in the AfternoonImage by kevindooley via Flickr

If I still watched the soaps, I’d feel this development more than I do, but it still makes me feel sad and a bit displaced to know that ABC is cancelling All My Children and One Life to Live. It’s been over twenty years since I watched them much, but starting much too young and through my post-college years, I had a pretty serious soap-opera habit.

It started in my elementary-school years, when my mom was home with my sister and me and the TV was on. My mom was a big fan of Dark Shadows, but she watched several other soaps too, including AMC, which was relatively new and considered pretty edgy in the early 1970s. Her aunts – surrogate grandmothers to my sister and me – didn’t want to be disturbed when their “story,” OLTL, was on. We might not have really understood everything that was going on – and for several years, we were definitely more interested in game shows and syndicated comedy reruns – but all the same, the soaps didn’t escape our attention.

By middle school, I was getting hooked on the soaps all on my own, and I was an ABC loyalist by ninth grade. Granted, it was the heyday of Luke and Laura when everyone was watching General Hospital, and OLTL never became “my” story like it was for my great-aunts, but All My Children was a staple. All the women in my family became regular readers of Soap Opera Digest around that time, and I got curious about the storylines on some of the other shows, I strayed to CBS, where I got into As the World Turns and my best friend Teri’s favorite, Guiding Light. There was a period of several years in high-school and college – on days when I didn’t have classes, of course – when I double-teamed shows, switching between them during commercials back in those long-ago pre-DVR (let alone VCR) days.

The working world and a disapproving husband took a big chunk out of my soap habit after college, but my first job was only a five-minute drive from home, and I used to go home for lunch (and to watch AMC). By the mid-1990s, my soap-watching days were mosty behind me, but I’d still read news about the shows when I stumbled across it…and was pretty pleased for Susan Lucci when she finally won that Daytime Emmy for creating the indelible, immortal Erica Kane.

One of the things I always appreciated about the soaps back then was that most of them were taped in New York City; they were probably the backbone of the television industry there, and as a girl with Northeastern roots, I liked that. There are now just four traditional-network, English-language soap operas left on TV, and they’re all taped in Southern California…just like almost everything else on television. Sigh. And here in Southern California, the Spanish-language soaps, the telenovelas, just might be more popular than The Young and the Restless.

The soaps have always had a shaky connection to reality, so perhaps it’s appropriate that ABC is replacing AMC and OLTL with…reality shows. Then again, those programs frequently have an equally shaky connection to reality of their own. And without denying how out-there soap-opera plots can get, some of the “daytime dramas” have worked controversial social issues into their storylines well before the night-time dramas would even touch them. In addition, the serialized aspects of many modern TV shows – and the careers of some of the actors who star in them – owe a debt to the soaps.

At this stage, I can’t say I’ll personally miss All My Children all that much, but I’ll miss knowing that it’s still out there. I guess this means Erica Kane’s last marriage really will be her last one (I have no idea what number she’s up to by now), and we won’t be able to go home to Pine Valley any more.

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