‘One Life To Live’s Surprising Ratings Resurgence

by | April 29, 2011 at 11:36 AM | Deep Soap

“One Life To Live” Refuses to Die

A funny thing happened to “One Life To Live” after it got canceled. Its ratings kept rising. The ratings are out for the first full week since the cancellation was announced. The show tied for second place with “The Bold & the Beautiful” in household ratings, the first time that has happened since May, 2005.  It beat “General Hospital” in Households and tied it among Women 18-34. Versus a year ago, it is up a whopping +507,000 viewers. The only other soap to improve versus a year ago is the other canceled soap, “All My Children,” though it only improved by +53,000.  Undoubtedly all the publicity surrounding the cancellations inspired some people to watch. But adding half a million viewers when every other soap is bleeding viewers is a huge accomplishment. OLTL is doing this with little promotion and a low budget. It really is a case of a show building its audience simply by being a good show. Executive Producer Frank Valentini and headwriter Ron Carlivati are pulling off a smaller scale version of what Gloria Monty famously did with the marked for cancellation GH in the 1970s. In all likelihood, it’s too late to change ABC’s mind. But, if current trends continue, there is a good chance that the show can overtake GH in the all-important 18-49 demographic. If nothing else, OLTL is making ABC’s decision to cancel it look foolish. Deadline, which has discovered that writing about daytime brings pageviews, just published an article questioning whether ABC acted too hastily. I can’t help fantasizing about the entire cast and crew of OLTL conference calling ABC Daytime president Brian Frons to scream, “How do you like them apples?”

“One Life To Live” Sneak Peek:

A Tale of Two Very Special Episodes

This week, two ABC soaps had special episodes. If you watch any ABC daytime shows or read television websites, you heard about Luke’s (Tony Geary) intervention on”General Hospital.” Thursday’s episode was heavily promoted. There were advertisements during every hour of daytime programming. ABC made clips of the show available to websites. The actors did lots of interviews about the show. All of the hype was warranted. It was an hour of GH at its best, with numerous Emmy worthy performances, dialogue on a par with the best primetime series, and some innovative, experimental production techniques that worked. Seeing Luke react to flashbacks of his past which were projected on the walls was a risky theatrical touch that worked.  In the annals of fictional television interventions, it ranked right up there with Bailey’s on “Party of Five” and Christopher’s on “The Sopranos.” Yes, it screamed Emmy reel, but so what? It was powerful, moving television.

It reminded me of a play. There was just one set, a warehouse where a drugged Luke had been brought for the occasion. Each character addressed Luke in a monologue, discussing how his alcohol use had impacted their relationship. All of the actors rose to the occasion. It’s amazing how good this show is whenever it gets away from the mob. It was no surprise that Jonathan Jackson was heartbreaking when he said, “I don’t want a fake, diminished version of you! I want you! I want my dad. I don’t want to walk through this nightmare without that man.” But I had no idea that Nathaniel Parsons could be as moving as he was when he told Luke that he was not only his father but his best friend — and that he was prepared to turn his back on him if he didn’t go to rehab. Geary was simultaneously defiant and broken. He owned this episode. He deserves every ounce of praise that will be heaped on him.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s episode of “One Life to Live” was a  celebration of Erika Slezak’s 40!! years on the show. Vicki’s alters briefly came out to play giving Slezak a chance to strut her stuff as Niki and Jean. Though the scenario was a bit silly, watching Slezak play three characters interacting with each other as well as grandstanding at a custody hearing was a reminder of just how talented she is. Much of the episode took place in the recesses of Vicki’s mind, as represented by a messy room filled with props from her past storylines. The episode concluded with Vicki fighting her way back to consciousness with a deliberately over-the-top speech that took on an unintended poignancy in light of the show’s cancellation: “I am a whole person and I deserve to be with be with the people I love. There’s no more hiding, there’s no time for that now. I have my one life and I intend to keep living it, now.”

Unfortunately, only regular viewers of OLTL tuned in to see this performance because ABC did not do any promotion whatsoever. There were no special promos, or on-line previews. Normally, a show’s publicist will go into overdrive on occasions like this, setting up interviews with every outlet who is interested. That did not happen.  I understand why ABC, and perhaps Slezak herself, might be a little hesitant to send her on a press tour right now. She would end up answering 101 questions about the show’s cancellation. It would be awkward.

But the show’s cancellation is all the more reason why Slezak’s accomplishment should have been publicly acknowledged. This is the last year we will get to watch her.  It’s not like ABC has anything to lose by saluting an actress who has been loyal to them for decades, who has won numerous Emmys, and in flusher times helped the network make a lot of money. At this point, it seems like ABC is doing everything it can to torpedo the show to justify canceling it. It’s a slap in the face to Slezak.

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