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All My Children cancelled

Timothy Kincaid

April 14th, 2011

The era of the soap opera is closing. And one of the longest running ‘daytime dramas’ is calling it quits. (NYTimes)

The demise of one of broadcasting’s oldest institutions, the daytime soap opera, crept closer Thursday as ABC announced it would end two of its long-running daily serial dramas, “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.”

At some point in the late 80′s I found myself subjected to All My Children and was won over by the campiness of the histrionic dialogue and wacky plotlines (though it did not survive the breakup). But AMC was not just a the mid-West housewife’s vicariously lived decadent tromp though heterosexual fantasy and lust. It also addressed social issues and conflicts that were going on in the real world.

And although the show had in the 80′s introduced a brief gay plot arc, in 2000 it took a step that was at the time rather risky. They decided to include a major lesbian character, choosing Bianca Montgomery, the daughter of the show’s leading star, Erica Kane. Although Bianca had not been before this time a daily recurring character, her string of appearances since 1988 had made her a part of the AMC family and lore and a risky asset to gamble with.

The gamble proved to be a winner. Portrayed by Eden Riegel, who used the example of her lesbian sister to avoid one-note stereotypes, Bianca was embraced by AMC’s followers. Her contributions to the drama lasted far beyond that of coming out to the never-understated Erica Kane and became an unqualified success with a ‘controversial’ daytime kiss, rape (and resulting pregnancy), kidnapping, killing her rapist, marriage (which reminded viewers that people like their friend Bianca had to travel out of state to marry), romance with a transgender character, and the usual entangled confusion and general wackiness.

And, predictably, anti-gay activists overplayed their hand. Rather than reach a demographic that might have shared their uneasiness with a lesbian plotline, their vitriol towards the show backfired and viewers become defensive of Bianca. The drama surrounding the kidnapping of her child had middle-America tremendously invested in Bianca getting her kid back. (NYTimes)

Megan McTavish, the show’s head writer, said she was most astonished that fans elevated Bianca into one of the serial’s “tent poles” – soap parlance for characters who hold enormous sway with viewers.

“If a character is nice to Bianca, the audience tends to like that character, and if he is mean to Bianca the audience knows he’s a bad guy,” Ms. McTavish said. “It’s stunning. The lesbian girl became the moral tent pole of our show.”

But perhaps not all that surprising for a genre that in which deception, adultery, murder and evil twins are the staples on which all plot lines revolve.

All My Children’s final episode in September will also bring to an end the story of Erica Kane Martin Brent Cudahay Chandler (Roy Montgomery) Marick Montgomery, probably the best known of all soap characters. And with it the reign of Susan Lucci as queen of soaps.

Most actors consider soaps to be a stepping stone. But Lucci, who appears to be a genuinely decent person, chose to stay in the genre because her priority was to be home every night to have dinner with her family. And the soap world rewarded her loyalty. A 41 year run and 21 Emmy nominations (with, famously, 20 losses) is not bad for a woman with no discernible acting ability.

And that may be an asset. What makes Erica Kane bearable, even adored, is that behind all of Kane’s scheming and conniving is Lucci, whose niceness can’t help bleeding through. Asked last year about her “favorite moments” Lucci said,

I’m so proud to have been part of the storyline where Bianca came out to her mother, Erica. There are gay kids in this country who commit suicide rather than tell their parents who they really are. They feel their parents won’t love them anymore.

In this medium, we could tell the story from everybody’s point of view with respect to people actually going through this. And I felt very proud to be a part of that.

And we should not fail to recognize the value of many Americans who shared in the experience. Some had known Erica all of their lives and their daily hour in Pine Valley was a relationship more enduring and constant than any other. Erica’s journey to acceptance and support was their own.

It does seem odd to me that AMC will be gone. It’s one of those constants you never think about but are surprised and saddened when it’s gone. It reminds you that the world is changing and making room for newer generations who don’t have as much use for daring attempts at prison breakouts dangling from a helicopter in a wedding dress and heels.

In the announcement, ABC included the promise that to honor the passionate fans of each show, they will “conclude in a manner that respects their legacies and the longstanding hopes of many of their viewers.”

Personally, my hope is that in a moment of inspired insanity Erica manages to kill the entire population of Pine Valley by poisoning her makeup line – before walking giggling into the sunset. It is a soap opera, you know.

Comments

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Timothy (TRiG)
April 14th, 2011 | LINK

There’s been a gay couple on The Archers (the longest-running soap in the world) for a few years now.

TRiG.

JCF
April 14th, 2011 | LINK

A sad day.

I watched AMC in the early 80s (as an undergrad).

I left soaps behind then . . . only to fall headlong for “Otalia” (shipper name for Olivia&Natalia) on Guiding Light in 2008-9. And then it got cancelled. :-(

Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, I think one has to admit that, merely as a training ground for actors, we’re losing a lot. Especially when all we’re getting for it, are two more Reality programs (Blech!).

Scott L.
April 14th, 2011 | LINK

Mr. Kincaid, until, and ONLY until you’ve been in front of a camera and tried to deliver lines, hit your mark and create a believable character, while dealing with a new script every day and constant rewrites, you should keep your snarky comments to yourself! After all, you wouldn’t appreciate people making snide remarks about your writing abilities based on the fact that all you’ve published is a blog, now would you?

I, and every other actor, get really tired of people who have no idea what this business is like deriding us! You think it’s so easy give it a shot!

johnathan
April 14th, 2011 | LINK

You know, it’s funny. I never watched soaps, before or since the three months after my severe bout with epileptic seizures. During those three months, I was homebound — doctor’s orders — and bored during the daytime. The one thing that got me through the day (before Jerry Springer and the other talk shows of “high moral character”): Young and the Restless. Why? After watching for three or four episodes, I became hooked on wanting to know more and more of the storyline.

The sad thing, is the writers get the audience hooked by only presenting two or three minutes of each family/groups situation per episode. You are “forced” to keep on coming back, or else. :-) After those three months, I quickly forgot and lost interest. However, I understand and appreciate the interest for the devout soap opera fans. As for AMC — it is extremely commendable to have keep current with modern society.

Shannon
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

I don’t care about AMC. It is OLTL that I will miss and for the record they have had several gay story arcs over the years, usually minor characters until recently. In 1995 they had a story of a young gay boy with AIDS outsted by his father.

Mihangel apYrs
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

Scott L
performers of any medium set themselves up for criticism as the price of the pleasure of their exposure. You choose to be in the public eye where your job is to entertain – do it well and there’s celebrity, do it badly and you can still end up making a living from it.

If you don’t want to be judges on your performance get a job where you’re not (though to be fair EVERY job has appraisals, just not public ones!)

Scott L.
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

Mihangel,

That’s a cheap and easy way for people to justify being catty and you know it. Honest criticism I’m fine with, jabs meant to hurt just for the pleasure of demeaning others, not so much.

Timothy Kincaid
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

Scott L,

Silly, silly boy. How could you possibly think that my criticism of Lucci’s acting abilities are “jabs meant to hurt just for the pleasure of demeaning others”?

I think she’s the best thing on the show.

Watching Susan Lucci as Erica Kane is great fun. She’s so sincere, she tries so hard, and she’s so colossally bad that you find yourself rooting for her. Maybe if Lucci herself were arrogant or full of how wonderful of an actor she is, it would be different. But the combination of ‘really nice person’ playing ‘really bad person’ and doing it poorly is somehow delightful. And I don’t think that American would have put up with Erica Kane for 40 years if Lucci’s niceness wasn’t right under the surface.

(I watched Kane in some other made for TV movie and it just didn’t translate. Sadly, it wasn’t delightful, just bad acting.)

But I don’t think this is about me criticizing Lucci. I think you’re just projecting your own experiences here. You’re upset at people criticizing you.

To which I have to say: you need thicker skin if you want to be in that business. Entertainment isn’t known for “honest criticism”, you know. And if you can’t stand someone being snarky about one of your performances, then you need to keep your audience limited to Mom and Dad.

And as for people making snide remarks about my writing abilities… read the comments. You’re not exactly the first to be less than pleased with something I’ve written.

So let me give you some advice: take it in stride.

In life, people aren’t going to appreciate your efforts, only your results. You can spend hours preparing and rehearsing (or researching and writing) and put out your best effort only to have someone see only the flaws.

But we have to recognize that when you act or I write, we are asking something of others: their time. We want them to sit there and watch (or read) what we have prepared – no, not just that – to stop whatever else they are doing in their busy life to watch and read and be impacted by what we have prepared.

That’s a lot to ask.

And if we are wasting their time, if we fail to deliver, then we hardly have any right to complain if they say so.

It doesn’t matter how hard it might be to deliver lines, hit your mark and create a believable character, while dealing with a new script every day and constant rewrites. Our work doesn’t entitle us to their time.

Regan DuCasse
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

Oh well. My husband will have one less soap to watch that he’s watched faithfully for over 25 years!
And one of my actor friends who just started on that show, will have to do something else.
Wow.
I thought it was such a huge deal they moved to Los Angeles.

In short order now no show at all. Hollywood is KILLING productions of scripted shows like Raid on roaches.

Scott L.
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

Let’s see, Timothy, I’ve been at it for over forty years, so my skin is pretty thick when it comes to the business, just don’t care for outsiders thinking they know all about what goes in a performance even thought they’ve never been on stage or in front of a camera.

I’ve been ridiculed, had death threats, called a variety of names, and that’s on a good day, so pardon me if I think you’re a tad smug and self-satisfied.

Acting is the one profession where you can be not hired, or fired, for being to short, too tall, too thin, too fat, too ugly, not ugly enough, too pretty, not pretty enough, all perfectly legal and legitimate.

Yes, I’ve criticized your mistakes, but I’ve never demeaned you or belittled your abilities.

And, would you like your abilities judged on one piece? Remember this, with screen or television, there’s also a director, editor and producers between you and the actor’s actual performance.

again, please don’t make sweeping judgments about a profession where you are ignorant about the inner workings of.

Timothy Kincaid
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

Scott,

kindly point out my “sweeping judgments about a profession”

Paul J. Stein
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

Watching “Erica Kane” camp it up is like watching a unlimited budget dragshow without the dreadful make up. It’s been fun Miss Lucci!

Scott L.
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy,

My apologies for being unclear. I meant the way you characterized Susan Lucci’s acting abilities, which by belittling shows a profound ignorance of the acting profession and how television is produced.

By the way, would YOU please point out where I have made PERSONAL attacks either on you or any of the posters here?

Timothy Kincaid
April 15th, 2011 | LINK

I’ve not said that you made personal attacks. Surely not.

And it’s time to let our squabble come to an end. Perhaps, out of my profound ignorance of the acting profession and how television is produced I’ve unfairly judged Ms Lucci.

So why don’t we simply agree that although Susan Lucci’s 40 year stint on All My Children has not demonstrated any discernible acting ability so far, in future roles she may shine with ferocity that matches Streep, Hepburn, Leigh, Taylor or Foster.

In the meanwhile, let’s just be appreciative the amusement and joy she’s brought to millions and the care and consideration she’s given to our community.

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