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Posts for April, 2011

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.