It was a soap opera about a soap opera. When ABC cancelled “One Life to Live” in 2012, loyal viewers were so enraged they protested by phone, e-mail, in person.
OLTL had been on TV for more than 43 years, from July 15, 1968 to Jan. 13, 2012. The daily broadcast had become part of viewers’ lives, an extension of their own families, but much more thrilling, suspenseful, horrific and heroic.
Their mandate to ABC was: “We want our people back!” Grandmothers, their daughters and even their granddaughters followed the saga avidly. When ABC management announced its final episode, a huge, devoted audience felt betrayed, according to Erika Slezak of New Canaan, who had played the female lead, Victoria Lord, ever since the show began.
Sure enough, the audience’s near-hysteria won out. The show was brought back by Prospect Park Productions on April 29, 2013. This time, it could be seen online and on most every electronic device, with new episodes, filmed now in Stamford, uploaded every Tuesday and Thursday. The show recently filmed scenes on the beach in Darien.
OLTL follows the complicated lives of three main families, the wealthy Lords, the powerful Buchanans and the strong-willed Cramers. Erika Slezak, as Viki, is a role model of feminine strength and resilience. Erika says that when the show was cancelled in 2012, people stopped her on the street in New Canaan to express their anger and sorrow. She truly was Viki Lord to her fans, a character whose life was one dramatic event after another, love, loss, widowhood, rape, divorce, stroke, breast cancer, multiple personality disorder and a heart transplant.
“I started as Viki when I was 24 and I grew and aged along with her, for 43 years. I couldn’t believe ABC would cancel it, but it’s back now and once again a major part of my life.” The daughter of actor Walter Slezak, who appeared in movies, plays, and TV for over half a century, Erika grew up in a theatrical household and says when she was about four years old, her favorite game was Pretending. She went to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and was in repertory theater for five years, which she says taught her the nuances necessary when portraying character, emotion and the reality of life’s inconsistencies.
She received six Daytime Emmy awards for outstanding lead actress in OLTL. “Playing Viki was my first time on TV. I actually auditioned for ‘All My Children’ but I guess they saw me as Viki.”
Prospect Park production company picked the show up and it was re-launched this spring. It can be seen free on The Online Network at TOLN.com and on Hulu.com.
“As the years have gone by, the culture has changed in soap operas as it has in life. We’re conscious of the need to dramatize those changes for new audiences, “ Erika says. The show is a lot more openly sexual than it used to be. There are passionate, close-up kisses, bare-chested men, rule-breaking women, affairs, dangerous situations, risk-taking, drastic decisions, outbreaks of violence. Everything soap opera audiences want.
Erika Slezak’s talent still dominates the show and she is delighted that OLTL is again alive and well. She has helped make daytime dramas irresistible. Audiences identify with the cast and the plots, accepting the exaggerations, living vicariously.