There are two kinds of people in the world: those who know Tad and Erica, and those who, when they figure out that you are talking about characters from the ABC soap opera All My Children, roll their eyes and walk away.
I first saw All My Children (AMC) was when I was 10 years old and went to my friend Chrissy's house in Grosse Pointe for lunch. Chrissy was the youngest of three children. I think her dad was a big shot for J.L. Hudson's department store. I never met her older siblings, who were already grown (or at least away at college). I don't remember ever meeting her parents. But I do remember that she had a live-in maid who wore a uniform, took care of Chrissy and made fried chicken for lunch, which was the only thing Chrissy would eat. While we ate, this lovely caretaker ironed in the kitchen. "Hush, now, I'm watching my story," she would say. "Erica's coming on."
That was in 1970 and All My Children was a brand new show, still just a half-hour long. I was entranced by the adult content and have been watching ever since, sometimes every day, sometimes once a month. Every time my mother visits, she says: "Is that Erica woman still on?" My mom never watched the soaps.
Soap operas were around long before AMC debuted, and had their start on radio in 1930. The very first serialized drama, called Painted Dreams, was produced here in Chicago by WGN. They were called "soap operas" because many were sponsored by household cleaning products.
Over the years, I've been loyal to ABC soaps and an on-again-off-again fan of One Life to Live, Ryan's Hope (for it's entire 1975-1989 run) and General Hospital, especially during the whole Luke and Laura hoopla, which happened while I was in college. At the time, I lived in a group house on Church Street in Ann Arbor with seven other students, girls and guys, all of whom were GH fans. We would race home at 3:00 and crowd into someone's bedroom to watch.
But my heart belongs to All My Children, including all 12 (to date) of Erica Kane's marriages; Tad the Cad's many affairs (one with Liza and her mother); characters dying and coming back to life (repeatedly); casting changes (just how many Colbys have there been?); character name changes (anybody remember when Jake was Joey?); not to mention ghosts, prison breaks and epic backstabbing. The show broke a lot of television taboos: the first legal same-sex wedding, AIDS, abortion, rape, and a transgender character, to name a few. But the reason I watched AMC was because it was fun. That's all. Just plain fun.
The cast and I have been through a lot together: my lonely teenage years, months of bed rest during two of my pregnancies, piles of laundry, and time on the treadmill. I have never really "watched" my soaps so much as had them on to keep me company while I did other things. Along the way, I would get frustrated by the soap-opera mantra of constant turmoil. After their third marriage and finally getting pregnant together, couldn't Tad and Dixie have settled down into happily ever after? Not in soap world. And maybe not in real life, either.
After 40 years on the air, in a soap-opera-worthy plot twist, All My Children has been cancelled, as has One Life to Live. I'm crushed. I just can't imagine life without Pine Valley. And I'm not alone. Many people have suggested that Oprah should pick up the show on her OWN network. Brilliant idea. I know she's a fan and even had a guest spot on the show in the '80s. (Just FYI, I refuse to link to the ABC press release about the cancellations because I will not watch or support their replacement "reality" shows. I have enough reality in my life. Give me back my melodrama.)
Things I've learned from All My Children:
- Even in the dead of winter, you should wear sleeveless dresses to look chic.
- Happily ever after does not make good drama.
- I wish, just once, I could deliver a full-face soap-opera slap.
- In the world of soaps, death is a relative condition.
- Every time I fret about how fast my children are growing up, I see a soap kid age 12 years in three months and I feel much better.
Feel free to confess your contempt on the topic or your own soap-opera guilty pleasures here in a comment.