ABC Daytime's One Life to Life, a series with more creative energy coursing through it than much of what passes for bigger-budget Primetime fare, won't breathe its last until January 13, but the show is already giving itself a grand send-off with a storyline that has shaken many of its characters to the core. This week, amid their ongoing dramas and traumas -- currently including a murder mystery, amnesia and a teen pregnancy -- the residents of fictional Llanview, PA, received bad news that momentarily eclipsed everything that was happening in their lives: Their favorite soap opera -- the long-running Fraternity Row -- has been cancelled.
At first blush, it may appear that this brilliant bit of reflexive storytelling is being played for laughs, especially because it has so many of the show's adult characters in tizzies of varying intensity. After all, Fraternity Row is just a TV show (or in this case a show-within-a-show), right? Not really. Apparently it's as important to the fictional characters on OLTL as OLTL is to the real people who watch it. There is nothing funny about the end of a soap opera, especially one that has entertained millions of people on a daily basis over the course of five decades. It leaves those people just a little bit less interested in broadcast television and a little less apt to commit to something else that might be taken away from them. It is also a terrible loss for the dozens of hard-working people in front of and behind the cameras.
The reactions by many OLTL characters to the end of Fraternity Row have been priceless. Perhaps it's because news of the show's cancellation hit -- on the cover of Soap Opera Weekly, no less -- just after the shocking revelation that Brandon and Brianna, Fraternity Row's hottest young couple, were actually brother and sister. This stunning plot turn left its fictional viewers more riveted than ever by their beloved soap and certain that its ratings would rise.
One of the most interesting aspects of this story is that many male OLTL characters have been outed as closet soap fans who watch their shows on different platforms, just like the many men in real life who are rarely included in formal audience measurement for daytime dramas.
This column continues over at MediaPost.