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Maggie Quale Headshot

Save Our Soaps!

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Most of you reading this probably don't know that the real Todd Manning finally just returned to Llanview after eight years of being held captive by his diabolical mother. Or that his twin brother Victor -- who until a few months ago was also presumed to be the real Todd Manning -- is not dead, but rather is secretly being held hostage by an equally diabolical Allison Perkins.

But to the millions of devoted One Life to Live fans, the preposterous plot-twists and over-the-top acting are part of our identities. A part that ended abruptly in January after a 44-year run on ABC. For anyone who's fallen in love with the heroine of a two-hour movie or reread a favorite novel for the fourth time, try to imagine the bond created by watching a show five days a week, every single week, for 20, 30 or even 40 years.

You probably thought only your 90-year-old granny still watched soap operas, right?

In 2011, 7.5 million people watched soaps in the U.S., a fraction of the glory years, but still an enviable following as network ratings decline across the board. To give you some perspective that's roughly the amount The Oprah Winfrey Show averaged in its own heyday.

Good riddance, you say. Farewell to predictable dialogue and cheesy love scenes. So long to Friday cliffhangers and histrionic daytime divas. Soap operas have had their 15 minutes of fame and should skulk away into the shadows like Vaudeville and silent film and Lindsay Lohan.

And while the most reasonable thing would be to set my DVR to something else and get on with my now dystopic TV-watching life, I find that I can't simply walk away.

Like countless other fans I took my post-traumatic-stress to Facebook, seeking out scarred viewers like myself. And I found them. Hundreds of thousands of fans swarming together online, seeking solace and preparing for battle.

You see, a war is on to bring soaps back from the dead. Fans are mobilizing to convince ABC to return the creative rights of One Life to Live and All My Children to creator Agnes Nixon so that they may live on somewhere else. I suppose it's apropos irony that the soaps themselves are now being held captive, because despite fans' pleas, despite other networks and production houses attempting to purchase the programs, for now our beloved Pine Valley and Llanview families are being held hostage, permanently.

ABC says it simply wants out of the soap business. In 2011, All My Children and One Life to Live were cancelled and General Hospital is expected to disappear later this year. Also this month, Disney (ABC's parent company) will phase out SOAPNet, the only niche cable channel for soaps. The network claims talk-shows, reality-TV, and self-help programming are the future and scripted shows a dying breed.

And while the past decade has seen soaps giving up the ghost across all major networks, One Life to Live's cancellation was for some reason different, a deal-breaker. Fans are saying, enough is enough. It's the first time a soap's cancellation has been met by not only sorrow and frustration, but downright defiance too. Fans have essentially refused to accept the network's decision, vowing to bring the show back if it takes months or even years.

Because fans argue that soaps aren't dying -- they're being murdered. ABC admits to having jumped on the reality-TV bandwagon because it's cheaper to produce, not because fans have abandoned scripted shows. And unlike ABC's primetime dramas Desperate Housewives or Revenge, its daytime dramas are rarely cross-advertised to prospective audiences. Fans also point to archaic ratings systems that don't accurately reflect contemporary viewing methods such as DVR and watching online, a much higher percentage for shows aired during the day while most viewers work.

When news of the cancellations hit last April soap fans sprang to action. Dozens of Facebook groups sprouted overnight, launching letter-writing and Twitter campaigns, barraging ABC and its sponsors with phone calls, appealing to celebrities for support, and urging fellow fans to boycott ABC's replacement shows and, for many, the network itself entirely. For some that meant switching their longtime local news station. Others gave up Dancing with the Stars after following it religiously since season one.

There are currently 100 groups with 150,000 active members, a significant number considering purportedly only five percent of fans seek out soap-related info on social media sites.

A key campaign is founding a new cable soap channel, an agnostic all-sudz station that would be a safe haven for all soaps, new and old, regardless of network affiliation. Fans have collected thousands of signatures, all willing to pay a monthly fee for the new channel.

Activists have already made good on a promise to boycott One Life to Live's replacement, The Revolution. So far the ratings speak for themselves. The Revolution is down nearly 50 percent from One Life to Live and rumored to be on the chopping block after only two months. Not surprisingly, last week Katie Couric publicly asked ABC not to debut her upcoming talk-show in General Hospital's timeslot, fearing poor lead-in ratings from The Revolution and a boycott from angry soap fans.

And since no conversation about soap operas would be complete without the obligatory surprise plot-twist, here goes: The biggest resistance isn't coming from the networks; it's coming from the public, legions of hard-core soap haters who are just as thrilled to see soaps die a swift, decisive death, as the fans are to revive them.

It's a strange phenomenon, considering fans of many genres have a proud history of rallying to save programs, from cult icon Star Trek to the ever-controversial animated hit Family Guy. And while non-fans might not care whether they succeed, you rarely find people hoping they fail or, worse yet, laughing at them for even trying.

Guess what? We fans know soap operas are cheesy. It's not some big secret. I spend half my time laughing at the show and the other half crying with the storylines. We love it because of the drama, the absurdity, and the tacky nuance that are tropes of this genre.

So like it or not, we fans will continue waging our war on two fronts: battling the dated stereotype that says "soap opera-activist" is an oxymoron and fighting to resurrect the deceased shows we still love (cheesy or not).

After all, if there's one lesson we've learned from decades of watching, when it comes to a soap opera, nothing is ever really dead.

If you want to help, visit www.savethesoapgenre.com, a newly launched website offering fans daily campaign tasks and links to Facebook groups.