I admit it. I've always been a closet soap opera nut. Whether it was Luke and Laura, Cliff and Nina, or Tad and Dixie, I knew and loved them all.
It started when I was little and my mother and I would tune in to As The World Turns together. We watched as some of the hottest actors in Hollywood -- such as Meg Ryan, Marisa Tomei and Julianne Moore -- got their starts. Later we bonded over the trials and tributions of the spitfire Reva Shayne on Guiding Light. My mother called these programs her "stories." I called them sheer escapism. After I left home, I began a love affair with All My Children while in college that lasted -- off and on -- until 2011, when the show was axed.
Bizarrely, I moved in 2009 to Montclair, New Jersey, a place about 30 minutes from Manhattan that's home to many a soap opera star. Imagine my surprise when -- shortly after my move -- I bumped into the amazingly talented Kim Zimmer, who played that spitfire Reva Shayne as well as Echo DiSavoy on One Life To Live, at one of my favorite cafes around the corner from my house. When I nearly chocked on my sandwich, I'm sure my companion thought I was insane.
Later, my neighbors told me they knew of all sorts of soap opera stars who currently live -- or who have lived -- in Montclair. Among them are Vincent Irizarry, who played Dr. David Hayward on All My Children; Eva LaRue, who played Maria Santos on All My Children and who later became a regular on CSI: Miami; and Jake Weary, who played Luke Snyder on As The World Turns. Justin Deas, or Buzz Cooper on Guiding Light, is married to Margaret Colin, who played Margo Montgomery Hughes on As The World Turns and Eleanor Waldorf-Rose on Gossip Girl. The two moved to Montclair in the late 1990s.
So what is it about soap operas that has always captivated me? Mostly I've loved the incredibly complex relationships among characters that are defined and redefined, over and over again, for years on end. I grew intimately acquainted with All My Children's Erica Kane -- played by Susan Lucci from 1970 to 2011 -- as she went from being a bratty, selfish, status-conscious vixen to a funny and witty powerhouse that everyone rooted for. I'll never forget the storyline that had Erica's daughter on the show, Bianca, coming out as a lesbian. Initially, Erica had a hard time accepting the revelation -- this storyline aired several years ago -- but eventually she did, and the two formed a strong bond.
When I worked from home, an hour-long soap opera kept me company while I ate lunch. And I have always liked the fact that soap operas require some patience. Whereas TV shows today usually present a challenge in the first few minutes that's tidily resolved by the end of the program, soap operas delay gratification. It took more than 20 years for the on-again, off-again love affair between Tad and Dixie on All My Children to finally end on a happily-ever-after note. Indeed, it is unusual in soap operas to have a rapid wrap-up of a storyline, or for a story to impact only a few characters. Usually, a convoluted storyline weaves together with other convoluted storylines, effecting many different characters.
And, oh, what characters there have been! David Canary, Michael Zaslow and Michael E. Knight, just to name a few. Soap opera actors are some of the most talented actors around, people with the ability to memorize mountains of material and to perform many hours a week on camera.
I was heartbroken as I watched networks pull the plug on one soap opera after another over the last few years in the face of steadily declining ratings. When Guiding Light was canceled in 2009 after more than 70 years on radio and television, I, for one, truly believed the genre was a dead one. But now daytime soaps such as All My Children and One Life To Live are being reborn online, with shows set to start April 29 and many of my favorite actors agreeing to reprise their earlier roles. (Lucci is still trying to make up her mind.)
Fans will be able to view the latest 30-minute episodes of the two shows online via the free service Hulu.com and on Hulu Plus for those with connected TVs, as well as on various mobile devices.
Will people watch? I have no idea. But for many die-hard fans, the return of soaps will be like the return of an old friend. And, after all, the prime-time soap Dallas returned successfully to TV after a hiatus lasting more than 20 years.
Unfortunately, my schedule will no longer allow me to watch soap operas the way I used to. But every once in awhile I'm sure I will still yearn to escape to the fictitious towns of Oakdale or Springfield or Pine Valley. I will long to get a peek of Erica getting married one more time or of one of my other favorite characters getting yanked back once again from the great beyond. Yes, I'm sure I'll tune in.
After all, when I bump into Michael O'Leary -- or Dr. Rick Bauer on Guiding Light -- as I have so often these past few years in Montclair, I still can't help but think about those times -- ages ago -- when he attempted a kidnapping, assaulted his closest friend, and kept quiet about the fact that the child Beth was carrying was not his.
Ah, those were the days.