The lives of the Lords, Woleks, Buchannans and Cramer families dominated the city of Llanview for a 43 year run, and unlike its sister city of Pine Valley, PA, Llanview was grounded in more reality even with a few bizarre plot lines. I call this ABC's closest in quality to NBC's "Another World", with former "AW" head writer Agnes Nixon moving on from that Proctor and Gamble show to create this. Although she had written the bible for "All My Children" first, her passionate love for the study of human relationships began with this show which crossed not only class and race issues, but religion as well. There were Catholics, Protestants and Jews, and even a story-line where a young black woman (the beautiful Ellen Holly) pretended to be an Italian American so she could be accepted in society. Holly's Carla (real name Clara) was one of two dominant original female characters, and had a major part in the show's critical success. Tony Winning actress Lillian Hayman was outstanding as her hard-working mother. Political upheaval on the show in the mid 1980's saw the write-out of these characters in a rather cruel way, especially for Hayman who was literally fired in a parking lot.
The heart and soul of the show for 43 years was the character of Victoria Lord, a complex young woman who was eventually revealed to be suffering from a split personality and dealt with secrets from her childhood for the show's entire run. Fans were thrilled by her long rivalry with the former Dr. Dorian Cramer (most notably played by Emmy Winner Robin Strasser) which often crossed the line into occasional friendship when the characters would make amends for hurts of the past. As played by Erika Slezak for 40 years, the character was complex in every detail, and she would go onto win more Emmys than any other actress on the soaps.
For the first decade, Vicki was part of the super-couple pairing with Joe Riley, although that term didn't become widely used until years after Joe died. Her later relationship with Clint Buchannan (Clint Ritchie, Jerry Ver Dorn) pretty much surpassed it. The first decade of the show was traditional class conflict soap, with Carla and her major love interest, Police Lt. Ed Hall (veteran stage actor Al Freeman Jr.) providing one of the few black couples on daytime. (Sister soap "AMC" was the only other, with Nancy and Frank Grant equally as popular as Carla and Ed.) "OLTL" got some major publicity when it cast two ousted "AW" stars, George Reinholt and Jacqueline Courtney, who at least for a time also dominated the airwaves.
By the late 1970's, daytime was changing, and a "Dallas" type story began with the introduction of the Buchannan family, lead by veteran movie actor Philip Carey as the ruthless J.R. Ewing like patriarch and Robert S. Woods remaining for decades as his younger son, Bo. The mob infiltrated Llanview for a while, and Judith Light's Karen Wolek became the miserable long suffering character that fans tuned into see cry and emote every day. Light deservedly won two Emmy's before moving into prime-time. I started watching in late 1981 when the show had a masked ball that lasted for a month, with Asa's supposedly dead wife, Olympia (stage and screen vet Taina Elg) revealing her husband's evil deeds. A great story-line had Bo involved with old enemies of his father's, the Ralston clan, whom he thought for a while was his real family. "Dark Shadows" vet Grayson Hall provided real camp as the scheming Euphemia Ralston, with the gorgeous Shelley Burch as her sexpot daughter Delila who married both Asa and Bo, then ended up happy with Asa's nephew, Rafe.
The story-line headed back to its roots for a while with the blue collar O'Neill family, but later went into "Dynasty" territory with the introduction of the wealthy Sanders family, featuring a scene- stealing performance by Lois Kibbee as the wealthy matriarch, with Louise Sorel going from scheming Augusta on "Santa Barbara" to the noble Judith, a victim of anti-Semitic comments from her mother-in-law Elizabeth (Kibbee). After the Sanders family faded out, wealthy Michael Grande (Dennis Parlato) became another temporary villain, later replaced by mobster Carlo Hesser (Thom Christopher) who had a rivalry with Asa over Asa's wife, Renee (Patricia Elliott). The schemes of Dorian continued, as did those of Vicki's sister, Tina Clayton and the psychotic Alex Olanov who ended up marrying both Carlo and Asa.
As the show buckled with current soap trends that went far out from the world of reality, they did add two families to add diversity to the show-the Hispanic Vega's and the black Gannon's. Secrets of Vicki's long dead father Victor continued to come to light, such as the revelation that bad boy Todd Manning was another one of his illegitimate offspring and that Victor had molested Vicki as a child which lead to her killing him in 1976, a crime that was often thought to have been committed by Dorian. Slezak's number of alters increased, and her gut wrenching performance was perhaps the most spellbinding single performance since Karen Wolek's confession on the stand in court back in 1980.
The last years of the show had its convoluted moments, but was highlighted by the comical malapropisms from Ilene Kristen's Roxie who had audiences in stitches. Returns of former actors long gone from the show such as Kim Zimmer's Echo Di Savoy and Roscoe Borne's Mitch Lawrence kept the show's history continuously explored, although the mystery of who the real Todd Manning was when two actors who played the part ended up on screen together. Returns of the dead by Victor Lord and Irene Manning were panned, but the mixing of young actors with the veterans kept the audience intrigued. ABC announced that it was canceling both "AMC" and "OLTL" on the same day, but both shows later went briefly onto the web.