Deep Soap: ‘One Life to Live’s’ Hillary Smith & Robert Woods on Show’s Move to OWN

Hillary Smith (Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

OWN issued a press release Wednesday stating that, beginning on July 15, the first 40 episodes of revived soaps “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” would be airing on the network. It was quite a reversal from a year and a half ago when fans lobbied Oprah Winfrey to bring the then-canceled soaps to her fledgling cable network. She responded with an online video stating, in part, that, “Believe me, if there was a dime left to be made from [soaps] on broadcast television, it would still be happening… I will not be taking on the responsibility of trying to revive an institution that for all intent and all purposes indicates that [the] time has come for them to be over.” Her speech was even parodied during the final episodes of OLTL’s ABC run, when Clint (Jerry Ver Dorn) used the same words to explain why he could not save the show’s soap-within-a-soap, “Fraternity Row.”

But then OWN’s line-up of self-help programs tanked. The mighty Oprah had to change course. She bought a sitcom and a prime-time soap opera from Tyler Perry. That soap, “The Haves and the Have Nots” quickly became the network’s biggest hit. Tuesday, she ordered 15 more episodes for an unheard-of-in-prime-time 30-episode season. Then she made her big announcement. I’ve read some Tweets calling her a hypocrite. In my opinion, admitting you made a mistake and rectifying it is not a bad thing. She obviously realized that she misjudged the taste of the American public and decided to shift the direction of her network. It will undoubtedly bring more viewers to AMC and OLTL, as well as making the shows more profitable. Good for her.

Two OLTL stars, Bob Woods (Bo) and Hillary Smith (Nora) agree. When I asked them about the show’s move to OWN during a conference call for reporters, they celebrated the show’s return to television, admitting that it feels good to prove the naysayers wrong.

“It means a lot to me,” said Woods, “because I know that Oprah used to watch the show many, many years ago. When I first met her she was doing the local Chicago AM talk show and she was so excited because she’d watched ‘One Life’ for so long. I think it’s great. Maybe somebody who doesn’t have a computer, hopefully, they have cable and they can watch it, too.”

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Smith concurred. “It’s really nice especially with “All My Children” going into a 1 p.m. timeslot, which was its timeslot [on ABC], and then we’re going to the 3 p.m. timeslot, which is typical for the “General Hospital” time but they’re now at 2 p.m., so we’re not going to be competing against them. But we are taking over that timeslot where people are looking for that daytime soap. They really still are. For those people that don’t have Internet, they like that habit. They like going back to their television set. I think it’s wonderful to have both platforms working. It covers all the bases. Then everyone who wants to see it can actually access it now.”

Full Episodes of “One Life to Live” Are Available Here on xfinityTV

Woods had a feistier take on OLTL’s new competition. “I’m glad we’re taking the three o’clock timeslot because of what the bad [ABC] deal was, which was that they were going to save network timeslots from the demise of soap operas, which were passé. So I’m glad it’s three o’clock and poor Katie Couric [whose talk show “Katie” airs at 3 p.m.] — I hope we bury her.”

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“I think it’s justified,” agreed Smith. “People were saying, ‘It’s old, it’s done.’ No, it’s not. People are watching it. They want to watch it. They know it’s going to bring eyeballs to OWN. It helps bring eyeballs back to The Online Network. I think it’s the resurgence of people [who] want their stories. They want their family. They want it. They always wanted it. For some reason, everyone decided they had to reinvent the wheel. Well, guess what. The wheel is round and it works best when it’s round.”

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Neither actor holds Oprah’s earlier words against her. Said Woods, “It’s dollars and cents. I don’t think she was ready to take over the whole production. Actually, my Dad always said, “Hey, as rotten as it gets, everything happens for the best. You’re going to leave this unpleasant thing at least learning something.” And it’s gone full circle. I think the fact that we’re on the Internet now, I think that’s probably the future of the way people get their entertainment. I’m sure it’s all going to link together at one time and it’s going to have a lot to do with Internet and less to do with broadcast television.”

“I agree with Wood,” said Smith. “For Oprah, at the time, to take on the production and the cost of it, it was prohibitive. But to syndicate it is something else and I think it’s going to help her network. We’re thrilled that she’s doing it. I think she’s going to be thrilled that she did it. Also, it’s not dead. And the way it ended with ABC, I think it left everyone thinking that it was dead. We had a year to regroup, rethink, and recast the show in a new way, and I think that also made it new and exciting and something to be looked at. So I take my hat off to [executive producer] Jennifer [Pepperman], [“All My Children” producer] Ginger [Smith], [TOLN executives] Jeff Kwatinetz and Rich Frank because they have reinvented “One Life to Live” in a younger, hip way and have still kept all of the favorites and are telling a good story.”

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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