The folks at ABC are finally going on the record as to why the ground-breaking same-sex storyline featured on the daytime drama One Life to Live was axed 3 months before it was meant to run its course. OLTL featured a very open, very honest love story between two male characters named Kyle Lewis and Oliver Fish (played by Brett Claywell and Scott Evans respectively). A few weeks ago, an announcement was made that the couple’s storyline would be hastily wrapped up and that the couple would be leaving the soap for good. ABC tried to downplay the move in light of the fact that it has already been decided that One Life to Live will end at the finish of this season and all of the storylines will have to be wrapped). But, in a statement released to TV Guide, ABC has admitted that the real reason the Kyle & Oliver storyline was axed was because the too gay storyline did not “appeal” to the US daytime audience:
One Life to Live’s landmark same-sex duo, Kyle Lewis (Brett Claywell) and Oliver Fish (Scott Evans), will abruptly exit the soap next week, amidst speculation that ABC dumped them due to complaints from homophobic viewers. The guys’ final scenes together air April 12, when Fish, who’s a cop, goes to court and wins custody of baby Sierra Rose. Kyle, a doctor, is seen just once more after that, on April 16, confirming some huge DNA news to Rex (John-Paul Lavoisier). None of the OLTL brass has been talking on the record about this controversial termination, which came three months before Claywell’s contract was due to expire. Claywell at least got official word from the show the day before the news broke. Evans, who is considered a recurring player and therefore not entitled to official notice, had to hear about his axing via Twitter. At first, ABC tried to play down the double firing in a press statement that trumpeted the Kish story for its boldness and its GLAAD awards, claiming that the couple did indeed resonate with the audience, and making it seem as if their story had simply played itself out and come to a natural conclusion. But, finally, we have some honesty and a little bit more clarity! In an exclusive statement to TV Guide Magazine, ABC Daytime PR chief Jori Petersen now says “The Kish story did not have the appeal we hoped it would. We are going to spend our time on stories that have a more favorable reaction from our audience.” Naturally, the situation has the Kishinistas apoplectic. “It’s the most angry and vocal fan reaction to a firing I’ve ever seen and a lot of it is coming from straight women,” says Jamey Giddens, editorial director of the popular Daytime Confidential Web site. “This goes far beyond the response we got when Days of Our Lives fired Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn.” Gay media, which applauded OLTL for its realistic and passionate depiction of men in love, is handling things way better than the fans. “Kish brought a lot of attention and energy to OLTL, so this is not a smart move from either a business or a karmic point of view,” observes AfterElton.com editor Michael Jensen. “Still, we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. ABC made history here. The network deserves credit for making a lot of progress.” Claywell seconds that emotion: “Pulling the story off the air is like taking two steps back but I don’t fault ABC,” the actor says. “The fact they let us tell this story at all is what’s important, and if I had to lose my job to get this on TV, then I’m proud of that. I’m just kinda sad and really sorry that there’s still so much fear and ignorance in our society. Maybe five years from now, this won’t happen to two other actors portraying this kind of story.” Claywell suspects the writing was on the wall back on December 30, 2009 when OLTL showed Kyle and Fish in the throes of lusty sex, a first for gay males on a daytime soap (if you don’t count that down-low guy and the psychotic hermaphrodite on Passions). ABC chose not to promote the event in advance, as if hoping not to alarm or infuriate viewers. “I was definitely hurt by that,” Claywell says. “We should have gotten a lot more attention for those groundbreaking scenes. For them to not tell anybody that we were about to make history makes me think the wheels were already in emotion to get rid of us” … The firing will leave CBS’ As the World Turns as the only soap with vital gay characters right now, and that has AfterElton’s Jensen noting a disconnect. “Isn’t the goal of the soaps—and really all programming—to lure younger viewers?” he asks. “Well, it’s the younger viewers who are just fine about seeing gay people on TV. They are much more tolerant than older viewers. They live in a world where diversity is increasing and is an accepted part of life.” Jensen adds that gay fans feel a sense of ownership when it comes to gay characters. “We have so few good representations out there that you become attached to the ones that do exist,” he says. “Obviously, we can’t demand that OLTL keep gay characters on its canvas. It’s their show, not ours. But we sure have a right to say ‘If you have no gay characters then you’re not doing your job when it comes to reflecting reality.’”
I don’t watch OLTL but I understand that while this honest love story was being told, another storyline was unfolding that involved fake same-sex relationship orchestrated to win an election … or some nonsense like that. I’m sure that confusion didn’t help matters. In the end, soap operas mainly appeal to an older audience that is not as accepting of new things as a younger audience might be. This is why the longest running daytime dramas revolved around age-old storylines that aren’t at all revolutionary … soap operas rarely rock the boat. I’ve been watching The Young and the Restless for years and while some gay characters are featured, they are never in the forefront, never central characters and their love affairs are never highlighted in any real way (The Bold and the Beautiful, which revolves around the world of fashion design, does not currently feature ANY gay characters at all). It does not surprise me that soap operas are dying … one by one. If they will not evolve and grow then they will surely all die out. In the end, I feel it’s for the best. The end of stagnant soap operas that choose to ignore a large segment of the population will only make way for more TV shows that feature the inclusion of all types of TV characters. I do commend One Life to Live for making a go of the Kish storyline. At the very least, daytime TV viewers got to see that same-sex love is really no different than heterosexual love. Love is love.