|Love of Life|
Main title card (1950s).
|Created by||Roy Winsor|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||~7,500|
|Running time||15 minutes (1951-1958)
30 minutes (1958-1962, 1969-1973, 1979-1980)
25 minutes (1962-1969, 1973-1979)
|Original run||September 24, 1951 – February 1, 1980|
Love of Life is a long-running American soap opera which was aired on CBS from September 24, 1951 to February 1, 1980. It was created by Roy Winsor, whose previous creation Search for Tomorrow had premiered three weeks before Love, and who would go on to create The Secret Storm two and a half years later.
Love was taped at several studios in New York City, but primarily at the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street and CBS' Studio 52 behind the Ed Sullivan Theatre. In 1975, the studio was moved to make way for a nightclub that would eventually become known as Studio 54. Until its final show in 1980, Love of Life was taped in Studio 44 at the CBS Broadcast Center.
Unlike most other soap operas, Love was originally not split up into segments dictated by commercial breaks. Because the show was owned by packaged-goods giant American Home Products and merely licensed to CBS, all commercials were for AHP brands, and occurred before or after the show. In the 1960s, one commercial break was allotted around the middle of the program, but this was mostly to allow affiliates to reconnect with the feed after airing local commercials. Love adopted the "five segments per half-hour" standard in the 1970s.
Love of Life began, as most other television serials of that era, as a 15-minute program, airing at 12:15 PM Eastern (11:15 AM Central). The program became so popular, though, that CBS expanded it to 30 minutes on April 14, 1958, moving it to Noon/11. During that period, Love generally placed in the ratings among the top six soaps in the 1950s and 1960s. This occurred despite CBS' trimming the show five minutes in order to accommodate a newscast on October 1, 1962.
By the late 1960s, however, Love's audience share had been eroded by NBC's Jeopardy!, which had become the second highest rated daytime game show behind Hollywood Squares (which served as Jeopardy!'s lead-in on the schedule at that time). In order to make room for a new in-house serial, Where the Heart Is, CBS moved Love ahead a half-hour on September 8, 1969, putting it against the Squares ratings juggernaut. Further, the show once again expanded to a full half-hour, only to lose its last five minutes again to CBS News on March 26, 1973; this may well have hurt the program's ability to compete against the top-rated NBC game (although Squares had a lead that would hold until the mid '70s when NBC began shuffling its timeslot). By this time, CBS had assumed production from the original packager, American Home Products, as it had The Secret Storm.
Despite the network canceling two in-house soaps (Love is a Many Splendored Thing and the aforementioned Where the Heart Is) in 1973 and Secret Storm in early 1974, Love managed to escape the chopping block for several more years due to a brief rise in the ratings in the mid-1970s, occasioned largely by the reintroduction of Meg to the storyline. Still, the momentum was not sustained (although it had climbed as high as 9th, above even General Hospital and One Life to Live in 1975-1976).
On April 23, 1979, CBS dealt Love a final ratings blow by moving the series to the 4 PM "death slot" that had opened when Match Game was canceled. Although the series was now thirty minutes in length again, the ratings plummeted due in large part to affiliates preempting the series to air other programming (which, beginning in September 1979, included a syndicated daily Match Game series that went head to head with Love in many markets). Within ten months, Love was canceled.
The original story was a morality play of good versus evil, illustrated by the interactions between two sisters, Vanessa Dale (originally Peggy McCay) and Meg Dale (originally Jean McBride, from 1951-1958). Vanessa (often referred to as "Van" for short) was "the good girl". She stood up for what was right in life and in her community. Meg was the schemer and all-around "bad" girl. While Van disapproved of Meg's actions, she still loved her and taught the audience the value of forgiveness. The show was painted black-and-white in this regard, which was evident in the tagline recited at the beginning of each of the earlier episodes: "Love of Life: The exciting story of Vanessa Dale and her courageous struggle for human dignity."
The show changed directions when the character of Meg was phased out and the show changed locales; first set in the fictional town of Barrowsville, it moved to Rosehill where it would remain for the rest of the show's run.
During this time, the actress who originated the role of Van (Peggy McCay) left the show and was replaced with actress Bonnie Bartlett(1955-1959). Bartlett was subsequently replaced by Audrey Peters, who played Van for the rest of the run (1959-1980). Peters had an unusual debut - Bartlett had played the role of Vanessa up to Vanessa's wedding day. The next day, when Vanessa walked down the aisle, Bruce Sterling raised Vanessa's veil and revealed Audrey Peters. Peters admitted that, during the wedding reception scenes afterward, she didn't know the names of all the characters that were interacting with Vanessa, so she called everyone "dear".
In the 1960s, most of the drama was focused on Van and her new marriage to Bruce Sterling (played by Ron Tomme). The late 1960s involved attempts to shake up the somewhat staid atmosphere through campus unrest and a return of Vanessa's first husband, who had been killed off in the mid-1950s. Vanessa divorced Bruce to reunite with her first husband, outraging many in the audience who could not accept their heroine getting a divorce.
The other major story of the late 1960s involved Tess Krakauer and Bill Prentiss, played by real-life couple Toni Bull Bua and Gene Bua. Tess and Bill had the perfunctory tortured love story, including separations, children, and murder trials, until Bill died of a "rare blood disease" in 1972 and Tess left town in 1973.
As ratings began to slide in the 1970s, Meg (now played by Tudi Wiggins, from 1974-1980) and her son Ben Harper were brought back to the show (Ben, now an adult, was most notably played by Christopher Reeve). Under the reins of critically acclaimed daytime writers Claire Labine and Paul Avila Mayer the show returned to the original "good Vanessa, bad Meg" theme. Meg used generally abusive language during one of the broadcasts when she called her son's newborn daughter, Suzanne, a "bastard", one of the first times that this word was spoken on daytime TV.
However, after Labine and Mayer left, the show lost the original intended focus. The grittier storylines that took over the show (one implied that Ben had been sodomized while he was in prison) were not warmly received by the audience, and the ratings dropped. The show was also challenged by its fringe timeslot: since the beginning, Love of Life had aired in the very late morning, and few soaps had been successful airing before Noon. The show's ratings had been respectable but middling in the 1950s and 1960s, but had dropped sharply as it entered the 1970s.
On April 23, 1979 Love of Life moved, for the first time, from midday to a mid-afternoon airing. At that time, the show had Jean Holloway as the head writer and her storylines, which were almost from the medium's early days, had not caught on with the audience and was considered one of the factors leading up to the end.
Love of Life ended its run abruptly on February 1, 1980 with a cliffhanger: after testifying in a trial, Betsy Crawford (Margo McKenna) collapsed as she was leaving the stand. No one knew what happened to her, mainly as the show was not picked up by another network. The final scene of the series was longtime director Larry Auerbach walking through the empty sets as Tony Bennett's "We'll Be Together Again" played in the background.