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Erika Slezak Looks Back on 40 Years As Viki on 'One Life to Live'

by Michael Maloney, posted Apr 27th 2011 10:00AM
Erika SlezakThere really aren't words to describe what Erika Slezak must be feeling these days. The revered star, who has won six Outstanding Lead Actress Daytime Emmys for her iconic role as Victoria Lord Banks on 'One Life to Live,' is celebrating her 40th anniversary in Llanview this year.

Of course, like fans of the genre everywhere, the legendary actress is dealing with the news that ABC has canceled the long-running soap opera. "Please tell all our fans how deeply sorry I am to be losing this wonderful show that has so much heart and so much life," the actress said in a statement after the cancellation news was announced. "I will miss my work, my friends, my 'OLTL' family so very much. I consider this to be a terrible loss to the television community and especially to the New York community."

Today, the soap is honoring Slezak's 40 years of service with a special Viki-themed episode. It's one that fans will want to record and keep forever.

AOL TV spoke with the actress about her anniversary shortly before the cancellation news was announced, and she joyfully reflected on what 'OLTL' has meant to her. For starters, it certainly doesn't seem like 40 years have gone by.

"I sometimes still feel the same way that I did when I first walked into the studio 40 years ago -- young and not knowing what I was doing," she said. "Now, I know what I'm doing, but I can not believe that amount of time has gone by. There have been so many stories and so many people I've worked with."

AOL TV: Do fans tell you what was going on in Viki's life when they started watching? By the way, I started watching just before Joey was born.
Erika Slezak: [Laughs] Yes. They do. Generally, that happens.

What is it about serialized storytelling that creates that sense of intimacy?
People watch us because they want to see how the lives of these characters will unfold. I, myself, got hooked on 'General Hospital' years ago. I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next to Tracy or Luke and Laura. It's like when you're reading a well-put-together novel. You don't want it to end. ['OLTL' creator] Agnes Nixon created a core group of wonderful, warm and interesting people.

Erika SlezakDifferent writing regimes come in and tinker with history. Fans recall Dorian [then played by Nancy Pinkerton, now Robin Strasser] watch Victor Lord die in the mid-'70s.
She did! She watched him -- a la 'The Little Foxes' -- until he was so far gone that she knew there was no saving him. I think he had a stroke, a heart attack, and then a stroke and then was in a coma and then died. So yes, it was her fault.

And then, head writer Michael Malone came in almost 20 years later and re-wrote that one of Viki's alters actually killed Victor. How do you handle that?
You go along with it. There's nothing in my contract that says I have a say in story. I'm hired to play what they write. What [Michael] actually did was he had Tori, Viki's alter, go in and smother Victor with a pillow with Dorian watching from the bathroom. The weird thing was when [Victor] popped up alive [in 2003] wanting Jessica's heart.

Viki's scariest alter has to be icy, emotionless Jean Randolph.
Oh, yes. Jean has no emotion. She's practical. She's the one who says, "Yes, we will do this. No, we will not do that." She's the part of all of us that puts aside emotion and puts aside any kind of feelings. She has no guilt, no regrets. She does what needs to be done. That's fun to play because you can say the most horrible things to people. She doesn't care!

The show recently threw a surprise party on set to celebrate your anniversary. Were you surprised?
Yes. I had no idea. There was a notice at the studio saying there was a St. Patrick's Day party. I thought, "That's really nice." David Coleman, our guard and "mayor of Llanview," said, "Oh, that's interesting. A party on your anniversary." I said, "No, David. They'd tell me."

[Later] I saw everyone standing there. I was speechless, which for me is kind of unusual. It was incredibly sweet. I was more than touched. I was in tears. So many people were in a video tribute to me in including Agnes, Bob Woods [Bo] and Nathan Fillion [ex-Joey].

Nathan always speaks fondly of his time on daytime and, sadly, you don't always get that from alumni.
No, you don't. He's a lovely guy. He always comes by to say hello when he's in New York. He's a super guy.

The actors who play your children must learn a great deal from you.
I hope so. I know that we get along brilliantly. I love them dearly. I wish Dan Gauthier would come back permanently as Kevin. Now we have Tom Degnan playing Joey. Melissa Archer [Natalie] and Bree Williamson [Jessica] are wonderful young actresses and so completely different, which is great. They're all terrific.

Erika Slezak, One Life to LiveCreatively, the show is in such great shape right now.
Frank [Valentini, 'OLTL's' executive producer] is awesome. He cares so much and he does so much. He goes home with mountains of scripts. He's on conference calls. I don't know when he sleeps! He understands the business of television. He knows what people want to see and knows how to present it to them. He is very smart.

College kids used to schedule their classes around their favorite soaps and gather in student unions to watch them together. Today's 'OLTL' is just as great as ever. Where has the audience gone?
When I started on the show, we had four or five channels. We now have 500. Our whole world has become so fickle. People have so many choices. Ours is a very special medium. People will say they didn't watch for a while and then they come back and it doesn't take long to get caught up again. It's very hard to tell who's watching because of all the recording and people who watch on SOAPnet.

It's unfortunate they can't seem to accurately record who's watching because I suspect the numbers are much higher.
I think so. A lot of people watch, but they don't have Nielsen boxes.

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i have been watching ONE LIFE TO LIVE from day one some times i watch the same show over i think its a disgrace to take it off the airbad enought you take ALL MY CHILDREN now another one what next GENERAL HOSPITAL don,t think you realize how many watch and record ed it every day . this stupit reality shows and cooking shows should go first bring back our soaps . gess i will half to go to another station watch the other soaps just watch general hospital on ABC. this has me very up set i grew up with thes showstheir was so many things you could of tutch on please think again bring them back

January 17 2012 at 5:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am 46 and have watched one life to live and all my children since I was a kid. I'm devastated by this news. I work so I dvr my soaps every day. I think ABC is making a big mistake and I hope they change their minds. Many of my friends also dvr these two shows. So they can't really tell how many viewers that they have but I bet it is millions. One live to live is my favorite. I will be so sad to see it cancelled and for you to leave.
One of your best fans
Kathy Duncan

May 19 2011 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I haven't been around for almost 2 months due to family issues. I come home and am excited to catch up with OLTL (which has been "my show" since I was 4 and watching with my Grannie) to find that it's being canceled?

And they intend to replace it with boring food shows? How stupid.

I sure hope they put the ENTIRE show on DVD- I'd LOVE to watch from the start!!! I'm crying now.

May 06 2011 at 9:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Is the compensation for a soap actress better overall than that of a film star?

April 28 2011 at 6:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Erika is very good in her role. I love this show. If I miss it on ABC, then I watch it on SoapNet at night. This is going to put a very big hole in my viewing. As long as Young and Restless, General Hospital and Days of our Lives is on, I will keep the cable box. However, if they are all axed, then I will return the box and reduce my cable bill. The only other reason for the box is the Game Show Network and they have added some stupid shows with Jerry Springer, Victoria Williams, and Drew Carey that I care nothing for - and also the one who is now doing Newlywed Game as well. So that channel can go too. I wish something would save our soaps but apparently nothing is going to. Happy job hunting to the cast.

April 28 2011 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hayley's Mother

I am very upset! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?? Many write about how upset they are by ABC'S CANCELLATION of our soaps and they preceed to write about how they tape their shows and enjoy them in prime time as there is nothing else to watch at night and they enjoy the soaps. BUT THEN THEY STUPIDLY WRITE SOMETHING LIKE, but I haven't watched the show since the early 90's...and I THINK ....IDIOT, YOU ARE GIVING ABC
exactly yje AMMO they are using to JUSTIFY that 1)Soaps are too costly 2)People aren't watching like they used to and 3) The time has come and gone!! I CAN ARGUE EACH POINT AS I AM STILL WATCHING EVERY DAY, JUST THE SAME AS I HAVE SINCE I WAS a 9 yearold...I AM NOW 49 years old and I still watch every day. I watched after school and after work and now I watch using my dvr. I HOPE THAT THE DVR COUNTS IN THE RATINGS, BUT I TEND TO THINK NOT. I LOVE MY SOAPS AND I WISH THAT MILLIONS WOULD COME OUT FOR THE SOAPS!WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO TO SAVE OUR SOAPS???

April 28 2011 at 4:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My mother used to watch all three, then stoped Gh becouse of the blodd and gore, mobby, kids shotting kids, killing, none of that was her idea of a soap that takes you away from reality for a time and I whole heartedly agree. In theese days of school shotings, wars, horable disaters around the world, people want more than ever to see a family. Yes it's dysfunctional, but they are the alternative family that has been around for 40 years. I watched them with my mother at times, in collage, When I had my children, and again now when I like many lost my job, and have serious health issues. These two shows, AMC, and OLTL, are a time capsel, that doesn't stay stuck in time. aplace to go to have a fantasy family , yes there have been times I didn't like the polts, or the changes in charaters, who out there was happy when Laura went away? Luke and Laura the modern day fariy tale. Those who decided to cancel these shows will end up oseing their jobs for the bigest mistake they ever made. Sometimes thare are tings more inportant than money, and ratings, this is one of them. Like many have said, I will not be watching the ridiculous replacements. I doubt any new people out there will be watching such shows at that time. Both cabble and broadcast TV is strangling itself, trying to save money with the reality shows and the hour long adverts. Good thing DVDS are everywhere and streamed movies with out comurtioals are around to replace, no not replace but help somewhat, to have something to watch. The CEO's and their unsatable demand for huge sums of money and refusal to cut back as many in America have done will do them in the end. Saddly they have to put so many out of work and leave us viewers with out out fantasy family, so familar to us and so loved, before the CEO's relise their mistake. Don't forget what happened to the ones who canceled Star Trek! They lost out on loyaltiy and money. Those that killed these two shows will do the same. On their death beds they will look back and think, we should never have canceled OLTL, and AMC. Aloa and Kudus to Erika Slezac and all the familes.

April 28 2011 at 3:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Pamela's comment

Sorry for the many typos I try to catch them, I have nerve damage in my arms and hands, they push any key if I don't go slow and watch every key stroke, sorry. Hope you can get the gist and accolades I wish to give to these two shows. The measure of my dislike for those who canceled these AMC & OLTL.

April 28 2011 at 3:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I also am sadden about the cancelation of my ABC soaps. Like most I watched them as a youngster WAY back in the days before VCRs and Tivos when they they were B&W and 30 minutes long. I admit it Dark Shadows was my favorite back then, the only one I could catch with any reguality since is came on just as school let out, if I ran I could catch the last 10 minutes. High school came, time was taken up with other things, but with summer out in the yard "sunning" with a radio that picked up TV waves listening to my soaps. College and later motherhood and Thank Goodness ABC was the only channel our small midwestern college town got without, the we can't afford that luxary, cable. Fast forward a few years to a major move west and the early years of unregulated Satellite viewing. I now lived on the west coast, a stay at home mom and the huge, ugly 12 foot dish out there was allowing me to catch my soaps on the east coast feed live. When channels figured out how to "scramble" signals it was back to the west coast feed and making use of my VCR. Living out in the Boonies no cable company wanted to touch our little neck of the woods, hence the old fashion satilite dish, but time marched on, the dish became problematic and the cable company was forced to run wires our way. YES finally Soapnet but of course my cable system DID NOT carry it . So still making use of the VCR. Kids grown, in college and the greatest gift of all, my son gives to me a TIVO. Set it, forget it and watch a whole week in one sitting.... YES!!!! Now that I have my soaps availble whenever I want they are being canceled.

The moral to this tale is with few exceptions, I rarely watched my soaps Live, radio, satilite, VCR and now TIVO were ways I managed to get my soaps over the years. I'm sure none were counted by the all important Neilson bean counters, but I did everything in my power to watch my soaps. In the end my viewership and loyalty to the brand doesn't seem to matter to TPTB.

As many have stated once the ABC soaps are gone my viewership of the ABC brand will drop considerably. Not out of of some need to boycott, but because it's programs are not worth my time. Currently the 3 soaps, Desperate, Dancing, and Castle (who's lead actor learned his craft on an ABC soap no less) hold my interest. The major networks have a fatal flaw, money greedy and cancel happy, so I don't normally bother watching a new show, it's usually gone after to 2-3 episodes anyway. If the networks do not care enough to give a new show a chance to find an audience then why should I?

When it comes to new shows the cable networks always win out. They normally give a show the whole season to find itself and in almost cases a renewal for the next season. Mephis Beat, Rizzoli & Isles, Sparticus, Burn Notice, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Psych, White Collar, Royal Pains, In Plain Sight, Covert Affairs, Eureka, Haven, ok even Pretty Little Liars... the list is endless check some non network shows out.

April 28 2011 at 3:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Guys, stop saying you have watched it for years. That only lets them know that you are old and unfortunately old does not count in the demographics. We must move on as nothing is considered for people over 49. Even when they screen movies, you have to be under 49. We have more money but are more conscious of how we spend it.. Young people throw money away like water and that is who they want to advertise to.

April 28 2011 at 3:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Barbara Mayer

I watched One Life to Live almost 40 years ago and Erika Slezak has not aged at all. Wish the same were true for me! LOL

April 28 2011 at 2:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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