Prior to One Life to Live’s debut on July 15, 1968, most soap opera families tended to be salt of the earth white anglo-Saxon protestant types, happily residing in the midwest, sipping coffee, and suffering nobly. But that’s not the vision Agnes Nixon had for her new show.
For OLTL, Nixon was determined to showcase some diversity. Llanview, Pennsylvania had their blue-bloods, but they also had a Jewish family, a Polish family, a Black family, and a working-class Irish-Catholic family…the Rileys.
Viewers met Joe Riley and his sister, Eileen Riley Siegel. Eileen was part of one of soap’s first interfaith marriages. Her husband, Dave, was Jewish. And a lawyer. Joe’s lawyer. (Baby steps when it comes to stereotypes. Baby steps…)
On One Life to Live, Joe was a crusading newspaper reporter (see: baby steps when it comes to stereotypes, above). He first sparred with his assistant, one Victoria Lord (then played by Gillian Spencer, later to play Daisy on All My Children). Then he fell in love with her. Then he dealt with all of Viki’s split personalities. Then he married her. Then they had children. Then Joe died.
Viki (now Erika Slezak) and Joe’s first-born son was named Kevin — because, according to Joe, “he has the whole map of Ireland all over his face.” Their second son was Joe Jr. AKA Joey (Firefly and Castle’s Nathan Fillion was his best-known portrayer). Both boys were eventually adopted by Viki’s subsequent husband, Clint Buchanan (Clint Ritchie/Jerry ver Dorn), and their ethnicity was changed from Irish to Texan.
Eileen had a son, Tim (The Big Chill and Platoon’s Tom Berrenger was his best-known portrayer). Tim dropped out of law school to become a construction worker (and the clichés keep coming). He also married an ex-nun, Jenny Wolek. And promptly died within the hour. God — some God, maybe both — clearly was not amused by that.
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