S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: Before we begin, this episode contains references to sexual assault. On a dark, foggy night in 1994 on the soap opera One Life to Live, a police car blows a tire on a deserted two lane highway. It swerves across the median and sends an oncoming sedan plunging off the road. You’re in the wrong place. After bashing its way down a steep hillside, the sedan skids to a precariously balanced, teetering halt. Hey. Inside the car are two children and the young woman you just heard who’s named Marty Seabrook Mara legs are bruised and bleeding and any time the younger child moves, the car jerks violently forward. They’re helpless and stuck moments away from plummeting to a fiery end, and then Marty Sparks help

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S3: coming down the hill in the back. I can’t move.

S2: But when the cop appears into the driver’s side window, Marty recoils. Oh, yeah.

S3: No, no.

S2: Marty knows this man. And though he’s wearing a uniform, he is not a police officer. He’s Todd Manning.

S3: Her rapist is less than a year ago, a year ago that you and your frat brothers raped me.

S4: I didn’t exactly write it down on my tape of

S2: Todd Manning had arrived on one life to live as a villain, the malevolent, sneering football player who leads his two fraternity brothers in the brutal gang rape of Marty Seabrook Roger. Since the rape, there’s been a trial, a mistrial, a prison sentence, a jailbreak, a hostage taking, a near drowning and numerous additional attacks all leading up to Todd’s apprehension. He was being taken to prison when the police car he was in blew a tire causing this very crash. He stole one of the officers uniforms and headed out into the night. Todd’s on the run. If he stops to help Marty and her passengers, he’ll be arrested again.

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S3: Hurry up. Help them while you can drive.

S2: Todd can continue being the villain. He can abandon the woman he raped. Let her and the kids die, or he can do something heroic. Sacrifice his freedom to save their lives. In other words, Todd Manning is at a crossroads, but he’s not alone. One Life to Live was at a crossroads to the show, had set out to tell a story from the perspective of a rape victim. And here it was on the cusp of telling the story of her rapist’s redemption. How had it gotten here? How had it justified getting here and what was going to happen next? The answer to all of these questions, it’s almost a soap opera unto itself. This is Decoder Ring, a show about cracking cultural mysteries, I Willa Paskin in the early 1990s, One Life to Live began airing an unprecedentedly Hard-Hitting story about sexual assault. The storyline, widely considered to be a high watermark of conscientious soap opera making riveted audiences, won awards and turned to the villain at its center. Todd Manning into one of the most memorable characters in the show’s history. In this episode, we’re going to explore how this plotline came to be and how the villain it created came to run away with the series. It’s a look at the relentless high wire act of making a soap opera at the creative decisions, commercial considerations and moral capitulations that go into it, and how one show, Bernardo’s storyline so successful that it set off a behind the scenes conflict that lasted for literally decades. So today on Decoder ng, how do you solve a problem like Todd Manning? A soap opera is a machine, a huge, astonishingly complex, perpetual motion machine made up of hundreds of moving parts, scripts, cameras, actors, writers, directors, producers, network executives, continuity specialists, set dressers, ideas, egos, history, money and more, all working together to churn out over 250 hours of narrative television a year. To accomplish this logistically bonkers feat, the soap opera machine operates non-stop at a breakneck pace, no matter what it does. A marathon at a dead sprint and the One Life to Live machine in particular, started running in 1968. The those. This time created by Agnes Nixon, the woman who modernized the soap opera by bringing contemporary controversial issues into daytime, One Life to Live was unusually diverse for its time. The show, which aired on ABC, included characters of different classes, ethnicities and races living side by side in the fictional town of Llanview, Pennsylvania. But by the 1980s, the show’s social awareness had been replaced by something kookier.

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S4: City buried underground

S2: like that, a storyline about the discovery of the lost city of attorney buried beneath a mountain right outside of Llanview,

S4: the lost city of Troy was buried under seven other cities

S5: there. This is probably

S2: big, fantastical stories like this had been common across soap operas throughout the 1980s, but by the early 90s, audiences were losing interest. The show still had eight million viewers a week, but that was down from its mid 80s peak. So when the show found itself in need of a new executive producer, basically the operator of the soap opera machine ABC hired someone unusual, a woman who had never seen a soap opera before. Todd Manning was not a glimmer in anyone’s eye yet, but this is when his story really begins in 1991 with the hiring of Linda Gottlieb.

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S6: I had literally never seen them. I just thought they were just, you know, boring waste of time and only stupid people watched them. I was very arrogant.

S2: Linda was a veteran producer who had spent decades in educational television before moving into feature films, at which point she developed and produced the hit movie Dirty Dancing. When the head of ABC daytime called Linda about the job, she asked her to send over two weeks worth of episodes.

S6: And I sat there and I watched two weeks of one life to live and I thought it was the worst thing I had ever seen. And I called her back and I told her exactly that. And she said, well, if you took it over, you could change it. And then I got interested because I learned early on that real power in the movie or television industry does not rest with your titles. It rests with your ability to be able to put out your own vision.

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S2: Linda’s vision was in line with the series Roots. She would improve the show and boost the ratings by reflecting the world the viewers actually lived in.

S6: I wanted it to be about real people with real problems, and it could still be very dramatic. But I didn’t want to have twins frozen in time and kill people off and put them in deep freeze and have people come back from the dead.

S2: Linda was confident she’d be able to make these changes. She’d made movies after all. How hard could fixing a soap opera really be?

S6: And I want to tell you, I walked into the Linda soap opera, and I never in my whole career to this day did anything as difficult as round one life to live.

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S2: Linda’s first move as executive producer was to replace some other key parts of the soap opera machine, namely the

S6: writers who could write a soap opera. You know, I thought, well, if he were alive, I’d hire Charles Dickens. So who is like Charles Dickens? I am a passionate lover of. He is my idol.

S2: That’s Michael Malone. In the early 1990s, he was a novelist teaching classes at Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania. He’d written about a dozen well reviewed literary novels, intricately plotted multigenerational yarns with multiple plotlines and huge cast of characters bouncing off one another in small town settings. So Dickensian, but also basically soap operas. Michael was brimming with ideas. But like Linda, he had no experience in daytime television. He came aboard as the head writer.

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S6: Anyway, I said, I’ll come if I can use the power of this platform to do stories of social relevance.

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S2: He says his peers and friends reacted to his new gig like he’d announced he was going to play piano in a brothel. He didn’t mind, as he likes to say, Dickens would have done it. Linda finished staffing up the writing team, she hired a co head writer and at least five story writers and five scriptwriter’s the lowest level of the writing totem pole. But the people who actually penned the dialogue and then Michael and the writers started putting their stamp on the show. The first storyline to fully showcase their vision began airing in April of 1992. It was about a high school student named Billy Douglas, who was struggling to come out of the closet. The network had initially resisted the story, but Linda convinced them to do it. It was one of the first portrayals of an openly gay teenager on American television.

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S3: I kept saying I can’t be gay, but I knew I was. And it hurts so much to go on lying to you, to my friends. First of all, to myself.

S2: That’s Ryan Phillipi, then 17 years old. As Billy Douglas. The story directly addressed homophobia and bigotry in Llanview and climaxed with episodes featuring the AIDS quilt. It was socially conscious soap opera that worked, educated and entertained. It got press attention and thousands upon thousands of pieces of fan mail. It was thrilling.

S6: I said, What other thing could I do that could reach eight million people a week?

S2: Michael Malone had an idea.

S6: I wanted to do a seriously realistic story of what was going on in college.

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S2: Debride in the early 1990s, there was a national conversation going on about date rape. One of the events that inspired it was a Time magazine cover story about Katie Kosner, a college student at William and Mary Kosner had told school officials that she had been raped by a student she invited to her dorm room. The university agreed a sexual assault had taken place but allowed the student to remain at the school. Many Americans saw Costner’s story and others like it as an example of a crime that was hideous, common and not taken nearly seriously enough. Others pointed out that Kosner had agreed to go out with her assailant and invited him in. It’s the latter group. The writers of One Life to Live wanted to reach.

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S6: The focus was date rape is a crock. No matter what the girl was wearing, no matter what she was drinking, it was a crime.

S2: Soaps had done rape storylines before, but they had not been so clear eyed. In fact, the most well-known rape storyline in soaps up to this point had turned into a romantic fantasy. In 1979, on General Hospital, Luke Spencer had raped Laura Baldwin. Two years later, Laura admitted that she’d fallen in love with Luke. The two went on to become Luke and Laura, the most famous couple in soap history. Their wedding was watched by thirty million people. Linda and Michael were trying to tell a story with the same mass appeal, the same melodramatic urgency, but one that presented rape as a brutal assault rather than the beginning of a seduction. They were asking the soap opera machine to make something it had never made before. On a soap opera story begets story, new plots arise out of the tensions of the old. It’s that perpetual motion like an endless line of falling dominoes. As Michael and the writers began to plot out the rape story, they saw that the Billy Douglas coming out arc could be its domino. In order to make the point they wanted to about date rape, they wanted a heroine not everyone would initially believe. And there was exactly such a character right there in the middle of the Billy Douglas story. She was named Marty Seabrook, and she was a poor little rich girl who had spread homophobic lies about Billy and the town’s reverend to his parents.

S3: Reverend Carpenter is a homosexual, and I saw him trying to seduce your son, Billy.

S6: Marty is a troubled young woman who has lied about someone else’s sexuality. Therefore, people don’t leave her. When she says this happened to her. That was the germ of the story.

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S2: Marty was played by a young Canadian actress named Susan Haskell. Now Susan Haskell Kay, she auditioned for One Life to Live six months out of acting school.

S6: I was very, very lucky. I don’t have any one of those struggling actor stories.

S2: Actors are another part of the soap opera machine, and they’re not just cogs soap shoot 60 to 90 pages of script every single weekday. Just for comparison, a movie might shoot five pages in a day. This enormous workload requires the actors to spend thousands of hours in character as they like to joke. That’s often longer than they spend being themselves. This can make the actors unusually protective of their fictional alter egos, even as they have a more tenuous hold on them than the actors in primetime do. Because on soap characters are not irrevocably linked to the actors who play them. Characters are recast all the time, meaning one actor will replace another in an existing part. Occasionally, when an actor has to be out on short notice, the show will even sub someone in for them for the day. It’s a tangled set up that makes the characters surprisingly substantial to everyone involved, not just the actors, but the writers and the audience, too, to manage the situation. This tug of war essentially over these fictional beings. The writers would bring the actors in to go over their future storylines, and they did this with Susan. The story they had come up with was especially harrowing. It would be a gang rape perpetrated in a frat house by a number of fraternity brothers. It was a departure from the date rape case is being debated in the news, but it would give the show maximal story, lots of characters and perspectives and drama, everything and the kitchen sink. Susan had some concerns.

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S6: I asked them, please don’t do this and then make me get over it really fast. Like, that’s that’s just wrong. And I also said, and don’t don’t ever put me together romantically with any one of these people because I will quit

S2: the one life to live writer’s reassured Susan. This would not be a frothy soap opera fantasy. The story would be serious, uncompromising and realistic about the emotional fallout of rape. But, well, this got Susan on board. It made the network. Baalke Linda had to give them the hard sell Michael Malone again,

S6: she was over there telling the network, we’re going to do this story. And they were saying, we can’t do this story. This is this is too Greggy. This is not what Dateline does. And she kept saying, look, this story is going to work. The story is going to get ratings. And, you know, my my belief here was that nighttime television does all these things. There’s no reason why we can’t combine this with the best aspects of daytime and pull people in

S2: Linda convince them to do the story. And it was just around this time that a young actor named Roger Howarth came in for an audition. When Roger Howarth was barely 20, he dropped out of college, try and make it as an actor in New York City. He got some small parts in regional theater and off Broadway. The money wasn’t good, but he loved it.

S1: I was so pleased to be working for fifty four dollars a week.

S2: Then, just as his wife got pregnant, a casting agent for a soap opera asked him to audition. He got the job, but they didn’t end up needing him. Roger got paid anyway,

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S1: and so they gave me a check and one of those episodes was worth ten weeks of off Broadway. So I said, yeah, I’d really like to be on a soap opera. And so I auditioned for One Life to Live.

S2: The part he landed was so small, the character was called frat boy number one, he was intended to be a minor player in the rape storyline. Biraj had something going for him. He was really good.

S6: He was never intended to be a contract player.

S2: Susan Bedsow-Horgan, a writer and producer on One Life to Live.

S6: Wow. He played these levels. He played these complicated ripples that maybe were in the script. But I think he went beyond and we thought, well, maybe we need to really keep this guy.

S2: So Susan gave frat boy number one a name, Todd Manning, as Todd Roger was sarcastic and brash and you didn’t quite know what he was going to do, what sneering spin he was going to put on a line. Here he is in a scene at the frat house where Todd Bates, a black female classmate, the girlfriend of one of his frat brothers,

S4: looks like we’re not politically correct enough from his.

S3: Don’t hide behind that phrase, Todd. I’d rather be politically correct than a bigot. Oh, are we calling names? No, Todd, I have had it with you and your cheap shot. You can’t. You just take it. This is not a joke.

S2: You can hear the Todd smirking and smug, thrilled to be winding Rachel up. But what you can’t hear is how tall he is, how big a plausible football player with this mane of long, straight hair. He looms over Rachel when he says she can’t take a joke.

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S4: Besides, I would never discriminate against a woman as beautiful as you

S3: can hear that he thinks it’s funny.

S2: Boy, no one was supposed to be a throw away bad guy, but Roger made him stand out. He was a scenery chomping villain, charismatic and chilling and instant audience favorite. And the audience is another part of the soap opera machine. Linda, Michael and the writers could see what the audience was responding to in ratings, in focus groups and in polls called Q scores, and they use that information to write to what was working until recently with the advent of streaming this back and forth, was one of TV’s distinguishing characteristics. Its creators were getting feedback as the work was unfolding on one life to live. That feedback loop was turned up just about as high as it could go. The show’s production schedule was incredibly tight. You’d outline an episode and would be on TV just a few weeks later. So when Roger scores skyrocketed, the writers leaned in,

S7: Oh my God, this guy is so good. He goes so deep and there are so many levels to him.

S2: Jean Passanante, who also came out of the theater, had been working at ABC when she was assigned to help Linda hire a new team of writers and then Linda had hired Jean to be one of them.

S7: You know, you can’t take your eyes off him. And when that’s true for an audience, it’s true for the writers as well.

S2: With Todd on the show, the rape story clicked into focus, Marty and Todd began to circle one another. They have a consensual one night stand. Later, she tutors him in math. When he fails his exam, he blames her at a raucous frat party.

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S5: He seeks his revenge.

S3: If you don’t mind,

S2: as scores of extras rage downstairs and rain pounds outside, Todd and two of his frat brothers take a drunk party up to a bedroom, tie her down, gag her and rape her Roger Howarth and Susan Haskell K..

S1: We came in on a Saturday and it was completely unheard of because they wanted to shoot something that was incredibly dark and violent,

S6: was quiet and, you know, going to my dressing room and just sit to get ready.

S1: I think it was the writer’s intention to really explore some gnarly, unpleasant stuff.

S2: The sequences, some of which are filmed with a handheld camera, from Marty’s point of view, are not graphic, but they are unsettling and long and much darker than daytime had allowed itself to be. At that point. They aired over a period of three weeks. The letters started coming in almost immediately.

S6: There’s a lot of a lot of fan mail, a lot of families. I was you know, I hired somebody to help me with it because I didn’t want to just not. Respond to these women and some men that just had been there and it was helping them and, you know, that’s like gold,

S2: but that wasn’t the only response the storyline was getting Michael Malone.

S6: I remember one of the guards came back to say there are a bunch of young women standing on the sidewalk and they’re waiting for Todd Manning. And when he came out, they started screaming, Rape me, Todd, rape.

S2: There’s an archetype on soap operas, the character that the audience loves to hate, the one who behaves badly but is way more popular and fun to watch than some noble goody two shoes. And Todd Manning seemed a bit like a classic love to hate him character. He was a handsome devil. May care bad guy. That one life to Live had explicitly given more screen time because viewers were so interested in him. But he was also something new, a frightening character emerging from a more serious, morally charged depiction of rape than previously seen on soaps. And while most of the audience knew how to square this, a small segment didn’t rape. Storylines on soaps had so often turned into fantasies. The rapists at their center transformed into heartthrobs that they watched a brutal story about the horrors of rape, and they asked to be raped. A small part of the machine was on the fritz,

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S6: be on the front steps of the studio like, Oh, hush, Roger would do that to me.

S2: Everyone working on the show was disturbed by this reaction, but for Roger Howarth in particular, who had to bear the brunt of this response and all the other ones people were having to Todd, it was a lot to take in. One time he was sitting on a stupid Manhattan with his infant son when a fan walked by.

S1: She says, You’re Todd Manning. And I just was a little confused by that because my name is Roger and I did that little math. She then said, So can I ask you something? Why do you think it’s OK to rape people? What I said was, well, I didn’t rape anybody, I’m not tied, my name is Roger

S2: and that was the tame stuff.

S1: Can you rape me next? Those are things that happened. And I was in my 20s and I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.

S2: What was so unsettling was that one life to live was not priming audiences for a Luke and Laura thing. Todd was terrifying and he remains. So as the story headed into the courtroom,

S3: I want you all to take a look around the general. The futures are going to be decided here in a few hours. You’re going on trial for the rape of Marty Seabrook penalty up to 50 years.

S2: The climax of the rape storyline had always been intended to be the trial of the three frat boys at its start. The town is divided about Marty. Remember, that was the germ of the story that she lied before, that she was not the perfect victim. But the audience has seen the rape take place and knows Marty is telling the truth so they can feel her excruciating pain as she listens to lies and slander, struggling to prove what’s true. And of course, no one is more slanderous than Todd.

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S3: What did she want?

S4: She wanted to have sex with originally.

S2: The writers had planned for the trial to last a few weeks. When they started writing and later airing the episodes, they realized there was more story there, especially for Todd Jean Passanante, a writer on the show.

S7: Again, there was this great moment where, you know, he leans over to Marty from the stand and says, Marty.

S4: I forgive you.

S7: It was so shocking and appalling. So every day he pulled out something else and we kept writing to it and writing to it and write it.

S2: The trial stretched on and on, becoming an umbrella story that involved nearly the whole cast sitting in the courtroom every day. The climax came in the closing arguments. The attorney representing the frat boys, played by Hilary B. Smith, has learned they’re guilty. And in fact, the Todd raped someone else before and she doesn’t want to defend them anymore.

S3: I want you to see with your heart, not your eyes. Let’s go to that woman attorney. Oh, your. Do you see a young woman luring three innocent men into a room to have sex? Are you these three men trapping an unwilling prey? Do you see them throwing a woman down on the bed and holding her there by force, bruising her neck and her wrists? Do you see them trying to stifle her cries of passion or do you see them shoving a sweatband in her mouth so they don’t have to listen to her screaming for help as they wait for

S2: this speech is an inspired bit of soap making. It showcases one life to live, ambitions to tell a different grittier story while making the show’s point of view really clear. Believe Marty, the actress crushes it. It emerges naturally from the attorney’s character. And it’s that domino generating more story because a defense attorney isn’t allowed to give a speech like this.

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S3: I therefore declare a mistrial.

S2: So Todd is still free, but not for long after trying to reattach Mardie, he gets whacked in the face, giving him a permanent scar, a mark of evil. While he’s recovering in the hospital, Marty secretly records him confessing and he and his two frat brothers are finally sent to prison

S4: manning for the crime of rape. I sentence you to eight years in prison with the possibility of parole and for

S2: the storyline as it had been planned, had come to its end. Except on a soap opera, there is no end. The writers had planned for the rape storyline to end as follows, Marty would be vindicated and Todd Manning would go to jail and stay there, written out the show for good. But circumstances had changed since they made that plan. The storyline had been a bigger triumph than anyone could have imagined.

S6: Our ratings were just like really going through the roof

S2: that Susan Bedsow-Horgan, you’ve been hearing from her as a writer and producer. But just around this time in 1994, she took over from Linda Gottlieb as executive producer when Linda’s contract was up.

S6: We were the poor little one, life to live, little engine that could and suddenly buzz, you know, by everybody.

S2: Roger Howarth Susan Haskell, the actress who played the defense attorney and the One Life to Live writing team, all won Daytime Emmys for their work. More specifically, Todd was now an extraordinarily popular and uniquely fascinating character, played by an award winning actor who could seemingly do anything the writers threw at him. All of this meant the show had a problem for the moral coherence of a story about the trauma of date rape and the secondary trauma of not being believed. Todd needed to be in jail, but for every other reason rating, storytelling, audience engagement, the basic dramatic quality of the show he couldn’t be. And for a soap opera, there’s really no choice there. The machine was crashing. It wasn’t going to stop. Now, did you ever think like, oh,

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S6: this is kind of squeaky or redeeming this rapist? Yes, we did. We had to figure out how we would justify that.

S2: The writers needed to bring Todd into the ongoing narrative of the show so he could interact with the other characters, not just skulk around, but they needed a solution that was as grounded and substantial as the story they’d just told. They might have written Todd into a corner, but they couldn’t get him out of it in some corny way. That meant no twin brothers, no brain transplants, no amnesia. After countless hours in the writers room, they decided on a new direction, a justification they could live with.

S6: What really is redemption? Can someone be redeemed or are we forever vilified for something that we did in the past? Then that became Todd’s story, the redemption story.

S2: They started by breaking Todd out of jail and keeping him as horrible as ever. This whole redemption thing, it doesn’t happen overnight. He tortures the defense attorney who betrayed him in court. And it devolves from there. There’s months and months of plot. The show using all the time it has to show a Todd increasingly consumed by angst and self-hatred. He’s doing things that are so awful, even he wants to stop. And in this state at this point that he arrives at that crossroads by the car crash

S5: coming down the hill and in the back,

S2: I can’t move. So Todd Manning is on a hillside in the dark next to a smashed up car, weighing whether or not to rescue Marty Seabrook and two children from certain death.

S3: Yeah, well, maybe covid.

S4: I don’t have time to stand here and argue about, OK, this place is going to be crawling with cops any minute.

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S2: A villain would leave. But as Todd Manning, still a villain. All right.

S4: All right, hold on, I’m coming to get you out of.

S2: Todd saves the kids and carries Marty up to the road, he sits with her so she doesn’t bleed to death even as the cops are closing in. He does the right thing. He’s changing. Even Marty notices.

S3: You know, he said something before you carried me up the hill for the first time that I ever heard you admit you might have done something wrong when you raped me.

S4: All those months in prison and then all that time on the run kind of ruins your social life. You know what I mean? Nothing to do.

S2: Think about when Todd sent back to jail. He goes to therapy. A lot of therapy has fraught relationship with his father, has been a part of the character since the beginning. And now the writers pay it off as the core of his anger, uncovering abuse and abandonment.

S4: I would have given anything, you know, to get my father to love me. And when I saw how much he hated me, I tried to change. I tried to be just like him. So I push people around and I badmouth everybody like they didn’t mean anything. Like they didn’t matter.

S2: Throughout the storyline, Todd’s history as a rapist is front and center. It basically is the storyline Jean Passanante.

S7: I guess in my mind it was always about never forgiving him for what he did, but understanding that growth was possible. He’s always on a tightrope. He hates this about himself, but he recognizes it in himself.

S2: Thanks to the heroic car crash rescue, Todd gets a pardon from the governor and leaves prison back in Llanview. After quite a bit more story, he is finally able to apologize to Marty.

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S4: I think got to see myself the way the whole world sees me. And I know why they do. This monster, I was nothing but a monster.

S2: It’s a big moment, Marty walks over to Todd and reaches out a trembling hand to wipe his tears away. As soon as she touches him, she snatches her hand back and runs out of the room. But in the hallway alone, she smiles to herself and says. Goodbye. And with that a bit over a year and a half since Todd Manning was introduced, his redemption arc is complete. Marty begins to put it behind her and gets a new big, swishy love story. The writers have threaded a needle. They’d made the character grow morally without destroying the original rape storyline. They’d given the audience what it wanted in a way that they could live with. And in the process, they had totally bent another part of the machine out of shape.

S1: I didn’t feel terrible. Playing a terrible person when they started to redeem that person is when it began to get sticky because it just was.

S2: Since his start on the show, Roger had been playing Todd as a psychopath, but that wasn’t what Todd was anymore after his redemption. Todd remains tortured and self-heating, but he begins an unstable and very fun to watch romance with another spunky town pariah, one that quickly became extremely popular. It’s also revealed that Todd, the long lost brother of the series matriarch, which happens to make him a multimillionaire. He’s gone from frat boy number one to terrifying rapist to very rich and a heroic protagonist, a romantic lead right at the center of the series. And Roger Howarth knows that another actor would have just accepted this, appreciated how much work he was getting and put his head down. But the women who had been screaming rape me, Todd on the street had always thought Todd was a viable love interest. And now the show did, too. He could see that the writers and audience genuinely believed that Todd had grown morally, but he just wasn’t sure the character really could or should.

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S1: From my standpoint, we were forgiving sexual violence and making excuses for bad behavior.

S2: Roger played against Todd’s kinder, gentler side beyond what the writers were looking for, and he pushed back on the love story. But as much as Roger resisted what was happening with Todd, Todd was still ultimately controlled by the writers Jean Passanante we

S7: knew that it was hard for him, but we had this character and you know, you know, when you’re a writer, you first off, it’s kind of like there’s Roger and then there’s Todd. You know, there I mean, which one is more real to me? And it fluctuates.

S2: So in 1995, when Roger was reportedly making 4000 dollars a day, guaranteed three days of work a week and usually working all five, he did something about it.

S1: I felt somehow that we were actually promoting violence against women. And it was confusing to me because the show was produced by women, written by women and designed to be watched by women. And I just felt really it just didn’t sit right with me. And I left the show.

S2: When Roger told Susan Bedsow-Horgan, the executive producer, that he wanted to leave, she agreed to let him out of his contract so long as he didn’t work for another soap opera. She knew he was distressed. On the occasion of his leaving, Roger gave an interview to Soap Opera Digest in which he said if the rape had been an unrealistic soap thing, then it wouldn’t matter how the show had proceeded. But instead it had been, quote, in-depth and brutal, and that made it feel to him like it did matter. On the show, the character of Todd was shot and presumed dead for Roger. Leaving didn’t go quite as planned.

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S1: I wasn’t a cooked human being yet. I quickly spent all the money I had and realized that I had no other skills and really was completely unviable. And I had to borrow money to get back to play Todd.

S2: Six months later, he was back on the show and so was Todd Manning. Roger had left the machine, and when he came back, he tried to be a less squeaky wheel, even as Todd’s history as a rapist receded further into the background, is still informed of the character, still was mentioned from time to time. But Todd became a newspaper mogul. He had a kid. He had two extremely popular romances. There was a whole period where he talked to a parrot, a comedy arc,

S4: which you hear the way everybody talks to me. Todd, you’re the greatest dog. Have I got a deal for you? I know what they’re really thinking.

S3: Exactly.

S2: And they’ll playing a reformed rapist did get easier for Roger. He never made peace with it entirely.

S1: It just didn’t sit right with me. There was a shit I spent every dollar I made playing automatic. I just I couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. And I was stuck in this weird cycle. And because I just didn’t I didn’t want to be the guy who was doing that, but I didn’t know what else to do. It was peculiar. And but now, looking back on it, I took the money.

S2: Over the next decade, One Life to Live had a number of different head writers and producers. It was a chaotic time for the business. The O.J. Simpson trial preempted months of daytime and started a hemorrhaging of viewers that’s never stopped. But when it came to the question of Todd, the machine finally seemed to be in equilibrium, chugging along all the parts in order, but not for much longer. So after all those years of relative calm, in 2003, Michael Malone and his co head writer who had left in 1995, were asked to return to the show, Roger heard a rumor about what they had planned for today and expressed concern about it to Michael

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S6: was apprehensive that we’re going to make him rape somebody. So there was some friction between

S2: I think he thought that you were going to

S6: make him fall in love with Marty. Yes, yes. Where are you going to do that? Well, there was there was pressure to make that happen.

S2: Everyone on the show had originally agreed that Todd and Marty would not turn into Luke and Laura, but time had passed. The context had changed. The success of the original storyline meant that returning to it was like greatest hits play more likely than anything else to entice lapsed viewers back into the fold. It had all the potential upside of a sequel, basically. But rather than appear in a sequel, Roger threw a wrench into the machine. His contract was just about up when all of this was going down and the person who had told him about the potential Todd and Marty storyline had also slipped him a piece of paper

S1: on that piece of paper was the executive producer of The World Turns and he said, You want to work on this on a different show on a SICHER.

S2: He quit one life to live. He worked on As The World Turns until its cancellation in 2010. With Roger gone, the machine had lost one of its most important parts, but it had also lost its brakes. The final chapter reminds me of something Linda Gottlieb said about her time working on the show.

S6: When you stay there long enough, you kind of drink your kind of drink the tea

S2: when Roger left. This time, One Life to live recast his part. The actor Trevor St. John would play Todd Manning for nearly a decade. He didn’t try to imitate Roger. He did his own thing. Less sarcastic and theatrical, more coiled, but it worked. Audiences accepted him. Todd remained one of the show’s central characters, and this new Todd gave the writers a freedom they hadn’t had in 2008. They availed themselves of it. The Todd and Marty pairing other writers had once promised would never happen happened an ABC promo described as the story you thought you’d never see. It’s true.

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S4: God out of.

S2: There was a wrinkle, of course, Marty had amnesia, so she didn’t know who Todd was in order to make the story make sense for the character and the actor and the audience, the writers had to do all these contortions and it didn’t even work. The audience in general was creeped out. They knew the history. The show had spent years calling back to the storyline as a horrible trauma, and the world had changed enough that a story about a woman canoodling with her rapist no longer seemed appealing. Later, retroactively, it would turn out the Todd and Marty hadn’t had sex because in 2011 it was announced that the character Trevor St.. John was playing was not Todd at all, but his twin brother, Victor.

S6: I had transferred all of my son Todd’s memories to my son Victor. Now they were truly identical. This was so

S2: Roger could return to one life to live after everything. And a good therapist, he wanted to be there.

S1: And at that point I’d made my peace with all of it. I felt very healthy and positive, and I had finally figured out that I didn’t have to spend every dollar that I made. And I was happy to be just happy to have a job

S2: and an acknowledgement of Roger Howarth own feelings about Todd Manning, the way he’d always insisted on playing the character. The show use the fact of Victor and Marty’s relationship as a retroactive evidence on behalf of the storylines logic.

S1: This guy has a relationship with Marty Seabrook and none of you figured out that he wasn’t me. It didn’t occur to you that that might not be something that I would do.

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S2: It’s all very meta. What had begun as a soap opera storyline grounded in the real world was now squarely in the land of far out soap opera plots, winking at the realest thing of all the machine that makes the show itself. And in fact, a machine malfunction is the only reason Todd’s not still with us, One Life to Live was canceled in 2013, and Todd Manning was one of three characters who made the jump to General Hospital. But then another company bought the rights to one life to live and tried to make it into a Web series. It didn’t work, but they still own Todd Banning. You could watch Roger Howarth on General Hospital, though. The defining characteristic of a soap opera is that up until the day it is canceled, it operates as though it will go on forever, that the machine will always be running One Life to Live aired for 45 years, which is much closer to forever than most series get. And when you’re on the air for that long, a lot of things change inside the show and outside of it. When the Mara Seabrook rape storyline was conceived in the early 1990s, it was possible for a soap opera to push parts of its audience and parts of society to think about sexual assault differently. That’s hard to imagine happening now, but it’s also hard to imagine. Happening now, is anyone telling such a story getting as wrapped up as one life to live dead in the rapist point of view of having the Marty Seabrook rape story also become one about Todd Manning. So don’t do this anymore. These days, sexual predators are barely characters, or at most they get very contained arcs. And this avoids a lot of ickiness. It spares the writers from having to contend with the audience’s fascination with alluring rapists and the show’s complicity in making them appealing. But it also avoids a lot of complexity and means a soap will never find itself in the position. One Life to Live did, having to contend with an unexpectedly potent and alive character and then stumbling into genuinely hard questions about what to do with people who have done something really bad. One Life to Live spent nearly 20 years with Todd Manning, a man who had done something unforgivable at its center. And this duration, if not much else about the storyline, has a kind of realism to it. People who have done bad things stick around. Life does not unfold morally, even if we prefer our stories to Linda Gottlieb started all of this because she wanted to inject a nighttime sensibility into daytime to be gritty, to be realistic, to have a point of view. But those things eventually become liabilities in a soap opera, a format that needs the flexibility to go on forever. One Life to Live never solved the problem of Todd Manning because it didn’t need to. All it had to do was keep him around. This is Decoder, I’m Willa Paskin, you can find me on Twitter at Willa Paskin, and if you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, you can email us at Decoder, ring at Slate Dotcom. If you haven’t yet, subscribe and radar feed an Apple podcast or ever you get your podcasts and even better, tell your friends. I want to give a very special thank you to Mara Levinsky, who helped so much in the thinking and reporting of this piece. It would not have been possible without her. Also, thank you to Hilary B. Smith and Kassie DePaiva. Also thanks to Rebecca Levoy, Jeff Giles, June, Thomas, Derek, John and everyone else who gave us help and feedback on the way. This podcast was written by Willa Paskin. It was edited by Benjamin Frisch and Gabriel Roth. Decoder is produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Fresh. Khelil, 11, is our research assistant. Additional production help from Margaret Kelly. If you are already a Slate plus member, thank you so much. You can listen to five more episodes of Decoder ring right now. If you are not a slate plus member, we would love you to become one. Please sign up for Slate plus at Slate Dotcom slash Decoder plus. It means so much and we’ll give you access to this whole season of Decoder in advance. Otherwise we will see you next week.