WTH?!? Rewind to the Day That ABC Decided *Maybe* It Wasn’t Such a Hot Idea to Promote a Rag Doll in the Image of One Life to Live Rapist Todd Manning
ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection
It was a toy with an especially short shelf life.
It may be hard to imagine these days, but for decades, there was a lucrative market for tie-ins to soaps, whether it was novelizations, mugs, paper dolls or board games. And whereas Dynasty had its own perfume and Barbies, One Life to Live had a set of rag dolls.
In the 2000s, ABC was using its online store to sell products related to its soap operas. If you wanted, for instance, a ring that looked just like the one Greenlee wore on All My Children, it could be yours. However, the network made a miscalculation in 2002.
A major one!
In April, it released a set of rag dolls inspired by One Life to Live’s popular Manning family. Fans could purchase the fabric forms of Todd (Roger Howarth, until recently Franco on General Hospital), Blair (Kassie DePaiva) and Starr (Kristen Alderson), each made to resemble the cartoon fantasies of her family that Starr would dream up. When the character was young, she was often shown playing with her dolls, usually bandaging them up as though they’d been mangled in accidents.
Standing 20 inches tall and decked out in a blue shirt and black pants, and bearing Todd’s trademark facial scar, his all-cloth doll was marketed at $19.95. Soon after, the choice to sell a doll based on the character of a rapist drew the ire of people in the industry. Trade newsletter The Jack Myers Report attacked the network for its choice. Finally, the Todd dolls were pulled on May 7, 2002, with the then-president of ABC’s Television Network Group, Angela Shapiro, apologizing for being insensitive to “the history of the character.”
Long before this controversy arose, Manning had been a flashpoint that had divided viewers. Originating the role in 1992, Howarth was first seen in Llanview as one of the fraternity brothers charged with committing the gang rape of Marty Saybrooke. The plot quickly became infamous, capturing plenty of media attention for the soap opera.
Howarth, like co-stars Susan Haskell (Marty) and Hillary B. Smith (Nora), picked up a Daytime Emmy for the 1994 story. Although Manning was originally created to be a short-term villain, Howarth’s performance, filled with darkness and humor, helped him become popular enough to keep on the canvas. The writers were prompted to go to elaborate lengths to create a backstory for him that tied him to the front-and-center Lord family, gave him psychological pathos and a long redemption arc that included his well-received relationship with fellow pariah Blair. But turning him into a cuddly doll was a step too far.
Feeling nostalgic? You can relive some of the most memorable moments from the history of Llanview with our below photo gallery chronicling One Life to Live‘s long run. Get your free daily soap-opera fix delivered straight to your email inbox by signing up for Soaps.com’s newsletter.