If you thought "All My Children" was good on TV, wait until you see it on ice.
It's already headed for a Winter Games near you. The folks who run the International Olympic Committee may not know much about soap operas, but they learned long ago that anything on which you can slap a pair of figure skates is bound to be an easy sell.
Take ice dancing (please).
It's an exhibition masquerading as a sport. It's about as competitive as opening a can of soup. And unlike the rough-and-tumble world of pairs figure skating, there's no jumping or lifts above the head allowed.
But because of the almost-boundless appetite around the globe for anything figure skating-related, if you put two people in cocktail-hour outfits, have them twirl, twizzle and quick-step around a rink to schmalzy show tunes for just under three minutes — voila! — somehow it seems a lot more compelling.
Even more so the better you come to know their backstories.
Few couples in ice dancing stay together for long and plenty wind up representing a country other than the one in which they were born. There are exceptions, of course: The top two pairs in Sochi, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, as well as Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, grew up near each other and have been partners since roughly the age of 10.
And to be sure, there are plenty of mercenaries in other sports in Sochi, too, the most notable being speedskater Victor Ahn, formerly of South Korea, now of Russia. But only in ice dancing does it seem more a requirement than a happy coincidence.
Fully one-third of the 24 couples who competed in Sunday night's short-dance program featured at least one member whose participation required a new passport. The brother-and-sister pair skating for Japan that kicked things off, Cathy and Chris Reed, were born in Kalamazoo, Mich., still train in New Jersey, and have a sister, Allison, who used to skate for Georgia but now competes for Israel.
Lloyd Jones, the male half of the French couple that followed the Reeds, was born in Britain. Two performances later, Stefano Caruso, who skated for Germany, was born in Italy. Siobhan Canedy-Heekin, the female half of the Ukrainian couple that skated two pairs after that, was born in Beverly Hills, Calif., and lives in Connecticut.
Proving that water — at least when frozen — is thicker than blood, the brother-sister combination of Nelli Zhiganshina and Ruslan Zhiganshin are still members of the same family, but no longer countrymen. The two couldn't skate together because of their age difference, so Nelli bolted Russia for Germany in search of a partner. Now they're competitors.
"Maybe we will do an exhibition number one day," she said. "That would be interesting."
Swapping allegiances, especially in countries where there's a logjam due to a surplus of talent, isn't much more difficult than a costume change. All it requires is a release from the national federation to which you once pledged allegiance, and occasionally a small payoff to cover previous traveling and training expenses.
Small wonder the inside joke in the sport sounds like something you might have read on the back cover of a matchbook in the days when everybody still smoked: "For $50,000, you, too, can have a Russian ice dancing partner."
Laugh if you want, but that pretty much describes the way the racket works. Some skaters are a little more cold-blooded about switching than others, but the way ballet-prodigy-turned-ice-dancer and New Yorker-turned-Lithuanian Isabella Tobias put it — "You have to go where life's opportunities lead you" — is a sentiment almost all ice dancers understand.
"And it seems to be going pretty well so far," she added.
"Agreed," said her partner and lifetime Lithuanian Deividas Stagniunas, who until two months ago didn't know whether he'd be in Sochi. "We feel how lucky we are every second we are here."
After 25 years of campaigning, ice dancing joined the Olympics in 1976. Its biggest boost came eight years later, when a sizzling performance by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean to Ravel's "Bolero" won the 1984 gold medal in Sarajevo. Despite repeated tweaks ever since, nothing has come close to generating that kind of buzz.
But looking the other way at all these shenanigans might not even be the most cynical part of the IOC's decision to give the sport its continued blessing. It's cutting the field from 24 couples down to 20 ahead of Monday's free dance.
Never mind that every ice dancer here has trained for years, many traveled halfway around the world to get to Sochi, and a few even forsake hearth and home for a chance to compete for 2 minutes, 50 seconds in the short dance.
Letting them all onto the ice for Monday night's free dance would add another half-hour or so to the program, tops.
Sound tough? Sure. But that's what happens in a sport where loyalty is always in such short supply.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.