This Friday something that has been integral in my life since literally the day I was born will come to an end. I have no control over it, it’s simply an inevitability that it will cease to exist. What am I talking about you’d like to know? Before I reveal it I would like you try to not roll your eyes or scoff and dismiss what I have to say without reading this all the way through.
So, you ask, to what am I referring? I am talking about the cancellation of the 54 year old soap opera, As The World Turns. I should consider myself lucky that I’ve had so much time with the characters and stories, and that while the actual cast members and production team had to say goodbye in June I’ve got to enjoy the show through to the middle of September. But I honestly don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to the Hughes and Snyder families and the rest of the host of characters who inhabit Oakdale, IL.
For my 18th birthday before I went off to college my parents got me a VCR. It was exactly what I wanted and they knew the number one reason why I wanted it. They knew I wouldn’t be able to give up my favorite show nor would I always be able to schedule my classes around the 2-3 pm time slot so I could rush back to my room. When I studied abroad in Australia for a semester my mom would give me weekly recaps. When my mom’s work schedule got to hectic for her to watch every day she would call me after Friday’s episode so I could give her the full recap of the week and tell her who the new characters were. In turn, when an old character returned after years of absence I would call my mom and ask for his or her back-story.
Mostly, it has been the relationships between characters and the fantasy that kept me tuning in every day. First of all, no matter what drama was going on in my own life, those characters had it worse. No one in my life was sleeping with her sister’s ex husband (who also happens to be their step cousin). I didn’t know anyone who came back to life 12 times to torment him son and ex wife to ultimately reveal that his ex wife’s new husband is his son from a first marriage. Yes, I’ll admit often stories were crazy and at times I rolled my eyes at some of the drama that people created for themselves. But ultimately sticking with something and going through their ups and downs is what connects you with them and even if its through a television screen a bond begins to grow as they become a part of your daily routine.
The other unique thing about soap operas, especially one like As The World Turns with such a rich history as the first daytime drama, is that viewer are really given the time to get to know characters. Every day there is an opportunity to flesh out some personality traits, understand some more back ground, and learn a little bit about their psyche. Unlike a primetime drama or sitcom where you get 30 minutes or an hour once a week for 23 episodes a year, a soap opera gives you day by day updates all year round. I often spent more time with those characters more often than most family and friends because every single day I got to learn something new about them and watch their stories unfold.
At the 50th anniversary event at The Paley Center I got to meet many of the actors in person and ask them about their characters and roles on the show. Upon speaking to Jon Hensley, who has portrayed Holden Snyder since he was a teenager, I told him how I’ve been watching the show since I was a little kid and responded by saying, “Wow, you’ve watched me grow up.” I know it’s just a show and I know that often times the story lines are ridiculous and outlandish. But there is something to be said about having followed the same characters (and often the same actors) for years. Over that amount of time you see them develop and regress, you watch them fall in and out of love and maybe even die and come back to life. I also had the chance, everyday to escape into a fantasy land where the laws of nature don’t exist. Time can stand still or zoom ahead at the writers’ whim. Characters who had long been dead can return to life with a simple explanation and new characters can pop up suddenly as though they’ve got a rich history.
Personally, not to sound trite or overly melodramatic, but this show was something that was something that bound 3 generations of women in my family. My mother grew up watching it from when she was a little girl. She watched every day with her mother. As I grew up I watched it with her. I remember sitting down with my mom after dinner to catch up on the show she had taped during the day. It was our time to sit together and share something. I am lucky to have a strong relationship with my mom outside of As the World Turns, and this by no means was the only commonality we share, but it was always something we could catch up on and chat about.
The cancellation of ATWT just proves once again, that unfortunately soap operas continue to be considered the bastard child of the television industry. Network executives want high ratings for low cost. The Soap Opera started as a way to sell soap to housewives. It was daily programming for women who were home all day who would be hooked on the drama. Lately, as more women are working during the day they have been slipping in the ratings. Show-runners have been doing everything in their power to cut costs and attract new viewers, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be working. The sad state of affairs is that this television staple and piece of history will be replaced by a banal game show which appeals to the lowest common denominator of viewer, one which can come in and out as he or she pleases. The Soap Opera, while maybe not the highest art form does deserve a certain amount of regard and respect that I think is being forgotten in the quest for high ratings.
It’s fitting that I will be home the day the show goes off the air. My mother and I will take a break from cooking for the Jewish holidays and we will sit down together to watch the final episode. The personalities of As the World Turns are not merely one dimensional and fleeting TV characters, they have been a real part of my life for 28 years and I’m not yet sure how I’ll say goodbye. What I do know is that my mom and I will have to have a box of tissues handy.