'World' stops turning for longest-running US soap opera

Thursday, December 10, 2009

As the World Turns, the longest-running soap opera on American television, was canceled Tuesday by CBS, the network which has aired the show since its first episode in 1956. This news comes just three months after the ending of Guiding Light, formerly the longest-running soap in radio and television history, which had entertained generations of Americans for seven decades.

In the announcement, Barbara Bloom, senior vice president of daytime programing at CBS, wrote, "It's extremely difficult to say good-bye to a long-running series that's been close to our hearts for so long...The almanacs will show As the World Turns as a pioneer of the format, a hallmark for quality with its numerous Emmys, the launching pad for many television and film stars and a daytime ratings powerhouse for parts of three decades."

The cancellation comes at a particularly bad time not only for the people involved with producing the soap, but also for the soap opera industry in general. With the cancellation announcement, the number of daytime soap operas on the air in the United States will shrink from seven to six. By comparison, there were 12 soap operas on the air in 1997 and 19 in 1973.

While the revelation may have hurt, it was not entirely a surprise. The ratings for the soap opera have fallen to 2.5 million viewers, over 60% from 1993, when the show was watched by 6.5 million viewers daily. Soap Opera Digest editorial director Lynn Leahey said not to call for the death of the genre; its next act may prove more profitable on the Internet. "It has to be turned into a business model. I do think there's huge potential there. I think if we can deliver the content where people are instead of expecting them to sit in front of their TVs, there's hope," Leahey said.

The news was taken particularly hard at As the World Turns' Brooklyn studios, where the building was closed off to press on Tuesday. "We are disappointed and saddened by the news that the show is not being renewed. It will certainly be a loss for all of us, and for the show's loyal audience," said executive producer Christopher Goutman in a prepared statement. "It's a hell of a Christmas present," said actress Eileen Fulton, whose spitfire character Lisa was an integral part of the canvas in the show's top-rated years in the 1960s and 1970s. "I'm just very sad. I'm sad for all of the people who work out there in Brooklyn. We're a family. I hate to be split up. It's like a divorce."

The series, which focuses on the lives, loves and torments in the small Midwestern town of Oakdale, will have a nine-month swan song; the final episode will not be airing until September 2010. Until that time, Procter & Gamble's TeleNext Media will be trying to find a new home for the show, either on another television network or online. If As the World Turns leaves the air entirely, Procter & Gamble, the company which coined the term "soap opera," will officially end its 76-year partnership between its cleaning products and the dramatic medium.