Friday, September 17, 2010

'As The World Turns' Ends Today

It's not just the end of "The World," but the end of a TV legacy.

After the final "As The World Turns" Friday, Procter & Gamble won't have a daytime drama on the airwaves for the first time in 77 years, since "Ma Perkins" aired on radio in 1933.

"You could say it's the death of the soap opera, because it's the last soap still produced by a soap company," said Sam Ford, 27, a Kentucky native who has taught "As The World Turns" classes at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When the show debuted in 1956, P&G had "Ma Perkins" on radio and four other TV shows: "Search For Tomorrow," ''The Edge Of Night," ''Guiding Light" and "The Bright Day." (CBS canceled "Guiding Light" in 2009.)

The story of the Hughes family in fictional Oakdale quickly caught on with viewers, becoming the top-rated daytime serial from 1958 to 1978. Fans are mourning the loss.

Melanie Cosgrove, 38, of Delhi Township, Ohio, hasn't missed an episode in 18 years. She started watching while pregnant and ordered to bed rest in 1992.

"I am so sad it's ending. It's been a constant in my life," said Cosgrove, whose daughter turns 18 on Thursday. "I'm already emotional about losing my baby when she leaves for college next summer, and I'm losing my TV 'friends' of 18 years."

Pat Heasley, 58, remembers watching with her mother as a child in Fort Wright, Ky.

"Mom would fill me in during the school year with what was going on," said Heasley of Anderson Township.

Heasley recalls watching young Julianne Moore on the show. Meg Ryan, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei, Martin Sheen, James Earl Jones, Dana Delany, Parker Posey and Ming-Na also played early roles there.

Marie Masters, who has played Dr. Susan Stewart on the show for 35 years, remembers Moore having braces on her teeth, and Posey "wearing ripped T-shirts and scuzzy flip-flops."

Masters believes the bubble could burst soon for the six soaps that will be left on TV. Viewers have plunged by 80 percent - from 6.4 million to 1.3 million - since 1991, according to Nielsen.

"I don't think the rest of the shows have long to go. People have moved on," she said.

The world has changed radically since "The World" started spinning stories in 1956 sponsored by Oxydol or Duz detergents, P&G spokeswoman Jeannie Tharrington said.

"Not only are a lot of women not home anymore, there's also competition from cable, DVRs and online videos like YouTube," she said.

P&G has shifted pursuit of consumers to producing quarterly family movies on NBC with Walmart; working with producer America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty") on MTV's new "Pedro & Maria" telenovela; producing the "People's Choice Awards"; and making "My Black Is Beautiful" for BET. P&G has produced more than 50 TV movies and miniseries, plus "Circus of the Stars" and other specials.

"We're certainly proud of 'As The World Turns.' The legacy soaps that got us into production created a chance for us to do other shows," Tharrington said

P&G wanted to keep "As The World Turns" on the air for "another year or two," she said, but CBS canceled it. The soap will be replaced on Oct. 18 by "The Talk," a "View"-like show with Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert, Sharon Osbourne, Holly Robinson Peete and Leah Remini.

P&G tried to move the show to another network, cable, syndication or online without success, she said.

"It's a shame P&G got out of the soap opera business. I became a fan of the company because of the exposure to their products during commercials," said Bonnie Shelley, 58, of Deerfield Township, Ohio.

"As The World Turns" ends with main character Dr. Bob Hughes (Don Hastings) retiring. The taping was "chaotic and crazy. People were crying and laughing and breaking down," Masters said.

"They respected the format. I liked that. Life in Oakdale goes on," Masters said. "But there will never be closure. It's heart-breaking that they (P&G) are out of the business."

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