Deep Soap: ‘As the World Turns’ Canceled, Another Nail in Daytime’s Coffin

by | December 8, 2009 at 3:26 PM | Deep Soap, TV News

Jon Hensley of 'As the World Turns' (CBS)

Jon Hensley of 'As the World Turns' (CBS)

CBS’s long running soap opera As The World Turns has been canceled.  It will air its final episode in September. 

The news has blindsided everyone in the daytime industry.  Though CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler stated in August that the show was “having ratings challenges” — and hinted that the network was considering its options — I don’t think anybody thought a decision would be made this soon.  

I do not understand why this decision was made.  Yes, ‘ATWT’ has been the lowest rated soap since Guiding Light left the cancellation-happy CBS.  But the show’s writing has improved over the past couple months.  ‘ATWT’ does not have ‘GL’s’ physical production problems.  It has one of daytime’s strongest casts, a passionate fan base, a decent time period, and a powerful history.  There is still life in this show.  As ‘Days of Our Lives’ has shown, it is possible to turn a soap around.   I wish CBS had given the show another few months to see if the creative improvements would be reflected in the ratings before deciding whether or not to cancel the show. 

It is tempting to play the blame game here.  CBS daytime topper Barbara Bloom has allowed two soaps to die on her watch.  It’s her bosses that made the call, but if the shows were doing better in the ratings, they never would have been canceled.  While ABC’s Brian Frons regularly makes creative decisions that anger fans, all of the ABC soaps are still on the air.  

Procter & Gamble, the company once synonymous with the term soap opera, has mismanaged its daytime business to the point where it now ceases to exist.  The company could have put more effort into selling its soaps internationally the way Sony does, and generated millions of dollars in additional revenue that could have helped the shows. 

Maybe Ellen Wheeler really is soap-opera kryptonite.  The former ‘Guiding Light’ executive producer had just joined ‘ATWT’ as a director.  Meanwhile, ‘ATWT’ executive producer Christopher Goutman has not been a particularly passionate advocate for the show. He stated in interviews that he did not think there was an audience anymore for soaps that aired five days a week and discouraged fans from writing letters to him. 

Procter & Gamble is, at least officially, claiming that all hope is not lost. 

P&G’s Senior Vice President Brian Cahill issued the following statement: “We are proactively seeking a new outlet to carry the show, and are open to exploring innovative formats and relationships that will enable the future success of ‘ATWT’.”

Though the studio was unable to sell ‘Guiding Light’ to another network when CBS canceled it, perhaps having more time to shop it around will make a difference. 

‘ATWT’ was the original ‘It’ soap.  It’s realistic, slow-paced storylines were a sensation in the 1950s and 1960s.  ’ATWT’ had daytime’s first supercouple, Jeff and Penny.  A recent episode of ‘Mad Men’ featured the famous clip of Walter Cronkite breaking into an episode to announce that JFK had been shot.  In the 1980s, headwriter Douglas Marland crafted some of the best daytime storylines ever told, including the epic romance of Lily and Holden (Jon Hensley, pictured).  More recently, it innovated with daytime’s first gay male romantic storyline, Luke and Noah. 

The show is truly a part of American history.  It will be missed.

As the daytime ‘World’ turns upside down, it was business as usual for network brass Tuesday. CBS President Les Moonves appeared somewhat insensitive during an interview with CNBC, in which he discussed the long-running soap’s cancellation.

“The days of the soap opera have changed very much. ‘Guiding Light’ left earlier this year and ‘As the World Turns’ will leave later next year. They’ve had long and distinguished runs and their days are over,” Moonves said.

As Gawker points out (and provides the video), Moonves was likely unaware that the CNBC reporter he was interviewed by happens to have a mother-in-law (Marie Masters, who plays Dr. Susan Stewart) who’s worked on ‘ATWT’ for four decades. Ouch.