End of the 'World'

Viewers have been abandoning soap operas for years now, and yesterday, CBS confirmed the dire nature of the situation. It's retiring its 54-year-old show, As The World Turns, a daytime drama known for high quality among its peers. (The show has won four Emmy's for Outstanding Drama Series, and launched the careers of Marisa Tomei, Meg Ryan, Julianne Moore, Parker Posey and Martin Sheen, among others.) The last episode will air in September 2010, one year after the network put Guiding Light to rest.

“The world has turned,” said Tim Brooks, a television historian, in a New York Times interview. “Women are working today,” he said. And those who do find themselves in front of a TV during the day have many more options than they used to. With cable TV, not to mention DVRs, people can watch anything on weekdays at 1 PM ET (when ATWT airs in most regions).

When I was in high school, my friends and I all kept up with a soap or two. We were well aware that the stories were outlandishly contrived, and the dialogue inane. But the silliness of the plots also made them fun. And as young women coming of age, we could get a vicarious thrill out of all the romance and sex in these shows. On that front, soap operas never, ever disappoint.

There was also a social component to being a soap opera fan. When you watched a certain show, you entered a sort of sorority of viewers who gossiped about the characters and even had get-togethers to watch. I've long since forgotten large segments of my high school experience, but I still remember the day a certain couple on Santa Barbara finally requited their love. I watched it at my best friend's house, the two of us sitting on her living room rug—riveted. It was great.

I read that nowadays, the average soap viewer is over 50. For As the World Turns, it was 57.8. I guess high school girls have better things to do with their time than live vicariously through the characters on daytime dramas. (Let's hope they're not actually doing the things those characters do…Oh, who am I kidding? They probably are.)

Though I haven't watched soap operas since high school, I'm still a little wistful about the genre's slow demise. I bet there have been millions of women who have lived vicariously through one character or another on ATWT. One thing's for sure, the show did more than just sell soap.

Plus: CBS canceled Guiding Light after 72 years.

Do you secretly love soap operas? Chime in below!

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