It was just last week that the world has stopped turning. Oh, don’t panic. I’m not talking about some apocalyptic catastrophe on this third rock from the sun, nor have I flashed forward on the Mayan calendar. I’m talking about the cancellation of a venerable daytime television drama.
After 54 years on the air, CBS and Proctor & Gamble have turned out the lights on As The World Turns. For the last 48 years, I have been a faithful viewer (and if you read my last blog piece about customer service, then you know that the beginning and end of my love affair with the show that fans in the know simply call ATWT, coincides with the beginning and end of my love affair with Timex).
I remember following the trials and tribulations of the Hughes and Stewart families while at the feet of my mother who watched the show from before my birth. It was a comfort to me to grow up with so many of the characters.
In the final years it was easier to keep track of the show. VCRs and PVRs made it possible to never miss an episode. Back in the day it was a race to get home from school to literally catch it live, as what the actors did in their New York studio was instantly beamed out to the living rooms of North America.
I was what some would consider a rare breed. The heterosexual male viewer, who was not afraid to share his passion for daytime drama with any and all who wished to listen. Oh, I’ve known my share of closeted male fans. The guys, who claimed to have never watched an episode, yet would occasionally drop the name of a character in a knowing way.
And, as with the drama, a lot has happened in life over that span of time. Man has landed on the moon, a losing war was waged in Vietnam, the fight for civil rights was won, and, most chillingly, a live broadcast of ATWT was interrupted to alert viewers to the fact that “three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas” (and yes, I was watching it that day too, at the tender age of five).
Years later, as I progressed in my broadcasting career, I had the opportunity to interview many of the long standing cast members of the show. It was Don Hastings, the portrayer of Dr. Bob Hughes for 50 years, who recounted the story of being in the studio on November 22, 1963. The actors were not informed of what had taken place in the Lone Star State. Producers and the director wanted to keep the cast focused. It was only because a security guard was listening to a transistor radio that the actors were finally clued in to the harrowing details of that day.
In 1996 I was fortunate enough to travel to New York to spend three days on the set of the show. To millions this is no big deal. To me, it was like travelling to Mecca. I set foot on the studio floor and watched as actors I literally grew up admiring, rehearse their lines and then tape the show. It was marvellous to be so close, just outside of camera range, seeing this talent unfold.
Many people have derided the work on daytime drama or soaps, even other actors. But you’re not going to find harder working actors, directors and writers. Nowhere else is an actor expected to memorize and perform so much dialogue in a single day, shoot it and then repeat the process the next day. There are no repeats in daytime drama. It’s shot, it’s aired, it’s gone.
I’m going to break ranks with other soap fans now and show my personal bias to a deeper problem than just the loss of ATWT from the airwaves. It’s the plight of the New York actor. I happen to believe (and you’re free to debate this) that the quality of acting that comes out of New York is superior to that of the other coast. I’ve always thought that New York based daytime drama had actors and Los Angeles based daytime drama had television stars.
The New York actor would do the heavy lifting of a daytime soap and would somehow still find the time to do an off-Broadway play, a night time drama and maybe a commercial or two. Take a look at shows like Law & Order. The guy, who played a cabbie or doorman on that show, usually had more acting experience then the second lead of an L.A. based night time drama.
Well, with ATWT recently cancelled, Guiding Light cancelled last year, All My Children moved to L.A., and yes even Law & Order gone, there is now a dearth of choice acting opportunities for some of the best journeyman actors on the planet (One Life To Live is the only remaining soap based in New York).
So while I lament on having to go cold turkey from my daily fix, I can only hope that the cast and crew of ATWT are aware of the joy they brought to millions of views and that their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. That this talented bunch finds the gainful employment they so richly deserve. But most importantly, I pray that opportunity will somehow find a way to knock on the door of the myriad of New York actors who are currently in a drought of epic proportions. Let’s hope that their acting world will continue to turn.
That’s the Stuph – the way I see it