1 9 5 6 – 2010 (USA)
13,858 x 30/60 minute episodes
Set in the town of Oakdale, As The World Turns is one of the longest-running daytime soap operas in the world.
First broadcast at 1:30 pm on 2 April 1956 – The Edge Of Night premiered on the same day – the series had the usual mix of deceit, love interests, death, illness, intrigue, money, success and failure – It also always had hard-to-unravel entanglements that endured for years, primarily revolving around the lives of the Hughes family and the Lowell family.
Characters Nancy, Bob and Penny Hughes were introduced in the premiere episode and the fabric of the series would be weaved around their family. Nancy (played by Helen Wagner) would stay with the show for most of its run.
Bob (played by Don Hastings) would provide the backbone for the entire series, bookending it from the first until the final episode.
In the 1960s, at its ratings peak, ATWT had a fifteen percent share of viewers as things were shaken up in Oakdale with the arrival of the Miller family.
Lisa Hughes (Eileen Fulton) arrived in town and quickly became the centre of stormy romances, divorces, blackmail and other scandalous behaviours that kept audiences glued to the screen.
In May 1968, Lisa even got her own show – a short-lived 38 episode prime-time spin-off called Our Private World.
A number of famous actors appeared on As The World Turns in the early stages of their career, most famously Martin Sheen as Jack Davis (1960s), Meg Ryan as Betsy Stewart (1982-84), Swoosie Kurtz as Ellie Bradley, Dana Delaney as Hayley Wilson Hollister (1981) and Marisa Tomei as Marcy Thompson (1983-85).
The show took on a darker feel in the 1970s. The Sullivan sisters arrived and Kim (Kathryn Hays) would soon prove to be a major player in the Oakdale scene. She broke the cliches of the soap opera heroine by being tougher and more independent than any other woman on the show.
Villain James Stenbeck was introduced, as was John Dixon and supercouple Tom and Margo Hughes. Lisa suffered from a hysterical pregnancy and pseudo-incestuous love affairs abounded. Penny left town and many of the established families were rapidly written out through death or by other means.
Plots centred on accidental deaths, blackmail, miscarriages, affairs, plenty of alcoholism, disco parties, debates about birth control and many divorces. The Stewart family expanded and the Wade clan diminished.
Other things changed too. The show moved to colour and the days of live broadcasting ended (the series was broadcast live until the spring of 1975).
The darkness that had crept in during the 1970s exploded in the 1980s as James Stenbeck and Barbara Ryan starred in plots involving blackmail, torrid affairs and drug dealing.
Other stories focused on rape, sexual harassment, unexpected heirs, faked deaths, people being cured of blindness, temporary (often convenient) amnesia and returns from the grave. ATWT also featured its first significant African-American characters and introduced a gay character.
By the end of the 1990s, the show had lost nearly half the audience it enjoyed in the 1980s as much of the production was taken over by former ABC daytime television veterans who were widely despised.
Plots were full of experimental surgeries, hysterical pregnancies, divorces, remarriages, rapes, terrorists, gunrunning neo-nazis, corrupt lawyers, more returns from the dead, randomly returning unknown heirs, stalking, prison terms, and baby selling.
Fans quit watching in droves and launched noisy campaigns against the direction the show was taking.
On the day that the 13,661st episode aired, CBS announced it was axing the soap (the last of the ‘true’ US daytime soaps as it was made by a media subsidiary of Procter & Gamble).
The final episode aired on Friday 17 September 2010.
Judge James (Jim) T. Lowell
Dr John Dixon