The daytime soap opera is dead. It just hasn't been entirely buried yet.
We've learned that yet another longtime stalwart has been canceled. CBS is dropping "As the World Turns" after 53 years on the air. Its final episode airs in September.
That comes on the heels of the network's cancellation of "Guiding Light," which bit the dust in September after 57 years on TV. If you count its radio run, "GL's" run totaled 72 years.
That leaves CBS with just two daytime soaps ("Young and the Restless" and "Bold and the Beautiful").
ABC still has three ("All My Children," "General Hospital" and "One Life to Live"), while NBC is down to just one ("Days of Our Lives").
But they're all living on borrowed time. One day in the not-too-distant future, we'll talk about network daytime soap operas the way we talk about prime-time variety shows — extinct dinosaurs of another television age.
You could argue that daytime soaps were harmed by, well, all the cliches for which they've become infamous. What with the evil twins, multiple marriages and characters returning from the dead, they're often over the top.
But not only have daytime soaps done some great, compelling storylines, but they had all those goofy elements when they were incredibly popular.
My mother watched "As the World Turns" when I was a kid (many, many years ago). I have very clear memories of her doing her ironing in front of the TV while she watched the show. And of the spinning globe that appeared at the beginning and end of the show.
And I have vague memories of Nancy, Bob, Tom and Lisa Hughes — the residents of fictional Oakdale. (And I had to look up the name of the town.)
But the world has changed a lot since then. Whereas it was once a fairly common thing for women to be home doing the ironing and watching their soaps on TV, that's not so much the case anymore.
Even if daytime soaps were the greatest thing on TV, the audience just wouldn't be there anymore.
And, unlike the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s, broadcast networks are no longer raking in huge amounts of money. Like the soap operas, networks are fighting for their survival.
So they're in no mood to be paying to produce daytime soaps when there are more lucrative ways to go.
CBS replaced "Guiding Light" with a new version of "Let's Make a Deal." The game show is not only getting better ratings, but it's far cheaper to produce.
So what do you think is going to happen with the rest of the soaps?
It may take a while. There's some thought that, as the number of soaps narrows, the remaining fans will flock to those that remain.
But "ATWT's" ratings didn't go up when "Guiding Light" was canceled.
It's possible that a couple of soaps could survive on cable. Maybe ABC-owned SoapNet would keep, say, "General Hospital" and "Young and the Restless" in production.
But costs could be prohibitive. And the only thing worse for fans than no daytime soaps would be done-on-the-cheap daytime soaps.
However, while soaps are going to disappear from daytime, they're not going to disappear altogether.
Back when my mom was doing her ironing while watching "As the World Turns," prime-time television was almost exclusive populated by series built on stand-alone episodes. If you missed a show one week — or three or four — you could still tune in to an episode and not be at all lost.
Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a show that doesn't have continuing elements, whether it be sitcom, science fiction, crime drama or medical show.
What's "Grey's Anatomy" but a big soap opera? Even "CSI" has character arcs.
Heck, The CW is pretty much nothing but prime-time soaps. "Gossip Girl," "Melrose Place," "One Tree Hill," "90210" and "Vampire Diaries" clearly fall into that category. You could argue that "Smallville" and "Supernatural" do, too.
Not only is "Desperate Housewives" still a big hit, but TNT has announced plans to revive "Dallas."
(And it was the huge success of "Dallas" and its imitators back in the 1980s that pushed all the other shows to become at least somewhat serialized.)
If you're an "As the World Turns" fan, you can mourn the loss of your show. But you don't have to mourn the genre.
Soap operas will never entirely disappear.
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