TO EVERYTHING THERE IS AN END
by Deborah Elliott-Upton
This has been a year of endings. Good-bye “24”, “LOST” and “Law and Order.” I’ve said so long to many favorite characters, but I wasn’t prepared for this last one.
I’ve been in a state of mourning for about nine months now though the official death knell wasn’t until Friday, September 17, 2010.
Born on April 2, 1956, the 54-year-old soap opera As the World Turns has stopped turning. The announcement of the cancellation was made in December 2009 in the midst of a ghost story following police officer Jack Snyder’s accidental shooting and killing of his brother, Brad.
This program had been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Originally, it was broadcast during lunch time in our area and was only thirty minutes long. What I remember most is my dad getting suckered into watching the program with mom while he was home for lunch. Dad always said he didn’t like it, but I remember him doing a good job of pretending because I bought the idea he liked it just fine.
Years later, my fireman father-in-law admitted they watched the soaps at work during their lunch, too. My father-in-law and I often discussed plot twists. Once my husband walked in on a conversation and thought we were discussing the lives of mutual friends. He was amused to find out these people only lived on screen. Actually, they lived in our imagination as much as on screen. We often spoke of the What If’s? and the What Might Happen? of the program.
These are fictitious characters who became a part of our lives. The characters were often replaced with different actors without warning. Once when a new actor playing the part of the “bad boy” who’d been forced to leave town now entered stage, the matriarch said something like, “Look at you! You look like a new man!” We all snickered at the not-so-subtle inside joke between writers and fans.
Back in the days of live telecasts, once during a mild scuffle between two men vying for the love of a beautiful actress, one hunk lost his toupee. The camera quickly shifted to another set, but in our home, we burst into laughter. I won’t forget that scene or the startled expressions of all the actors.
As the World Turns meant time spent with my mom, sisters and later, my in-laws. My daughter in a New York school thousands of miles away and I discussed the storylines and characters long-distance. It made us both forget how far apart we were and remember our closeness.
When I lived on Okinawa, I begged my family for “news” of what was happening on the show. It was as comforting to me as hearing news from home in a handwritten letter to a soldier.
The live organ music accompanying the programs was traded in for an orchestral score, and a few years later, the theme song changed to another, then another, and another. Society moved forward and slowly, the soap did, too. Though I don’t remember mention of the Vietnam war until long after the war was over, suddenly a long-lost daughter (played by Ming Na) appeared. Obviously, Thomas Christopher Hughes did a stint in the war and had a fling with a woman who never told him about his love child. Funny, I don’t recall his two-year disappearance from the homestead or any news of his either being drafted or enlisting—a moot point in a soap opera.
A special news break interruption during ATWT reported the news of John F. Kennedy being shot. My mom remembers this as the first break into a program by a newsroom. I guess before that none of the news was Breaking News until the regular broadcast times.
As a writer, I learned a lot from soap operas:
- If a man and woman immediately hate each other, they will eventually fall in love, though they may not stay in love.
- Star-crossed lovers are more exciting than those who have no problems.
- If someone is killed, they usually deserve it.
- If a character dies, it doesn’t mean they are really dead, whether or not a body that looked like them was buried.
- A murder happens only after multiple suspects, all with a reason and probable opportunity to commit such murder, are submitted to the audience as viable.
- Often whoever is charged with the murder is found guilty and sent to jail, where they will meet up with someone who also was wrongly accused of a crime. When the real murderer is discovered and the person in jail is vindicated (a word I learned from watching soaps), they will take the friend from jail home with them and help them make a new start.
- Finding someone to arrest, conducting a trial, and having the jury come to a decision was evidently a longer undertaking in earlier decades than in more recent years.
- Only once do I remember a doctor being portrayed as an inadequate doctor. Sure, soap opera doctors may be cruel and manipulating, but they were always the best in their field. (The awful doctor was Rick Ryan, who escaped to another country and was never heard of or discussed by the residents again in Oakdale, Illinois, again.)
- Children mature dramatically fast in Soap Opera Land. They also can become lawyers or doctors within months of making a career decision. Doctors may be specialists in several areas without additional training, from heart surgery to placing embryos into a woman who’s having trouble conceiving.
- I learned pacing of multiple plot lines in a story. One plot was always in the forefront, another winding down, and another building up to take center stage. This kept the audience interested as one family can’t support all the drama all the time, even in soaps.
- Whoever the bad person is, he/she will still have one really good friend to confide in and who is always of the opposite sex, but they will never see each other as anything but friends.
There are some actors I will always refer by their ATWT character name first, and real name second. Julianne Moore is forever Frannie/Sabrina (twins separated at birth), Meg Ryan is Betsy Stewart (sweet, innocent ingénue), and Parker Posey will forever be the girl who stretched out the name, “Hutch” into three syllables on the banks of Snyder Pond.
It’s like an entire town disappeared right before my eyes. I will never see any of them again. I won’t know what happens when Carly and Jack have their baby or if Parker will be as good a cop as his dad. I won’t know if John and Lucinda will stay together, although they are perfectly suited to each other. I don’t know if Susan will ever find someone she can trust and who will love her as much as she needs to be loved.
I learned so much about writing and what keeps an audience interested enough to last 54 years through all sorts of changes in society. I know it’s old-fashioned and not cool to say I watched this soap opera. I don’t care. I will miss the Memorial Day picnics and the Thanksgiving prayers and the New Year’s Eve parties and the underhanded politics and elections in Oakdale. I miss the bad girls through the ages: Lisa, Barbara and Lucinda. I miss Craig’s antics and Holden and Lily’s long-standing on-again/off-again love affair.
Adieu, ATWT. You were always there and now you are gone forever. I miss you and thank you for every day that the world turned on my television screen.