Twilight in Oakdale

You know, I used to have dreams about Oakdale.

Like any wonderful book you’ve read, or movie you’ve seen, sometimes the place and the characters seem so real. I used to dream about them, imagine I was walking around the streets of Oakdale. I loved Springfield first. But I dreamt about living in Oakdale, in the world where Douglas Marland was the gatekeeper and the weaver of the tapestry.

This wasn’t the post I’d intended to make today – to comment about the news, ultimately not unexpected but shocking in its timing, that As The World Turns has been canceled.

I’d intended to post a commentary today reflecting on the now somewhat-eerie fact that it was a year ago today that I was in Pepack, New Jersey, having lunch with Jill Lorie Hurst and sitting in a makeshift green room listening to Ellen Wheeler talk very passionately about Guiding Light. It was a glimpse inside of another story, a glimpse I’m eternally grateful to have had before that narrative was relegated to history.

Fast forward a year to today’s news. It’s surprising in its timing, but perhaps to be expected in all other aspects.

I’d been thinking with GL and ATWT that I was surprised that CBS and P&G hadn’t tried to cut each show to a half hour. Had every option been examined?

But Les Moonves made it clear in his statements today where his company stands. In an era where networks are increasingly looking to make partnerships with advertisers, he ironically declared that the day of the sponsor driven product is over.

ATWT had a ticking clock tied to its back on April 1rst. It was only a matter of time.

Stories are dreams that make it into a screenplay, onto our TV screens. I used to dream – seriously! – that I lived in Kim and Bob’s house. I was in a highly prized demographic at the time, but despite all of the flashy flair that the network undoubtedly insisted to Douglas Marland, Laurie Caso and Bob Calhoun was necessary, despite all of those teen stories, I was mesmerized by the cool, complex, sexy, smart grownups.

There was sturdy Tom and fearless Margo, John and the unsinkable Lucinda Walsh, her headstrong daughters, Lily and Sierra. There was the weary hopefulness of Iva Snyder, the classic romance of Duncan and Shannon, the travails of Barbara and beautiful Frannie Hughes. And Lisa! Lisa, who was the Original Recipe Bitch, and proud of it!

And I was fascinated by Bob and Kim – in particular Kim Hughes. Kim was Everywife, but with an exotic layer underneath. Kim was, and is, so many women that I’ve met and known.

The story where Bob and Kim were reunited with Sabrina was just beautiful. Their reunion was breathtaking and beautiful, a child and parents being reunited. Onscreen, it was the resolution of a storyline thread that had been started years earlier. But it meant more than that – it was a resolution of sorts for ATWT’s creator, Irna Phillips.

Kim was Irna’s last creation, a woman who was meant to be independent, free-thinking and full of passion. But Irna’s story had Kim sleeping with Bob Hughes – a man married to her sister – and that just couldn’t be done. Kim had to be punished, and the baby lost – until Douglas Marland and his meticulous attention to history set things right.

I wanted to live in Douglas Marland’s Oakdale – to have Thanksgiving with the Synders, to be a guest at the Hughes’ house, to talk to Grams and hear the wisdom and richness of their lives.

ATWT certainly hadn’t been flying at the top of its game. But it was, in my opinion, stronger in some key areas than GL. Whereas GL had slowly declined over a decade or so, it was only a few years ago that ratings were up at ATWT and Emmys were being won for best show and for many of the performers.

But like GL, ATWT has been on shakier ground. As all daytime soaps are. The audience at large is shrinking. And the remaining soaps are trying desperately to be every single, possible thing they can be other than a soap. The remaining soaps have an audience, but they don’t respect them.

I don’t blame them, folks – they have a gun to their heads, so to speak, and a mandate to make money and maximize advertising. And so stories and ads are aimed squarely at that young audience. But as a result, the daytime soaps are making a fatal error: they’re not writing a story for the dedicated fans who actually watch their show.

And so another long story, another book with many chapters and many layers, is coming to an end. I agree with We Love Soaps’ Roger Newcomb that soaps will live on, in some format, on the Internet.

But another domino has fallen, the last of its kind. This one makes me very, very sad.

For more on the cancellation, click here.

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6 thoughts on “Twilight in Oakdale

  1. Every word spot on, and a great choice of photos. I was always a sucker for the Lucinda and Lily dynamic.

    Hey Lana – agreed – so much of what Douglas set up is STILL the engine of the show. I could watch a whole show about the Walshes.

  2. Patrick, I have been waiting ALL DAY for you to post on this topic. And you didn’t disappoint. You said everything I’ve been thinking since I heard the news. After September, we’ll have six soaps on the air on the three combined networks. I remember when ABC had six soaps just on their network alone. These are truly sad days. And I expect more to come.

  3. It was also only a couple years ago (2006 and 2007) that GL was winning best show and actor Emmys galore! BOTH shows were doing great in quality when they were cancelled and should NOT have been cancelled.

  4. ATWT also felt very real to me. I started watching ATWT in the late 80s and got into GL around the same time. I was hooked on both of them, and always had very contrasting feelings — I enjoyed GL and was entertained by many of the fascinating, complex characters. ATWT was more like my home, my family. Everyone seemed so normal and their sanity and strength and their years of history and connections to each other, to their town, that was what I wanted life to be like. ATWT was in my heart and as such I had a very hard time keeping with the show after Doug Marland tied and all his complex, diverse canvas was slowly but surely turned into generic, somewhat tacky, somewhat dull stories revolving around the same handful of characters. I think the day “my” ATWT left was when they fired so many of my favorite actors in 1993-1995, people I tuned in every day for, like Lisa Brown, Anne Sward, Michael Swan, Scott DeFrietas. Not that they haven’t had some big moments since then. Certainly Carly was one of a kind, and I loved the Lily/Rose stories, before Rose was killed off in yet another attempt at shock value and style over substance.

    We’ll always have our memories of Barbara, Lisa, Lucinda, Bob, Kim, Margo, Tom, Lyla, the Snyders, John, Jessica, Ellen, etc. Or I hope we will, anyway. This was not just a show to many of us. I think that’s what those who run the networks never understand. These aren’t just commodities, they are lifelines. And they are priceless areas to build network loyalty, brand loyalty, for generations, and to help many future stars learn how to act.

    Good luck replacing that with a D-grade version of Truth or Consequences, or whatever crap CBS has planned.

  5. This is another sad day for daytime viewers. I feel like I’ve lost a good friend and my mother all over again. My sister and I watched ATWT with our mom from the beginning and we will watch until the end. Thanks for remembering the Sabrina story line. It was one of my favorites. I’ve been mourning the loss of GL and felt that ATWT was doomed. Thank you for your column and insight.

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