I’ve been a viewer of As The World Turns for 26 years, and I know a lot of us who write about soaps have been viewers for a long time.
Here’s an essay by Katharine Chu, who was one of Sam Ford’s students in his MIT class on soap operas. Katharine’s now working towards her Masters at MIT, and has a perspective on the show as a viewer who came on board just a few years ago. Here are her thoughts:
I started watching ATWT in Sam Ford’s American Soap Opera class. When I first started watching, I was not really sure of what to expect. Even though I never watched soap operas before, my friends made me well-aware of ‘the stigmas’ associated with soap operas when I enrolled in the class.
In the beginning, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters in Oakdale, but once I learned more about them, the story lines took on a new life. What makes ATWT appealing is the characters: their pasts, relationships, motivations, goals, and the lengths they will go to achieve those goals.
The time scale and the frequency in which soap operas air give characters more opportunity to build relationships with each other, as well as the viewer. Without this complex network of relationships, stories about love and betrayal become predictable and fall flat. The relationship between the viewer and characters is an interesting one as well. Just like old friends, a viewer can pick up watching ATWT and still have a relationship with the characters. That’s what sets soap operas apart.
I am sad to see ATWT end, and I cannot even imagine what viewers who have followed the show for years must feel! I am glad to see that the last episodes are putting more of a focus on families and relationships, which is the show’s strength. Not only have the writers brought in characters that have left Oakdale, they’ve also done a great job reintroducing the characters to the audience (i.e. Lucy, Abigail, John Dixon) through current characters on the show.
ATWT has traditionally spent a lot of time exploring romantic relationships as well as parent/child relationships with the younger cast, but recently, more of a focus has been placed on some of the older characters and their relationship with their parents. During Barbara’s kidnapping, there were several scenes that examined the nature of her relationship with Paul and Will. Recent episodes explore Lucinda and Lily’s relationship, and Chris Hughes’s interest in becoming chief of staff also brings up the tenuous relationship he has with Dr. Bob.
I have been most impressed by last week’s episode with Nancy Hughes’s memorial. It paid tribute to Helen Wagner and explored the relationships Nancy built with the characters, as well as the audience, through the years. As characters came together to celebrate Nancy’s life, they remembered how she was the one constant, always rallying to support her friends and family members.
It was fitting that the passing of Nancy, the character who spoke the opening line “Good morning, dear” in the first episode of ATWT, would symbolize the show’s end. The show has acted as a true friend and companion to millions of viewers for over five decades. As Oakdale mourns the loss of Nancy, the characters realize that she will live on in the people she’s touched, just like ATWT will continue to live on in the lives of the viewers. It was just ATWT’s wonderful way of saying, “Good night, dear.”