Few people will miss "As The World Turns" more than Jeanette Falciani. The daytime soap airs its last episode today.
Falciani, of Somers Point, turned her daughter and granddaughter on to the show. The grandmother records every episode in case she isn't home when the program starts at 2 p.m. weekdays. Falciani, 84, has a simple rule. If people are in her home when "As The World Turns" comes on, they either have to watch it or head outside until the soap opera ends.
"I watched it from the beginning. I will be sad, and I will be aggravated," Falciani said about watching the final episode of one of the world's longest running daytime soap operas.
"As The World Turns," which started in 1956, was the No. 1 daytime serial from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s. The show has lost two-thirds of its ratings during the past 30 years. In 1978-79, it was the fourth highest-rated soap opera with an 8.2 rating. In June, the show was the lowest rated of the seven daytime soaps with a 1.9 rating.
Although "As The World Turns" hasn't been doing well in the ratings, the show's stories have been excellent lately, Falciani said. She especially likes the coupling of characters Janet Ciccone and Dustin "Dusty" Donovan, who used to be a bad guy.
"I just like the storylines. I liked all the people on it. I liked the villains," Falciani said.
Falciani's daughter, Diane S. Smith, also of Somers Point, and granddaughter, Angela Smith, also abide by Falciani's "watch the program, or leave the house" policy.
"When I was in high school from 1984 to 1988, (the character of) James Stenbeck was on, and there was the Holden and Lily romance," said Angela Smith, also of Somers Point, who added she still watched the show as she grew older. "I was shocked. I didn't know it was going to end. Nobody told me."
Parents passing down the love of soaps to their children is something that used to happen more often, but the practice has been on the decline as more women entered the workforce. Since the 1990s, the ratings for soap operas have fallen drastically. Media reports of the demise of soaps, similar to the extinction of the western on television, started popping up at the end of the 1990s.
The end of "As The World Turns" this year, and "Guiding Light" last year, is not a good omen for the soap-opera genre, said Robert Thompson in an interview with The Press last year. Thompson is a television and pop-culture professor at Syracuse University.
Besides ratings, soap operas now are hurt by having no rerun potential and being so work intensive because they are completely scripted, Thompson said. He also mentioned the large expense of their large casts, and that soap-opera thrills have been replaced by reality TV and nighttime dramas.
People who write about soap operas, either online or in print, don't see the future as being so bleak.
"I really do believe there is still life in this genre. I think these are two shows ("Guiding Light" and "As The World Turns") that for years were dogged by cancellation rumors," said Stephanie Sloane, who has served as editor of Soap Opera Digest for the last 20 years. "Yes, it is disconcerting and upsetting for two shows to go off back to back, but it's not as if these were the healthiest shows in the marketplace that were taken off the air."
The key for the survival of the soap opera is to attract new fans to the six shows currently on the air, said Linda Marshall-Smith, founder of the soapdom.com, in Santa Monica, Calif.
"A show such as 'As The World Turns' had a decent number of fans and viewers, but they were probably all 40 to 65 (years old)," Marshall-Smith said. "They (daytime dramas) have to be where new fans, new eyeballs can find them. I means they may have to start doing webisodes, or start doing things you can put on your iPad, they have to be where the younger technology-based person is."
The ABC network recently did a webisodes series, titled "What If," Marshall-Smith said.
"What if this character from this soap met up with this character from that soap and how would they interact with each other," said Marshall-Smith, who added daytime dramas also need to train new writers to put fresh takes on the stories instead of recycling the same 60 writers. "I think that's along the lines of where they need to be looking. They need to be doing things where kids can see that on their iPhones."
Some who keep track of the soap-opera genre believe more drastic measures are needed.
"Daytime needs a renaissance. Network programmers need more leg room. In order for the genre to thrive, changes need to be made, not to the shows themselves, but how you broadcast them," said Errol Lewis, editor-in-chief of the Soap Opera Network website.
Soap operas could air four days a week instead of five, Lewis said. On the fifth day, Fridays, for instance, the network could air something different to bring in a new audience to the network. The soaps would save money and could concentrate more on the fewer episodes they would air. If shows are good one day and not so good the next under the daily format, people may find themselves not watching on a daily basis.
"Although a soap airs 52 weeks a year, there also is the possibility that you could take the summer off. Typically speaking, summer is one of the worst seasons for soaps. No one is really home in the daytime to watch soap operas," Lewis said.
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