As the World Turns ended its historic 54-year run 10 years (and a day) ago on September 17, 2010. The CBS soap opera (along with Edge of Night) was the first to debut as a half-hour daytime serial on April 2, 1956.
Remembering As the World Turns
Created by Irna Phillips, the show boasted a Who’s Who in terms of head writers over the course of its run. Guiding the lives of the Hughes, Stewart, Lowell, Walsh, Snyder, and other families and characters over the decades were scribes Phillips, William J. Bell (The Young and the Restless), Douglas Marland (Guiding Light), Bridget and Jerome Dobson (Santa Barbara), Hogan Sheffer, and Jean Passanante, among others.
The serial drew in over 10 million viewers daily during its heyday. Arguably, Jeff and Penny, played by Mark Rydell and Rosemary Prinz, were soaps’ first supercouple.
The series tackled a variety of social issues (AIDS/HIV, alcoholism, pill dependency, illiteracy, dying with dignity, among others), occasionally dipped into fantasy and bizarre (time travel; shrunken heads), but the show remained, at its core, about interpersonal family dynamics, romance, and love.
The final episode opened with long-running cast member Don Hastings, who played Dr. Bob Hughes since 1960, reflecting on life in a hospital in a small-town as he and his wife Kim (Kathryn Hays) prepared to leave Oakdale, Illinois, the show’s locale, to live in Arizona.
Rather than have actors from past years come back for guest spots and reprise their beloved characters as other soaps (Guiding Light, Ryan’s Hope, One Life to Live) have done in their finales, ATWT focused on its regular cast. Carly (Maura West), who feared becoming ‘boring’ now that she and Jack (Michael Park) were happily wed, shared news of her pregnancy. Dusty (Grayson McCouch) and Janet (Julie Pinson) bonded with their newborn son, Lorenzo.
Barbara (Colleen Zenk) dissolved her business partnership with her son Paul (Roger Howarth) in order to spend more time with new husband Henry (Trent Dawson). Babs sharply assured Emily (Kelley Menighan) that this did not mean she was walking away from her son.
Dr. John Dixon (two-time Daytime Emmy-winner Larry Bryggman), who did return to Oakdale for the show’s final weeks, reconnected with ex-wife, Lucinda (Elizabeth Hubbard). Like Barbara, Lucinda handed off her company, WorldWide Enterprises, to her child, daughter, Lily (Noelle Beck).
“Good night, dear,” said Lucinda, bookending the famous words “Good morning, dear” that the late Helen Wagner (ex-Nancy) spoke to late TV husband Don McLaughlin (Chris) in the show’s premiere.
A happy ending was denied Lisa, played by Eileen Fulton, who helped put the show on the map and paved the way for so many other entertaining and endearing troublemakers on daytime. She did spar with John and Lucy at her hotel. (Oh, why didn’t one of her ex-beaus come to town to sweep her off her feet once more? Grant Colman, anyone?)
Tom (Scott Holmes) comforted Margo (Ellen Dolan) over their son Casey (Billy Magnussen) leaving the nest, but he assured his wife that their boy would be home for holidays and vacations.
Chris Hughes (Daniel Cosgrove), recovering from a heart transplant, was tended to by Katie (Terri Conn). He proposed marriage and she happily accepted. Luke (Van Hansis) dropped by to suggest that Chris become Memorial’s new chief of staff once he recovered. Luke listened to Chris’s new heart, which once beat inside the body of the late Dr. Reid Oliver (Eric Sheffer Stevens), Luke’s love interest.
Susan (Marie Masters) dropped by Bob’s office to bid him and Kim farewell. Bob’s affair with Susan when he felt estranged from his wife was one of the show’s more memorable storylines but it was clear in this scene that all had been forgiven – if not necessarily forgotten.
There are hundreds of other storylines. Your favorite depends on when you watched the show. Standouts include the Douglas Cummings (John Wesley Shipp) story, Lily being Iva’s (Lisa Brown) true daughter, Casey (Bill Shanks) and Lyla’s (Anne Sward) romance, Lisa suing John for malpractice, James Stenbeck’s (the late Anthony Herrera) reign of terror, and the romance of Carly and Jack.
Speaking of romance, Holden (Jon Hensley) reuniting with Lily was left vague, perhaps purposely so. Clearly, the feelings were still there, but the couple didn’t share a farewell kiss. Had Martha Byrne, who had played the role from 1985 to 1989, and again from 1993 to 2008, still been in the part of Lily, viewers would have insisted that Holden and Lily be together for the finale.
The last scene had Kim telling Bob that she didn’t believe in goodbyes bur rather “just goodnight.” She went off to wait for Bob in the car. He packed up his nameplate and walked out the door, saying, “Good night,” another nod to his mother’s line in the show’s premiere. As the lights dimmed in his office, a globe began to spin, indicating the world would continue to turn.
Hopes of a scripted reunion special or revival series never materialized. However, in 2016, four members of the show’s cast, Zenk, Hubbard, Byrne, and Dolan, reunited on The Talk as the CBS talk show, which ironically took over ATWT’s time slot, celebrated the network’s 30th anniversary as No. 1.