September 17th, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

I don’t remember attempting to watch a complete episode of As the World Turns before 1969, when KIRO-TV first placed a noon newscast ahead of it. (Ah, Sandy Hill….)

ATWT was a difficult viewing experience for a preteen boy. But I challenged myself to get through it.

First came the gothic organ theme, and that very simple title sequence using a very church-y typeface. (Years later I learned the font was named “Lydian.”) Then a whole minute of commercials.

Only then did the drama commence. It was slow and quiet. It mostly seemed to consist of the Hughes, Lowell, and Stewart family members discussing the everyday minutiae of their lives.

That was all there was to story during the most famous episode of all, the one that Walter Cronkite interrupted for the news that President Kennedy had been shot.

But in retrospect, upon seeing pieces of these old episodes on YouTube, there was a hypnotic formula at work.

ATWT creator Irna Phillips (1903-1973), who’d essentially invented the genre, knew her audiences wanted virtual neighbors, whose lives (just slightly more exciting than the viewers’ own) could be shared in predictable doses at the same time every day, Monday throgh Friday.

Phillips didn’t shout at her viewers with high-strung melodrama. She seduced them with carefully written, if hastily rehearsed, dialogue.

Traditionally soaps were the one TV genre where The Writer was the auteur. ATWT’s auteur was Phillips. It was her masterwork.

It was also one of the first TV soaps to run a half hour per episode. Previously they’d all been 15 minutes, as they’d been on radio.

Phillips took this extra airtime and used it to slow down the storytelling pace, sometimes to near glacial proportions. That only made it more compelling.

ATWT quickly became known as the class act of daytime. Within two years it had conquered the ratings. It stayed on top for two decades.

But it was a show created for the three-network TV economy. The multichannel landscape was a harder place to support a single hour with a reported $50 million annual production budget, producing over 250 episodes a year with no reruns and no DVD box sets. Budgets, casts, and sets got smaller. But those were only stopgap measures.

The last episode has now aired in the west. A story older than me has ended.

Could anything like it be started again?


Character-based, quiet, domestic drama is just about the easiest scripted video to produce. It could even be done online, given the right economies of scale.

But this particular story has ended.

2 Responses  
  • Karen Anderson writes:
    September 20th, 201011:53 pmat

    As the World Turns began shortly after I turned one. My mother, who had worked full time as a mathematician until I was born, suddenly found herself being a housewife, surrounded by a neighborhood full of stay-at-home women who played bridge, clipped recipes, arranged flowers, and were too timid to drive cars. My mom discovered As the World Turns, and I grew up to the sounds of that organ-piano theme song. Nancy Hughes (a sort of Stepford wife) gave me the creeps. Fortunately, my mom got to go back to work part-time when I went to grade school. But she never got tired of catching up on As the World Turns! She’s 92 now, and has outlasted the show.

  • Luigi Fulk writes:
    March 16th, 20118:01 amat

    SD.Henry Ford (1863-1947)was born in Dearborn, Michigan. From the time he was a young boy, Ford enjoyed tinkering with machines. Farm work and a job in a Detroit machine shop afforded him ample opportunities to experiment. He later worked as a part-time employee for the Westinghouse Engine Company. By 1896, Ford had constructed his first horseless carriage which he sold in order to finance work on an improved model. SD

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