The day the world stopped turning
Sept. 17, 2010 at 4:17 a.m.
Sitting in her recliner Friday, her cane resting close by, Joan Balusek did the same thing she did every day at 1 p.m. She flipped the channel to CBS and spent the next hour engrossed in the lives of the multi-generational families living in the fictional Oakdale.
As much as Friday was the same, however, it was also very different. At 2 p.m. "As The World Turns" didn't anymore. The final episode of the 54-year-old soap opera aired as devoted fans like Bulusek, 78, mourned the loss.
"I've been watching this since 1989. I'm just going to die when it goes off," she said minutes before the final episode began. "It's a sign of the times, I guess. The younger people want to see something more risque. Me? I like for them to leave something to the imagination."
After more than 20 years of watching the show, Balusek knows every character's back story, every plot and subplot, every scheme and every scandal. She even knows everything that goes on behind-the-scenes.
"That's Dr. Bob. He's been on the show since it began. And that guy right there, John Dixon? The actor left in 2004 because of a contract dispute. They asked him to come back for the last few episodes," she explained as the show got underway. "And that's Margo and Tom, who is Dr. Bob's son. See, I know more about these people than I do about some people in my real life."
There's Chris Hughes, Dr. Bob's other son, who just had a heart transplant. And Kim, who married Bob after his divorce from Lisa. And, of course, Carly and Jack, who recently got married. And then Henry and Barbara, the much younger man married to the much older woman. As each character comes on the screen, Balusek, a great -grandmother of 12, reminisced about their lives on the show.
"If I was a drinker, I'd have a glass of wine right now," she laughed.
Although the viewership of the soap has steadily declined over the years, the decision to end the show sat heavy on the hearts of the loyal fans who have stuck with it, in some cases, since it first began.
Patsy Miles has spent 50 years of her life watching the show.
"I hate that they're taking it off the air. It makes me sad and angry," Miles, 70, said. "I felt the same way when 'Guiding Light' went off the air, like I'm losing a part of my history. The world is changing so much."
For Miles, the appeal of the show is its similarities to real life, but with elements of theatrical flair that make it a way to escape real life as well.
"It's just like real life, only with more drama. They kept the same characters and often the same actors until those actors died of natural causes," she added. "I loved watching the families on the show and how they kept going and going despite everything thrown their way."
Shirley Schankweiler, 84, also started watching the soap when it first began. For decades she's taped the episodes and then watched them in the evenings.
"It is emotional. I hate to see it end. I just loved everything in general about the show," she said.
As the last scene unfolds, Dr. Bob is giving one last look around his office he just finished packing up at Memorial Hospital. As he reaches to turn off the light, he simply says "Goodbye."
"Well, he must be saying goodbye to us," Balusek said with a sigh as the credits begin to roll. "Aw, that was such a good show. But all good things must come to an end. Guess I'll have to start watching 'One Life to Live' now."