"Search for Tomorrow," television's longest-running daytime soap opera, is being canceled--a victim of sagging audience ratings.
The final episode in the 35-year-long saga of Henderson, U.S.A., is scheduled to be broadcast on NBC before the end of the year.
In a statement released at its headquarters in Cincinnati, Procter & Gamble, the soap's producer and sponsor, said it and NBC had come "to a joint agreement to stop airing 'Search for Tomorrow' because it no longer generates the needed audience to keep it a viable property. The number of stations carrying the program has declined to the point where it is not economically viable to continue production."
An exact date for the final installment has not been selected, but Dec. 26 seemed the most likely day. An attempt to bring closure to the current stories probably will be made, a spokeswoman for the company said.
The recent history of the show, which in its heyday helped launch the careers of Morgan Fairchild, Robby Benson and Kevin Bacon, among others, had not been bright.
One of the few remaining 30-minute soaps, "Search for Tomorrow" increasingly has been abandoned by viewers and stations.
The most recent daytime ratings showed the serial attracting only 9% of the available audience.
Earlier this year, the fictional town of Henderson was nearly wiped off the map by a much-publicized flood in an unsuccessful effort to recapture the viewers' attention. Soon thereafter, a new executive producer, David Lawrence, was enlisted to help save the beleaguered soap.
Lawrence set about making changes in sets, costumes, music, writers and characters, and he instigated shooting on a four-week story-line from Ireland, for the November ratings sweeps.
However, at the time of the soap's 35th anniversary celebration last August, Lawrence frankly acknowledged that he faced an uphill battle and that "if we don't rise in the ratings, I don't think we'll be on the air this time next year."
Veteran soap-opera star Mary Stuart, who plays Jo Tourneur, the character around whom "Search for Tomorrow" originally was written, speculated at the time of the anniversary that a loyal following was lost in the confusion over the soap's move five years ago from CBS to NBC.
Other viewers were lost, she said, when "emphasis was placed more on adventure than on individual characters and on family."
She agreed that changes in the soap's form were needed.
"If you are going to hang around the television viewer's house for 35 years, you had better have something new to say," Stuart said.
There was no immediate word from NBC on what will replace it.