It's the End of the 'World' As They Know It on NBC

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Back stabbing. Harsh words. Broken promises. Misplaced loyalty.

The essential components of a successful soap opera? Absolutely. But the same words also characterize the resentment much of "Another World's" cast, crew and fans harbor toward NBC, which broadcasts the final episode of the 35-year-old serial this Friday to clear airtime for a new daytime drama.

Much of the confusion and anger surrounds NBC's decision to cancel the Procter & Gamble-produced "Another World," while renewing "Sunset Beach," a struggling 2 1/2-year-old NBC-owned soap. This despite the fact that "Sunset Beach" attracts nearly 1 million fewer viewers daily than "Another World," and is the lowest-rated soap of the 11 currently on the air. Although "Another World" consistently attracts more female viewers aged 18-49 (the most sought-after daytime demographic for advertisers) than "Sunset Beach," NBC felt the Aaron Spelling-produced soap opera would have greater long-term youth appeal.

Still, NBC's "aging" serial generated much buzz in recent years with the steamy sexual coupling of mature lovers Rachel and Carl. Today, their portrayers, Victoria Wyndham, a 28-year vet, and Charles Keating, a familiar face since 1983, are relieved to be free of NBC and hope never to return to daytime again.

"In this medium, if they're going to insist on only writing for children who don't know how to act yet, and they don't want to write for those who are beyond 45, then fine. Goodbye!" fumes Wyndham, who attempted to quit the soap a number of times following Keating's dismissal in early 1998.

"Word came down from the brass at NBC that they wanted our show to be more like 'Days of Our Lives,' " adds Keating, "They wanted a teeny-bopper emphasis."

Mary Alice Dwyer-Dobbin, executive in charge of production of P&G; Productions, a company that in 1959 had 13 different daytime serials on the air, confirms NBC's insistence on taking the "Another World" cast younger. "NBC decided they wanted to target the 12- to 18-year-old audience," says the executive. "I'm not sure that I agree with that as a strategy. Because 'Another World' was not a show that had operated in that realm over the years. It was a struggle to try to deliver to NBC what they wanted. But we truly had pruned the cast, and youthened the cast as they had asked us to do."

"We wanted to bring in the next generation," says Susan Lee, senior vice president of daytime programming at NBC. "The show was skewing old and if you don't continue to build your young audience you will have no audience. When you are 25, you don't relate to a 50-year-old's love story. There's a lot of stuff that went down in our research that I wouldn't tell the people on 'Another World' because it would be too painful for them."

As a result of NBC's decision, Keating became the last in a long line of senior "Another World" performers released from the serial during its waning years. He did accept an invitation from the show's producers and P&G; to return for the final week of episodes. "I was delighted that the bastards hired me back," quips Keating. "But I didn't return to please either Mr. P&G; or NBC, but rather it was appropriate to be there. Even if it is not going to be terribly satisfying storywise, the fans need to see this wrapped up."

Keating says his wife has flatly refused to purchase any P&G; products since his release last year. "My dear Mary told me, 'There are three or four products of theirs I really love--but I'm not buying them.' "

For a while there was hope the show might land at another network. Dwyer-Dobbin confirms that ABC had initiated talks to license the show, but a deal could not be reached.

As "Another World's" fate seemed sealed, many devastated viewers began waging their own war. On April 23, more than 150 fans protested the show's cancellation outside "The Today Show's" window on the world, though according to protesters, NBC cameramen struggled to keep the disgruntled fans out of camera range. As part of a "Joy to the World" campaign, fans mailed in bottles of Joy dishwashing liquid, a P&G; product, to the company, encouraging it to find a new home for the defunct show.

Other embittered viewers have pledged to boycott NBC's replacement soap, "Passions." However Kathy Morley, 38, of Port Chester, N.Y., is among a group of more radical fans who have chosen to take their loyalty one step further. Morley vows: "NBC will be effectively wiped out of my life, just as they have wiped out the existence of 'Another World.' "

"Another World" fan club president Mindi Schulman said that reaction is typical. "I've received hundreds of letters--after three or four hundred I stopped counting--from viewers who told me they would definitely not watch the new show and were dropping (NBC's) 'Days of Our Lives' and 'Sunset Beach' as well," says the 37-year-old Long Island resident. "I personally want no part of NBC. I was loyal to NBC, but on April 12 when 'Another World' got the cancellation I never watched anything on NBC again."

Wyndham and Keating support the fan boycotts, believing NBC mortally wounded their show through lack of promotion and the elimination of several core characters through the years. "Our fans are very, very militant," says Wyndham. "They're activists making a statement, and I'm very proud of them."

Tom Eplin, who's been playing the show's rogue Jake McKinnon since 1985, finds his co-stars' theory hard to swallow. "Charles and Vicky are two of the finest actors I've ever worked with, and it's got be awfully difficult for them to think that the demographics seem to be skewing to a younger audience," says Eplin. "I'm out of that [demo] as much as they are, but I can't have any animosity to a company that treated me as well as NBC did for 15 years."

Eplin advises his fans against boycotting. "I have had favorite shows that have gone off the air, but you have to be pragmatic about it. It was a business decision and I can't see clicking off 'Friends' just because it's on the same network."

"Another World" began spinning on May 4, 1964, when the nation was truly becoming "another world"--still recovering from the assassination of President Kennedy and undergoing radical social reform. The show's writers capitalized on America's societal metamorphosis by incorporating illegal abortion and illegitimate pregnancy into early story lines.

The first soap opera to find success on NBC, "Another World" broke another barrier in 1974 by becoming the first daytime drama to expand to a one-hour format. During its run, three spinoffs were spawned--"Somerset" (1970-76), the forgettable "Lovers and Other Friends" (later renamed "For Richer, For Poorer", 1977-78), and "Texas" (1980-82).

Celebrities such as Morgan Freeman, Faith Ford, Charles Durning, Eric Roberts and Anne Heche got their starts in "Another World's" fictional town of Bay City, with other stars such as Brad Pitt, Kelsey Grammer and Thomas Gibson passing through town on their way to superstardom.

Today, all the sets have been dismantled, costumes sold and actors released. A "for sale" sign has been erected on the old Brooklyn studio, which served as the soap's home throughout its run.

ABC, NBC and CBS are scrambling to lure "Another World's" disillusioned viewers. July 5 is the day NBC unveils "Passions," which, not surprisingly, features an ample display of fresh, toned newcomers. "It's all 7- to 11-year-olds," jokes Keating.

Not so, counters NBC's Lee. "Everyone's assuming ['Passions'] is the 'Dawson's Creek' of daytime, but it's multigenerational. We have love stories for every age."

Meanwhile, ABC hopes former "Another World" fans will already be hooked on "One Life to Live," which brings "Another World" star Linda Dano on board next Monday.

In light of P&G;'s refusal to sell ABC the rights to Dano's popular character, Felicia Gallant, the actress will resurrect a long-forgotten character she introduced on "One Life to Live" in 1978--Gretel Rae Cummings. The character, a relationship counselor, will be woven into story lines on all four ABC soaps--"All My Children," "One Life to Live," "General Hospital" and "Port Charles."

CBS has its own plan for capturing abandoned fans. Days after "Another World's" cancellation, P&G; negotiated to relocate four of the soap's stars to CBS' "As the World Turns." On June 30, characters Jake and Vicky (Eplin and Jensen Buchanan) will arrive in the fictional town of Oakdale, followed by the July 5 arrival of Lila and Cass (Lisa Peluso and Stephen Schnetzer), who will wed at week's end.

The final episode of "Another World," which also resurrects Carolyn the Gorilla, a character popularized in the mid-'80s, left many in the cast dissatisfied. "They very much underwrote us," says Wyndham, who broke down during the taping of the final scene.

"I would have liked for it to have been more bittersweet," adds Dano. "But I understand them wanting to give the audience happy endings across the boards."

While happy endings may be in store for the denizens of Bay City, longtime viewers most certainly will be left feeling bittersweet come Friday, when "Another World" completes its final rotation and disappears into the annals of television history.

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