By Thursday, it was a little late to catch up on 35 years of "Another World," the longest-running NBC soap opera whose conclusion yesterday left behind a bereaved cult following clinging to their Kleenex, VCRs and chat-room lifelines.
For a first-time viewer, it was a little like getting trapped in a Pirandello play. One moment, the picture-perfect soap characters were running amok and misbehaving the way soap opera characters are wont to do; the next moment an escaped ape carried away the groom at the climax of his lovely garden wedding.
At moments like this, you need someone like Earlene Hubbard of Baltimore, who has watched "Another World" for 35 of her 38 years. She can tell you that every time the mishap-prone attorney Cass Winthrop heads for the altar (and it's been more than a few) he's kidnapped. That, in the sudsy world of daytime drama, explains it all.
But there's more. Cass has been kidnapped before by this particular gorilla, who goes by the name of Carolyn.
After 3 1/2 decades, the trials and tribulations of this extended soap opera family, however ludicrous, have become in some ways true to life for Hubbard. She knows they're not real, of course, "but I think maybe somewhere in the world there are people like them. The writers have to draw from something," says Hubbard, who shares "AW" moments with other members of an online Yahoo! club dedicated to the show, as well as with her 16-year-old daughter.
NBC canceled "AW" to make room for "Passions," which makes its debut July 5 and, if previews prove accurate, will be heavy on the pecs, ultra-light on the brains.
Hubbard, like others who gush and grieve online about the demise of their favorite show, set in mythical Bay City, Ill., grew up with the program, which had its premiere May 4, 1964. The attachment is a little different than that of baby boomers who watch "The Flintstones" or "Mr. Ed" in rerun heaven. With soaps, nostalgia for dusty plots involving trust funds, dark secrets, serial murders and illegitimate children accrues, even as new plots, with even more deliciously-ridiculous developments, suck you in.
Maybe, like Janet Etienne, a 28-year-old artist and graduate student who lives in Towson, you took a few years off from "AW," to attend college or launch a career, but you were able to return. And all along, "AW" veterans like Linda Dano, who has played romance-writer Felicia Gallant since 1982, or Victoria Wyndham, who has played Rachel Cory Hutchins since 1972, were still there, waiting with welcome -- if devious -- arms.
Rebecca Caplan of Baltimore says her mom got her hooked on the show when she was a toddler. "Since then it has become a ritual to sit down every night and my mom, sister and I watch together," says Caplan, now 21. "The characters I feel are like my family and close friends. Now I am losing them."
Hubbard's grandmother used to plunk her in front of "Another World," while she tended to chores. "You watch it and you let me know what this lady says when she comes in," she'd instruct her 3-year-old granddaughter.
"I would, too," the granddaughter says. Watching "Another World," was an early primer in paying attention for Hubbard, who soon took her lessons with her to nursery school. Much later, as a home-health nurse, Hubbard timed her visits with elderly clients so she could watch "AW" with them. And if she missed a few episodes, her clients, who often lived more through these fantasy lives than their own, real lives, gladly filled her in.
It's not over yet
Out in Randallstown, Wanda Larkin, a house-bound widow, is connected to "AW" fans through the Internet. She taped each show, and on weekends, her friend Etienne came out to catch up on the episodes she missed during the week. Yesterday, Larkin sat in her study before her television, hooked up to Comcast digital cable and two VCRs. Nearby was a box of tapes containing nearly 100 hours of "AW" (with commercials purged).
Larkin, 62, has made many friendships through "AW" chat rooms, and today she's feeling bereft. It's as if all of the characters, Vicky, Paulina, Carl, Rachel, Joe and Jake, et al., "are leaving and I'm left behind."
Larkin, not afraid to lodge a complaint with WBAL when "AW" is interrupted for a breaking news story, has joined the crusade to preserve the show. If characters can come back from the dead in soap operas, why can't this soap opera be saved, she asks. Larkin is part of the Committee to Save "Another World," which has spearheaded an online petition that in two weeks garnered 4,051 signatures from across the United States and Canada.