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

Television. Fans and cast members are fuming over the cancellation of a soap that featured mature actors.

June 21, 1999|WILLIAM KECK | 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."

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