After 54 years and more than 13,000 episodes, the “World” will stop spinning for cast, crew and fans of the longest-running soap opera on television today. As the World Turns will air its final episode on Sept. 17. I caught up with Marnie Schulenburg (who has played Alison Stewart since March 2007) recently to discuss the show, those last days on the set and her plans for the future.
Daytime Dial: When you heard the news that the show was going to be canceled, how did you react, and what was the general consensus around the set?
Marnie Schulenburg: I found out, I think it was right before Christmas, and I think it was solidified in January. That’s an awful time in general for people to find out, just because that’s supposed to be the happiest, giving time of year, and to know that your job and source of income is coming to an end is difficult for everybody. I’m younger, and I have less responsibility. I have a lot more freedom to be allowed to be out of a job. But a lot of the people on the show have lots of kids, or they have families, or it’s been their life. So, for me it was just sad watching people who had pretty much become my family for the past three and a half years go through that and the many different levels of what that means. From anger to sadness, feeling nostalgia to being sentimental — everybody has a different way of coping and dealing, and to watch people you love go through that is really difficult and sad.
DD: And like you said, you all really are like a family, so it’s like your family is being broken up.
MS: It really is, especially for the people like Don Hastings, Kathryn Hays and Eileen Fulton — the people who have been on the show since almost the beginning. Some people have pursued careers outside of the soap more than others. Some have kept busy with other projects, but those who really mainly focused on the soap and just had their families, it’s like the possibility of a career outside of that, they wonder, is that something that they even want to pursue? Is it time to retire? So, that is really difficult, too.
DD: A lot of actors, like those from Guiding Light, are finding work on remaining soaps. The cancellation of ATWT could give some actors new opportunities, and might even compel ATWT viewers to watch a new soap to follow that actor, creating higher numbers for the shows that do remain on the air.
MS: I feel like a lot of us are very versatile actors. I just read an article that quoted, I believe it was Les Moonves of CBS, saying that he wasn’t sure if there was a place for daytime anymore. The medium is changing. But since there are soaps leaving, then those viewers could then go over to another network and watch another show. That is very probable. But even with that being said, the viewership isn’t what it was even three years ago. We aren’t losing all the viewers; there are just different ways that they are watching our show, and it’s really difficult to monitor that and then prove to the networks that we are still maintaining popularity. I can tell them that half of my family and friends are TiVoing it and DVRing it or watching it online, but until we are able to monitor this source of how people are watching our show, what can we do?
DD: So, take me back to that final day of shooting. What was it like on the set?
MS: Once we found out, everybody went through different phases of coping: sadness to anxiety to anger to relief to whatever. But the last couple of days it was like, whatever stress people had, including myself, about where are we going and how were we going to make a living, that kind of melted away. Everything was relished. Everything was given respect, and it wasn’t rushed; it was honored. The last day, everybody clapped after everybody’s scene. Anytime anyone was done, we would all clap, and that was a wrap for them. That we were given that respect, that was really great.
There were an insane amount of pictures taken and a lot of crying. We did the last scene of the day with Don Hastings, Marie Masters and Kathy Hayes — three of the best, three really great people who started the show. When they were done, everybody came out and took pictures. Everybody on the show stayed, across the board, and we all made toasts for two hours — everybody toasting to one another and saying things that they made sure they wanted said. It was really beautiful.
DD: I know you can’t tell me how the show will end, but can you give me a little hint?
MS: It’s definitely going to be, I’d say for most of the people, a happy ending. For any character who doesn’t get one, I think they have pretty much already wrapped that up. Our fans are really in tune with the story lines and where they think characters are going to go. They are normally pretty much right on the nose with how stuff ends up. We want people to leave the show with a good feeling. It’s resolved and happy, and they can leave remembering the characters in a positive light. You won’t see anything extreme. They really want to keep it grounded, honest, compelling and resolved. A resolution for everybody to leave so they feel it has a poignant finish.
DD: Would you consider a role on another soap, or do you want to go in a different direction?
MS: If I got a job, I wouldn’t turn it down. I don’t think I’m going to go out of my way to pursue another job on another soap. I just don’t think it would be the same. I don’t think any show would ever be the same. ATWT changed my life. It changed how I am as an actor. I learned so much from it. I don’t think that anything could ever really give me that type of satisfaction.