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This 'World' comes to an end

Wednesday, June 23, 1999

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Sandra Ferguson heard the news, fittingly, on a graveyard set. She and the other cast members of "Another World" had been summoned for an impromptu meeting in the solemn setting.

"I don't think that was an intentional thing," the Pittsburgh native says. "But it's a visual that will stay with me forever. The executive producer stood in front of a graveyard" and announced the show was being canceled. "It was the most intense silence I've ever heard," says the actress who recently returned for a second stint as Amanda Cory.

The casts of "Another World" have included Jacqueline Courtney and George Reinholt. 

And then, it was back to work -- for the time being. Back to the daytime drama born on May 4, 1964, with the words "We do not live in this world alone, but in a thousand other worlds."

In the past 35 years, there has been enough love, lust, dating, deception, disorders, drugs, disguises, disrupted weddings, sex, pregnancies, baby-swapping, kidnapping, marriages, murders, madness, time travel and tangled relationships to keep a couple of soaps bubbling. Oh, and let's not forget that old standby: amnesia. How could we forget amnesia?

In January, NBC announced it would scrap either "Another World" or "Sunset Beach" to make room for a new daytime drama, "Passions." In April, it lowered the boom on "Another World" and gave "Sunset Beach" an extension through January.

On Friday, "Another World" will pass into television history, and the family trees of the Corys, Hudsons and Carlinos will wither. But the show isn't dying without leaving a legacy of TV firsts.

In its first year on the air, it dramatized groundbreaking topics such as abortion and illegitimate pregnancy. In January 1975, it became the first serial to expand to an hour and, from March 1979 to August 1980, attempt a Herculean 90-minute format. It also spawned spin-offs "Somerset" and "Texas."

It pioneered the use of celebrity talent, such as Liberace, in guest roles, developed orchestral music for special sequences and took its cast and crew on location.

It once employed Anne Heche, Susan Sullivan, Morgan Freeman, Ray Liotta, Kyra Sedgwick, Eric Roberts and Rue McClanahan. Actors such as Brad Pitt, Kelsey Grammer, Faith Ford and Ving Rhames appeared on the drama when they were still relative unknowns. Other famous faces who popped up: Billy Dee Williams, Nancy Marchand, Howard E. Rollins Jr., Luke Perry and Marla Maples.

    'Passions' built around dark secrets

NBC's "Another World" replacement, "Passions," was created by James E. Reilly, the guy who injected demonic possession into "Days of Our Lives" a few years back. That should tell you "Passions," premiering at 2 p.m. July 5 on WPXI, won't be the same ol' thing.

Reilly even describes the show as "Peyton Place" meets "Dark Shadows" or "The X-Files." Set in the seemingly quaint New England town of Harmony, "Passions" bubbles with secrets based on the town's history and revolving around four core families. The show is taped in Studio City, Calif., but it also will feature scenes shot on location in Oxnard, Calif., Camden, Maine, and Paris.

Juliet Mills, Ben Masters, Liza Huber, Tracey Ross, Rodney Van Johnson and Kim Johnston Ulrich are among the show's stars.

-- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor


Ferguson, a one-time resident of Pleasant Hills and graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, did a scene with Maples, back in the days before she was Mrs. and then ex-Mrs. Donald Trump.

Ferguson's craziest storyline involved time travel and the struggle between past and present souls for possession of her body, she says from California.

Cancellation talk was nothing new to Ferguson, who first heard it when she joined the show in 1987. "We had such a loyal fan following, that's probably why we didn't think we were going to get canceled. The fans always came through," and deserve thanks for their loyalty, she says.

But when the news came, storylines that would have taken six months to play out suddenly were accelerated. So was the work schedule. "We were doing six and seven shows instead of five a week. We were working so hard, it was a good thing, we were kept so busy we didn't have a lot of time to mourn. We wanted to keep the morale up until the end."

Fans may be left with a couple of question marks, but the writers tried to have everyone exit happy. "They actually got me back with my long-term love, which was not the intention previous to this," she says. And there's even a surprise animal guest for the finale.

Then viewers will get a five-day mourning period before the new soap starts.

Next week's WPXI schedule will be disrupted by Wimbledon coverage mornings Monday through Wednesday, afternoons Thursday and Friday. On July 5, the lineup will look like this: "Sunset Beach" at 1 p.m., "Passions" at 2 p.m. and "Days of Our Lives" at 3 p.m.

"Passions," created by longtime "Days of Our Lives" writer James Reilly, is being produced by NBC. "Sunset Beach" also is an NBC production, unlike "Another World," which is a Procter & Gamble production. As with nighttime series, networks like to have control -- creatively and financially -- over their programs.

"They're losing a show with a rich and fascinating history, and a show that took from Broadway the best acting in daytime," suggests Julie Poll, author of "Another World: 35th Anniversary Celebration" (HarperEntertainment, $30).

The casts of "Another World" have included former Pleasant Hills resident Sandra Ferguson. 

"When you look at Victoria Wyndham, who's been on the show 27 years, and Rachel and Mac, it was such a wonderful, wonderful love story that fans really identified with, until the actor Douglass Watson died suddenly and then she was paired with Charles Keating as Carl Hutchins."

In the foreword of Poll's book, Wyndham recalls succeeding Robin Strasser as Rachel. "When I arrived at 'Another World' in 1972, head writer Harding 'Pete' Lemay had decided to flesh out the character of Rachel from the barracuda created by Agnes Nixon. Pete wanted to see what would happen if Rachel had some of her wishes come true."

It wasn't easy stepping into another actress's spiky heels in Bay City. On her first day on the set, while doing a scene with actress Constance Ford who played Rachel's mother, the older woman declared with a frosty look, "Rachel wouldn't do that." And Wyndham insisted, "This Rachel would." Case closed.

Poll appeared at an "Another World" fan club luncheon in New York in April to promote her book and says, "I have never seen anything like it. ... The fans were heartbroken. A soap opera becomes like a family member. We were mobbed. Fans were saying, 'I'm so happy to have a keepsake of the show.' " The luncheon attracted 875 faithful from the United States, Canada and Europe.

Poll, a New Yorker who is the parent of twin daughters, spent 14 years as a writer for "As the World Turns" and "Loving." She also wrote "As the World Turns: The Complete Family Scrapbook" and "Guiding Light: The Complete Family Album."

"I know I hadn't been a major soap opera watcher until my first job, as a writer's assistant to the head writer on 'As the World Turns,' then I went on to write scripts. I got hooked. To this day, I'll tune in and want to see what they're doing. They really become like members of your family, you bring them into your living room every day or you enter theirs every day."

But a couple of years ago, a real-life soap known as the O.J. Simpson trial lured away many of the fictional drama fans. And with the rise of Court TV came the return of the talk show.

Still, Poll says, "In my career in television, and I've worked in different genres, there is nothing like a soap opera fan. They are the most loyal and most committed, so that's why it's such a shame to see a 35-year-old show go off the air.

"To me, that's one of the charms of the shows is you have the generations -- grandmother, mother and children" as viewers -- and as characters, too. On "As the World Turns," Helen Wagner, who plays grandmotherly Nancy Hughes, said the first lines on the first show in April 1956.

The pace of the shows has, like life, accelerated tremendously. "If you look at early tapes, they would never let us write like that today. People sat and had five-minute scenes of conversation. Now it moves much faster. There are more scenes and more characters."

Anyone who saw the movie "Tootsie" or has heard an actor talk about his stint on soaps, knows it's a much more rigorous pace than a TV or theatrical feature. "It's like no other form, in the demands, because of the amount of material you go have to learn in such a short period of time," Poll says. "They don't like to do retakes, it slows down production and you go into overtime."

Poll doesn't think the "Another World" fans will automatically adopt NBC's newest soap.

"I think they're going to lose a lot of fans, a lot of viewers. Traditionally, it takes a long time for a soap opera to build an audience. A soap opera's a habit. Also, certainly, the 'Another World' fans are angry and will not be tuning in to 'Passions.'"

But one "Another World" mainstay won't be filing for unemployment any time soon. Linda Dano, who plays romance novelist Felicia Gallant, is rejoining ABC's "One Life To Live" as Gretel Cummings. Her character also will pop up on "All My Children," "General Hospital" and "Port Charles."

And a week from today, four characters from "Another World" will travel from Bay City to Oakdale, home of CBS's "As the World Turns." Jake and Vicky McKinnon (played by Tom Eplin and Jensen Buchanan) will lend a hand to Tom Hughes, who is desperately trying to prove Emily Stewart innocent of murder.

On July 5, newlyweds Lila and Cass Winthrop (Lisa Peluso and Stephen Schnetzer) will make a brief stop in Oakdale on their way to Hawaii for their honeymoon.

Guess what Ada told Rachel all those years ago was true: "Life is a great adventure and death is just another beginning."

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