For the 20 years between 1958 and 1978, 'As The World Turns' was the most watched daytime drama. At its peak in the 1963-64 season, 'As The World Turns' attracted over 10 million viewers each day (about 15.4% TV households ratings). Christopher Schemering remarked, "Like 'Guiding Light', 'As The World Turns' was the ultimate family serial, but with a style and a leisurely approach that was both unique and revolutionary.
"There was minimal plot, maximum character development, an emphasis on ironic closeups, and long ambiguous conversations that had viewers guessing what was happening under the surface. While you waited for stories to pack a wallop, you luxuriate in 'As The World Turn's' atmosphere. And it was packed with likable, interesting people you cared about. Over the years, it remained a smash hit because it had created a heritage and, perhaps more importantly continuity."
When CBS canceled 'As the World Turns' in 2009 (marking TV's changing landscape), it was reported soap operas generally costed roughly $50 million a year to make. A game show such as 'Let's Make a Deal' or 'The Price Is Right' costed around $25 million and attracted women viewers 18 to 49 that most advertisers sought. 'As The World Turns' had a median age of 57.8.
Still, analyst Sam Ford told CNN, "They were reliable cash cows. They funded the expansion of prime time." Daytime television reportedly earned over $1 billion in annual advertising revenues. Robert Butler of NBC told 'The New York Times' in 1984, "There is far more money in daytime than any other part of the schedule. The difference between our ratings and the other networks could easily account for a $100 million difference in pretax profits."
John Kelly Genovese observed, "Like 'The Young and the Restless' and 'Days of our Lives', part of the fun of watching 'As The World Turns' is that it calls for complete involvement with the situations the characters create. It is one of the few soaps with a substantial and believable family core." Christopher Schemering added, "Say what you want about 'The Young and the Restless' – the dialog is often dumb, the stories move at a snail's pace, and no one in its history has ever had a zit or a hair out of place – but the show is the snazziest-looking on the air and Bill Bell is an expert when it comes to tantalizing an audience."
'The New York Times' noted, "Another factor that makes daytime programming important to the networks is viewer loyalty. Daytime viewers tend to watch the same afternoon soap operas for years, adopting characters like family members and staying with them as they age. It can take years for a soap opera to build an audience, but an established program can provide big revenues for decades."
Julia Barr of 'All My Children' told 'Today', "These are shows that came into your home 5 days a week, week in and week out. It's unlike any other as far as the entertainment medium is concerned." Lynn Leahey of 'Soap Opera Digest' conceded, "Once, soaps were like this cash cow, and their revenue paid for prime time and all the pilots getting made. When that changed in the 1990s, the (soap opera) industry never regained its footing."
On daytime dramas, Robert Rorke reported, "Characters planned for a show sometimes never make it to air. On 'Guiding Light', the writers had created a character named Noah as a love interest for Reva. Trouble was, the producers could never cast the part. Eventually they gave up and revised their conception of the role. Noah became Cain.
"Sometimes sponsors have killed stories before they got out of the gate, as if they knew they should know better than to wrestle with something they couldn’t handle. Sponsor Procter and Gamble once nixed an idea that would have made history in the late 1970s. In shelving that idea, Procter and Gamble spared the audience an innovative idea which would have been lousily executed.
"When you consider all the natural, unnatural disasters and other vicissitudes to which stories are subject, it's doubtful that many of them go to air as they were originally conceived and a miracle that some of them air at all. Even then, stories go through a final draft – with the audience. Their verdict tells writers whether their stories will play and whether all those improvisations were worth it."
Professor Bradley S. Greenberg from Michigan State University pointed out, "If you take the 1960s as the high watermark period for soaps - remember there weren't any nighttime serials to any extent. Then the serial episode format moved from soaps to prime time to create 'Dallas' or 'Peyton Place' and later 'Melrose Place,' and today we have 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Desperate Housewives'. That's what really began to erode the audience."
John Kelly Genovese continued, "No daytime soap can equal 'As The World Turns' and 'General Hospital' in their use of idiosyncrasy to delineate character and the emphasis on recurring traditions to reinforce continuity in the storyline. If 'As The World Turns' was daytime's most painstakingly defined portrait of family life, no show could rival 'General Hospital' for its brilliant representation of people working under one roof day in and day out. As written by Frank and Doris Hursley in its first decade (1963-1973), the characters shared not only the crises and the personality conflicts, but also the funny moments and the surrogate relationships which are often born of close, long-standing professional alliances."