FLASHBACK: NBC Cancels 'Search for Tomorrow' (1986)

No More Tomorrow's for TV's 'Search'

By Kevin Goldman
Newsday
November 5, 1986

Mary Stuart has seen her share of trouble. In 35 years, she's been married four times and widowed three times, all on daytime television. This time, it looks like she's in a fix no script-writer can get her out of.

NBC announced yesterday that Search for Tomorrow, television's longest-running soap opera, would be canceled. The 30-minute daily program will have its final airing Dec. 26.

So ends the tale that began in the mythical town of Henderson and helped launch the careers of Morgan Fairchild, Susan Sarandon, Jill Clayburgh, Kevin Bacon, Lee Grant and Wayne Rogers, among others. The show, which moved to NBC in 1982, will be replaced by the game show Wordplay beginning Dec. 29 at 12:30 p.m.

When Search for Tomorrow premiered on CBS Sept. 3, 1951, the central character was played by Stuart, whose name on the show - Joanne Gardner Barron Tate Vincente Tourneur - came to reflect her marital exploits.

"I was told last Friday," Stuart said yesterday afternoon, breaking into tears during a telephone interview. "As soon as I was told the producer wanted to see me, I knew we were canceled.

"What could I do? I spent 10 minutes hugging staff and cast and went back to work."
Stuart, who was 22 years old when she began on the series, said she was not sure what she would do after Search for Tomorrow concludes its run. She said Procter & Gamble Productions, which owns the show, had offered her the opportunity to move to one of its other three soaps.

"Search for Tomorrow came to us from CBS after 31 years, but the audience didn't come with it," Brian Frons, vice president for daytime programming at NBC, said yesterday in a telephone interview. "We, therefore, had to treat the show as a new one, not one with a long history."

Ironically, Frons was an executive at CBS in 1982 and recommended the cancellation of Search for Tomorrow from that network. Somewhat like the evil twin brother who always seems to pop up in the soap opera genre, Frons reappeared at NBC and canceled the Procter & Gamble production a second time.

Poor ratings and low acceptance levels from affiliates were factors in the decision, Frons said. Search is last in the daytime ratings race, and is seen on just 72 percent of the NBC-affiliated stations, or approximately 145 outlets.

Procter & Gamble Productions tried several methods for halting the audience erosion. For example, it went on location in Ireland this year, and, said Pam Sussman, Procter & Gamble corporate spokeswoman, "tried more romantic and less melodramatic story lines."

"We've done everything we can to save the show," Sussman said.

But nothing helped. For the week ending Oct. 19, Search was in last place in the daytime ratings, ranking 26th.

In celebration of its 35th anniversary the week of Aug. 27, the show featured taped segments by former cast members at the end of each episode. Such actors as Hal Linden, Don Knotts and Ken Kercheval made appearances reminiscing about their roles.

And will the audience be left in suspense with dangling story lines when Search for Tomorrow runs out of time?

"We're going to make every attempt to close out all plots," said Frons. "We're also hoping for happy endings."

Happier, one hopes, than the ending for Search for Tomorrow.

10 comments:

  1. I remember this show very fondly. -sigh-

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  2. I moved back to NYC (from LA) on Halloween, 1986 (accompanied by Susan Carey-Lamm, ex-Adair) to go back to work on SFT. The same day we were told of the cancellation! We had only a few weeks to wrap up 35 years of storytelling and Mary, Marcia McCabe & Larry Haines did a stupendous job of maintaining their usual dignity & devotion to the fans, right thru the very last scene. The phrase "That's Showbiz" is small consolation to the cast, crew and audience of a long running show when it gets the chop. Thanks, WLS, for continuing to celebrate Soaps' historical significance. NELSON ASPEN.

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  3. Anyone who would Cancel Search should never have been hired at ABC. I see why this has been a caculated attempt. I am surprised he isn't cancelling GH yet, since he has done the most damage by KO the Q's and laying off Vets like Audrey and Bobbie.

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  4. Replaced a 35 year old show with a show called word play, (I never even heard of it, How long did that last?)

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  5. WORDPLAY lasted less than nine months.

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  6. I think it's clear to all that ABC made a terrible business and creative decision in hiring Brian Frons.

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  7. Frons was dead wrong Search Had viewers that followed it. From CBS To NBC.

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  8. LEARN A LESSON ABC-ALL OF THE PREVIOUS MISTAKES.TALK SHOWS,GAMES SHOWS,REALITY
    I RUN A HOME, A BUSINESS, GROWN CHILDREN, GRANDCHILDREN AND A HUSBAND.I NEED ESCAPE SO BAD MY HUSBAND TELLS ME TO SIT AND RELAX TO WATCH MY SOAPS! COOKING I HAVE A HUNDRED COOK BOOKS, THE INTERNET AND THREE COOKING SHOW CHANNELS.REALITY I LIVE IN REALITY AND IT SUCKS SOME TIMES.SAVE OUR SOAPS ABC AMC & OLTL.SWEETNESS AND SOAPS GO TOGETHER.DIET SHOWS AND SWEETNESS DOESN'T Y ALL FADE AWAY NOT OUR BELOVED SOAPS.SAVE ABC ALL MY CHILDREN AND ONE LIFE TO LIVE

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  9. Looks like Mr Fron's is the fan of the game & cooking show genre, not a fan of the soaps. They need to get rid of the neilsen rating and find a means that gives a true rating of shows being watched and also include us Soap fans over the age of 50. Ii wish they'd do a written survey of the fans of soaps for real opinions. On line survey don't seem to work because they allow duplicate votes, handwritten might alliviate that problem.

    Frustrated fan of soaps in Oregon ( the state that doesn't seem to count)

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  10. Disney/ABC made no mistake. They knew exactly what they were doing when they hired Frons. They wanted their soaps gone, so they hired "The Soap Killer".

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