Confession time. I've probably watched only five minutes of the CBS soap, "As the World Turns," since it premiered on April 2, 1956.
But when you're invited to a 50th anniversary, you go. So there I was in January, along with about 20 TV critics, at an informal session in Los Angeles with cast members celebrating the show's history.
To be honest, I didn't know who Martha Byrnes (Lily Snyder), Mark Collier (Mike Kasnoff), Jennifer Landon (Gwen Norbeck) and Colleen Zenk Pinter (Barbara Ryan) were.
But I knew enough to shut up while going through a press packet that documented what I had missed for a half-century. Finally, I recognized some names. Julianne Moore, Meg Ryan and Cheektowaga's own William Fichtner had graduated from the soap. The "World" alumni also includes Marisa Tomei, Dana Delany, Ming-Na, Steven Weber, James Van Der Beek, Annie Parise, James Earl Jones, Thomas Gibson, Jason Biggs, Cecily Tyson, Lauryn Hill and Margaret Colin.
So I asked Pinter, a 28-year "World" veteran, if she could predict who would move on to bigger stardom, or if it was just luck or circumstance.
"We all knew the minute that Julianne went," she said. "She just had that. She was wonderful. Meg Ryan was with us when she was first 19. I think there were some doubters about where that was going to go and some of us thought, 'Nope, that kid's got a spark.' I think for the most part the people who have gone and done well in other places, we all kind of knew."
"Yeah, you do," added Byrne, who has been on "World" for about 20 years. "There's something about their energy . . . there's a drive. There's like a mission. There's a certain planning that goes along with what they want for their careers, and that shows."
What about Fichtner, a film actor who now stars in ABC's ratings-challenged "Invasion"?
"The man was as brilliant then as he is now," said Byrne. "Some people would say, 'God, he's kind of odd.' He kind of goes off on his own and he has music playing . . . I've worked with some really incredible actors that have come through those walls, and he's one of those people that was constantly giving. And I have to say, too, running into Julianne [recently], they're the same as they were back then."
"They didn't want to be stars," added Byrne. "They wanted to be actors. And I think that's where the drive came from to expand their ability, not to become celebrities. Julianne could sit here and have coffee with us and be just like she was. It's like not a day has passed."
Of course, 50 years have passed, prompting a celebration at the Museum of Broadcasting this week and special episodes airing today and Monday. So much has gone on that it is even hard for the writers to keep the show's history straight.
"It's very gnarly history," explained executive producer Chris Goutman. "Whenever we try to get two people together, we go, 'well, they can't because they're related.' Then we make the other one adopted. You know what I'm saying?"
He added that one character, a police officer named Hal, is the show's most "prolific father."
"I married him three times," said Pinter of her character.
"So he's got children for four different families and that's sort of a reflection of our society, too," said Goutman.
Gee, and I thought "Lost" was confusing.
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There's even an "As the World Turns" connection to "Huff" (10 p.m. Sunday, Showtime), the soap opera that returns for a second season of bizarre happenings involving a psychiatrist, Dr. Craig "Huff" Huffstodt (Hank Azaria), and his family. Its creator, Bob Lowry, was a recurring character on "World."
Huff's brother, Teddy (Andy Comeau), is a schizophrenic off his meds, his mother, Izzy (Blythe Danner) is drinking heavily and his wife, Beth (Paget Brewster), is emotionally distant while taking care of her cancer-stricken mother, Madeline Sullivan (Swoosie Kurtz). And, oh yeah, Huff is distancing himself from his best friend, Russell (Oliver Platt), a lawyer with an addictive personality who bedded Huff's mom and has a pregnant girlfriend. Russell's liaison with Huff's mom led to a first season-ending fight that has people questioning Huff's sanity.
And you might have thought "As the World Turns" was strange. Needless to say, "Huff" is an acquired taste. I tried to acquire it, but the first three episodes of the second season are so off-the-wall that I was strangely unmoved by any of it. Even the appearance of Sharon Stone as Dauri Rathbun, who behaves more strangely than Huff's relatives and has legal problems that require Russell's services. Anjelica Huston guests by episode five as a therapist.
The cast is excellent, especially Danner (who won an Emmy last season) but don't count me among those addicted. "Huff" often just seems strange for strange sake.
Review: 2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
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As reality shows go, WB's "Survival of the Richest" (8 tonight, WNYO-TV), has an amusing premise. Several young adults who are as incredibly shallow as they are rich live with an equal number of poor young adults who desperately need the $200,000 grand prize. In the opening episode, the rich (who include Kim Moon, the daughter of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon) compete to see who is the biggest jerk and the most clueless. And the competition is fierce.
The poor kids are appalled by spoiled rich kids who have a sense of entitlement, the rich kids are shocked when they discover what it is like to have a minimum wage job. At least one of the rich kids has a priceless sense of humor, which helps put this culture clash series in a higher class of reality shows.
Review: 3 stars