While soap operas still have a small but strong fan base, the general audience for the shows continues to dwindle.
Theories abound as to why the enthusiasm for soaps is on a steady decline. It could be anything from station budget cuts, to the ever-increasing popularity of reality TV, to the fact there simply aren't as many stay-at-home moms to watch the daytime dramas.
"I think it's the natural progression of things," said Drew Tyler, instructor of digital media at Weber State University.
"The Guiding Light" is now gone after 72 years on the air -- counting 15 years on radio. "As the World Turns" was canceled after more than half a century on TV, said professor Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York.
"The daytime soap opera is surely on its last legs," Thompson said.
He believes the cause could be the changing demographics, coupled with high production costs -- compared with cheaper programming alternatives such as talk shows.
Further, serialization is now commonplace in prime time; it was still fairly new in the 1980s when soaps were at a popularity high. These factors "all contribute to the demise of this venerable old genre," Thompson said.
Decades ago, people generally had a choice of three or four TV stations and viewers pretty much got what they needed. "There are just so many more options out there now. There are hundreds of channels," Tyler said.
Now network officials have realized they can air a cooking show for a lot less than producing a soap opera in the same time slot that would hit the same demographic. "The cost of a live show is so much cheaper," he said.
Thompson agreed. "A soap opera is just so much more expensive than throwing a talk show on. And now the talk shows are getting higher ratings. It's amazing these soaps have lasted as long as they have," he said.
Reality TV is drawing the viewers now, Tyler said: "People used to watch soap operas for the little slice of reality -- with a dramatic twist. Younger viewers especially are drawn to the reality shows."
Thompson says he misses the soaps. "When I was a kid, television was all soap operas and game shows. I was really into 'The Guiding Light.' There was nothing quite like a soap opera that was really cookin' and you couldn't wait to get home from class and watch it."
Soaps were doing the thing that television does best: telling stories that go on forever. But then nighttime TV discovered storylines could work on a week-by-week basis on prime time -- and could be done even better, Thompson said.
Today, viewers have popular series such as "Mad Men," "Dexter" and "Breaking Bad."
"The uniqueness of the soap opera is now being done in many other places," Thompson said. "There are only a few soaps left. And those other few will probably follow the rest sooner than later."
Within the last few years, ABC has killed off "All My Children" and "One Life to Live." NBC has eliminated "The Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns."