Soap opera signs off after 54 years

When Betsy (Meg Ryan) married Steve (Frank Runyeon), it was the second-highest rated episode in U.S. soap history.
When Betsy (Meg Ryan) married Steve (Frank Runyeon), it was the second-highest rated episode in U.S. soap history.

The final curtain falls Friday for the long-running soap opera As the World Turns, which debuted as a 30-minute serial April 2, 1956.

In its 54 years, ATWT dominated the ratings for two decades, prompted a prime time spinoff (Our Private World) in 1965, introduced daytime television's first gay male character (Hank Eliot, played by Brian Starcher) in 1988 and won four daytime Emmy Awards for best show. It also created some of soap's greatest supercouples.

Here are five that ATWT fans will never forget.

Holden and Lily: Holden Snyder (Jon Hensley) and Lily Walsh (currently played by Noelle Beck) captured soap fans' hearts with their poor-boy, rich-girl love story. They met when Holden was a stable boy working for Lily's mother. Their on-again, off-again relationship weathered the possibility of their being related, amnesia, two of Holden's secret love children, kidnappings and more. Even when apart, their feelings for each other were evident. Together, they had three children: Faith, Ethan and Natalie.

Jeff and Penny: As the soap's first supercouple, Jeff Baker (Mark Rydell) and Penny Hughes (most famously played by Rosemary Prinz) were credited with launching the show to No. 1. Their storied romance reached its pinnacle in 1958, when they married on Christmas Eve, and viewers across the country reportedly tuned in, dressed in their Sunday best. Jeff also recorded a love song for her, titled Penny. Their romance ended when Jeff died in a car accident.

Steve and Betsy: The star-crossed love of Stavares "Steve" Andropoulos (Frank Runyeon) and Betsy Stewart (played by a host of actresses but most famously by Meg Ryan) began with a deathbed promise to Steve's brother that drove Betsy to marry another man. But her love for Steve repeatedly brought her back into his arms, and upon discovering that her daughter, Dani, was his, Betsy married Steve on May 30, 1984. Their wedding was watched by 20 million viewers, making it the second-highest rated episode in U.S. soap history.

Luke and Noah: Luke Snyder (currently played by Van Hansis) and Noah Mayer (Jake Silbermann) were named one of television's top power couples by TV Guide and great supercouples by Entertainment Weekly. They are the first gay supercouple on daytime TV. At first, Noah struggled to accept his sexuality but eventually opened up about his feelings for Luke. The characters made history on Aug. 17, 2007, by sharing the first gay male kiss on U.S. daytime television. A YouTube video of the kiss was the most-watched clip the following day.

Tom and Margo: Tom Hughes (played by Scott Holmes since 1987) and Margo Montgomery (played by Ellen Dolan since 1989) fell in love while investigating Mr. Big. They married in 1983 and went on to become a soap anomaly: They were one of the only supercouples to marry and stay that way for more than 25 years. Their marriage survived affairs, resulting in each having a child by his or her lover; Margo facing murder charges twice and being raped; a legal separation; and plenty of drama involving their son, Casey.