Mourning Guiding Light

In case you haven’t heard (and it’s doubtful this is still news to anyone):

TV’s ‘Guiding Light’ switching off after 72 years

NEW YORK – CBS is pulling the plug on the soap opera “Guiding Light” after a 72-year run that predates television, the show a victim of the economy and changed viewing habits. The drama’s final episode will air on Sept. 18. The Guinness Book of World Records has cited it as the longest-running television drama. It began as a 15-minute serial on NBC Radio on Jan. 25, 1937, and debuted on CBS TV in 1952, focusing on the fictional town of Springfield and the Spaulding, Lewis and Cooper families.

Full story here

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.

I shouldn’t be angry, but I am.

I shouldn’t care at all, but I do.

Like many of you, The Guiding Light has been a staple in my life for a VERY long time and even though it’s ‘just a soap’, it’s a soap that will be deeply missed. It helped bring generations of television viewers together, many of us with our mothers and grandmothers. Together we shared at least an hour a day together, infuriated at/laughing with/intrigued by the fictional friends, foes, lovers, and others of Springfield. There was a time when almost every day was torture, waiting for the next episode to air. While I understand the reality of the current situation, I don’t fault the show’s demise on just the economy, it’s been a confluence of issues; bad casting, bad timing, bad writing, horrid production values, among other factors.

It’s as if the powers of daytime have chosen to remain tone deaf. The ‘blame the OJ trial’ defense had magical powers for daytime shows, they seemed to believe. Writers didn’t have to worry about the changing times, they only had to offer the same old storylines as before – and oh, blame the OJ trial for falling ratings, not the writing. Those storyline were mysteriously inoculated against fan boredom, in the minds of daytime writers and producers, network talking heads. Storylines are treated as though they were so foolproof that you only had to make ‘slight’ modifications to the same old-same old and you could shove ANY character or couple into the formula.

The Writing

The writing speaks for itself, unfortunately. It was the show’s biggest stumbling block to wooing fans back. Until recently, I couldn’t think of a GL storyline I could stomach. Cassie and Josh’s forced relationship was a slap in the face to veteran viewers who couldn’t believe that Josh, Reva’s soul mate, would have chosent to stay with Cassie while Reva battled cancer. The writers gave us touching scenes of Josh fighting to save Reva from death’s door, only to walk away from her, himself. Josh finally came to his senses, professing his love for Reva and leaving Cassie behind – only to have the writers give fans a punch to the gut, instead of a slap.

Reva not only chooses Jeffrey over “Joshua”, but having survived radical chemo and radiation treatments and having TWICE gone through menopause, she ends up pregnant with Jeffrey’s child. Another non-Jeva child in an attempt to put an end to the show’s signature couple. More than two decades of JEVA, a couple that death could not separate, and the writers defied science, logic, and commonsense to try to marginalize their cherished history.

Killing off JEVA, killing off Ross (and effectively Ross and Blake), getting rid of the Bauers, Beth Spaulding’s destruction, exiling Holly and Fletcher, Alex’s desperation for much younger Cyrus the jewel thief, the under use of the Lewis clan, Josh’s stint as a minister, Maureen’s death, Ed’s disappearance, Rick cheating on Mel with Beth, kissing cousins Jon and Tammy, the shuttering away the Spauldings, the Rick/Alan-who’s-the-daddy storyline, you name it… the writers either killed it, perverted it, ‘redefined it’ until it was unrecognizable, or unintentionally made a complete joke of it.

And still the show’s writers managed to begin turning it all around. With Coop’s tragic death, Philip and Edmund’s triumphant returns, Shayne’s reemergence and re-integration into the Lewis family, edgy-comedic Dinah being unleashed, and Otalia’s unexpected romance GL seemed like a new show, a recognizable relative of the old GL, not yet the old GL itself. It was a show that was redefining itself for the better and heading in the right direction.

What irony that short-sighted network execs who didn’t seem all that keen about putting money into the show to save it, have canceled it now that the show is finding its footing without a significant increased investment from the network.

The Casting

Any number of characters fit the bill of the pretty-but-pointless crowd. Now is not the time to name them, and I don’t fault them or the actors who portray/portrayed them, for the decision made by the show’s producers to fill screen time with cheaper-to-hire newbies instead of established characters. I think it was just hard for many viewers to watch a show called ‘Guiding Light’, but featured very few recognizable characters. Veterans were reduced to ‘bit players’, all except the veterans involved in storylines that were a direct contradiction to the show’s history. I don’t understand why Maureen’s death and the subsequent loss of viewers following that bad decision never served as a lesson to network execs that fans love VETERAN characters.Those veterans have been our anchors to the soap world. They were the faves we shared and discussed with our parents and grandparents. Our parents and grandparents brought us to the genre, not our peers. The 18-25s and the 12-17s the networks were desperate for weren’t watching soaps and bringing one another in. When the did watch, I suspect they weren’t watching to see OTHER teens on air. They see that every day. Many of them were most likely watching for the glitz and glamour GL ONCE offered.

Even now, what makes teen soaps, such as ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘90210’, and other such dreck popular is that the ‘teens’ are living the lives of adults. They have little adult supervision and they live a life that most adults can’t afford, much less other teens. Kids stuck in “juvvy” falling in love versus a torrid love affair (complete with location shoot)? I’m willing to wager that the love affair with location shoot wins hands down, even for the bubble-gum crowd.

Production Values and Timing
” I do think if you were flipping through the channels you wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, this is a soap opera, I’m not going to stop,’ ” says Wheeler. “You wouldn’t know what it was.” Ellen Wheeler
Therein lies the problem.
The writing was bad, the production values were WORSE. While fans wanted more cross promotion with primetime shows as a way of bringing in more viewers, I never understood why primetime promotion would have caused those viewers to tune in to a show with such low production values and plots that could never have made it past a brainstorming session in a primetime writers room. Actually, I think a primetime writer would have been embarrassed to introduce some of daytime’s most beloved plots.

Why didn’t anyone ever cross promote with networks like Home and Garden TV (HGTV)? Why not challenge the various “Design on a Dime” teams to redecorate some of GL’s least aesthetic ‘sets’ using their $2,000 budget, per room? Hell’s bells, go hog wild and up the budget to $5,000, even $10k! The two networks split the cost! How about a Designer’s challenge with HGTV, designers pitch their ideas on how to redecorate camera ready rooms? Fans of BOTH shows would get to weigh in and select the chosen room. There could have been webisodes of the ‘behind-the-scene’ build. Fans would go online (or call in for those without and internet connection) to weigh in on various options for redecorating each space, not just the overall room design. Throw QVC in for good measure. Let the design options be selected from the QVC website/catalogue of options, to bring down the costs of the redecorated rooms.

HGTV/QVC would give free airtime to GL, who’d give free advertising to those networks and similar such partners. Some of GL’s biggest stars could host a “getting to know” web segment as their onset homes/rooms were redecorated. The chosen characters would discuss their own history (or histories in the case of selected couples), discuss how they fit into the overall GL story. They could discuss how the redecorated room tells you about who their characters are.

The selected design teams could have temporarily become part of the cast as a character’s/couple’s space is redecorated with a series of comedic mishaps. The segments could air on HGTV/QVC – as well as the web. HGTV/QVC fans would probably want to tune in for the dramatic overhaul of the sets, and potentially become new viewers. GL (assuming they could talk the apartment/hotel/home owners into allowing it to happen) would up its production values for very little money. Similar connections could have been made with the Food Network stars, as well – who could become involved in kitchen renovations.I don’t know if Ellen Wheeler ever reads message boards, including the official GL board. I think it would have been informative for her to know that there are soap fans, most especially at ‘all soaps sites’, who aren’t watching and WON’T watch Guiding Light because of the show’s production values. From her statement above, clearly Ms Wheeler was banking on the new format to get viewers to tune in. She was banking on viewers thinking of the show as a ‘reality show’ and want to watch to figure it out. Instead, viewers ran in the opposite direction.

Prior to the upswing in the writing, and whatever remaining veteran characters were left, the production values were all viewers had to reinforce their remaining emotional connection with the show’s history. I directly fault Wheeler and Bloom for taking that from fans. Much of the show’s history was thrown away when the show went outside of studio.
  • Imagine how different the show would have been had Alan been tried (and convicted?) in the same courtroom where it was revealed that Annie Dutton carried a dead fetus for weeks in order to frame Reva Shayne for her infant’s death? The last time Alan was in that room, he was supporting Annie who’d lied even to him. (Cue flashbacks!)

  • What if Josh and Reva, by coincidence, went to clear their heads in the same carriage house they met in the last time Reva came back from the dead?
  • Imagine Josh walking about that beautiful house he once shared with Reva, while images of young Marah and Shayne played as memories in the background. What if living with those memories motivated him to rebuild his family with Reva?
  • Blake and her children living at the cottage? Remember the playpen where the twins played, one believed to be Ross’, the other believed to be Rick’s? How long after both betrayed Holly did they move into that cottage to start their lives together? I remember watching Holly in that living room and wondering how could stand there and not want to take Ross’ head off every time she walked through that door.

As fantastic as the Shayne-Liv-Edmund drunk rock band scenes were, they were upstaged by the low rent digs Shayne lives in. That cheap dark paneling filled the scene – and Liv’s upscale wardrobe seemed even more out of place. Shayne grabbing beer out of the mini fridge in the efficiency kitchen in his one room hovel caused ME to sober up and I wasn’t drinking!

The Guiding Light was always a better show than it was given credit for. The half-assed decor that worked to strip the show of its integrity said nothing about the show, but more about those who were supposed to be good stewards of the fans’ trust and the show’s resources. I’m one more angry GL viewer who can’t believe the show is gone, rather than having the network get rid of the people who destroyed it. VERY short-sighted on the part of CBS execs. If any show deserved to have the network execs fight for it, it’s The Guiding Light.

Thank you to the great actors (past and present) for sharing your hearts, your time, and your talents with us. In my world, The Light still shines and it always will.

4 thoughts on “Mourning Guiding Light

  1. Although I haven’t watched GL in years (the clone storyline did me in…I did ADORE Crazy Annie though and thought Cynthia Watros the bees knees) so I can’t comment on the specifics of your reasons but i think overall you hit the nail on the head with the problem not just for GL but all daytime in general.

    The OJ theory is very much prevelant still today. My sister works at NBC..(not for Days) and during the writers strike I joked with her about how I was probably the only not looking forward to the strike ending because it meant the return of a certain headwriter at ABC..according to her the reason for going with fi-core writers in daytime was there was fear the audience would not come back if the shows went off the air JUST LIKE WHAT HAPPENED DURING OJ! and the networks didn’t want to pay for the actors just to fire them later becuase there was no audience left. I about spit through the phone when she told me this.

    There is also a total fear of embracing the very opportunties you mentioned. the way daytime treats the internet is just horrific. The character “blogs” are so laughable they should be allowed only as a product of Comedy Central. (one of Kendall’s favorite sites is THE WEATHER CHANNEL?? huh???) Fans who blog,write fanfiction and make videos are dismissed as crazies. when we do get cross-promotion…it becomes like the baby swap mess AMC/OLTL got mired in…

    But the main thing is the lack of utlilization of verteran characters and their ability to pull people into the show. I was intoduced to soaps through my sixth grade friend…but she was watching to see Crazy Janet who put Natalie in the well to marry Trevor. And I got caught up in that storyline. And she was into it because her mom was. I stopped watching GH for years but a comment that it looked like they were reuniting Lucky/Liz in 2005 made me turn back in. When I watched AMC…Erica, Opal, Brooke…that was what made me watch.

    The genre needs redefinition badly and needs to find new ways to be soaps…..but no one wants to try and those who have tried new things (Passions for example) have erred in going to far in the wrong direction.

    And my last two cents here…All CBS had to do was see how well Loving did when it became The City and went with the more “natural” look to see how well the audience responded to it. Which was a shame because much like GL..there were some really good stories that were happening on The City when the plug got pulled.

  2. I forgot to add this but have been pointing this out all over the net since….If P&G (I refuse to call it the other name…I’m a Cincinnati girl and P&G is what it will be) really is serious about looking at other markets…..instead of circling the show trying to grab it’s talent the way Brian Frons is rumored to be doing…he should be calling P&G and arranging for GL to come to SoapNet as a daily daytime drama. It could be the lead in to the night’s re-showings….I would gladly sacrifice one of the many reruns of One Tree Hill, OG 90210 and The O.C. for the Light to find a new home on SoapNet…you know the network that is SUPPOSED to show soaps. The longest running daytime drama of all time on the home of all soaps all the time makes PERFECT sense to me.

  3. What a touching and very exact blog!

    GL is going to be missed and I am certain that even if they do find another network to carry it, it will continue to go down the tubes because no one has the resources to build it up.

    I will miss the show… love Philip and Edmond… so sad to see this happening.


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