where the writers are
guiding light project: into the home stretch…

With Guiding Light's final episode looming at the end of this week, CBS News finally stepped up to the plate with extended stories on both "CBS Sunday Morning" and "60 Minutes." Even taking into account the formidable challenges posed by trying to do justice to GL's seventy-two year history in ten and fifteen-minute segments respectively, it was a mixed bag.

While the "Sunday Morning" piece was a vast improvement from last April's, "sneering two-minute report," there were still a couple of glaring omissions, not least of which was no mention - not one! - of GL's (and soap opera's!) creator, Irna Phillips. Also missing, the story that found its way out of the soap blogsphere onto the pages of The New York Times: Otalia. And while one could argue that failing to include Irna Phillips might have been nothing more than a careless oversight, not so the absence of the Otalia, which speaks volumes about the network's deep ambivalence surrounding the same-sex couple who come Friday will likely ride off into the sunset with the audience not seeing them share even a kiss. 

Kind of ironic, considering that the "Sunday Morning" piece also included Mel and Cyrus ripping off each other's clothes as they fell into bed. And opened with Reva's iconic,"I'm the slut of Springfield," a scene which, seen out of context, simply begs to be mocked. And in case viewers didn't figure that out for themselves, CBS correspondent Richard Schlesinger, admonished them, "Before you mock Guiding Light..."

That was this morning. Wish I could say I was surprised that the "60 Minutes" promos run during the men's semi-final match featured Steve Kroft's interview with the president and the segment on Ted Kennedy's legacy. Why bother promoting Guiding Light? Of course, it's not as though it would have cost CBS anything to mention the GL segment, but why bother? Everyone knows soap opera fans don't watch tennis, right? Rant over.

Like Sara Bibel, I was hoping "that 60 Minutes treats this as more than just a tribute, and uses it as a springboard for intelligent coverage of the demise of daytime television." And in many ways, it did. Morley Safer opened by noting that "60 Minutes'" forty-two year run made it "middle-aged" compared with GL's seventy-two. Safer pointed out "the weird and the wonderful" of soaps in ways that never seemed mocking because of funny and good-natured exchanges with Robert Newman and Kim Zimmer and more seriously, Grant Aleksander's explanation of "the great stretches the audience will grant you." And the ones they won't, "if you write a character in a way that is inconsistent with what they (the audience) have come to accept."

Of course, there were lapses. As with "Sunday Morning," Otalia were MIA, which led one TWoP poster to note, "I do find it surprising that 60 minutes as a NEWS SHOW did not cover that aspect of the story," and another to suggest, "Is there any doubt left now that CBS was responsible for keeping Otalia behind the scenes?" And while their expert, Tim Brooks (and just for the record, yes, I do remember The Doctors, and am impatiently waiting for The Hallmark Channel to begin airing the show), says that soaps hit their peak in the 1970s, when sixteen were on the air, ratings actually peaked in the mid-1960s. As for Ellen Wheeler's statement that, "if it (a shot) was really bad, we don't have to think about it either, because we gotta move on to the next one," doesn't that kinda say it all about the new production model.

One more thing: while "60 Minutes" aired footage of the 70th anniversary episode, like "Sunday Morning," they failed to acknowledge Irna Phillips as GL's creator, which is quite simply shameful.

As for the show itself, after pissing away most of the summer, things are hurtling at warp speed toward Friday's finale and what appears to be a happy ending for all. Over the past two weeks, Alan's bone marrow saved Phillip; Olivia forgave Natalia and moved with Emma into the farmhouse of love; Rafe seemed to have gotten over his anger at his mother's love for another woman; Lizzie's been reunited with her daughter, Sarah; Doris came out to Ashley, Billy and Vanessa preparing for their wedding.

Just as the Daytime Emmys squandered the opportunity for viewers to "savor the emotions - of saying goodbye to Guiding Light or to those who passed away over the past year,"  so too, GL missed an opportunity to layer some emotional depth into one of its fast-moving stories. Watching Alan come to his decision about the bone marrow transplant, (the one time when there was real emotional payoff from a character talking to a headstone. Usually these scenes are nothing more than exposition or filler) I kept wondering about Beth and Alan's daughter, Peyton, and thinking about the scenes with Beth that I knew we would never see.

I get that little Peyton Spaulding is to Springfield what Bobby Martin was to Pine Valley. And it's not as though I need to have every loose end tied up - not knowing what became of Grady after Phillip pushed him off the cliff is never going to keep me up at night - but it would have been great to see Beth conflicted about Alan, the father of her child, risking dying to save Phillip, the love of her life. Maybe if CBS had allowed GL to run another two weeks until Let's Make a Deal was ready to air, instead of filling those two weeks with repeats of The Price is Right, there would have been time.

That said, to answer the question I posed, rhetorically, as it were, to Ellen Wheeler back in November,

Will Grant Aleksander's return to Springfield reward fans with a story that draws on the show's history and Phillip's relationships with Alan, Rick, Beth, Lillian, to name a few, or will he be used simply to move the plot de jour?"

 Yes to the former, and thank you.

Of course, the real beneficiary of an extra two weeks would have been the aforementioned Otalia storyline. Back in June, I wrote,

even if (Jessica) Leccia returns (from her maternity leave) in only two weeks, Hurst will have to wrap up Olivia and Natalia's story in four weeks - not a lot of time for a story that's been unfolding for over a year. I can only imagine the depth and complexity with which Otalia could have evolved with an additional six months after Leccia's return.

I happily would have settled for those two weeks to fill in just a few of the emotional spaces between the plot points the show had to rush through to get these two characters - three, counting Emma - to their happy, albeit kiss less, ending.

© 2009 Lynn Liccardo

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lynn Liccardo and for non-commercial purposes only. Lynn Liccardo