Along with other Guiding Light fans, I've been working my way through the five stages of grief. I actually got a head start. While I held out a tiny glimmer of hope for GL's future after I read through last December's reports from Peapack, in my heart of hearts I knew it just wasn't going to happen. So, I skipped over denial and bargaining and began with a few weeks of profound sadness (don't know that it rose to the level of depression) and prepared to accept the inevitable. Now I've moved on to anger.
When the rumors starting swirling last Monday that GL was about to be canceled I posted on what I described as "the piss poor job" I felt CBS had done in promoting their soaps in general and GL in particular (see reaction here and here). Part of my unhappiness was the failure of one of my favorite shows, CBS Sunday Morning, to recognize either GL's 70th anniversary or As the World Turns 50th. When the cancellation was announced last Wednesday, I thought that perhaps they might atone for their previous sins of omission by doing a proper send-off for GL, one that acknowledged the show's place, both in broadcast history, and the hearts of fans, past and present - one of those long pieces like the ones on graffiti art and the musical Hair - that were part of yesterday's show. Well, not quite.
But they did mention GL's cancellation; it was all of two minutes, half of the "Sunday Passage" segment that included ER's finale. Here's their take on GL's 72-year history:
Generations of viewers have watched the residents of mythical Springfield as they've loved and married and cheated and divorced and remarried - shedding more and more of their clothes along the way...
And if I'm pissed, Robert Thompson, who teaches television history at Syracuse University, has every reason to be positively apoplectic. His contribution to the discussion:
I think that part of the enjoyment of the soap opera is its utter stupidity on some level. Every now and then while you're watching a soap, at the edge of your chair, really into it, and it will hit you, "Man, this is really stupid." And this is part of its appeal.
Viewers not familiar with Thompson's work will be forgiven for coming away with the impression that he is simply one more cultural elitist belittling soap opera. I am familiar with his work; I cited his book, Television's Second Golden Age; From Hill Street Blues to ER, in which he discussed the debt "quality television" owed to daytime, several times in the essay I just completed.
Here's a link to an article, "Architects of the Afternoon," Thompson wrote for Worlds Without End; the Art and History of the Soap Opera, a 1997 book published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title at The Museum of Television and Radio (now The Paley Center). Regarding James Thurber's oft-quoted description of soap opera in his 1948 five-part series on radio soaps for The New Yorker, "Between thick slices of advertising, spread twelve minutes of dialogue, add predicament, villainy, and female suffering in equal measure, throw in a dash of nobility, sprinkle with tears, season with organ music, cover with a rich announcer sauce, and serve five time a week," Thompson lamented, "Comments like this perpetuate our inability to make distinctions of quality between the products in our most popular media. John Ford Westerns, of course, had horses and cacti and marshals and outlaws just like hundreds if B Westerns, but how he used all those ingredients makes Stagecoach a better and more important film than Six Shootin' Sheriff."
So, whatever point Thompson was trying to make when he mentions the "utter stupidity of the soap opera," it wasn't that soap opera is stupid. Like I keep saying, "You have to appreciate the irony. You really do..."
© 2009 Lynn Liccardo
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