It's taken me a while to get to this, but a while back, Red Room member, Lana Nieves, challenged the conventional wisdom that the 1993 death of Maureen Bauer was the beginning of the end for Guiding Light. It was a great piece, and Lana made a lot of good points, but...
To quote Lana, "I respectfully disagree." I actually agree with a lot of what Lana had to say, particularly her analysis of the aftermath of Maureen's death, which led to some strong stories from the pen of headwriter Nancy Curlee Demorest. I had forgotten about the relationship the developed between Ed's daughter, Michelle, and ex-wife, Holly.
I also agree that the Ed and Maureen's happy marriage limited the dramatic possibilities - there's a reason for the old soap opera adage, "happy couples are boring couples." Where I disagree with Lana, however, is her contention that,
Merely having Ed stray from his marriage and be unfaithful with Lillian Raines was not enough to sustain a plot twist, let alone light fires under other characters in Maureen's sphere.
I actually think Ed's infidelity could have been more than enough, and I'll explain why, and how, in a bit, but first, a little background. The decision to have Maureen die did not come out of a discussion between the headwriter and executive producer (Nancy Curlee Demorest and Jill Farren Phelps) about how create some dramatic conflict for the Bauers. Rather, according to news reports, when the results of a focus group showed that participants didn't have any strong feelings about Maureen, it was Phelps' unilateral decision to kill off Maureen - arguably the worst use of focus group results in the history of soap opera. And for many fans, knowing the genesis of the idea forever polluted the aftermath, no matter how powerful it may have been.
Nancy Curlee Demorest talked about "the deep tear in the fabric" of the Bauer family that such a powerful impact, not just on the Bauers, but, as Lana pointed out, others in Springfield as well. But later on in the same interview Demorest is asked if there was any writing decision she regretted. Her reply:
Although Maureen's death was a lynchpin in a carefully conceived and well-executed story, Ellen Parker was so fine, and so well loved, that her absence left a hole in the show that was later hard to fill.
And therein lies the real problem with Maureen's death. Yes, it created a "deep tear" in the fabric of the Bauer family that was part of a "carefully conceived and well-executed story." But long term, Maureen's absence left a hole on the show that's proved impossible to fill.
Back to Lana's contention that Ed's infidelity would not have been enough to "light fires under the other characters in Maureen's sphere." What might have happened if Jill Farren Phelps had come to Nancy Curlee Demorest and said, "You know, Ellen Parker's contract is coming up. Not much going on between Maureen and Ed. What do you think?" So Demorest talks with her writing team and they get as far as the Ed-Lillian affair. "Okay, what next? How does Maureen react?' Some brave soul raises their hand. "Now, you need to let me finish before you start screaming. What if Maureen turns to Roger." Wailing protest ensures. "Hold on, let me finish. Roger doesn't really have any other person in his life who he thinks of as a friend. Mo is the only person who accepts him for who he is, and doesn't constantly revisit his past deeds."
The other writers start chiming in. "Wow, we get to show the human side of Roger." "But we can't turn him into a wuss." "No chance." "And how about Ed? Imagine his fury combined with his guilt at having created the situation. Maybe he hits the booze again" "And Holly. She's already been depressed. Think of what this will do." "What about Michelle? She's going to be whip lashed between her parents. Maybe we'll have her use Holly as a sounding board." You know, there's not going to be a person in Springfield who's not going to be impacted by Maureen-Roger relationship." "Where do we go with this long term. I mean, you don't see Maureen and Roger as a real couple. She's just sticking it to Ed, right?" "Don't know yet. Maybe. So many possibilities."
So many knots they could have been tied with the existing threads of the show - could have been being the operative words. But would keeping Maureen alive have had a long term impact on Guiding Light survival? Hard to say. Clearly, the ratings were already problematic. 1993, the year of Maureen's death, was also the year that WCBS, the network-owned flagship station of the CBS network in New York City moved GL from 3PM to 10AM, which sent a powerful signal to other affiliates across the country. In addition to New York City, 13 additional affiliates, including major media markets Boston, Chicago and Miami, currently broadcast the show in the morning. This isolation from the other soaps as certainly not helped matters. So while keeping Maureen on the GL canvas might not have helped matters, it certainly wouldn't have hurt.
Of course, just having an intact core family on a soap's canvas doesn't mean they'll be use well, if at all. Yup, I'm talking about As the World Turns, which is about to be invaded with three new characters, not one of whom is related to the core Hughes' family.
© 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
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