where the writers are
guiding light project: with the clarity of hindsight…

 

Last week's news that Crystal Chappell will be returning to Days of Our Lives pretty much assures that Guiding Light's 72-year run will end on September 18th. I say "pretty much" because to quote Yogi Berra, "it ain't over ‘til it's over." But, all things being equal... Anyway. I got to thinking about something I wrote in late March, as rumors of Guiding Light's imminent cancellation were swirling:

There's even a rumor afoot that it's ATWT that will be cancelled and GL moved to ATWT's timeslot, which, it pains me beyond words to say, is arguably the best possible solution, given the relative quality of the shows

Over the past year, I've criticized As the World Turns a lot. But I've tried to pick my spots. Like last week: when I began writing annual checkup, my initial impulse had been to compare the striking differences between the return of the babies: Hope/Chole on One Life to Live, which had me in tears, and Eliza on As the World Turns, which did not. Since I had criticized ATWT just the week before, I let the impulse pass. But in the two-and-a-half-months since I first wrote, little has happened on either ATWT or GL to change my initial opinion. If fact, if anything, I'm more convinced than ever that I was right.

As I said, I don't want to seem as though I'm piling on ATWT, but the truth is that there's absolutely nothing currently on the canvas that's generating any anticipation for next week, never mind next year. Because this short-term storytelling is the stated intention of headwriter Jean Passanante, closing down ATWT in September would not have caused any long-term stories to be truncated. Hell, they probably could have wrapped up existing stories in five weeks without creating any disruption for viewers; for some stories, it's more like five days. As for fans' sadness and disappointment, well that's another story.

The storytelling on ATWT is a marked contrast from what's been happening on GL. I don't know what criteria beyond the numbers CBS factored into the decision to cancel GL rather than ATWT, but had GL been given an additional year, instead of five-and-a-half months, there would have been plenty of time for the writers to fully play out several stories that are clearly being rushed.  

The most obvious victim is the story that's come to be known as Otalia. I've written several times about how beautifully Ellen Wheeler and Jill Lorie Hurst conceived and structured this story. But whatever the initial plan, it had to be altered to accommodate Jessica Leccia's pregnancy (mazel tov on the birth of daughter Ivy last week!) But assuming that GL is taping six weeks ahead of air, even if Leccia returns 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. And while I doubt the additional time would have changed the end game at CBS, it might well have increased the possibility that GL would find another venue.

Of course, that speculation began even before the official announcement of GL's cancellation. How much of that speculation was rooted in reality and how much was some combination of wishful thinking and denial is anyone's guess. Personally, I'm torn. Guiding Light spans the entire history of soap opera. To sum up TWoP poster LisaM's comments below: how goes GL, how goes soaps.

If this is the end, I can easily foresee the entire soap genre following along within a few years. The viewership has changed too much and the networks have too many cheaper alternatives for soaps to last much longer in their present state. TeleNext has the chance to recreate the wheel here with GL; if they succeed, it could be the model for the industry; if they fail, it's another clang in the death knell for soaps.

But for me, the new production model makes watching GL work; even the stories I like - Otalia, Phillip and Beth, Dinah and Shane. I miss the warmth and intimacy of the sets. Watching characters having intense conversations in a parking lot, or standing in the middle of a field, in the rain for no discernable reason pulls me out of the moment, not into it. And had GL found a new home, the economics would required the current bare-bones budget to be further reduced, which would have made it even more difficult for me to continue watching. But I would have loved to see Otalia fully played out. The Rolling Stones put it well: You Can't Always Get What You Want!

 

© 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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Great piece. It seems to me

Great piece. It seems to me CBS is determined to clean house, as it were, and not at all interested in giving either of these shows a chance at improving and increasing their audience.

LisaM echoes a sentiment that so many of us have been expressing: the demise of Guiding Light is something fans of any and all soaps need to take seriously. When the networks are perfectly comfortable putting the mother of all soaps - an American icon - to bed...well, there are no more sacred cows. And, unless the creative forces behind the soaps actively explore new media, the genre, as a whole, is doomed.