If you asked me a month ago - hell, a week ago - which of the two P&G soaps, As the World Turns or Guiding Light, had the better chance of survival, I, and astute soap observers going back more than ten years, would have said without hesitation, ATWT. GL has never fully recovered from the capricious decision to squander the show's history by killing off tent pole character, Maureen Bauer, in 1993. ATWT, on the other hand, has all of the necessary elements in place to restore the multi-generational, character-driven storytelling that once made it great - including several actors who've been with the show since its early years.
Well, that's what ATWT could be doing, but they're not. And then there's what GL is doing.
I'll admit it, I was as skeptical as the posters I quoted back in November here when GL announced Grant Aleksander's return as Phillip Spaulding. The reality of Aleksander's return was nicely summed up by Look Both Ways at TWoP as "either a) last ditch effort to revive the show or b) they are going all out for the "finale."
"Look Both Ways" was right in the same way Joe Biden was right when he said of the recently-passed stimulus plan: "If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there's still a 30-percent chance we're going to get it wrong." I'm not sure about the 30-percent regarding GL, but like the economy, GL is in uncharted waters here. In December a group of soap bloggers' visited GL on location in Peapack. NJ to meet with the producers, writers and actors and post what everyone had to say. There was a lot to take in, but here's what really stood out for me:
The transcripts gave voice...to what has been all too apparent on the screen: when GL made the decision to go to this new format, every bit of TPTB's energies were focused on the technological challenges of getting the show on the air. It was only after they mastered the logistics that they turned their attention to the storytelling.
What an enormously risky move on the part of GL Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler! That there was literally no story for the better part of a year, along with the jarring new visuals, alienated viewers; many left in frustration - including yours truly. I kept an eye on the boards and took a look at the show now and then. But GL was off my recording schedule. Wheeler is banking that the buzz created by Phillip's return will bring not only former viewers back, but attract some new ones as well. She's really challenging history here; a big part of why soaps are in such trouble is that not all disaffected viewers return when a show rights course. And, as the declining ratings illustrate all to well, there are never enough new viewers to offset those who've been lost forever.
Now, that said, I've don't think I've ever been as encouraged by anything I seen on a soap in recent memory as I have by what I've seen on GL this past week. Check out Patrick Erwin's live blogs of the first week for the details. And Roger Newcomb has a roundup of opinion here. For me, the most memorable moment was a tiny one; while Phillip was helping Beth out of her blood-stained wedding dress she tells him their daughter, Lizzie, had a baby. His face betraying no emotion, Phillip crossed to the sideboard in silence and poured himself a stiff drink. It was a pitch-perfect moment, as has been the rest of his return thus far.
With the boards filled with former viewers asking to be brought up-to-date and current viewers obliging in spades, Wheeler's gamble may just pay off. TWoP poster, Two Tzus explains why: "And the best part is, I really don't know what is going to happen next and I really want to." Me too! With the sword of Damocles hanging over GL's head, even my inner cynic believes that what viewers have seen this week is what we'll be seeing for the foreseeable future. The show has nothing to lose, and neither do I. So GL's back on my recording schedule.
On the other hand, it may not be enough. One on-going problem the show cannot fix is its schedule. In many major media markets - New York, Boston and Chicago among them - GL airs in the morning and the rest of the soaps air in the afternoon. So, someone who's decided to spend an afternoon checking out soaps won't be able to surf to GL. And while there are a number of on-line platforms, the broadcast ratings are the largest factor in whether or not the show gets picked up.
But if it doesn't, and the final months are filled with returning characters (Mindy Lewis arrives in March; there are reports that casting calls have gone out for Michelle and Ed Bauer) and Guiding Light spends the remaining time recalling the history it's abandoned over the years, then we should all be grateful for the time we'll get to spend together, however long or short that may be.
Next time: Is As the World Turns an experiment gone awry?
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