Really, you do. In a 1972 New Yorker piece titled, "Afternoon Television: Unhappiness Enough and Time," Renata Adler noted that Guiding Light had been "one of the most watched programs in daytime television. No more. The Doctors was just a better-written, better-acted epic of despair." She didn't explain why. And while I was watching both shows back then, Lord knows, I don't remember the particulars. But to the extent that ratings reflect quality, the numbers (Doctors, 9.3; GL, 8.6) bear her out.
But, by 1982 The Doctors (1.6) was off the air, and GL (7.4) had been revived by headwriter Douglas Marland. Now here's the ironic part: come summer, the Hallmark Channel will begin broadcasting The Doctors, and there are plans to release the show on DVD. As for GL, well...
There's been a lot of chatter on the soap boards today about this piece predicting that the end will come for Guiding Light sooner rather than later; some back channel sources suggest that the same fate will befall As the World Turns next year. 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. But that's another story.
Some of my fellow bloggers have issued calls to action here, here and here. Coming of age in the 70s, I more than understand and appreciate the value of collective action. And while there's certainly no harm done in letting TPTB at TeleNext and CBS how we feel about our shows, the reality is they already know how fans feel. So letters that talk about growing up watching the show with your mom and grandma and end with "Pleese, please, pretty please don't cancel GL," will change nothing. And please (pun fully intended), threats to never watch another CBS show or buy another P&G product, however vehement, will not be taken seriously - nor should they be.
There's certainly been a lot of effort to attract soap fans. But the only way GL can survive is by attracting new viewers, which is to say people who don't already watch soaps. Notwithstanding the obstacles I discussed last month, the show needs another year to do that, which is one argument to make to CBS. But all the time in the world won't matter if there's no plan in place to attract new viewers. That's the network's responsibility, and, frankly, CBS is doing a piss poor job of it. This is nothing new; see Pimping the 2007 Daytime Emmys. But if there's ever been a time for the network to create an action plan, that time is now.
Here are a few suggestions: Make GL (along with the other soaps not rebroadcast on SOAPNet, ATWT and Bold and Beautiful) available through the on-demand feature offered by cable providers. I know the shows are available through CBS.com, but that's not enough. Not everybody wants to watch TV on their laptop, or sitting at their desk. And, yes I know there are ways to connect a PC and television. But watching a soap opera is supposed to be fun, not a technological challenge. It's a simple concept: the more opportunities people have to watch GL, the greater the likelihood more people will watch the show.
Next, CBS must do more to promote the show. I don't even know where to start talking about all of the things the network could be doing but isn't. Of course, they never have; the 2007 Emmy show I referenced above is but the most flagrant example of neglect. In addition to failing to promote their soap lineup to an audience made up of soap fans, there was no celebration of GL's 70th anniversary. I keep thinking back to a conversation I had with former CBS daytime VP, Lucy Johnson back in the mid-90s. I asked her why the network never promoted the P&G soaps. She said she'd be happy to promote them when there was something worth promoting.
Well, there's a lot to promote on GL these days, and it's not as though the network lacks the means. They own Entertainment Tonight, which has reported on All My Children's lesbian wedding, but not a word about the growing Otalia buzz, or Grant Aleksander's return. I can't remember the last time I saw a soap promo during a CBS primetime show. And has it never occurred to them when they interrupt the soaps for March Madness and the early rounds of the U.S. Open, that just maybe a few of the viewers who will play hooky to watch college basketball and professional tennis, might just take a look at a soap if they saw an enticing promo?
And then there's CBS Sunday Morning. I was so hoping that they would acknowledge ATWT's 50th anniversary in 2006. ATWT's anniversary is 2 April; the week before, 26 March, there was a mention on Sunday Morning that The Young and the Restless has premiered on that day in 1973 and my heart sank because I knew that there was no way soap opera would be mentioned two weeks in a row. And it wasn't. Nor was there any mention of GL's 70th.
One might reasonably assume that network executives like CBS Senior Daytime Vice President Barbara Bloom, and CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves have considered all of the possibilities suggested here, and for whatever reason, have not been able to put them into action. But you remember the old joke about never assuming, don't you? So if you decide to write a letter, make sure to send it to both Bloom and Moonves.
© 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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