Thursday, April 2, 2009

Guiding Light (1937 - 2009)

Irna Phillip's The Guiding Light premiered on radio in 1937. My mother listened to the program with her grandmother. I remember watching the program on television in its 15-minute format in the early 60s. I remember when the show went to a half hour format and then an hour. I remember the Bauer family. I remember hospitals, churches, kitchen tables, Christmas trees. I remember secrets, sorrows, lies, traumas. I remember doctors, lawyers, millionaires, housewives, secretaries, veterans, grandparents. I remember heartbreak, marriages, divorces, deaths. I remember accidents, murders, trials, mystery. I remember proms, boarding houses, daydreams, princes, mobsters, clones. I remember when St. Nick would visit Springfield with a yearly miracle.

Guiding Light is something of a miracle having survived so long in the competitive media industry. It is a show spanning and entertaining generations. Serialized stories have delighted and enthralled audiences for centuries and the loss of this landmark series is cause for mixed emotions. Joy at the longevity and melancholy at the loss.

The network cites low ratings for the cancellation thus blaming a changing or fickle audience. The audience blames executives who alienated core fans with a disregard for a solid storytelling legacy. Daytime audiences are a savvy lot. They understand the machinations of the industry and the styles of different producers and writers. Daytime audiences are a loyal and hearty lot. If you have touched them emotionally, they will put up with a lot. They understand that every episode of a daily program cannot be a gem. They enjoy and praise a top-flight storyline, and put up with the inevitable lulls with the certain hope that things will improve.

Just over a year ago Guiding Light celebrated its history with a marvelous episode drawing on the radio beginnings of the series. They "found their light" through charitable works in Katrina ravaged New Orleans. They excitedly touted a new production format.

The new format included digital filming on location in a New Jersey town and it sounded good on paper, but how it looked on screen was another matter. Poor lighting and shaky camera work could almost be overlooked as the hearty Daytime fan waited out the transition period, and tried to ignore their churning stomachs. Ill-concieved, poorly executed storylines and callous manipulation of characters could perhaps be put up with for a while in that long-held hope that eventually the writers would find their footing with the new format.

The reality hoped for with the location actually led to a disconnect with the audience as characters spent their time in tacky salons or outside of buildings in all kinds of weather. Most disturbing to me was the overuse of annoying and badly sung pop ballads to create emotion. A technique which can work if used sparingly. I once counted three different songs in a ten minute period! The mainstay of a well-done serial is casting and trusting the actors. They can make a good storyline soar, and can take less than stellar dialogue and make you believe it.

Whether it was budget constraints, fear of the changing face of television, disregard for history or lack of true understanding of the serial and its fans, decisions were made from which there could be no turning back. Guiding Light burned brightly for decades and, for some of us, the memories will still glow. It is bitter to lose something so integral to the fabric of popular culture, that has been a daily part of so many lives through our own births, deaths, secrets, sorrows and triumphs.


  1. Thank you for putting it so perfectly. I haven't watched in probably 10 years, but I was sad when I heard this morning. When I want to defend daytime, I will send people to this entry.

  2. Thank you. People often use the phrase "the passing of an era". The passing of the daytime era through neglect is unnecessary. It's a big wide world, full of lots of entertainment and there's still room for daytime. They have to stick to their roots. Think of Tony Bennett's career. Times changed. Tony didn't. The circle came back to him.

  3. Why was I sad to hear this story? I've never watched a second of it. Is it because it's a stalwart in an indispensable culture? Exactly. I don't have to be a fan to feel badly about the "passing" of the vanguard of the genre.

    By the way, if you ever get around to honoring the career of Anna Maria Alberghetti, please skip her. She's my next door neighbor and she is just the most haughty person that I have ever met. I lived here for 15 years before she moved in and she still won't look at me or return a wave. She does her best to completely ignore everyone in the neighborhood, unless she needs our help. I know that she was/is someone of some importance but on Earth, we smile at one another from time to time.

    Why the hell did I just go on an Anna Maria rant?

  4. Tell that Miss Tracey person that I sent her an email with a photo of my daughter that looks alarmingly like the photo that she recently posted on Project 365. I don't know if she gets my emails or comments on her blog.

    As Anna would say, ciao!

  5. Guiding Light is a loss even to people who didn't watch it. When something that was always there isn't anymore, there's a gap.

    At least your neighbour Anna Maria isn't a troublemaker, but if that's the best that can be said about a neighbour - well! She sure could sing purty!

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