Soaps Should Learn from ‘Guiding Light’s’ Demise

The Debut of The Suds Bucket!

We are mere days away from the end of Guiding Light, the longest running soap opera in history. Seventy-two years of soap legacy will be laid to rest this Friday…..

Hello new readers! My name is Araz Eleyasian and I’m a self-confessed soap addict. I moved from ranting on forums with other fans, to blogging and now I’m dabbling in podcasting about Days of Our Lives. Other than being a Skype-crazed amateur playwright, I’ve been described as having a big heart and strong views. Hope we can share a bit of both about our beloved soaps!

We are mere days away from the end of Guiding Light, the longest running soap opera in history. Seventy-two years of soap legacy will be laid to rest this Friday and, for the first time, I am not looking forward to the weekend, knowing that come Monday morning at 10am ET, there will be a game show in the place of my beloved sudser.  How odd will it be to watch the Light dim and know that it will never be turned on again? I will never see Emma Spencer Spaulding grow into the heroine that she is destined to be or what will become of Dinah Marler in old age, or even what a supercouple Bill Lewis and Lizzie Spaulding could have been in soap history.

All that remains is this feeling of loss, as if the stories are incomplete. The cancellation in April stunted the storyline potentials for the show, such as the romance of Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera and an epic reunion fitting of supercouple Josh Lewis and Reva Shayne. What remained was the hurried knotting of loose ends and character exits that left me feeling a little flat, rather than moved.

I have read many articles stating that the death knell for the show was the now infamous change in their production model, which focused on outdoor shooting, scaled down sets and handheld cameras. I tend to disagree. Instead of looking at the rich filmmaking that the soap produced this year, many tend to fall back on weak excuses for the show’s demise that may have been correct had the show been cancelled last year. However, 2009 brought with it a greater understanding by the cast and crew of the potential the new production model could have. Let me remind you of the expert filmmaking during the week of April 13, 2009.

The graveyard confession by Olivia to Natalia, the framing of the anguish experienced by the two women during Natalia’s wedding vows to Frank Cooper and the exquisite gazebo love confession by Natalia under a blanket of snow perfectly showcased the upswing for this production model. You cannot discount how intimate and powerful these scenes were, mainly due to the camera work and location shooting that complimented and accentuated the powerhouse performances put in by Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia.

The production model was not the reason why Guiding Light was cancelled. In fact, it was what was keeping it going for us fans. Once the kinks were sorted out, the cast and crew’s performances strengthened and grew with each passing week. Things were looking up for the show; it was maintaining its viewership, gaining a strong international following and keeping pace with other low rated soaps such as All My Children, As the World Turns and One Life to Live…until CBS cancelled the show. I don’t think I will ever forgive CBS for both cancelling this soap opera and not giving it the respect it deserves to at least make a dignified exit. Instead of spinning positive publicity for the show and promoting its legacy to the TV watching community in order to give it the exit it deserved, CBS abandoned the show.

A bigger problem stemming from Guiding Light’s demise is now other soaps are feeling the heat. As the World Turns is on its last legs, All My Children is relocating to Los Angeles from New York, all the soaps are looking at ways to increase ratings and show their bosses that they are a profitable cog in the Daytime television appeal machine. It seems show runners are focusing on short term ratings grabbing entertainment, rather than establishing and nurturing the storylines slowly. No longer are they building viewer interest for the sustainability of the audience base. The viewership is eroding, not because soaps are dying as a genre, but because of the disrespect of the writers and executive producers of our shows shown to us as viewers.

Too often, characters’ histories and experiences are bent and shaped in order to fit the approaching story developments. Too often, audiences are treated as forgetful and inattentive. We are subjected to plot devices that have been overused and character alterations of such extreme proportions that we are unable to gather our support behind our favourite characters because we feel like we’ve lost that connection with them. Take for example, Brady Black on Days of Our Lives. Am I to forget that Brady was an outcast, that he was not a little rich boy with confidence and a holier-than-thou attitude, but in fact an awkward young man who did not play up his family name to get ahead? Did a ludicrous drug problem and the invasion of Passions actors on the show suddenly warrant a complete alternation of the essence of Brady Black?

What of Dr. Robin Scorpio on General Hospital? Viewers were appalled earlier in the year as Robin, a much beloved veteran character, was turned into a silly shrew in order to bring ‘comedy’ to her pregnancy storyline. Robin is the longest surviving front burner HIV positive character in soap history, and yet when General Hospital decided to have Robin fall pregnant, they steered clear of the heavy and dramatic, and gave us idiotic blog wars between Robin and her baby daddy Dr. Patrick Drake. Rather than play off the moral message that this could have had, TPTB gave us frivolity and character assassination. Never had I fast forwarded past Robin/Patrick scenes, till the tediously annoying pregnancy.

What is the state of soaps when viewers begin tuning out because of ludicrous plot devices? Even Guiding Light, a show I will defend with my last breath, had fans were in an uproar when Natalia Rivera left the love of her life Olivia Spencer for a religious retreat because she found out she was pregnant with her ex-fiancée’s baby. Yes of course there needed to be something to allow Jessica Leccia to go on maternity leave, but after months of asking viewers to ignore Leccia’s ever growing baby bump, suddenly we are meant to acknowledge its existence, AFTER she’s already given birth? To me, this was weak, lazy writing by a group of overstretched and underappreciated writers. Given the time (and again, the respect) from the network, perhaps Guiding Light would have been able to tap into the potential that Otalia had to change the face of contemporary soap operas.

But alas we are meant to ignore all of these things and move on. A little hint for soap writers- audiences never ever forget. They remember every detail and every emotion. They remember because as viewers they are asked by these very same writers to invest in these characters and their stories, to accept them as a second family, to laugh with, cry with and share memories. So naturally, they will remember (and dissect) character developments that the writers too often seem to ignore. Perhaps soap opera writers and producers will learn from the end of Guiding Light in order to keep the industry afloat. Focus on the core families, remember the history, and develop some realism in order to connect to your viewers. Understand that there is a huge internet following for soap operas that are not accounted for in the regular ratings. Look at Guiding Light’s example in embracing fans from the Otalia fandom of Big Purple Dreams, the most vocal of the soap’s fans who came out in force to save the show that was giving back to them tenfold. Perhaps the last legacy of Guiding Light will be her influence on the soap opera industry in understanding the path to sustainability.

Enjoy it or not. Comment if you wish. But thank you for reading regardless.

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