(SoapOperaNetwork.com) — After 72 years on air between radio and television, CBS’s “Guiding Light” will cease broadcasting on the CBS Television Network due to low ratings. Love may save the world, but apparently it wasn’t enough to save television’s longest running daytime drama. Even with having its name published in the Guinness World Record Book and winning three Daytime Emmy’s for Best Drama Series (the most recent being in 2007), “GL” found itself unable to withstand the mass exodus of viewers from the traditional daytime soap format in recent years.
Consistently finding itself in the ratings cellar for the past few years, many sensed that the dimming ‘Light” would soon burn out on the long-running daytime drama.
According to published reports, Proctor & Gamble, the company responsible for producing both “Guiding Light” and sister soap “As the World Turns,” sat down with cast and crew members at their studios in New York and New Jersey on Wednesday morning to break the news that “GL” would be ceasing production this fall, with the last episode airing on Friday, September 18th after more than 15,700 episodes.
The news was met with mixed emotion by fans and cast alike. Long running “GL” castmember Ron Raines, who portrays the villainous Alan Spaulding stated that the “The numbers are really tough for all these old dramas. I don’t think any of the other shows want any of us to go off. We’re all in this together. What was it? 72 years continuous? That will never be touched. It is a very sad thing, but these are the times we live in. It’s very tough out there.”
“Being on the air for more than seven decades is truly remarkable, and it will be difficult for all of us at the show to say goodbye,” said Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler. “I’m proud of everything we’ve been able to do, including outstanding storytelling, our community service around the country with ‘Find Your Light’ and the launch of our new production model. This show has such a rich history, wonderful fans, and I’m honored to have been a part of the ‘GL’ legacy.”
This afternoon’s sudden announcement has sent shockwaves that have reverberated around the nation, as news of “GL’s” demise has dominated media outlets and online soap message boards. Lynn Leahey, Soap Opera Digest editorial director, calls the cancellation “heartbreaking” and said that “it was a constant in people’s lives” that hung around, unlike its prime-time counterparts that came and went. “For many of us, it was the first show we ever watched.”
Former “GL” Executive Producer Jill Farren Phelps summed up her fondness for the years she spend at the helm of the long-running daytime drama “‘Guiding Light’ has a very special place in my heart. I began my career in daytime there as a production assistant and later returned as executive producer. It was a privilege (both times) to be a part of such a fabulous group of people who did such outstanding work. Some of the most talented actors, writers, and directors have walked through the doors of ‘Guiding Light.’ The industry will mourn the loss of this beloved show, but ‘Guiding Light’ leaves a rich legacy for all of us in daytime to treasure. I wish all my dear friends a gentle landing.”
Nancy Tellem, President of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, had this to say about the the show’s rich legacy, “‘Guiding Light’ has achieved a piece of television history that will never be matched, it has crossed mediums, adapted its stories to decades of social change, and woven its way through generations of audiences like no other. This daytime icon will always be an indelible part of CBS’s history, with a legacy of innovation and reputation for quality and excellence at every step of the way. While its presence will be missed, its contributions will always be celebrated and will never be forgotten.”
And, according to Barbara Bloom, Senior Vice President of Daytime Programs at CBS, “No show in daytime or prime time, or anytime, has touched so many millions of viewers across so many years as ‘Guiding Light.’ We thank the cast, crew, and producers — past and present — who delivered this entertainment institution, the beloved characters, and the time-honored stories to our audience every day for seven decades. It’s been a privilege to work with such an extraordinarily talented group of people.”
Adding to “GL’s” woes within the past decade is the fact that several prominent CBS affiliates from around the country have either moved the soap to early morning or late night time slots, or removed it from their programming schedule entirely (such as KOVR-TV in Sacramento, California and WNEW-TV in Flint City, Michigan).
With sagging ratings, “Guiding Light” began to experiment with several different approaches to the traditional daytime model of storytelling within the past year. The sudser scrapped the familiar three stationary camera set-up in favor of portable cameras, which allowed producers to film cast members in various settings and locations outside the studio. Unfortunately, however, the changes did little to re-energize ‘GL,’ and largely had the opposite effect, resulting in turning off veteran fans and losing such popular cast members such as Beth Elhers and Ricky Paull Goldin (who have since moved on to ABC’s “All My Children“).
According to CBS, in 2008, the soap “premiered a brand-new daytime production model, featuring permanent sets inside its New York City studio and approximately 20% of the production shot in exterior scenes in the town of Peapack, N.J. In addition, directing and editing were changed to be done digitally and almost simultaneously, giving the sets a more realistic feeling and eliminating the need for production suites.”
In a press release issued by TeleNext Media, Inc., which oversees production of “GL” for Proctor & Gamble, Senior Vice President and Managing Director Brian T. Cahill thanked fans for their loyalty over the years and said that “We are honored to have been welcomed into the homes of multiple generations of ‘Guiding Light’ viewers. Cahill also gave “GL” fans a glimmer of soap by announcing that he and his staff are “working hard to find the show a new home, and we are exploring all our options to continue to bring loyal fans the characters and stories they love.” That ‘new home’ could come in the form of online episodes or moving ‘GL’ to a cable or satellite network following the soap’s departure from the CBS Daytime schedule this fall. However, given the recent failure of the now-defunct NBC soap “Passions,” which moved to DirecTV near the end of its run after being cancelled by the Peacock Network, the outlook for a new venue for “Guiding Light” appears bleak at best.
The demise of “Guiding Light” leaves only seven daytime soaps still airing on the Big Three Networks. ABC and CBS will each have three and NBC one. In terms of longevity, fellow P&G soap “As the World Turns” is daytime’s second oldest drama, celebrating its 53rd anniversary on April 2nd. The other six soaps (with the year they premiered in parenthesis) are “General Hospital” (1963), “Days of Our Lives” (1965), “One Life to Live” (1968), “All My Children” (1970), “The Young & the Restless” (1973), and “The Bold & the Beautiful” (1987). “GL” becomes the eighth daytime drama to be cancelled in the past twenty years, placing it with the likes of “Another World,” “Santa Barbara,” “Sunset Beach,” “Loving,” “The City,” “Port Charles,” and “Passions.”
“Guiding Light” was created nearly seventy-five years ago by the talented soap writer Irna Phillips (1901-1973). Long recognized as a daytime pioneer, Phillips created or co-created nearly a dozen soaps, three of which (“As the World Turns” and “Days of Our Lives,” which she helped Tim and Betty Corday develop) were still on the air at the beginning of 2009. Phillips has either direct or indirect ties to all but one of the eight present daytime dramas. Agnes Nixon (creator of “One Life to Live” and “All My Children”) and William J. Bell, who developed the concepts for “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” were at one time writers for Phillips on several of her soaps. This leaves “General Hospital” as the only remaining soap not either created by the late soap icon, or one of her protégés. “Guiding Light” paid homage to Phillips in a special 70th anniversary episode in 2007, which featured past and present cast members portraying Phillips, her crew, and some of the original “GL” characters while recording a radio broadcast of the show in the late 1930s.
Launched as a 15-minute NBC radio serial on January 25, 1937, “Guiding Light” would later make the transition to television, premiering on CBS on June 30th, 1952. The radio broadcast ran concurrently with its TV counterpart (and featured the same actors and characters) before coming to an end in 1956. “GL” first aired in color on September 11th, 1967, and expanded to thirty minutes the following year. In November 1977, it expanded once more, this time to sixty minutes. Ratings peaked in late 1981, but have steadily declined in the years that have followed.
Set in the fictional town of Springfield and focusing primarily on the Spaulding, Lewis, and Cooper families, “Guiding Light” has won an impressive 69 Daytime Emmy Awards and 12 Soap Opera Digest Awards during the soap’s long, record-setting history. “GL” has also broken ground over the years by tackling numerous controversial issues including teen pregnancy, cancer, alcoholism, sexual harrasement, abuse, Down Syndrome, and post-partum depression. It was also the first daytime drama to prominently feature African-Americans in frontburner storylines in 1966. ‘GL’ became the first soap to podcast audio only episodes in 2005. Veteran cast members include Kim Zimmer, Jordan Clarke, Robert Newman, Michael O’Leary, Grant Alexander, and Tina Sloan. “GL” also boasts a long list of distinguished alumni, including Justin Deas (who is tied with “One Life to Live’s” Erika Slezak and “General Hospital’s Anthony Geary for most Daytime Emmy wins, and remains a part of the cast), Kevin Bacon, Calista Flockhart, Allison Janney, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Taye Diggs, Hayden Panettiere, and Brittany Snow.
Originally known as “The Guiding Light” (‘the’ was dropped in 1975), the show focused around the character of the Rev. John Ruthledge, and his parishioners in the Chicago suburb of Five Points (the setting later moved to Selby Flats, before finally settling in Springfield). A continuously lit lamp in the Reverend’s study assured his flock that he was there for them whenever they needed him.
Even though the ‘Light’ will soon be extinguished, its legacy and rich history will continue to live on in future generations of soap fans. Thank you, “Guiding Light,” for your contributions to the daytime drama, and God speed. You will be missed.
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“Guiding Light” airs Weekdays on CBS. Anytime on CBS.com. Check local listings.