Monday Morning Quarterback: Why Did Guiding Light Get Canceled?
By Lynda Hirsch
Apr 7, 2009
For anyone who cares about soap operas -- and there are millions -- the news that CBS has canceled "Guiding Light" after a 72-year run (radio and television) is old news. Proof that people care: It was the front-page story in the L.A. Times. It has been blogged to death. It has received more hits than any other entertainment story of the week. Yes, even more than Madonna's desire to adopt a child or Megan Corkrey being kicked off "Idol."
The 100 actors and crewmembers that make up "GL" learned the news Wednesday morning. Yes, the cancellation had been rumored for years. In this economy, everyone thinks their day at work could be their last. But they don't really believe it. So the folks at GL were stunned. There were tears, grumblings and "let's get someone else to air the show" reactions.
Kim Zimmer (Reva) told the New York Daily News she was "in mourning." At a weekend soap event, she said that while she loved the Jeff and Reva story line, she wanted the show to end with Reva and Josh getting back together.
It is time for a little Monday morning quarterbacking. Why did "GL" get canceled? First of all, it had a 72-year run. That is like a trillion years in television life. Not even a can of spam can last for almost three quarters of a century. Vienna sausage, yes; Spam, no. This does not mean the end of soap operas. "ER" was canceled after 15 years. That does not signal the end of television or medical dramas. "Grey's Anatomy" is still going strong. What it means is that "GL" needed to concentrate on what every television show needs to concentrate on: writing and being true to the characters.
Sadly, in the past three years the show did neither. Let this be a cautionary tale for all the other soaps. You cannot screw around with a show, keep the same name and believe it is still the same show. It's not.
Also, herky-jerky camera movement will not save a soap. Ask the folks who worked on "City" and "Port Charles."
Let's get back to writing -- i.e., plots. The story of devious Grady and his murderous brother, Cyrus, was all wrong. Yes, antiheroes work on soaps, but allowing normally sane characters to fall in love with the likes of these thugs -- pu-leeze. Then the insta-careers: Beth becomes a lawyer in two weeks. Mel goes from doctor to lawyer. If it is that easy, next week I go from writer to opera singer. Oh, does that mean I have to carry a tune? Scratch that. Maybe I will become a plumber. Alan turns into a sniveling brat -- oh, God.
Every time a soap is canceled, there is usually one storyline that killed it. "GL" had two. Josh becomes a minister. Nothing wrong with that. The only problem was that Josh was the Rev. Dr. Hate of the gloom and doom church. He was dishonest, manipulative, greedy and in need of guidance himself. Prior to that, when Beth Ehlers decided to leave "GL" and the role of Harley, they wrote the character off in an unbelievable way. First off, months before Ehlers decided to leave, they turned Harley into a nymphomaniac. Then when the character left, she deserted all her children for some off-screen lover she met after leaving town like a petulant teenager. Marina and Mallet adopt a child in Darfur. If Madonna can't do it, how can this couple? Reva is pregnant. The list goes on and on. In the past two months the show has gotten a better writing direction. This was a bit too late. Sort of like a spouse promising not to beat you anymore after years of wallops and promises not to do it again. "GL" kept promising to get back to basics; it would for a nanosecond and then it would go hurtling into another orbit.
For years "GL" had struggled when Paul Rauch (now co-executive producer of "Young and Restless") came on to helm the show. He told me he was going to do two things: one, get New York City to put the show back on at 3 p.m. instead of the 11 a.m. time slot they gave it. "That is the time when viewers want to hear 'Come on down,' not 'I am acting oddly because I have a brain tumor.'" The show was kept at 11 a.m.
Rauch also promised to tell stories never before seen on daytime television. That he did. In fact, some of those stories should not have been seen on Mars. The best example: Reva is cloned. It was at the time of the cloning of Dolly the sheep. Say, why not do it with Reva? Sometimes something has never been done because it shouldn't be. Try to get a show back on track after that. Rauch is a brilliant showman, but even P.T. Barnum did not run his circus like that.
There are rumblings that "GL" may find another outlet. A cable station, perhaps the Internet. Not that far-fetched. When radio soaps were dying, they went to that young upstart "television." Many are still there.
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