Thursday, April 02, 2009

RIP: Guiding Light

Today, CBS Television announced that the "Guiding Light", the longest running continuous soap opera and likely the longest running story ever in broadcast history, will air its final episode on September 18.

If you are a soap opera fan, or like me, remember your stay at home mother watching them as a kid, you know how significant that this loss is.

"Guiding Light" is nothing short of an American institution. The show began broadcasting in 1937, on the NBC Radio Network, produced and sponsored by Procter & Gamble, thus the term "soap opera" was coined. It focused on the town of "Four Points" and the lives of a congregation led by the Reverend Ruthledge. In 1948, the show moved to CBS Radio, and the focus changed to the Bauer Family, led by Frederick "Papa" Bauer, and focusing on the lives of his children, Bill, Trudy, and Meta.

In 1952, CBS brought the show to television. It aired for 15 minutes each day from 11:45-12 Noon, sharing the half hour time slot with "Search For Tomorrow" which aired from 11:30-11:45 PM (CST). This tidy arrangement lasted until 1968, when both shows were expanded to 30 minutes each. I remember coming home from school for lunch and the shows would be on. The Channel 3 noon news followed and then I had to walk the few blocks back to school.

For its first 50 years or so "Guiding Light" chronicled the triumphs and tragedies of the Bauer family. Papa Bauer, an immigrant from Germany, (and endeared to millions of fans through a touching portrayal by the late Theo Goetz), was always there to offer advice to his drama prone family. Meta was a colorful character who has a racy life and caused much grief for the family, until she fell in love and married Dr. Bruce Banning. Papa's son, Bill, was married to Bertha (Bert). Bill was an alcoholic, and Bert was his spoiled, materialistic wife. Trudy, the third child, was never mentioned again once the show hit television.

From 1952-1956, the show was double broadcast on both radio and TV. The radio show was on in the morning, broadcast live of course. Then the cast would take cabs arcoss Manhattan to be at Liederkrantz Hall, CBS's New York studios at the time, to do the TV broadcast, live at 11:45 PM.

Through the years, (and with the passing of Papa Bauer), Bert became the show's matriarch and sage. There were lots of great plots and twists through the years, too numerous to even begin to mention here.

The show declined in popularity in the 1970's because it was considered too "old fashioned" when compared with the newer, sexier "The Young and the Restless" show. In 1977, the show was expanded to a full hour, and new families and stories were integrated. Some new writers and a new focus, brought the show back to the top of the ratings. He created the Reardon and Cooper family sagas, and integrated them into the Bauer, Chamberlain, Marler, and Spaulding stories.

In the 1980's Kim Zimmer joined the show as diva Reva Shayne Lewis, who worked her way through the Lewis men, including patriarch oilman Harlan Billy (HB) Lewis. Her great love though was HB's son, Joshua. Many hope that characters such as these will be back together for the finale.

In the 1990's and early 2000's, the show hit major writing snags as did many soaps vying for a shrinking market as more women worked out of the home and cable TV wrestled with broadcast for viewers. For fans, the low point was the "Clone Reva" story.

The last revamping came right after the show's 70th Anniversary in 2007. Today's Guiding Light is taped with hand-held cameras, partially in outdoor locales in Northern New Jersey (being the proxy for the mythical midwestern town of Springfield). The Bauer saga is still a small part of the show, but the Lewises, Coopers and Spauldings now have the majority of the story.

Frankly, the"Guiding light" is a show whose time has come and gone. 72 years of entertaining, enthralling, selling soap is quite an accomplishment, when today shows are often judged and canned on their first episode.

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