2009-04-29 / Arts & Entertainment News

CBS pulls the switch on 'Guiding Light' this fall

Hardly all washed up, five stars from the soon-to-end saga are coming to Soapfest
BY KATHY PRUTOS Special to Florida Weekly

Will the rich and powerful Spaulding family accept Lizzie and Billy's growing love? Will Natalia discover her hinted-at bisexuality?

Fans of "Guiding Light" can only speculate how the longest-running story in daytime history will end when the switch is pulled forever Sept. 18 — unless, of course, they can squeeze the suds from any of the five "GL" stars coming from fictional Springfield to Soapfest this weekend.

It's unlikely, though, that either Grant Aleksander, who plays the patriarch Philip Spaulding, or Jeff Branson (Shayne Lewis), John Driscoll (Henry Cooper "Coop" Bradshaw), Michael O'Leary (Dr. Rick Bauer) or Caitlin VanZandt (Ashlee Wolfe) will shed any light on the soon-to-end saga.

"I hope another network picks up the show," Ms. VanZandt told Florida Weekly.

The native New Yorker said she and several of her cast mates intend to stay in Manhattan, where "GL" is taped, although a few have plans to seek out their next big roles in Los Angeles.

"Guiding Light" is a link to the earliest days of daytime serial dramas on radio. Owned by Procter & Gamble, it began in 1937 as a 15-minute program on the NBC airwaves. In 1952 it moved to CBS television and has been there ever since, moving to a half-hour time slot in 1968 and filling up a whole hour with the trial and tribulations, crimes and misdemeanors of Springfield since 1977.

Many Holllywood stars had their first hint of the spotlight in "GL," among them Kevin Bacon, James Earl Jones, Calista Flockhart, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Brittany Show and Hayden Panettiere.

CBS and Procter & Gamble Productions have taken several steps in recent years to keep the series alive, including switching the production to a digital format last year.

That move included the introduction of hand-held digital cameras and permanent, four-wall sets as opposed to the traditional, constantly reconstructed three-wall sets built by soaps to accommodate bulky pedestal cameras. Rather than expensive lighting and sound equipment, the show also began using hand-held lights and microphones. The changes resulted in a look vastly different from the traditional soap, with more camera movement, more muted lighting and much more use of outside locations. The moves saved considerable money, according to CBS executives.

But not enough to save the series.

This year the "GL" audience declined to an average of just 2.1 million viewers an episode. Its pattern over recent years had been steadily downward; five years ago the average was about 3 million viewers. It has the smallest audience of any of the remaining network daytime soaps and a smaller audience than many of the game and talk shows that also fill network daytime hours.

The most-watched soap, "The Young and the Restless" on CBS, is averaging about 5.26 million viewers an episode.

ABC's top soap, "General Hospital," averages about 2.97 million viewers, and NBC's only soap, "Days of Our Lives," has about 2.76 million, though those shows have much younger audiences, making them more desirable to many advertisers.

When "Guiding Light" ends, another CBS soap, "As The World Turns" — also shot in New York — will become the longest-running daytime serial drama. It started in 1956.

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