Anyone who has been keeping up with their soap opera news has by now heard about the cancellation of “Guiding Light”. The longest-running soap opera, and longest-running television show in broadcast history, will air its last episode on September 18, 2009. The show has been on the air for 72 years and by the time the lights go out for the last time, it will have produced 16,000 episodes.
There is a lot of history to “Guiding Light”. It started out as a 15- minute serial on NBC radio back in 1937 before it made its move to television in 1952 with CBS. It was one of the first shows to be called a ‘soap opera’ because soap companies usually sponsored the programs. After all these years of broadcast with some groundbreaking storylines, it had a dedicated audience of die-hard fans. So why was it cancelled?
Poor Guiding Light Ratings
The reason “Guiding Light” was cancelled was the same reason any other television show gets its walking papers: poor ratings. The most recent episodes this year have had an average of 2.1 million viewers. Last year it averaged 2.4 million and five years ago the average number of viewers was at 3 million. That may seem like good numbers until you compare them to other daytime shows. “Guiding Light” actually has the smallest number of any other daytime show. “The Young and the Restless”, the most popular daytime drama, has an average of 5.26 million viewers. “The Price is Right”, another CBS show, has an average viewer audience of 4.95 million. On the other networks, ABC’s soap opera “General Hospital” has an average of 2.96 million viewers. “Days of Our Lives”, which airs on NBC, has 2.76 million. The thing that separates shows like “General Hospital” and Days of Our Lives” from “Guiding Light” is the audience for the first two shows is much younger than for “Guiding Light” and thus attracts more advertising.
So why did “Guiding Light” have such poor ratings? One reason has affected all soap operas and that is the role of women in the workforce. There are fewer women at home these days to watch these shows because more and more are getting jobs and going to work. Even women who started out as homemakers have had to go back to work because of the world’s changing economy.
Bad Guiding Light Storylines
Many fans have complained over the years that the storylines for “Guiding Light” have been lacking and don’t hold viewer’s attentions. The main attraction to soap operas is that their storylines are serialized and slowly build momentum, working up to a climax. Viewers turn in every day so that they don’t miss any part as the story develops. But in the past years “Guiding Light” seemed to have concentrated more on short, contained stories that left fans unsatisfied.
Death Of Main Characters
In any soap opera, main characters are permanent fixtures, always there and involved in the drama. As the years go by, each of these characters develops their own fan base. To kill off main characters would deprive a soap of part of their fans. But that is exactly what “Guiding Light” did. By killing off some of their long-standing main characters, they shocked and enraged fans which ultimately hurt their overall ratings.
What They Did To Save Guiding Light
In order to save money and thus save the show, CBS switched the shows format. They changed over from the large pedestal cameras to hand-held digital cameras. This allowed for more movement and more freedom. CBS also built permanent sets with four walls instead of the traditional three walls. Normally sets are constantly being rebuilt so this helped save money and allowed for more dimension when filming. There were also more outdoor shots used. Studio lights were switched out with hand-held lights and microphones that also gave the shop a different look and feel. All of these changes helped to cut costs but in the end just weren’t enough. Plus, not everyone was happy with the changes. Many fans did not like the new format nor did a few of the stars. Beth Ehlers and Ricky Paull Goldin quit the show soon afterwards and went to work for ABC on their soap “All My Children”.
Guiding Light Might Survive Elsewhere
Proctor & Gamble, the company that owns “Guiding Light”, is currently seeking alternative sources to keep the show going. They are looking into moving the show to a satellite channel, such as NBC did with their show “Passions” when it was cancelled. There might even be other cost effective means of keeping the show alive. Until then, the show’s cast and staff will continue to put out stories about the town of Springfield until their final curtain in September.