Thursday, August 20, 2009

When the "Light" goes out...

I've been in mourning for a while now, ever since CBS announced the cancellation of The Guiding Light. Now that the final airdate is rapidly approaching, it's getting harder and harder for me to face not having the Bauers, the Spauldings and the Coopers in my life anymore.

Yes, soaps are among my favorite things, a not-so-guilty pleasure.

I suppose the addiction goes back to childhood when I'd listen to soaps on the radio with my mother, but it came back with a vengeance during my years as a television critic when I was stuck at home with a broken ankle and a cast up to my hip for weeks on end during one interminable winter. Though daytime TV was theoretically part of my job all the time, during this period I became addicted to it all over again. I wrote columns about all the shows on the air, especially my favorites...The Young and the Restless, As the World Turns and The Guiding Light.

I was always willing, if not downright eager to interview soap stars, unlike many of my colleagues. I became friends with a couple of them...Paul Gleason who was then on All My Children and Don Stewart, who played Mike Bauer on The Guiding Light. I often saw them in New York, met them for drinks or lunch.

On one particularly memorable occasion I had lunch with Don, who invited me back to the set, thinking, I'm sure, that he was with a semi-sophisticated journalist. As I walked through the set, however, I was wide-eyed with awe, exclaiming things like, "Oh my, it's Ed's office," or "Wow, this is Sarah's living room." Before his eyes I'd been transformed from journalist to pure fan, caught up in the world that captivated me every day.

To think that that world, which has enticed viewers for decades, will be no more after mid-September breaks my heart. I could lay the blame for that where the network does, on dwindling viewership and changing times, but instead I lay a lot of it on the network and local stations who've treated soaps more and more shabbily in recent years. The shows are preempted at the drop of a hat, interrupted for so-called breaking news that could easily wait a few more minutes. In some markets The Guiding Light was taken off the air in the afternoon and shifted to various morning times.

Of course, the show itself has made its share of mis-steps, but ironically it has been better than ever in recent months. Favorite characters have been brought back in solid storylines, reminding all of us why we've cared and why the show has endured. Phillip's back, along with Ed Bauer, Michelle, Jonathan and so many other beloved characters played by incredibly talented actors who too often don't get the credit they deserve. The writers are playing to the show's history and its strengths...focusing on family and relationships. Each episode is filled with a mix of laughter and tears.

For weeks now, I've been hoping for a reprieve. There was talk of the show being picked up by a cable network, but to date that apparently hasn't happened, so the end is in sight. One more loss to be chalked up to changing times.

At least, though, when the "Light" does go off for the final time, it will be doing so with honor and integrity, with stories that engage and actors who can make us care. The show's devoted following deserves no less, though we want much, much more.

Sherryl Woods

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