IT'S TRULY A CHALLENGE BEING THE TOP WRITER ON A LONG-TERM SOAP
By Tom Jory
December 22, 1983
GUIDING LIGHT has been a daytime companion for millions since 1937, starting on radio and switching to TV after 15 years. Can anything new, really new, ever happen to the Bauers or the Reardons or any of the other folks in Springfield?
"I get really upset," says Pamela Long Hammer, principal writer for the CBS soap opera since March, "because I'll come up with this neat scenario and someone will say, 'That's like Strangers on a Train.'
"I think, 'They keep stealing my material.'
"The way I figure it," she says, "there are only so many stories in the world. It's the characters who keep the show new and exciting. All of our stories come from them: I don't come up with a plot, and then work a character into it."
Continuity is important. Someone out there surely knows all that's happened, to everyone on the show, in 46 years.
"Nope. I care about what our core families have been doing," Hammer says. "I'm always interested in what happened to Bert Bauer (played since 1950 by Charita Bauer) 20 years ago, but as far as going back and reading scripts, no.
"Others on the show keep track," she says. "I'll suggest something, and be told, 'You don't remember, but five years ago, they had this terrible fight. They would never speak to one another now."'
Hammer, a former Miss Alabama who came to New York as an aspiring actress in 1980, began writing for daytime television while playing Ashley on NBC's TEXAS. She eventually wrote herself out of the story.
Her staff for GUIDING LIGHT includes nine writers, among them her husband, Charles Jay Hammer, whom she met while both worked on TEXAS.
NBC dropped TEXAS after two seasons, and episodes from the serial currently are being rerun on the Turner Broadcasting System's cable-TV superstation, WTBS.
Gail Kobe, who was executive producer of TEXAS, now has the same job on GUIDING LIGHT. And Beverlee McKinsey, who played Iris Carrington in ANOTHER WORLD on NBC, and later in TEXAS, will join the LIGHT cast of the CBS soap in February.
Hammer is reponsible for the long-term story, which can mean looking ahead 18 months or more. Staff writers deal with specifics, including the scripts for individual episodes.
She says she draws on "imagination and instinct" for the GUIDING LIGHT story. Often, that involves inventing new characters.
"I look at Vanessa (Maeve Kinkead), one of our leading ladies," Hammer says. "What could make the audience care more about her?
"Then I think, 'Why can't she find a man she can love, who will also love her?' Voila, here comes Billy Lewis (Jordan Clarke).
"Another example," she says, "is Alan Spaulding (Christopher Bernau). All of a sudden, he's got a sister no one ever knew about.
"They come complete," says Hammer of the serial's characters, including the new ones. "We know who they are and where they came from long before the viewer gets all that information. That's one of the most interesting things about daytime, the complexities of the characters."
The writers make a big effort to keep the show contemporary, and four of the leading players are in their late teens or early 20s - Judi Evans, who plays Beth Raines, Kristi Tasreau (Mindy Lewis), Grant Aleksander (Philip Spaulding) and Michael O'Leary (Rick Bauer).
GUIDING LIGHT, longevity notwithstanding, is a moderate success by that ultimate yardstick of the industry: ratings. The show is behind GENERAL HOSPITAL, ALL MY CHILDREN, and ONE LIFE TO LIVE, all on ABC, and CBS's THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. Hammer says she's convinced writing is the key to greater achievement.
"When I say I love the characters, it's not a light thing," she says. "I think what the audience senses is an enthusiasm and an energy among the people who do the show."