Thursday, August 20, 2009

Honoring GUIDING LIGHT at the Paley Center

How do you say goodbye to a 72-year-old legend? First you start with a night at the Paley Center in Manhattan, which honored the cast and crew of GUIDING LIGHT on Wednesday, August 19. Given that the show just wrapped taping one week ago, there were many tears, many laughs, and many hugs to be had throughout the night's event.

As a fan of the show I found myself emotionally confused. Is this a funeral? Is this a wake? Are we here to celebrate or to mourn? It turned out to be a bit of all of these, as several actors, along with Jill Lorie Hurst (current head writer) and Ellen Wheeler (executive producer), discussed the highs and lows of the past 72 years. When asked about most and least favorite story lines, Kim Zimmer spoke about the Reva/Josh/Annie triangle being both for her. She quickly added that she loved the story itself, but she hated being the "the beanie" character (ie, the ignorant person in the scene who doesn't know what is going on). Many fans in the audience expressed ways in which the show helped them through their own conflicts, and all reflected upon the meaning of this show to American culture and the impact of its loss.

Afterward, audience members had the opportunity to meet and greet with the GL staff. I got to listen Ellen Wheeler defend and protect the continuing story format while admittedly having "no idea" where it's going to go next. I was surprised and even saddened to hear Ms. Wheeler blame herself for the demise of GL, stating, "It was my responsiblity to keep it on the air, I take the blame." Whoa!

Saying farewell to a 72-year-old program is unprecedented on this planet. But last night I began to get a sense of how the closure is going to sting, burn, and eventually ease. As one member of the audience stated, GUIDING LIGHT has brought so much light to so many generations, no one can take that away unless we let them.

- GUIDING LIGHT Honored at the Paley Center
- Talking Football with Kim Zimmer + Fantasy Football
- VIDEO: GL's Wheeler, Hurst & Zimmer on Otalia


  1. 'I was surprised and even saddened to hear Ms. Wheeler blame herself for the demise of GL, stating, "It was my responsiblity to keep it on the air, I take the blame."'

    I've heard so many things about Ellen Wheeler's tenure at GL that I don't know what to believe.

    I do know that I was disappointed by her firing Grant Aleksander, Nancy St. Alban, and Paul Anthony Stewart. Their loss to the show was immense and took a toll.

    I understand why GL was forced to move to Peapak for financial reasons but the show foolishly did not prepare for the switch to the digital format or come up with compelling stories in 2008.

    When the show moved to the new format, I remember being frustrated by the number of times that actors' heads were cut off or the cameras were unsteady. Then there was the country music that played incessantly. Several of the interior settings, like the health club seemed claustrophobic.

    At one point, I realized that I was watching a soap version of independent American film. Yet, a bad version.

    At this point, the show has found its footing. The show looks better than a year ago.

    I've come to admire the outdoor scenes. Now, it's distracting to see phony exterior sets on Y&R when I'm used to the vibrant outdoor scenes on GL.

    Ultimately, I think Wheeler will find work. She's proven that she can deliver product on the cheap using digital technology that many other projects might consider. Her struggles and what's she's learned might make her a valuable edition to someone else's production team.

    Sadly, I wish that the learning experience hadn't lead or contributed to the severe decline in ratings and subsequent cancellation of GL.

    I have more sympathy for the middle class actors, writers, and production staff whose economic future is now in great uncertainty.

  2. Thank you SoapFan78, as always, for your articulate comments.

    After hearing her speak, I suddenly had a flash: What if I had to learn a completely different way to practice therapy, and had to perform it for the first time in front of millions of people? The results would be humbling, awkward, and embarrassing. Most of us get to practice and prepare what we do in our jobs before others can witness it and criticize it. I now realize that Ms. Wheeler and GL did not have that luxury.

    Believe me, I share your frustration and annoyance with the show for most of 2008. It's just I'm now starting to grasp how very desperate and necessary this step was, and how there would have been no GL left in February 2008 if they hadn't done this. No Otalia, no return of Philip, no final 4th of July Bauer BBQ, no Cyrus/Remy digging through sewage, nada.

  3. Great point. Learning on the job on national TV is not fun. And without the change in production model, we never would have had Otalia or Phillip's return, the show would have just been gone.

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  5. Why is it so difficult to blame EW, DK, the other writers that followed and P&G?? I don't get it. THEY are to blame. CBS is a business. If GL had performed, it wouldn't have been cancelled. EW and DK destroyed characters, created awful stories that made no sense and rewrote history when it suited them. Viewers/fans got tired of watching crap, left and never came back.

  6. Damon, I don't think it's fair to obsolve Wheeler and Krizeman of responsibility just because they gave the show another year and a half with the new production model. I'm so sick of people being soft on them because they had to work out the kinks on screen. All of the soaps have seen major transitions over the year, but you know how they survived? They gave us great story to keep us invested in the show.

    Nobody cares that GL changed their production model. The reason viewers left in droves is because they told terrible stories and half the cast featured sucked. That is why GL is now canceled and why Ellen Wheeler is 100% to blame. When they knew they'd be debuting that new production model the main focus should've been telling GREAT stories with GREAT cliffhanger so viewers tune in tomorrow.

    Ellen Wheeler's approach seems more like someone who doesn't like soaps. The music featured on GL, the extremely short scenes, wardrobe and the overall vision is like a daytime version of 7th Heaven.

    Look at As the World Turns. They've reduced the size of all their sets and introduced regular location shooting, but the story is still good and it's still a soap opera. When they go on location it serves a purpose. Right now you can truly tell they're trying to save the show. The vets are back in main focus, they're featuring the majority of their cast and looking at what fans want.

    Yes Phillip is back and yes Otalia have chemistry, but the show as a whole is still terrible. Even at the end. They can't commit to anything and are wasting the final months killing off Edmund and Jeffrey then bringing them right back. Why not tie up characters storylines, then move onto the other characters? Instead of bringing Holly and Ed back for two days, why n ot two months?? They had the time, but Wheeler is an awful EP.

    Things like casting and writing should be the main focus of an EP and she failed. I'm willing to accept a grace period for the production model (which I love), but not for the writing. I hope she remains unemployed unless she wants to act, something she is great at.

  7. GL! I love it! Mel finally kissed Cyrus! Damn! I'm so mad this show is ending!! The chemistry between Yvonna Wright and Murray Bartlett is sizzling.


    It's just so wrong that there is so much good on this show that has been tossed away. Of course, had the show not been canceled, chances are that Mel/Wright would have been back burnered.

    I will give Wheeler credit for giving a chance for Wright and other b-players on GL a chance to shine before the show ends. I'm happy that Wheeler is putting money in Wright's pocket along with that of Kurt McKinney.

  8. I would have watched the show (and did)if the actors stood around in the parking lot if the stories made sense and were consistent. It's like a different type of show with the same characters every other day when it's not the same boring show we saw the previous week redux. You can't punish people who watch with drivel and expect them to return day after day.

    I admire the team spirit that kept the show on the air long enough to give us a redeemed Phillip and the once promising Otalia. I just wish they had been able to capitalize on the momentum these stories created and keep the Light on. R.I.P. an historic show which should have had a much longer life.

  9. I was shocked to learn the camera crew stayed the same during the transition. If i were turning to the new format i would bring in a crew with more digital/handheld experience, but it appears they remained loyal to their long term employees and had them learning on the job. It explains a lot. I too now love the prod model. Will miss it.

    I gained a lot of respect for EW at the Paley event. It really seemed like they truly are a family, even the P&G reps.

    We have to look at this in perspective. Even if GL was producing perfection, Soaps on broadcast TV aren't going to last much longer. Our media landscape is changing. Its terribly unfair to blame someone for an outcome that was inevitable with our cultural shift in viewing habits.

    While no one can predict what tomorrow will bring with opportunities on the web, it did certainly sound like P&G is open to future GL projects should something become profitable. the future for serial dramas is like a game of anybody's guess.

  10. I also respect the fact that GL was willing to retrain its camera crew. I just think that they should have done so 3 or 4 months before switching to the new format.

    I'm not looking forward to a future of game shows and reality idiots marring the television landscape from sun up to sundown.

    NBC's decision to air Leno 5 days a night during primetime is the biggest retrenchment or admission of failure in network history. I used to watch much of NBC's 10PM line up. Since I can't stand Jay Leno, I'm forced to watch something on ABC or CBS or somewhere else.

    Jay Leno is awful.