By Patrick Erwin
Guiding Light has gotten an awful lot of ink lately — not over storylines or any actor or actress, but because of some substantial changes in the way the show is made and produced. Many mainstream press outlets have reported on these changes — giving them another opportunity to poke fun at the soap genre – or try to administer last rites.
A lot of fans have bombarded Internet message boards with their intensely negative reaction over these plans, and considering the track record for GL (and, frankly, all the shows) over the last few years, it’s understandable that they’d be wary of this new innovation. “Innovation” in this genre often seems like a synonym for “fixing something that isn’t broken.”
But I have to admit, I’m approaching these changes with an open mind. I’m really intrigued by the possibilities. And I’m also being realistic. I mean, let’s be blunt and call this what it is — an enormous experiment on P&G’s part, and a desperate effort to keep the oldest soap on the air. Those “glowing” stories about the “new look,” likely planted by a P&G publicist, may have a warm, cozy spin to them, but the show isn’t doing it as an artistic endeavor. GL is between a rock and a hard place. In order to survive, the show has to be able to stay in production — and do so as cheaply as possible.
GL is not by any means the first show to dabble with these kinds of tweaks to filming and production. In 2006, All My Children used a video production process that made the show appear as if it had been shot on film. AMC also experimented with hand-held video cameras. Fans weren’t fond of the film look and hated the shaky images that the hand-held cameras captured, and derisively referred to the “Jumpicam” or “Shakycam.”
GL is making a more substantial change, however. Although some scenes will still be shot in GL‘s busy (and expensive) midtown Manhattan studios, many more will be filmed in Peapack, New Jersey, a town about an hour outside of Manhattan. The Peapack scenes will be filmed with hand-held digital video cameras, which are a fraction of the cost of the old-school stationery studio cameras.
Stylistically, there are potential benefits. A natural look — with natural lighting — might be one of the biggest bonuses, and could go a long way toward making things more “real.” Studio-filmed soaps, especially GL, are known for having harsh overhead lighting, which makes even the youngest actor look tired and haggard. (And it does no favors for any seasoned performer, either. That’s why I’m convinced Deidre Hall had a angelic halo of light permanently installed around her head!) The show has been so devoid of sets over the last few years, I think I’m preaching to the choir (no, not Reverend Josh’s choir!) that if we never have to cast our eyes on another variation of the Beacon Hotel room, it will be too soon!
However, I’m hoping that P&G and GL‘s executive producer, Ellen Wheeler, have not placed all their eggs in this particular production basket. These changes may be positive, exciting ones for the cast and crew — and might be ones we’ll enjoy — but GL does have other problems where time, effort, and money need to be invested. First things first: no amount of natural lighting, green grass and scenic views can fix bad writing! GL could really use someone like Ron Carlivati of One Life To Live – someone who knows GL‘s history and isn’t ashamed to use it, like David Kreizman is.
I also understand that letting go of some of GL‘s acting troupe might have been necessary emergency surgery for the show a few years back (in order to stop the fiscal bleeding), but quite frankly, if the show has enough capital to invest in production changes, there should also be some investment in the onscreen talent — especially in bringing back some of our favorites. I have my wish list — any visit by Mary Kay Adams’ India is always welcome — and I’m sure you have yours, too.
Before we all join the frenzy to pronounce this the Worst Thing Ever, I plan to actually watch and wait. At least GL is trying, and though there are times I wonder why GL hasn’t slipped away, I appreciate that P&G and CBS are still trying. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a show many of us have loved to give them time and a little room to try.