Guiding Light’s New Look: First Impressions

By Patrick Erwin

Three weeks ago, before it even debuted, I recommended giving Guiding Light‘s new production style a chance. After a week or so of shows, here are some first impressions: 

THE GOOD:  Some of the new sets read very nicely on screen. In particular, the outdoor sets and the larger sets look great. Many of the outdoor scenes do a good job of doing what this whole process should do: namely, open up the perspective on what you’re seeing without distracting you from what’s happening on screen.

For example, there was a scene last week with Josh and Reva at a bridge after Jonathan left town again, and it really worked well because it did seem so natural — absolutely true to life that Reva and Josh would have been on that road, trying to follow Jonathan as he was leaving, and natural that they would be talking there after giving up the chase. I appreciated the set-up without it taking me out of the moment.

It’s still winter, so some of the outdoor scenes were in surroundings that looked a little dingy.  Marlena told me she and Moose coincidentally visit the area where the scenes are shot (Peapack, NJ) quite often; and that it  becomes especially beautiful and pastoral in spring and summer.  So the show should look more lush and cheerful soon.

The bigger indoor sets also played out very well on screen. I’m not a big fan of Natalia or Rafe, her mumbly son with the soon-to-exit Gus Aitoro, but I did like a scene that played on the first day with Natalia sitting in a church with Rafe (as Daisy comes by to meet him). It reminded me a lot of the kind of sets that I’ve seen in play on British soaps like  Eastenders. Their sets included very utilitarian places, like the corner bar and a laundromat, that lended a sense of reality to the show but also allowed for characters to cross paths in very organic ways. The courtroom set, and the multilevel Spaulding sets, look very interesting on screen.

THE BAD:  I realize that GL wants to maximize its options when it came to sets, and they get an A for effort. But I got as claustrophobic as Alan Spaulding during some of the scenes that played out in the smaller sets. Much was made of how some of the new studio-based sets use existing areas (like the producer’s  office) for filming. But the smaller sets didn’t look very natural on screen. Part of it may have been the way it was filmed; I’m not sure how they were shot, but in a few of the tight indoor scenes (like Harley, Dinah, and Marina in the nail salon), it looked almost like the digital camera filmed each performer’s words and then edited them together (versus back and forth dialogue). The same jarring editing played out when we saw two characters (Jonathan and Lizzie) talking in a moving car. In any case, when the visual canvas is so small and the facial close-ups are so tight, the faces of the performers loom above you in a way that seems far more creepy than “warm and inviting.” 

Some of the smaller sets were just deadly dull and looked awful on-screen. There was a scene with Jeffrey and demon seed Will, after Jeffrey intercepted Will’s theft of a Taser. I understand that the setting was the school for troubled boys where Will is enrolled, but the scene was shot in a big, nondescript hallway with white walls. The end result made it look like it was filmed on someone’s camera phone and played out more like something we’d see on a public access channel, not a daytime soap!  I came away with that same feeling after seeing the all-white Lewis Construction break room. The white walls and nondescript white surroundings really washed out Kim Zimmer (Reva) and Robert Newman (Josh) and made them look dull and uninteresting.

THE UGLY:  The first thing that came to mind on Day 1, after turning off my set, was not about the new snazzy sets. No, the first thing that came to mind was, “So, they’ve been planning this for a year, they’ve promoted the hell out of this for the last month, and this was what we got story-wise on Day One?”

I don’t know what factors went into the storyline, or perhaps didn’t go into the story (with the recent writer’s strike), but it was primarily a no-action day storywise. It seemed to be designed to invite new viewers in and keep it light and simple for them so they could catch on. But the only major story twist that happened was the non-wedding of  Jonathan and Lizzie. The rest of the show was hard to get through.

And it may have been said before, but it bears repeating: All of the wonderful sets and sparkly production techniques cannot make up for a boring, uncaptivating story that does not respect the viewers or the show’s history. There are fits and spurts of life in Springfield yet — we still care about some of the characters and what happens to them– but strict reality will bore us, and GL, to death. As much as I like Robert Newman, watching Josh Lewis fix the fridge was not what any of us meant when we said we wanted more reality. We wanted real people with real histories we cared about, having relationships with characters that make sense (instead of pairings that seem to be drawn from a hat).

Finally, I have to say that I absolutely loathe the new theme song. It’s generic and screechy, and sounds like it came from a commercial for antidepressants or a cholesterol drug. I may be a traditionalist (I loved the theme that played through much of the 1980s, as well as the “Hold On To Love” theme), but I did really come to love the most recent show opening, reciting Irna Phillips’ original poem for the show:

“There is a destiny that makes us brothers / None goes his way alone / All that we send into the lives of others / Comes back into our own.”

Maybe that’s because the words of that poem represent the show that, for me, I know GL once was, and that I wish it would be again.

Comments

  1. Giada says:

    Great analysis. I agree, even if I’m not sure about the opening credits song, yet. I’m slow with those things. I need to give myself time. Also, from the very first new episode (the only one I’ve watched so far), they need to make some adjustments in lighting the show.

  2. nathan says:

    Yeah, I am torn about the “new” Guiding Light. Some it is innovative and some of it looks beyond bad. For the negatives, the show has a more “real” look, but the overall look is still dark, the sets need to be brighter. Not so drab. The sound, while still muffled at times, it seems to be improving. Slowly. Same with the camera work…its not as shaky as it was when this all first began. I wish the closeups of our actors weren’t SO close up at times. Its real, for our older actors, well, the new GL doesn’t really do them any favors sadly.

    The good, well, I did love how the church looked that Rafe and Natalia were in. The Spaulding mansion is good, but Cross Creek, bad. The outdoor scenes, GOOD. But what it all comes down to is writing…and the writing still needs so much work.

    Patrick. Maybe you know. How is it that Kreizman and Wheeler have kept their jobs for SO LONG with GL dead last in the ratings? Any other time, they would have been long gone, and someone else brought in. Or does know one else want either job?

  3. James says:

    Patrick,

    I agree with your analysis. I like the outdoor shots a lot — feels so naural to have things transpire outdoors. And I like many of the new sets a lot, esepcially the Cross Creek set and Cassie’s farm house with several rooms.

    However, I did start getting claustrophobia with some of the sets, especially the revamped Spaudling study. And the extreme close-ups of the actors weren’t helping, especially since I wanted to look aroudn at the new sets more.

    New theme song is growing on me. Not their best but far better than the 70th anniversay “There is a destiny which makes us brothers” one.

    But by far the biggest disappointment was the storylines. The debut episode just felt like another day. Nothing major or eathshattering happened.

    Watching that debut, I kept saying to myself, “What here would entice me to tune in again if I was a first time viewer.” And I honestly couldn’t think of anything. They did little to introduce the charactes or storylines to first timers, which just seems like a completely wasted opportunity.

    Just as I said about The City several weeks ago, the new Guiding Light seems to have everything going for it except storylines. .

  4. Bruce says:

    Great analysis, and I wholeheartedly agree with everything you pointed out. I would add that lighting needs to be improved — especially on the Spaulding library set, which is otherwise spectacular but looks dingy — and that the claustrophobic sets need to be used as little as possible, e.g. Reva’s Cross Creek “den.” But most importantly, the writers need to adjust their storytelling to incorporate the expansive capabilities of the visuals. There’s no point in losing the three-wall sets if you’re going to essentially write as if they’re still there.

  5. DS0816 says:

    Wonderful assessment, Patrick!

    I looked at parts of the premiere, Feb. 29 episode on You Tube. (I recently stopped watching “Guiding Light” — and daytime soaps in general — and did not record the series.) To me, this new-and-not-exactly-improved “GL” looked like an experimental, independent film like “The Blair Witch Project.”

    It physically looked awful, with the indoors icy and isolated. No warmth in color, it was monontous in tone that made the cast appear rather unflattering. I think the outdoors looked better because it reminded us of nature and its luminous beauty. How weird to have the winter exterior appear less cold than the interior!

    Quick question: Does anyone besides me find it strange that big corporations Spaulding Enterprise and Lewis Oil do business in Smalltown Springfield USA? (Does it look like Illinois?)

    I’ll leave the rest of the analyses up to you guys.

  6. Fabobug says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this column, Patrick. I rarely catch GL anymore, but I caught this episode online. And all I could think was, “so what?”

    Afterward I was thinking about shows that successfully integrated a town into the canvas. In “Sex and the City,” Manhattan was an integral part of the action — the 5th woman, so to speak. On “Gilmore Girls,” Stars Hollow served an essential function as the eccentric and quirky town setting. Even on “Little House on the Prarie,” the town played a vital character seen every week that grounded the struggles.

    So what about this new Springfield? What role does it play? It’s cold, it’s grey, it has lots of florescent lighting. Why do I want to visit this place? What appeal does it hold? Note to Wheeler : If you’re going to make the town an essential character, you’d better make it a character we want to get to know.

    Patrick says: Fabobug, very interesting insights! I hadn’t thought of the settings of shows that way.

  7. Carl says:

    I’ve got to disagree with you about the theme song. It’s a bit cheesier than I’d prefer, but, for better or for worse, it is daytime. I like that there are lyrics, and I like the opening. (I’m not thrilled with the dull sans serif title logo, though.) Actually, I should say I really like it. A lot.

    As for the sets, I totally agree that there is a feeling of claustrophobia in some places. As I was watching, I was actually reminded of EastEnders (which I dearly wish was widely available in the U.S. again). I think that this more intimate–and, yes, claustrophobic–style could become very effective especially if it continues to be paired with outdoor scenes. I think it could lend itself to a greater intimacy within the show.

    However, as you so accurately pointed out, the writing is nowhere close to being there yet. I did watch the entire hour of the first “new” show, the first time I’ve sat through an hour of GL since last summer. But I couldn’t bring myself to repeat that feat. History, history, history. I want the show’s history to imbue the storytelling. I also want decent dialogue. However, I also have to slightly disagree with you about the Josh fridge repair. I liked those scenes. I laughed, and anything that even makes me smile in these dim post-Santa Barbara days is a good thing. I really enjoy little throw-away slice of life scenes. It wasn’t a grand thing, and I say thank goodness for that. It doesn’t all have to be sturm und drang. But, in any case, you’re exactly right that the writing must improve greatly. (Sadly, GL is far from the only soap with that problem.)

    But, in terms of production, I like it much more than I thought I would. I applaud them for trying something new (or at least sort of new), and I hope that it keeps the Light shining.

  8. dexx says:

    I agree with much of your post. I have started watching this show again after many years away. The writing seems to be improving, though they have a long way to go.

    For the most part i really like the new format. Some of the sets look a little goofy (cheap sticky floor tiles on the wall of the church for instance) and watching a bunch of people spontaneously go outside in the winter to talk is a little unrealistic. Finally, the characters cars are VERY annoying. They are all from one brand and rarely fit the character.

    I realize that these are relatively minor complaints. For the most part I think the new sets/filming method are successful.

    Either way, I can see myself watching this show for a while to find out, which in itself indicates that it has vastly improved. As recently as two years ago I couldn’t get through a single episode.

    In the end, I guess I don’t really care if they film on the moon–it’s the writing and the actors which matter. WHERE IS ALEXANDRA?

  9. Desertrose says:

    I think the new format COULD work…not quite yet but I can see the possibilities. For the sake of GL and the fans, I hope it starts working sooner rather than later.

    UGH. That new theme song is awful. Soon as I hear it I hit the mute button or flip the channel. It’s one of those stupid evil things that sticks in my head. What did they do with the cool opening before the 70th Anniversary one? I loved it and to be honest, was one of the things that got me tuning back in to GL.

    Definitely some good story moments but too many really boring and stupid ones … how dumb do they think the viewers are? What is with the writers … the strike can be used as an excuse only for so long. I mean c’mon already.

    Still, with the choice of DOOL and GH on at the same time slot, I’m at least still watching GL … for now. I really hope things (writing, mostly) will improve. This show with its rich history deserves a lot better.

  10. BudRose says:

    I have to disagree with the outside stuff. I don’t think it’s all that “realistic” to sit outside and sip coffee on 30 degree days. I live in Minnesota and it’s d@mn cold outside this time of year. As a matter of fact, we still got snow, lots of it. The first week we had to watch the ladies visit the nail salon sometimes twice in one day. Conversations were happening in the woods. Characters were going to the tinest gym I’ve ever seen and only a handful of people actually had sets of where they worked. Harley went jogging in the woods. Gus was wandering around in the woods. Cassie and Reva got lost in the woods. Jonathan dropped Lizzie off outside near the woods. Cassie’s farm looks like it’s falling apart with a bad need of paint. Will tries to crawl out a screenless window. Can you say energy waste? Reva’s den is the same size as my work cubicle enough for my chair and that’s it. Harley’s house is still not painted and is completely different. We seen umpteen people driving shiny new Nissan’s (product placement), yet how many actually hold ‘real jobs”?

    I’m hanging on hoping the kinks work themselves out but watching an hour of Cloverfield or Bay Witch everyday is making me nauseous and helping my diet but that’s it.

  11. Samuel Pasquin says:

    Well, at least Alexandra has made an appearance that I spotted last week. (Although I must say, we’ve fallen far when the Baroness Von Halkein is picking up her great-niece’s office belongings. Where’s Calla Matthews when we need her?) I do find it annoying that the opening sequences, the new website, etc. don’t bother to acknowledge those long time, admittedly in the background, characters. I find it hard to imagine that the non-contractual players are really opposed to having their faces/characters as part of the overall fabric of the show. Vanessa, Lillian, Blake…recurring need not mean irrelevant.

  12. BL says:

    Just a few thoughts on the new style.

    It is too bad they started with all these outdoor scenes in the winter. At this time of year, how many people spend a lot of time outside that live in that part of the US?

    Another problem was they hyped the 2/29 date, and yet the focus was on Jonathan. Let’s premiere a new style and focus on someone who will be gone less than a month later. If they were trying to get people to try GL and stay that doesn’t seem like a good strategy. GL had the regular writing staff until the week the new style premiered oddly enough.

    I don’t have a problem seeing characters fix appliances or doing other household chores if something interesting comes of it (like kissing, sex, humor actually GL used to do this sometimes back in the 90s, but I digress) or depth is brought to the characters. The only thing I can recall from those scenes is (Josh, Reva and the fridge) was that Billy likes to eat old food and Jonathan took some of said food out of there and found it disgusting.

    I don’t care for the theme song so I fast forward it, though the full version of the lyrics horrified me. Soap on a rope?!

    Fabobug I agree with you about the town integration issue. GL used to have sets and locations as an essential part of some of the characters though over the years this faded away. Bringing that back, takes time and memories need to be built.

  13. rebecca says:

    Life is hard – we are all suffering with the economic downturn. I watch(ed) GL because it was a diversion. Now the show looks dull, dim and unattractive. When I see a character’s nose pores looking like the size of nickels while making love to their partner, that’s too much reality. I want beautiful lighting, gorgeous clothes, and an escape from the doldrums of daily life. The writing has become an endless nattering on and on and on. I had to stop watching GL because I found myself getting angry. I used to think Bold & Beautiful was inane but at least it’s still pretty to watch…

  14. Mark says:

    I watched the first day and could not bear more than 15 minutes. In introducing more “modern” production techniques, the show also revived one of the oldest TV elements: close-ups.

    Remember the scene in “Tootsie” when the director calls for a close-up of Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy … then barks “not that close?!” I kept wanting to yell at the camera crew on GL “not that close!!!”

    We don’t watch TV on little 9-inch, pie plate-shaped screens anymore, or even 25-inch consoles. In an age when the 48-inch screen is considered normal, looking an actor’s disembodied head is … frightening. If GL switches to hi-def, is will be scream-inducing.

    Wider angles, people. Wider angles.

  15. Monika says:

    I have been watching Guiding for over 20 years. I understand changes and wanting to be hip and all that, but I had to look for some info onlineon what’s been happening to the filming style on this show because I was in awe of how quickly the show is plummeting in quality and essence. It is absolutely horrible!!!! I was thinking that they must have slashed the show’s budget by at least 50% based on the awful changes that have been taking place over the last few months. It all started when you remodelled the hospital with Bamboo and Green … I’ve never seen a hospital that looked like that (maybe in Tahiti). Now on top of the ridiculously amateurish filming style, they keep introducing new venues and then film there religiously, like the nail salon is the new hangout. For a while everyone was hanging out on the hospital roof (or was it the police station). At least before all these changes, it was “normal” for people to gather at their homes. Anyway, all the changes have gone from bad to worse. This used to be an excellent soap opera production, and now I am embarassed to be watching it.

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