Don’t miss Marlena’s farewell to Guiding Light on blogtalkradio’s Brandon’s Buzz at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16 or later on the network’s archive.
By Marlena De Lacroix
In March 1992, Guiding Light reached the apex of soap quality, that perfect blend of excellence in writing, acting and production. I thought it had everything going for it to reach #1 in the ratings. Here’s my column from Soap Opera Weekly, March 2, 1992, Volume 3, Issue 9, in which I analyzed this blueprint for building a perfect soap. A framed copy of this column hung over the desk of GL’s then executive producer Jill Farren Phelps for the duration of her stay there.
Intelligence, integrity, heart — GL had all three. It was a soap that not only deserved to rise to the top of the ratings, but should have stayed there forever. What a tragedy we are losing America’s oldest and historically beloved soap on Friday. Farewell, Guiding Light. You were glorious!
Here’s my column as it appeared originally. If you can read the tiny type in this reproduction, more power to you. If not, we’ve reprinted the text following the image.
Join me in enjoying the memories.
Guiding Light: Blueprint for No. 1
(Originally published in Soap Opera Weekly, March 2, 1992)
By Marlena De Lacroix
I can no longer resist writing another column about the greatness which is Guiding Light. Everyone I know is absolutely cemented to their screens when it’s on. Including moi!
I just read an article in another publication exploring what it takes to become a No. 1 soap. Great idea, but the interviewees in this story included the usual soap-world sycophants, and even writers and producers of basement-ranked soaps! Now what could they know about being No. 1? To really understand what it takes, they should all study GL now, while it’s hot, hot, hot.
In the introduction to this morning’s class, let Maitre Marlena (maitre means teacher, not old maid!) say this: The happenstance of a great soap is akin to the equally rare total eclipse of the sun — all the elements must be present and precisely aligned to converge simultaneously. On soaps, these elements include: acting, writing, production (including lights, sets, costumes), time slot, network supervision, budget, publicity and character history. Here’s how GL hits the exacta:
Complex, not clichéd writing: This is perhaps the most important element of all. GL writers Stephen Demorest, James E. Reilly and Nancy Curlee (recently replaced by All My Children veteran Lorraine Broderick) understand that good soap opera, like all good drama, arises not simply from plot manipulations, but from character. There are no cardboard heroes or villainesses on GL; complex, oft-contradictory personalities rule. Examples: Blustery Billy Lewis comes on like Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof but gives glimpses of a Montgomery Clift, sensitive soul; even perpetual villain Roger Thorpe found his heart recently in his wrenching effort to save Holly from that deviant, Dr. Daniel.
Charismatic couples with chemistry: Usually, one great super couple is enough to carry a soap. Soap producers would gladly kill their mothers in exchange for a pair of actors with natural vibes. GL currently has the luxury of three super couples: Nick and Mindy, AC and Harley, and Eleni and Alan-Michael. (Or is it Eleni and Frank?)
Sex: Soaps so rarely find electric couples that GL is wisely flaunting its own. Remember that historic, choreographed nearly nude first encounter between Nick and Mindy? The same week, Alan-Michael had an equally hot encounter with his ex-wife, the ever-sultry Blake. Oh, baby, this genuine GL steam heat has been stopping the CBS afternoon cold!
A company of experienced veteran actors all in top form: Michael Zaslow (Roger), Maureen Garrett (Holly), Beverlee McKinsey (Alexandra — Emmy, Emmy, Emmy!) and don’t forget the marvelous Maeve Kinkead (Vanessa). The long-ignored Tina Sloan (Lillian) and Peter Simon (Ed), too, did mighty powerful work in the breast cancer story.
Interwoven, genuinely suspenseful storylines: Of late, separate major GL plots have been sublimely integrated. Examples: Baby policewoman Harley going after murderer Daniel; Alex using Frank to investigate Eric Luvonoczekj and Alan-Michael using the occasion to trick Eleni into marriage. GL is suspenseful and cannily well-paced. Toward the end, the Dr. Daniel story held my interest far more strongly than As the World Turns‘ over-elongated “Who Killed Carolyn Crawford?” story.
GL doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of the audience: Oh, this is so important! Compared to simplistic soaps like Days of Our Lives and General Hospital, GL never treats the viewers like dummies. Although the show’s focus is primarily on experienced adults who have been around the romance block three or four times, the younger characters are exceptionally well drawn and are played with a complexity beyond the predictable flatness of most daytime juveniles.
Luck (or is it kismet?): Every soap needs some order to find the right mix of elements. But I guess the real credit must go to the show’s executive producer, Jill Farren Phelps. Cheers for a job superbly done!
So with all this going for it, why isn’t GL No. 1? Well, in the world of TV, high-quality programs don’t always do best in the ratings. The taste and perception level of the general public is seldom on the cutting edge.
What GL needs now is for Procter & Gamble and CBS to call attention to the show with a publicity push equivalent to the super campaign ABC recently waged for One Life to Live. GL is a soap that can live up to the hype. Why keep it a secret?