ABC’s Misguided “Sweeps” Tries to Feed Off of Guiding Light’s Death

By Marlena De Lacroix

I usually don’t read a lot of previews or spoilers.  But what I’ve seen this week and what I’ve read for the rest of the month of September alarms me.  The ABC soaps seem to think its sweeps month, staging stunts and attention-getting storylines that are de rigueur in crucial ratings-measuring months.  September isn’t one of them.   Dance marathons (All My Children),  a carnival that concludes with a bloody accident (General Hospital), a Russian drug dealer holding citizens hostage (One Life to Live) — these scream, “Look at me, pay attention to me, love me-me-me!”  Kind of like the stunts my little puppy Nigel stages at least three times a day!Guiding Light cast

Now why would ABC Daytime be making all this extra effort now?  Can it be because Guiding Light on CBS plays its last episode next Friday, and  ABC wants to attract their soon-to-be soapless fans.  The mainstream press, such as this Sunday’s 60 Minutes‘ report on the end of GL, is also shining a light on the whole soap world.  Why not take advantage of that spotlight to attract new viewers?

Now, I ask you Guiding Light fans:  what will you be doing in the next week, beside crying? You’ll be remembering 73-year-old show that was mostly about family, love, problems of the heart, faith, friendships and romance!   Now, GL has had a few nutty

This month, the month that Guiding Light sorrowfully goes off the air. How totally the ABC execs misunderstand the minds and hearts of the soon to be soapless GH audience they are trying to vamp.

out-there stories (Nola’s fantasies, the clone) plus some fist fights and murders, but it was mostly a thoughtful, soulful show.  It was mainly about us, America, our character, our social problems, and how we live.  When Irna Phillips originally named Guiding Light it didn’t mean a lighthouse.  It meant God. 

So isn’t it ironic that two of the three ABC soaps are spotlighting ultra violence-filled storylines right now?  Do they really think these kinds of stories are attractive to heartbroken GL fans? Here are two stories that are airing this week:

General Hospital:   Wednesday I put on the set to see a hit squad of mafioso mistakenly pointing their guns at … Spinelli.   But the Main Event was when a drugged Edward had a heart attack and depressed the gas pedal, driving his car into the crowd at the carnival.  This was “inspired” by real life instances of older people driving cars into crowds (one such happened in Santa Monica, CA, not far from Hollywood) and injuring many (like a little child, Jake and Sonny’s son Dominick/Dante) in a mega Jilly-produced sequence.  Now you know Jilly and Guza don’t pour on their special spicy sauce unless it is sweeps month (remember February 2008′s “The Metrocourt”?) or a time crucial to  saving their repetitive, violent, misogynistic show.  This week’s carnival sequence was well produced but proved again that neither Jill nor Guza seem to have any other weapons in their personal “creative” arsenals but the endless “reworking” of the violent, bloody aspects of E.R. and The Godfather respectively. 

One Life to Live:  I actually like most of the stories (such as Kish, Greg-Rachel-Sean) running those month.  As you know, Sean was shot by Sergei and his henchman. Doesn’t wise-cracking Sergei remind you of the Russian hitman Paulie and Christopher ran off into the New Jersey Pines on The Sopranos?  LOL.  However, I’ve read that policeman Brody in a fight with Sergei’s men gets IMPALED.  According to the dictionary impaled meansMark Lawson when a body or body part is pierced full through by a sharp object (pole, arrow, fencepost) with the object being stuck in the body. OMG, OLTL! Don’t do that to Mark Lawson, the best chest in daytime history!  

All My Children is oh-so opportunistically staging a dance marathon which starts September 21, the Monday after GL‘s last episode.  The details are unclear, and I don’t know if its 10-day run contains violence   It’s supposed to be about a group of characters dancing for Erica’s charity.  In the movie it’s based on — They Shoot Horses Don’t They? — a group of Americans starving in the Depression enter these marathons,  desperate for money. 

This month, the month that Guiding Light sorrowfully goes off the air, feels to me as if AMC and all the ABC soaps are equally desperate — for ratings!  And how totally the ABC execs misunderstand the minds and hearts of the soon to be soapless audience they are trying to vamp.

Comments

  1. Christian in Boston says:

    Marlena I love how you mentioned the Pine Barrens episode of The Sopranos!

    OLTL is easily ABC’s best and most balanced soap, but I thought the “action scenes” were a mess and a bore.

    There is no longer character driven writing on daytime anymore. Even Y&R is a plot driven and contrived (yet somehow watchable, like all Paul Rauch shows) mess.

    Marlena says: Hi Christian dear. Carlivati had to ‘borrow’ Sergei from the Sopranos, don’t you think? We ALL watched, Ron. Sure there’s only plot-driven shows left on daytime but there’s a difference in between a story just being plot-driven and one which drives a stake (or some pointed object) through someone! Is there a gladitor movie fan on the writing staff of OLTL? BLECH! I agree the action scenes were today were well-meant but very poorly produced too. Good feeling of suspense however.

  2. Brandon says:

    I’ll leave that “Daytime’s Best Chest” debate for another day, Marlena (though my vote still gets cast for that gorgeous hunk Leonard Stabb, Hart on “GL” circa 1993), but to your main point: even if the execution is a bit lacking, you’ve still gotta give ABC daytime points for at least *trying*. “AMC” is hopelessly stupid these days, but — story flaws aside — the “GH” carnival was thrillingly produced. And though “OLTL” is the one show that should never, EVER indulge in gunplay — how tritely sophomoric for this generally sophisticated show! — today’s location sequences were masterfully set and shot, and were more exciting than most of the action movies I’ve seen in the last half-decade. (Didn’t you get a sense, Marlena, that the producers of “OLTL” were covertly, subliminally whispering into the ears of the “GL” audience, “Over here, we know how to film outdoors and make it look good?”)

    This kind of thinking has ALWAYS gone on when you look back in the annals of daytime history. Remember when NBC premiered “Santa Barbara” during the 1984 Summer Olympics, when ABC’s uber-popular lineup was on a two-week hiatus? Or when “Another World” brought on Crystal Gayle and climaxed the Sin Stalker story to combat the premiere of “Bold and Beautiful” in 1987? Or when “GL” (foolishly) killed off Maureen Bauer the same day its timeslot competitor “Santa Barbara” left the air in 1993, providing virgin viewers — via long mournful eulogies and character reconciliations — with an easy entree into Springfield’s tapestry? Or when “One Life” stole Linda Dano and had her introduce all her “AW” fans to all her old Llanview friends in 1999?

    The fact is that some two million soap fans are going up for grabs next week, and ABC is putting what they feel are their best wares out on full display, beating the drum in a last-gasp effort to grab whatever attention they can.

    Marlena says: First of all my vote for Best Chest is John Wesley Shipp, who played Kelly on GL in the early 80′s. John (who went on to a prime time career) is so gorgeous, AND back in the day he was the nicest guy in the world and was the rare actor who always remembered the press’ names!

    Brandon, thanks for providing historic examples of one network trying to vamp another soap’s viewers when that show was cancelled. I didn’t know Maureen Bauer was killed the same day Santa Barbara went off the air! GL’s then producer Jill (Farren Phelps) who made the decision to kill Maureen had previously been executive producer of Santa Barbara. And the Linda Dano stunt on OLTL (I still feel like I am drowning remembering it) was also piloted by OLTL exec producer Jill, who previously was the exec producer of Another World. The comparison might be a little off, but I wonder what Jilly has up her sleeve for Friday’s GH! Charbroiling Spinelli? Impaling Jason’s chest?

    Seriously I will be guesting on Brandon’s Buzz Blog Talk Radio show Wednesday, September 16 at 11A.M to talk about the history of and sad ending of Guiding Light. Tune in!

  3. David says:

    Hi Marlena, as you know I am a big OLTL fan and that is all I have been or will be watching of ABC Daytime. If I had to choose between AMC and GH it would be AMC hands down! Simply cannot abide GH!

    I think I shall tune into ATWT following GL’s final episode. I started with P&G (the dear departed The Edge of Night) and since I’ve watched World Turns on and off for years I might as well replace GL with the last P&G show still standing (for how long???).

    By and large OLTL is still for the most part a quality show. Perhaps the best daytime has to offer. God knows I am trying to get into Y&R but it’s just not “home” to me. I’m trying though.

    Hope all is well my dear!

    David

    Marlena says: David, I know how devoted you are to GL and to OLTL! Longtime reader and Marlena friend David has provided us with a real treat which I will be running next week to celebrate the life (not the death) of GL. Check out this space!

  4. Levi says:

    I am really going to shed the tears Sept 18th and I think nearly all of GL’s characters will have happy endings (even Otalia—-maybe they will at least get one meaningful kiss!). And I sure hope Reva would walk away with Josh—not necessarily as lovers—but hand in hand. I always thought if the whole cast walked toward the lighthouse hand in hand it would be so emotional.

    But your article has been what is on my mind. On Sept 21st, I will be in the what to watch mindframe. I am not giving up on soaps but what I am seeing is not shows I would die to get hooked on. I have even just skimmed Bold and the Beautiful cause its uneven most of the time. ABC Daytime I never watched but people are telling me OLTL seems to be good.

    I might just shop around and see what captivates me. I know you too Marlena will miss GL so much. And I do thank you for the wonderful articles you have written over the years on this show. Now, I guess I will figure out what show is decent enough to watch.

    Since Tom Phelphery is headed to ATWT and Crystal Chappell to Days, I will have to check them out. Although it will be an adjustment to see them not as Olivia and Jonathan. I think the closest one I would give a try is ATWT but the prognosis is not too good for that show (at least from CBS’s mouths). I could do the boycott CBS deal, but I am not petty. What has happened has happened. The moment is what it is. But I hope the rest of the soaps have life. I will keep the optimism! GL provided so many memories for me and my family to share. Although no other show will replace my love for it, life does move on. Sept 18th, will be a day of tears but yet happiness for memories gone by.
    se[
    Marlena says: Your love and devotion to Guiding Light shines through this letter, dear Levi. I absolutely love your last few words, “September 18th will be a day of tears but happiness for days gone by.” And I’m glad you are considering other soaps to watch!

  5. Daniel R. says:

    Revealing article, Marlena! It seems that ABC doesn’t know what GL’s appeal was and is simply serving up more of what has diminished soaps over the past decade: stunts! Won’t you sic Nigel at the ankles of Brian Frons?

    I admit to considering another soap, but ultimately for now I think I am going cold turkey (though I just bought parts 1& 2 of Peyton Place on DVD). It’s only been Guiding Light for me since 1982/1983, sans affairs with The City and Days of Our Lives, and the summer “check ins” with Search for Tomorrow, Days and some others. But as your article shows, Marlena, what’s out there for me? I’ve looked in at Days recently, and I don’t know more than a handful of characters. It was my grandmother’s show, so it used to be that I could pretty much recognize everyone. I did in 2003, when I followed the serial killer story. I was drawn in because I love murder mysteries, but the ‘big reveal’ of that story insulted me so much I tuned out forever in great anger.

    I know little about ATWT despite its sibling relationship to GL. Had the show brought a couple of GL characters to Oakdale (Shayne, Dinah, Bill & Lizzie would have worked for me), I surely would have followed. As the Springfield transplants met the residents of Oakdale, I would have too.

    Y&R and B&B…B&B always seems “California shallow” to me, and Y&R’s rich history seems daunting.

    GH? No thanks. I’m one those who avoids at all costs shows like the Sopranos. I didn’t much mind the mobsters on GL because, let’s face it, Saundra Santiago (Carmen) was a true soap mobster (wearing a skintight catsuit and taking her gun out of a designer purse) and great fun to watch. Danny and Tony Santos were the soap archetypes of ‘good guys in bad situations’ who eventually freed themselves. GH seems to be Sopranos-lite, where the mob is the core of the show. Call me old fashioned, but mobsters aren’t the good guys. I can’t root for them.

    I’ve looked at AMC and OLTL on SoapNet while working late at night. AMC, where I know some of the characters…has something missing. I’m not sure what it is. A focus, a lack of core families…a purpose? The characters don’t feel connected. GL had this problem in the late 90s but it was later rectified.

    OLTL seems to me to be the closest kindred spirit to GL, about a group of core families in a small town and their social interactions. I see glimpses of the soulfulness you talk about when I’ve looked at that show. A possibility.

    First I have to get through next week…Kim Zimmer has let it slip a bit about what the format of the final GL will be, and it could be very special.

    I think, as a soap viewer, I will never truly leave Springfield…

    Marlena says: What a charming letter, Daniel. I enjoyed your evaluations of all the shows. I did have some kind words to say about OLTL to Dale on this page, but beyond that I’m not endorsing any one. I was enjoying Paul Rauch’s Y&R this summer and then one day, a pyscho villainess poisoned a dog to death! It was the same week we got our little Nigel. And as the show’s grown so much weirder on a week by week basis since then, I still haven’t written a promised review. As featured on his Facebook page, Frons has his own dog, a golden retriever who is his chauffeur. Nigel isn’t an attack dog; he’s a cuddle dog.

  6. Dale says:

    Cher Marlena! It’s been too long! Sorry I have not been in touch, but the state of the soap world has depressed me too much lately to get involved much in the online community. Only YOU could draw me out! :)

    Next week is going to be tough for a lot of us. Our cherished Light is about to go out, and I don’t know that it will totally sink in for me until September 21, when the only alternative at 3:00 is General Hospital. Don’t even get me started!

    I am looking forward to your special Guiding Light treat next week. Yes, a little birdie told me what it is! In the meantime, I am enjoying OLTL’s drug/hostage story a lot more than I usually do this type of fare. Could it be because there is a baby’s life at stake that ups the drama quotient? Or is it because Sergei is such an entertaining villian?

    So, Mark Lawson has the best chest in daytime history? But what about Tuc Watkins? You once declared his to be the best evah! Has he been dethroned?

    Marlena says: Dale, I missed you, and guess what? I was just as turned off to most of daytime as you were this summer and posted only minimally. I’m sure all my readers will like my special end of GL surprise! I think you should check out OLTL, which is practically the only entertaining soap right now. But I know you are a very classy guy, so you should read my back columns on the show from this year to see my objections to faults many male viewers don’t even notice. As far as Tuc Watkins goes, he’s still on the show and he’s kept up that chest. But what I like about Mark Lawson is that he is young and adorable to everyone and the show has written him not just as a good guy but as almost as angelic. I will always love Tuc, but Lawson just strikes me as a special moment in time.

  7. horselover says:

    I don’t blame ABC in the least for going after the GL viewers. In fact, I think it’s smart. However, like GH bringing back 80′s vets to lure long time viewers, something is always off with their execution. Watch GH for any length of time and you can quickly surmise it’s a plot driven show that solely revolves around Sonny Corinthos and his mob. If you’re not interested in a half -evolved Sonny, senseless violence and dumbing down of women, then there’s not much interesting to watch on GH. Frankly, I don’t see GH gaining any of the GL viewers.

  8. JTG says:

    I find myself very sad knowing that the Light will be extinguished this Friday. Given the issues we face, our soaps have provided a stablizing force in our lives. I wish the best for the cast and crew of GL.

    As for OLTL, I love the show. It hits its targets 98% of the time with only a few misfires. This week’s violence didn’t seem out of place. If you think about the history of a show that once featured the gritty portrayal of Karen and Marco’s seedy life, a kidnapping and a shoot out is minor.

    I’m not a fan of mob violence but I do understand that violence is part of life. Unlike GH, OLTL does not celebrate it. The violent and depraved are regularly denounced (with the strange exception of Todd).

    The shootout led to the introduction of the Evans parents and added thrust to the Rachel, Greg, and Sean triangle.

    Also, the outdoor location scenes were incredibly well produced and acted. Lately, OLTL has invested in on location shoots that enhance the storytelling. I welcome it.

    You also mentioned AMC’s dance marathon. In a recent interview, a producer of AMC explained that for financial reasons, the show had to maintain the same sets for a few weeks. The dance marathon allowed for this.

    I don’t think many GL fans would turn their attention away from these last wonderful episodes to try out the ABC soaps. That kind of infidelity isn’t on our minds. We’re sad, grateful, and angry. Sad to see our beloved soap disappear. Grateful for the chance to have watched it all these years. But angry for its needless cancellation.

    How many GL viewers are going to make an appointment to watch a repeatedly canceled dopey “Let’s Make a Deal”? Wayne Brady is a nice, talented guy but I hope his show is a massive failure to teach CBS, NBC, and ABC not to touch our other soaps.

    With the creation of the digital subchannels, I’ve been wondering why the networks don’t air sameday repeats at night? I understand fear of draining viewers away from their primetime line up but all of those subchannels are available.

    I used to watch most of NBC’s 10PM programs. With Jay Leno’s takeover of the 10PM slot, I have to find other programming. This summer, I have been watching sameday episodes of soaps online in the evening. I’d be just as happy to turn to a digital channel and watch it live (anything to escape the HORRIBLE, WRETCHED AT&T Bono commercial that CBS has attached to Y&R’s online epidsodes!! Lord, help me! I hope to never have to see or hear Bono extol the virtues of a Blackberry smartphone again!!).

  9. Jenn says:

    Marlena, first of all, I agree with you about Mark Lawson. I’m an recurring viewer of OLTL and I’ve seen something special in him from the get-go. I think he’s got a Ryan Phillippe thing going on, that is quite appealing.

    But on to the subject at hand… I tend to agree with Brandon, in the fact that at least ABC seems to be trying to bring in viewers, no matter how big the stunt. I’ve often condemned GH for it’s obsession with gangsters and violence, but even I enjoyed the carnival. It was nice to see the outdoor scenes (seriously, when was the last time GH did an outdoor location sequence?), and even though the Brianna Hughes mystery was terribly uneven, it was nice to see the climax of this story drive the climax of the carnival instead of more mobster violence (although the substory of Spinelli and Johnny involved in the typical GH gangster shootout seemed out of place). I actually remember a discussion I had with you a little while ago about the cost of location shoots, and found it interesting that, in a magazine interview, Guza said that this carnival took place right in the studio parking lot. It was sort of an ingenious way of creating something colorful and lovely to look at, but not having to pay a fortune to move the entire cast to a different area. I sort of wish soaps would do this more often, as Days did back in the 90s with their Salem Place; create a separate soap outdoor set right on the studio lot. I think the brightness of the carnival was refreshing in dealing with such a drab and dreary show, but I suppose these observations are sort of shallow when GL is going off the air at the end of this week. I just want soaps to survive, period. Losing GL is very depressing and gives me a feeling of forboding about the remainder of our soaps.

    Marlena says: Great to hear from you Jenn. I’ve been to the GH studio and I recognized it right away at the site of the carnival. It was well done, but with all those extras and rented props (like the ferris wheel) it still must have cost a great deal. Still, with all the technological progress, periodic outdoor shooting is a lot cheaper than it used to be, and has been used lately with varying success by almost all the soaps. But the key isn’t the opportunity to do it; it’s the choice and the effort to do it well. Look what happened to Guiding Light, which shot outside every day. Jill just happens to be a master at staging a slick production (remember Ross’ dream on GL?), but we hardly see her special personal touch on a day to day basis.

    I do feel the forboding for soaps, especially this week as GL is ending. What especially hurts me after a lifetime of viewing is to see the absolutely desperate and sometimes digusting things the shows are doing to survive. Having our beloved curmugeon Edward drive into a carnival full of children? Yikes! What’s next, Charles Manson and Dr. Kervokian make special guest appearances from their respective cells as Dr. Monica makes house calls? Will soaps do anything to survive? I think so!

  10. andrea pena says:

    I have stumbled onto this blog by accident looking for something to hold onto … I’m a GL fan who first watched at at tender age of 12 years old. I’m numb and in denial.

    I first cried when I found out about the cancellation … then I told my self it would get picked up by another network. Last week as I watched Jonathon give Sarah to Lizzie … it dawned on me it was really over … I have also watched ATWT along with Y&R. I had no idea about Tom P heading to that show … good to know since I haven’t been into the S/L this last summer.
    A friend who works on the set of Y&R claims that everyone is expecting 5 years best of daytime. I cringe to think that might be true. I’m not a big fan of the popular reality shows but America has fallen in love with these shows and our next big stars are those we vote for on these popular tv show.

    I have watched GL the last week saying to myself … if they had brought back Phillip sooner, Holly, Michelle and Danny and Jonathon before now … we might have a show still!! We GlLfans have mourned for our history to be returned to us … too bad it’s taken until now just to take it away again … although this time forever. Nothing will ever replace a good Reva And Josh love story.

    The little girl in me mourns today; the woman and mother in me mourns GL and I have gone through childhood, death (my childhood friend who turned me on to GL died 2 months after graduation), marriage, motherhood, divorce together … I found my happy ending (2nd marriage) but GL’s light turned off leaves me to mourn another death … and it feels a little like my own.

    Marlena says: Ah sweetie, the fact that you can write such a heartfelt letter and that you were devoted to GL for so long proves what a special person you are, and will remain when this show is cancelled! Only we soap opera watchers know how much our shows mean to us. Especially when they have been with us for the course of a lifetime. As love seems to blossom when we least expect it — even at a cancellation — have faith in yourself! You’ll feel better. Meanwhile, sample of the other soaps to see if you like them.

  11. antmunoz says:

    Marlena, I was surprised that you considered Nola’s fantasies as “nutty, out-there stories.” They were so well-done and gave us wonderful insight as to how Nola thought and viewed her world. The clone…now that was nutty and out-there! But…I couldn’t stop watching. Kim Zimmer committed to the story (as she is fond of reminding us, lol), and I was riveted for the acting alone. (Well, that and a “I can’t believe they’re doing this story on GL” mentality.) Quite frankly, the show over the past two years could’ve used a clone, a time-traveling portrait, or SOMETHING. Otalia alone didn’t cut it, and whatever Phillip’s return story was supposed to be, it became something else. (Apparently, his manslaughtering Grady is acceptable and forgotten.) I’ve enjoyed the final weeks, though, although it’s interesting to see everyone in Springfield so forgiving and forgetful. Still, I’d prefer a happy ending to a bunch of cliffhangers, and my Springfielders can always fall out again with each other in my imagination, quarreling and scheming and plotting against each other for eternity. RIP, GUIDING LIGHT. Hold on to love.

    Marlena says: Ant, I have a framed picture of Nola and Kelly over my desk from “Shipmates Forever!” When I said nutty, I didn’t mean bad. But to each his own! I hated the clone, thought it was trash at the time and became mighty unpopular at my magazine for writing that. But to each his own! This is all history now! The last few days of any soap is heartwrenching and we have two to go as I write this. It is wonderful that these characters will live in your imagination, it shows how devoted you were to the show!

  12. tess says:

    Love the article, Marlena. I seriously doubt if ABC will be successful at snagging GL watchers, though. The ABC soaps are about stunts and shenanigans, so that won’t interest GL watchers, who are accustomed to soul-stirring tales about matters of the heart. Usually, anyway.

    Oh, Marlena, I’m so weary of all the melodrama that now permeates daytime television. I’d love to see some of the simple, yet captivating stories that soaps used to tell so beautifully.

    For example. A woman hates her son’s girlfriend and she constantly gives the girl hell. But unlike these days, she’d never resort to attempted murder or hire a madman to rape her object of dislike.

    Remember father and son, Bill and Ed Bauer’s bout with booze? And how it affected everyone around them.

    Or Hope getting entangled with Alan Spaudling and her father’s Mike’s reaction to it.

    Ah!

    A few more things. I’ve been watching old tapes of GUIDING LIGHT and of course, you know that Audrey Peters, Van from LOVE OF LIFE played Sarah Shayne, Reva’s mama. Well, looking at these old shows, Audrey and Kim really looked like mama and daughter.

    Also, today, I read in a soap mag that Rita Lloyd, who played the crazy Lucille Wexler, died. My condolences to her family.

    I loved Lucille. She and her cossetted, but frightened daughter, Amanda lived in that creaky old house and I loved their shenanigans to bust up Ben and Eve.

    Ah, the memories. GUIDING LIGHT really should go to DVD.

    Marlena says: Tess, thanks so much for evoking these old memories of Guiding Light! The late Chris Bernau (who originated Alan Spaulding) was perhaps the sexiestman ever on soaps and he did it ALL through his acting–no bare chest pictures, no super studs ratings. At the time of the Alan and Hope stort he was also playing Dracula off-Broadway and there was similarlity in his portyals– the power and elan. Rita Lloyd was a big star when I first started covering GL. Due to the cancellation, I’ve heard about the deaths of so many forner GL stars who p I didn’t about, like Barbara Berger’s and Vince Williams’. And who will ever forget Papa Bauer himself, Theo Goetz. And dear, dear Charita Bauer, the heart of the show for so long. How we loved them all….

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