The “New” Guiding Light: Give It a Chance

By Patrick ErwinRobert Newman

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.Beth

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 inMary Kay Adams 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.


  1. GL is talking like its the first to go the handheld camera and location shoot route. But its NOT.

    Back in 1995-97, The City did wonderful things with handheld cameras, regular location shoots, and stylish edits. I was quite impressed and thought it was the wave of the future. But the ratings didn’t agree and The City was cancelled a mere 16 months after it debuted.

    Biggest problem with The City was the writing — the stories just didn’t grab you like a new soap must. The flashy camera work didn’t make up for the lackluster storylines.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what GL will do. We’ve caught glimpses of the handheld cameras and location shoots in recent weeks. Some have worked, others haven’t.

    But unless the storylines improve substantially, just like with The City, no amount of fancy camera work and editing is going to keep the audience involved for the long run.

    Patrick says: James, I remember “The City” as well. I agree they did this long ago, but I do think GL is the first of the shows to make SUCH a substantial change, where a majority of scenes will be filmed this way.

  2. Guiding Light is blessed by some great actors who can handle this kind of realism. I’m one fan who is keeping an open mind.

  3. I am keeping an early mind. I don’t blame the “style,” “camera work” or even the writing for The City’s cancellation. The 12:30 PM is a time slot ABC had difficulty with for a long time, since they moved “Ryan’s Hope” away from that time slot. Many local affiliates kept that 30 minutes for their own local or syndicated programming. “The City” was also a revamp/relaunch of “Loving”, which I am sure also confused some viewers. There is a huge difference between an existing soap (GL) making this type of change and a new/revamp/relaunch of an existing soap with a new name. Besides, is 18 months long enough for any soap to really catch on and prove itself in the ratings, especially when it doesn’t have a lead in of another soap but rather varied local/syndicated programming?

  4. From what I have seen so far, GL is getting about 75% of it’s new look right. Sometimes the editing is so off that during crucial dialogue, we get a long shot , shot from the angle of the actors legs. Just keep the closeups and I’ll be happy.

    I love this show with all my heart. It has always been a part of my life. I want to be around for many years to come. I just feel that Everyone involved needs to take a deep hard look at what has always made GL work, characters that told the story through their actions. Not plot heavy stories that twist characters to conform to the story.

  5. Desertrose says:

    I am also keeping an open mind. Almost anything (that doesn’t make me seasick as on AMC with some seriously bad handheld camera work…really bad) is better than the sad sad sets they have been using. (I mean the hospital set …what’s with that bizarre green?)

    I have liked what I’ve seen so far. The strong actors can definitely handle it….I am hoping it adds some new life & energy to the show. I am also really, really, really hoping that the writing will improve as well…it definitely needs to improve.

    This could just turn out to be a GOOD thing. I’m hoping it will, anyway.

  6. EricMontreal22 says:

    As a big City fan and defender (I have the last 6 months on tape and have actually rewatched thru them a few times) I have to say the show was a mess when it started but after about 8 months (and an ill advised retread of the Loving murders serial killer storyline) it REALLY came into its own. Its last 6 months were often a brilliant mix of classic soap opera storytelling with modern elements and techniques and it was at that time the ONLY ABC soap to see its ratings tart to climb for those final months (slowly, and maybe they climbed cuz people knew it was already on its way out–but still no small thing since by 1997 the eternal downward fall of soap ratings was already well in force).

    I think the biggest advantage to this technique will be the location shooting–something which honestly I think all soaps will have to adopt at some point within the next 10 years if they’re still on the air. While I love the theatrical feel, personally, of the old style, I think for “newbies” it immediately is off putting–UK and Ozzie soaps are great examples of location shooting really adding a sense of community and verisimiltude.

  7. The show is a mess right now because of the writing. Harley and Cyrus? Yawn! Hate it! Marina and Mallet? Yawn! Hate it! Alexandra should’ve been the one to expose Harley and Cyrus’ affair. Josh and Cassie? Enough is enough! These two don’t work as a couple. Natalia and Gus? Natalia is just as boring as ATWT’s Sufferin’ Sophie. It’s time for Gus and Harley to reunite. Olivia should be mixing it up with Buzz, Lillian and Doris or taking Ava to task for sleeping with her ex-husband Bill!

  8. Anyone who is still watching GL in my opinion is giving the visual changes a chance. They’ve been testing the new style for months and there are still some major glitches with the audio. Some people haven’t liked what they’ve seen and that’s the prerogative.

    What I find disturbing about the filming change is how the news that over 50 crew members have lost their job at Guiding Light has been buried. I only found out about it today after reading SOD’s March 4, 2008 issue. Whether you like the changes or not, so many people losing their jobs is awful.

    Patrick says: BL, I agree. I understand GL is fighting to survive budgetwise, but it’s disheartening to know so many people have lost their jobs.

  9. So, it hasn’t been that long since I stopped watching GL. I detailed why in response to your piece back in December. But, being a glutton for punishment (damn near a pre-requisite for watching soaps these days:), I decided to take a chance after reading your thoughts here.

    I wanted to watch a few episodes before commenting. Maybe it’s just that my fav, ATWT, is so God-awful that most days I ff through just about everything – stopping only for Lucinda, Nuke, Holden talking to one of his kids (but not Lily), Bob, Kim – that’s about it. I love Susan, but watching her trying to talk some sense into Emily is an exercise in frustration. And much as I love Tom and Margo, this thing with Casey’s cellmate is too stupid for words.

    I digress… I watched the past four episodes and was able to watch with little time on ff. You’re certainly right that these cameras are much more flattering to the actors; everyone looked great. Of course, I did have to suspend more than the usual amount of disbelief. Why Cassie, Josh and Will were have these protracted conversations standing out in the freezing cold instead of going inside stretched credulity. For me, this has been an on-going problem, even in the studio, characters having these intense, intimate conversations sitting on a bench at the mall?! They should be in their homes, at least once in a while. And were they at Cross Creek or Springfield? I thought Cross Creek was in Oklahoma?

    I’m in total agreement that no amount of new equipment will fix bad writing. But I have to say, at least for these few episodes, I’ve seen more focus on character over plot, then on, say ATWT. Everyone wasn’t flying around in high dungeon; characters were actually having conversations, dialogue drew on characters’ histories. Now, not everything works for me. What little I’ve seen thus far of the Gus-Natalia-Olivia thing feels more plot-driven than character. And I don’t know when Alan is back on, but he’s always been a little over the top for my taste. And yes, the whole Harley-Cyrus-Martina thing, well… But getting to see Buzz and Lillian and Daisy and Ashlee… Oh, and that kid who plays Will! I can live with it – for now.

    Patrick says: Thanks for the comment, Lynn! There are times since GL has scaled back its sets and its cast, and “simplified” everything, that I kind of “get” what they seem to be aiming for. GL can still give us beautiful small moments. It’s just too inconsistent with those moments, and with its history in general.

  10. I am so glad that crew members losing their jobs was brought up. I had heard this, but wasn’t sure how true it is/was.

    I’ve heard a lot of rumblings about ATWT and GL (P&G?) working hard to ‘break’ the unions that work on their shows. Again, I don’t know how true these rumors are, but I hope that they’re wrong.

    Would be nice to see a piece written somewhere about the behind the scenes changes and their impact on union workers who’ve worked on the shows for years. Are the regular camera people, et al. the ones working on these location shoots? I sure hope that the shows are going around the unions to use other workers. That would be a travesty worth huge headlines, in my estimation.

    Regarding ATWT, I am not sure what the goings on were, but I believe it had to do with them scheduling a shorter work week that was against the contract of the union employees.

    Patrick says: Bob, I think you’re right on both counts. The more recent news was that around 50 crew members at GL lost their jobs because of the production changes. Marlena and I will take a look at this issue and see what we can find out. Thanks for your comment!

  11. i did give it another try and i already like what they’re doing. in fact, I enjoyed it so much that I spent too many hours on YouTube watching great old episodes from back in the Beverley McKinsey days.

    I am tentatively watching again. I only hope the writing continues to imrpove.

  12. okay, so i have it a chance. but after today’s schillfest — i mean i get product placement — but p&g. cbs and target (what natalia was using to clean the health club; how p&g let that one by is anybody’s guess) — enough.

    what would i liked to have seen? i don’t know ; maybe lizzie discussing running away from her wedding with, oh yes, how about her mother?

    right now the writing feels so thin, like they’re just shooting an outline with none of the dialogue filled in; there’s no connection scene to scene.

    TIIC seems to have confused how a show looks with how it feels; “real” is not the same as intimate.

    i’m enclosing a lnk to a blog sam ford started for the class he’s teaching on american soap opera at mit. his students have some very interesing insights.

  13. janet lenn parsons says:

    GOD AWFUL!!!
    I have been watching for over 30 years. NOW I am a General Hospital fan. Thanks alot!
    The outdoor scenes are the only ones worth watching. The inside of Reva, Cassie and Alan’s homes look foolish. What are you trying to do, save money?

  14. I’ve been watching GL for 34 years, I can remember watching this soap with my mom when I was very, very young. GL lost it’s “soft” look when it changed over to these cameras. Yes, the writing is HORRIBLE, but these cameras have to go. I work while the show is running but I have my DVR set to record GL and Y&R. After watching Y&R, GL just turns my stomach. I’m very sad to let it go after all of these years, but I cannot continue to watch it. Natural lighting for an un-natural television show– it’s a soap opera, not reality tv. Cut your losses and go back to the other cameras, it looks very cheap. VERY CHEAP. Goodbye GL.

  15. I get such a headache from watching…and trying to hear the sound…loud, then soft… and the story lines are a jumble… Imagine Dinah taking everything away from Alan…Unbelievable., and now the Ava pregnancy…and Cassie having an affair… yuk…and Harley only wanting Cyrus for sex… She’s making herself a harlot…and her hair is falling out…and now you see what big ears she has..and Jeffrey is so wrinkled … how sad…All the houses are different.I hate it..After so many years it saddens me to see what they are turning it into… Guess I’ll go back to reading for the hour I’m wasting TRYING to put together all the stories…one is dumber than the other. Boo Hoo.

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