My visit to NYC and to the set of Guiding Light was fun, but fleeting. I’m back to snow-covered Chicago, with only my memories of the trip as a reference. I’d thought about getting more photos, or perhaps an autograph or two, but as I’ve said in my blog before, there’s a point where one can know too much. I am a fan of not necessarily seeing the Wizard behind his curtain; I’d much rather believe the real-but-fictional universe in front of me.
Much has been made of the new production model, and GL clearly had to learn on the job earlier this year. Despite all good intentions, some people were not far from the truth when they suggested the show looked like a public-access program.
But to me, the visuals have significantly improved. In most cases, the interiors at the studio look as warm and natural as they did pre-Peapack. And I actually like many of the Peapack scenes, because the lighting is so much more natural and complementary to the actors. (That bright overhead lighting in the old model added not only 10 pounds but, in many cases, 10 years.)
There are times that the newer model still looks awkward. The recent Marina/Mallet wedding ceremony looked as if it was being held in a hallway and read very poorly on screen. (To me, a wedding screams “middle of a field” and should have been filmed in Peapack!) But for the most part, I’ve gotten used to the new point of view.
I can’t remember who it was who said “Give me two actors and a beautiful location. Then replace that location with a black screen, and it should still be as compelling.” I think it was Bill Bell, which seems counterintuitive since Bell was the master of beautiful, lavish sets. But I get the point – regardless of the backdrop, give us emotional truth and we’ll go along with the ride.
Which leads me to my main point – the main weakness of Guiding Light has been, and continues to be, story. It’s all about the story! I’m encouraged by the fact that almost everyone, across the board, recognized that story was a weak link for the show during this transition. The show had an impossible mountain to climb – change the production model AND tinker with the tone, length and timing of stories to fit the model. Throw in the writer’s strike, and it’s easy to see how the narrative of the show hit a big pothole.
To me, I don’t think GL has had any mind-numbingly bad storylines in the last few years. The two main issues have been:
- The new production model called for smaller, more cozy scenes. We love these scenes in the big scheme of things, but the plot that takes those character moments and whips them into a cohesive whole was missing.
- There have been way too many story threads that stopped abruptly mid-story. From Ross Marler’s death to Harley’s abrupt departure from the canvas, too many stories have had what I’ll call “Florida Keys” moments. You remember when Reva was presumed dead? When she drove across a bridge that wasn’t there and the car simply disappeared into the water? With us last seeing her in midair? Well, we’ve had a few too many stories that have met that fate.
I don’t think anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the show needs to be reminded that the clock is ticking. This is a turning point for the show; it must capture buzz and get some wind in its storyline sails to extend its life. The returns of Phillip and Shayne (and some rumored returns) are an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle.
I know that GL is looking forward, as it should be. But my personal hope – and the show’s secret untapped weapon – is its history.
We know that Phillip and Beth can probably never again be two parts of the Four Musketeers again. But I want to see Phillip and Beth talk to each other and acknowledge who they WERE as well as who they ARE and cope with the repercussions of the journey that got them to that point. Beth has changed dramatically – I mean, she’s married to Alan! (Or rather, was.) This was the man that tried to break her and Phillip up! I can’t wait to see how Phillip reacts to that. But it’s important that he DOES react to that.
As I mentioned before, I was encouraged that Jill Lorie Hurst is planning the future of the show, and looking at the next generation. Tying new characters to existing ones is important, though it doesn’t always guarantee we love them (I can’t imagine two less exciting, root-worthy characters than Daisy and Marina, and most of that is a result of their story as told thus far.)
One of the most important audiences that GL should try to please – as it goes after the youth demographic – is a slightly older demographic – mine. Those of us in our late thirties remember those Four Musketeer days and a lot of what’s happened since. Reminding us of the town we love, and its history, is a win-win situation.
You all thought I was crazy a few months ago to make a fuss about the old GL theme songs, but General Hospital fans were beside themselves with joy at the Night Shift episode that (a) used the 80s era GH theme and (b) rebuilt Robert Scorpio’s living room , a set that even I remember. (Rumor has it that the Bauer kitchen has been rebuilt somewhere. It should be used as much as possible!)
Sometimes it’s the little touches that make sense. I really like Christina, and have been more enthusiastic about Remy, a character I initially hated. We recently saw Christina’s grandmother. Wouldn’t it have been cool if Grandma had been Frances Collier – the judge we’ve seen on GL dozens of times? (Not to mention we’d get to see the amazing Ellen Holly again.)
I understand that all the shows, including GL, are wary of getting caught in the sometimes suffocating web of history. It can be a minefield, and stories can risk alienating fans if that history isn’t respected (or worse yet, if it’s revised).
But if history is woven into the narrative with a light and sure touch, it’s a source of joy for the viewer, not an albatross. In GL’s case, combining history with its forward-leaning new stories might be the best chance – if not the only chance – to continue its long and storied life.