On Thursday, I was graciously asked to participate in a roundtable discussion on the BlogTalkRadio show In The Zone. Ryan (the host and moderator) and his team always put on a lively show, with a lot of opportunity for discussion.
The topic: the news that CBS had canceled Guiding Light.
And what I heard in many of the voices who shared their opinions was anger – anger at CBS, anger at the current creative team, anger at actors and writers and “fair weather fans” who weren’t as devoted to the show as they “should” be.
If indeed the loss of GL ends up being a permanent one, it will feel like the death – of a story we loved, of a comfortable, familiar piece of our lives.
Fans and critics alike are looking for someone to blame. The targets mentioned most frequently: CBS daytime chief Barbara Bloom, executive producer Ellen Wheeler, and writer David Kreizman.
I think to try to pin the eviction of the show from CBS on a single person is to oversimplify a complex issue. This Newsday article says it best: the show suffered from the injuries of “a thousand cuts.”
If anything, I’d take issue with suits far higher up the food chain at CBS, folks at the Nancy Tellum level. Artists vs. big business is by no means a new fight, but it’s been a fight we’ve seen happen with alarming frequency in the last 10 years.
It was, after all, about ten years ago that the scales began to tip. The wellspring of profits soaps used to produce slowed to a steady stream and then a trickle. And the more elusive those profits got, the more vigilant the suits got about managing – or micromanaging – the process.
It’s true that being a Guiding Light fan for much of the last 10 years meant you needed to have a merit badge in patience. The show has tried on so many identities since 1999 – the lush romanticism of San Cristobel, the shady Santoses, the odd, gothic darkness of the Conboy/Weston years being just a few of the more trying eras for me.
I know many people will disagree with this opinion, but I’ll share it anyway: I think Ellen Wheeler was, overall, a positive force for the show over the last five years. Not only do I believe that she didn’t “kill” the show, but I think GL lived several years longer than it might have otherwise.
GL lost actors due to budget cuts in a big way, but it was merely the first soap to have to cope with those changes. And it’s hardly the only soap that scrambled for footing and changed faces, writers, and focus in an effort to attract new viewers. Wheeler had really challenging choices to make, earlier and in a much more public way than other executive producers.
I don’t know that I would have necessarily sent Grant Aleksander into exile, or let Jerry verDorn slip away, but the previous regimes had so totally bankrupted the bank that salaries HAD to be cut and actors HAD to go. Those were difficult choices and I respect that.
Almost every soap on the air has had those sorts of identity crises; even Y&R went through those issues during the Latham years. EVERY show has, or is, suffering a creative disconnect. And there’s a simple reason why: money talks.
Money is talking before creative issues, and it’s often cutting creative efforts off at the knees. History and a sense of community are being thrown out the window; instead, shows are focusing on youth as well as misogyny, crime and antisocial characters in an effort to attract audiences.
Unfortunately, network suits who demand these changes miss the point: it’s the sense of community, the history, and the interwoven nature of the story that gives the narrative ANY power. Otherwise, the audience is just a disconnected, disinterested voyeur.
No matter how big of a cheerleader I am for Guiding Light, the fact remains that the right stories just weren’t there for a few years, particularly in 2007 and the early part of 2008. Characters shifted points of view too quickly, or changed personality (Beth Raines being the best example of that) and the show focused so intensely on the popular Jonathan/Tammy story that when the two actors left the show, it left an enormous void. Focusing on new actors and unpopular stories (Josh and Cassie, Jeffrey and Olivia) didn’t help.
In trying to solve that puzzle, all roads seem to lead back to David Kreizman. Whether it was pressure from the network, a lack of experience in writing long-term story, or other forces at work, it’s clear that the stories suffered under his watch. It makes me wonder: WHY did it take so long for the writing to change at GL? That’s a question Wheeler’s got to answer.
But I applaud her efforts in implementing the new production model. It was an enormous change, and perhaps one too many changes for an audience that had been asked to accept changes for so many years. But Wheeler bypassed naysayers and worked tirelessly to make it fly.
Yes, there were mistakes made (like the hospital set) and yes, we had to watch those mistakes. Wheeler was trying to fly the plane AND fix it at the same time, which I applaud her for.
I really felt, especially once the kinks were worked out, that the new model was a bonus in many ways – interesting sets (mostly), better lighting, and an organic feel to everything that made it seem more like theater. It’s truly amazing to think about what she and the GL team accomplished with a significantly smaller budget. She has my respect, and my deep appreciation, for making it work as long as it did.
And Jill Lorie Hurst’s stewardship of story has led to some great heights: Coop’s death, Phillip’s return and the Otalia story to name just a few. I’m grateful that these people worked as hard as they did to keep the show going – and that these great stories have made a fitting, emotional conclusion to GL’s run on CBS possible.