Stage two: anger

gl76On 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. 

74588639BM140_The_59th_AnnuI 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. peapackhouse

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.

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6 thoughts on “Stage two: anger

  1. Really good post, Patrick. But then again I expect no less from you.

    I too hope there is am emotional conclusion to GL’s run on CBS. However, I do hope there is life in the light and I believe that to be true.

  2. Completely agree with you Patrick. About the anger and the blame placing. As early as a few weeks ago the entire cast is shipped to Orlando for a poorly planned and promoted fan event. All that cost. And then whamo – lights out at CBS. Something doesn’t line up.

    This was a higher up thing – tying into the recent media reports about CBS cutting back budgets on all it’s shows.

    I also think – although I joined GL in October – that the creative production model doesn’t hurt the show currently. Perhaps it chased off viewers at the start and made it hard for them to focus on script but the show now is in stellar condition.

    Very sad – and it also has me VERY angry

  3. Patrick,

    Wonderful analysis here. You’ve summed things up very nicely and eloquently.

    It has been challenging to be a fan of GL at times in the past decade. And at other times, it has been quite rewarding.

    I think Ellen Wheeler does a fantastic job. Now that the kinks have (mostly) been worked out, the new production model is turning out great. Looks great and feels like a real small town.

    Did you notice on Y&R this week that a fourth wall suddenly began appearing on some sets — the Abbott dining room and the Chancellor living room? I think that’s a pretty nice nod of approval toward Wheeler’s new produciton model.

    I agree that David Kreizman is/was the problem at GL. Within just a few months of taking the helm, he killed off Phillip. That was his biggest misake and the show never recovered (until Grant agreed to come back). About the same time, he wrote Danny and Michelle out — I never was a huge fan of their pairing due to the Danny’s mob connections, but Michelle is a Bauer and needed to be on the canvas.

    What I blame Ellen Wheeler for is allowing Davey K to stay at the helm after such questionable story choices right at the beginning. She should have never approved killing off Phillip in 2004. But I guess as a new EP with a brand new headwriter, she wanted to be supportive of his vision for the show.

    But once the mistake of killing off Phillip became fully evident, she allowed him to remain in place when nothing else he was doing was particularly inspired. And this despite the fans’ very vocal dissatisfaction with his writing.

    I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around. And much of it probably belongs to suits at CBS and Televest whose names we don’t even know. But when it comes down to Ellen Wheenler, the single worst decision of her GL career was David K.

  4. GL has lived longer than some people. That said, I still don’t want it to go dark. It moved from radio to television; perhaps it can move from network TV to cable – or even the internet. Hell, maybe it can take a page from Newcomb and return back to radio. All in all, I want GL to survive.

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