October 9, 2009By Marc Wilkofsky Posted: Oct 9, 2009
As the soap industry's world turns faster than it has in years, with many surprising and controversial behind-the-scenes shakeups, it's vital to look at what GUIDING LIGHT did right and wrong. Although GL triumphed in innumerable ways, killing Maureen was deemed a significant mistake which angered many of the show's viewers, just as Colleen's death has upset many fans of YOUNG AND RESTLESS. So four longtime viewers joined me in an "online roundtable" to discuss GL, including how the beloved 72-year-old series' final week succeeded and what it was missing.
The participants are Wendy Madore, the organizer of the annual Daytime Stars and Strikes event (this Sunday, Oct. 11, brings the latest edition of the bowling-with-actors afternoon, the day after the GL Fan Club's last luncheon), Karen Oswald, who organized May's Save the Light rally in Manhattan, and two Soap Opera Weekly readers who know Springfield well, Michael Lewental and Tim Yersin. I also threw in my $.02 about my favorite soap of all time, and found it interesting how all of our replies are similar and also differ.
What storyline or character officially made you a GUIDING LIGHT viewer, and why?
Madore: Believe it or not, Hope and Alan. In the summer of 1979, I worked a part-time job at a park down the street from my grandmother's house. Every day after work, I'd bike down and eat lunch with her, which turned into a summer of watching her "stories." I was mesmerized by the power of Alan Spaulding! Shortly thereafter, Kelly and Morgan became favorites, as I was around their age. I loved the Reardons' dysfunctional, large family. Coming from a huge family myself, I could relate. Some of the best years were when Douglas Marland was writing the show.
Oswald: Beyond the fact that my grandmother and mother watched the show every day, I would have to say the storyline of the Four Musketeers (Phillip, Beth, Rick and Mindy) going to New York is what made me an official and dedicated GL viewer and fan for life. I was glued to the television every day from that point on. To see the group of them face their struggles, comfort one another, find their own way through it all, and still manage to have fun and make each other laugh during a difficult time really touched my heart. And I absolutely loved Phillip!
Lewental: My grandmother would take care of me after school; she would have her "stories" on at that time. I really got hooked on the whole Quint and Nola romance in the early '80s. The way it was presented on the screen made you want to tune in every day to see what would happen next.
Yersin: I guess it was the end of Roger Thorpe — the first time, LOL. I got home from school to catch the last half-hour of GL, and it grew from there. My mother had gone into the hospital for a procedure and asked me to watch for her while she was in there. It was just for a few days, but that's all it took for me to continue watching. The Roger/Holly location scenes were intriguing, interspersed with the regular taped studio shots of the rest of Springfield, so it was a hooking kind of feeling. You wanted to know why this crazy man had taken this lady, and meanwhile, you had Butch and Sundance (a.k.a. Mike and Ed, the Bauer Powers) in the mix. Also, Rita and Alan Spaulding's affair propelled GL to a new height of seduction. You didn't know it was about to happen until it happened. Great web-spinning of a story.
Wilkofsky: I remember my mom watching Roger chase Rita through a hall of mirrors in an extremely suspenseful scene that intrigued me in 1980. His holding Holly hostage in Santo Domingo and falling off a cliff pulled me in, but it was the Four Musketeers, and their memorable prom, that definitely made me official. As a fellow student, I related to the characters, even though I was only 13.
Please describe your favorite GL storyline or moment.
Madore: Without a doubt, the blackout of 1992. There were so many stories intertwined during that time: Eleni in a locked freezer, Jenna and little Michelle trapped in an elevator with the jewels, Roger and Maureen on the stairwell. Best of all, it brought my favorite couple, Ross and Blake, together when the lights went out!
Oswald: The above storyline — Hope and Alan — was my all-time favorite. However, I have to say I have two recent favorite Alan moments that I will never, ever forget. When Alan was in Orlando and got soaked by the water ride, that was so funny! The look on Alan/Ron Raines' face was absolutely priceless. He was such a good sport for that one. Seeing Beth and Lizzie's reaction was the icing on the cake. I laughed one of those completely surprised, big belly laughs that I had not laughed in a very long time with the show. Then, out of nowhere, I got another favorite and big belly-laugh moment with Billy and Alan in the bar at Bill's bachelor party, when Alan started telling Billy he didn't know what Lizzie saw in his son and Billy had that "What was I thinking? I knew I should have gone with that little voice in my gut!" moment. Alan engaged Billy in typical Alan form, asking him what that little voice in his gut was saying, and the next thing we know, they show Bill with that uh-oh look, then they show Billy talking to his hands and punching Alan! It was absolutely hysterical! I don't think I have ever laughed so hard over a scene. I nearly choked on my coffee. These two had such a wonderful chemistry onscreen, and such a rich history to play off of. It was just a perfect moment where it all came together beautifully! I have watched it many times and still can't help but laugh every time I see it.
Lewental: The original Phillip and Beth romance, where they ran away to NYC to escape from her stepfather, Bradley. I will always remember it as one of the great romances of the show.
Yersin: I have a lot of favorite moments, so instead I will say that mostly during Doug Marland's short tenure on GL, I really enjoyed the Carrie Todd storyline, with Jane Elliot's portrayal as a person going through so much turmoil. She played it effortlessly and convincingly, including when she recounted murdering Diane Ballard.
Wilkofsky: The Reva/Josh/Sonni story from 1987 to 1989 was amazing, with several stunning twists. A standout moment was the anguished Will cutting the Venezuela rope bridge after Sonni, who had taken on her twin sister Solita's personality, realized aloud she had seen Solita's dead body in the closet. Kim Zimmer (Reva) was excellent throughout the storyline, which led to Josh and Reva's reunion and wedding. Reva imploring an imprisoned Sonni to fight to prove her innocence in Marah's kidnapping still stands out as a powerful scene.
What do you feel GL did right during your time viewing the show?
Oswald: GL was about family, town, community, love, relationships, adventures, and people's struggles with different issues. Having the core families and characters with good, strong, well-told and riveting story that stayed true to the characters was great.
Madore: As a teenage viewer, having teenage-related stories. As an adult, the same scenario. The breast cancer stories were realistic and also promoted awareness.
Lewental: The storylines they presented were about the bonds that connect us all. I don't think we will see another daytime drama like this ever again on TV.
Yersin: The GL writers are to be credited with creating great characters we love to love and we love to hate. They gave us scenarios we didn't think were plausible, like pairing Blake and Ross. The producers get credit, too, for being another eye on the studio floor, catching something that may work and that we, the viewers, won't see for several months. What GL did right during the time I've watched is surprise me with the little things, like you knew when the holidays were upon us — since the sets were decorated just so...
Wilkofsky: There's so much — including the family interactions, from the Coopers playing poker to the Spauldings fighting for power, and the romances, such as the warm connection between Johnny and Roxie (and then his lively relationship with Chelsea), the adventures of Tony and Annabelle, and the combination of passion and pain in Josh and Reva's relationship. Dylan rowing her to her first wedding to Josh is one of my favorite memories. Brilliant writing meshed with powerful acting to create fantastic scenes, such as Vanessa discovering that Matt Reardon was the man she romanced at Summit Lake, and dropping her glass at the country club. I was thrilled by the development of characters over the years, which was GL's forte. Dinah went from a carny to a powerful businesswoman, and Harley's wild, punky nature transformed into maturity and selflessness, thanks in part to her romance with Josh.
What did the soap do wrong?
Madore: I really do not think they did any one thing wrong. Times have changed, the audience has changed. However, one of the show's biggest mistakes was firing Jerry verDorn and killing off Ross.
Oswald: I believe the show went wrong in several areas. For example, character assassination. Having characters do things that were not true to who they were and expecting us to just accept it was highly frustrating for us longtime viewers. Many lifers like myself were completely turned off by so much of that, and many of us left the show because of it. Not utilizing the vets in good story was a huge mistake, because the majority of fans are longtime viewers who have known many of the core characters since their introductions. Ignoring the "true" viewing audience was a mistake. Instead, they catered to the idea that they needed to focus on the youth stories of new characters that no one was really invested in. Breaking up favorite couples was another mistake and tragedy. When people invest so much time into a couple and all of a sudden, you get character assassination and they are broken up, it makes people leave the show or want to. If you do not get joy out of it, why tune in?
Lewental: Although it's said that it helped to give GL another year-and-a-half, I felt this "new production model" turned off a lot of longtime GL viewers and did not pull in a lot of new ones in. It just was too different from the GL we all knew and loved.
Yersin: Let's see...dissolving the Bauer family, Hillary being killed, Hope becoming an alcoholic, Mike being sent to D.C., and most of all, Maureen being killed. That broke the camel's back. The shock seemed to permeate like an aftershock. Maureen Bauer essentially took over Bert Bauer's role as the conscience of the show for everyone. There are too many things the show did wrong that it could have made right during its years to correct those mistakes. That's the main part of how GL started its unraveling in the last 15 years. It never took the challenge to rewrite history the "write" way. We viewers are not a dumb lot, we know our stuff — and if a story has enough explanation (albeit far-fetched) in it, we will accept it. GL made mistakes of ramming story down viewers' throats in its failed attempt for the quick reaction, and the possible bump in the ratings to please network execs.
Wilkofsky: The decision to kill Maureen Bauer (apparently due to a focus group's apathy toward her) comes to mind first. There are so many other paths the scribes could have taken with her character and Ed, from her own affair (Roger, Ed's foe, could have been one interesting choice) to Ed valiantly trying to win her back, to (gasp) Maureen maintaining and celebrating her independence by becoming a powerful politician or executive. I understand it is impossible to please every viewer, and as Tim said, she was the heart of the show. Certainly, GL breaking up a few couples over the years (such as Phillip and Beth, Josh and Reva, Danny and Michelle, and Gus and Harley) also turned off a lot of viewers — and by turned off, I mean heavily upset, but there was a reason for each decision, and happy couples were perceived to be boring. Now, that looks to be gradually changing, and couples can stay content for little longer, until the latest outer obstacle or inner conflict hits them. At least GL filled Springfield with happy couples in its final days.
Please tell us your reaction to the show's final week.
Madore: Unbelievable! Grant, Ron, Marj and Tina blew me away! I did not see Alan's death coming! I believe there will be Emmy nominations for all these actors. In the last episode, I expected Jeffrey to come driving up to the corner to resemble a Bridges of Madison County-type scenario which would leave the audience guessing who Reva chose. I was disappointed there were no flashbacks of Bert Bauer or even a voice of Rev. Ruthledge saying, "There is a destiny." The last episode felt very rushed.
Lewental: It was a nice, fitting end to go out on; three couples get married, a major person dies and is buried, and one of the longest all-time couples is reunited; that's a lot for the last week. I just wish we knew what happened to Edmund and Jeffrey.
Oswald: I was all over the place during the final week. Having Alan Spaulding die upset me more than anything. I do think it was beautifully told, but I do not see why they had to kill him off when we were already mourning the loss of our show. The weddings were a great touch, because we got to see the entire town together having fun and celebrating life, love and new beginnings. I truly enjoyed seeing so many people come back and have a little airtime: Ed, Holly, Fletcher, Mindy, Dylan, Jonathan, Sarah, Nola and Bridget. Seeing them reminded me of so much history, which was bittersweet, as it was both thrilling and heart-wrenching at the same time to realize it was coming to an end and they would not be seen again.
Yersin: My reaction to the show's final week was bittersweet, with relief. A lot of work went into changing the production model, but it still alienated viewers. There was enough time to bring in more former characters, but it also left us feeling there still could have been more of an ending.
Wilkofsky: I've discussed the amazing finale week in my previous blog entry, so I'll just mention that Josh and Reva's closing scenes were beautiful, from the touching dialogue to Robert Newman and Zimmer's tremendous performances, which brought their characters back to the romantic level that made them popular in their heyday. His saying "That's a good thing" to Reva's "I'm in" was pure Josh, and having "The End" roll onto the screen was perfect. I believe the show's creator, Irna Phillips, would have been pleased by and proud of this wrap-up.
Who or what would you like to have seen in the last few episodes?
Lewental: Alan-Michael and Amanda, Reva's father, brother and sister Roxie, Josh and Billy's sister Trish, Nola's husband Quint; those are just a few I can think of off the top of my head. Also, a finale of clips of some of the best scenes of GL would have been a real treat for the fans. Alas, it was not meant to be.
Madore: Bert, Ross, Roger...kind of a flashback montage to honor all former cast members.
Oswald: I would have liked to have seen Alan have some scenes with Peyton before he died, at the very least. But, I really would have liked to have Alan alive, Jude and Alan-Michael back in Springfield, Olivia and Natalia finally share a real kiss, Jeffrey and Reva with some closure of some kind, Dinah free, and she and Mallet back together in Springfield and married. I think I would have liked to see a flashback of the show's highlights in history, and have had them show the light in the window, as it was in the beginning.
Although I have always been a Josh and Reva fan, I did not care for the last word being "Always." I would have preferred they went back to the beginning and used the "None goes his way alone..." or something like that. It just didn't feel as moving as I would have liked it to have been. I think it could have had a more gripping moment for the end.
Phillip talking about his dad was so moving, it would have been nice to see Alan's ghost saying the words from a place of unselfish love: "I finally see it: None goes his way alone, all we put into the lives of others, comes back into our own." It would have been more dramatic and a real tear-jerker that showed him coming full circle with his life.
Yersin: Vanessa Chamberlain Lewis Reardon Lewis (LOL) was not in the last episode, and maybe Maeve Kinkead chose not to be, but it would have been nice to know why. She was the last core character that had blossomed under Doug Marland's reign, and her character was really established then. She was considered old-blood GUIDING LIGHT, and maybe the bittersweet part was that Jerry verDorn was not there as Ross Marler to make a real closure to GL...that we knew it was okay to say goodbye. Also, maybe a little more of Holly and Ed — and a few minutes of Holly and Fletcher together.
Wilkofsky: The show absolutely should have included some flashbacks. At least we got a glimpse of the past logos. I know many people are aghast at the lack of Jeffrey in the final episode, but despite liking him with Reva, I am not one of them. His story was wrapped up in the penultimate episode, which explained his fate: chasing down Edmund until he could make sure Reva and their family was safe. I would have appreciated more closure with Olivia and Natalia.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about GL?
Yersin: Only that it's a such a bittersweet shame the CBS could have looked the other way and kept the old girl renewed until she reached 75. I think it would have given P&G, Ellen Wheeler, the writers and mostly the actors a chance to wind things down properly. CBS could have boasted that the show had been on for a record 60 years on TV, and 75 as the longest broadcast show. No other show will ever make historical proportions like GL did. I am extremely grateful for my own opportunities to have met a lot of the actors from the show — and even though we see them on TV, they are regular folk, too. That's also what was wonderful about GL — you were made to seem like one of the family or one of the neighbors — always welcome.
Madore: I'm going to miss it very much. This summer marked 30 years as a viewer!
Lewental: I think GUIDING LIGHT will be forever remembered as one of the best daytime dramas by all the fans out there who loved and appreciated the show over the years.
Wilkofsky: I am glad that GL has not only entertained so many millions of people but has brought together scores of them, in large part through the Internet and the fan club. I just find it a shame that many of GL's longtime viewers (many of whom have watched it for much longer than each of us) have turned off soaps for good. There's so much out there in daytime, ready to amaze the new viewer who gives it a try, and a lot of the quality we know today is inarguably due to GL leading the way. I will truly, completely miss the show.
Oswald: GL is more than a soap to so many of us. It is a part of our family, our tradition and everyday lives. GL created friendships and an everlasting imprint on our hearts and lives. We will mourn our loss and always hope that somehow, someday, it will make a return. Thank you, GUIDING LIGHT, for 72 amazing years! We love you and miss you!