Thursday, April 2, 2009

'Guiding Light' At The End Of Its Tunnel

CBS is pulling the plug on daytime's "Guiding Light'', the longest-running drama on television, after 57 years, a victim of a long ratings decline. "Guiding Light'' began life as a 15-minute radio serial in 1937 and moved to TV in 1952, gradually expanding to an hour in 1977. Along the way, it introduced viewers to many stars, including Kevin Bacon, Calista Flockhart, Allison Janney, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Taye Diggs, Hayden Panettiere and Brittany Snow.

But the drama is the least-watched of eight remaining network soaps, averaging 2.2 million viewers this season. That's less than a third of the audience of 20 years ago.

CBS Paramount Television Group chief Nancy Tellem says the network had been considering canceling "Guiding Light'', owned by soap giant Procter & Gamble, for years, but "we held out on this as long as we could, out of respect for P&G, the show ... and the impact it's had on television.''
But the soap ''was on the bottom of the heap (and) had kind of run its course,'' she says, adding that the network hopes a replacement show can deliver higher ratings at a lower cost.

The network is expected to replace the series with a talk or game show after the final episode airs Sept. 18.

CBS and the producers of “Guiding Light” — which is shot on the East Coast, in the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan and on location in Peapack, N.J. — had taken several steps in recent years to keep the series alive, especially in switching the production to a digital format.

A radical format change early last year, employing hand-held video cameras and outdoor scenes, was meant to make the show more contemporary (and cheaper to produce). But it didn't stop the ratings slide.

The changes resulted in a look vastly different from the traditional soap, with more camera movement, more muted lighting and much more use of outside locations. The moves saved considerable money, according to CBS executives.

The cancellation is the latest in a long line for a genre named for P&G, which also owns CBS' "As the World Turns''. Soaps have been hurt by competition from cable and by societal changes as many more women work outside the home.

When “Guiding Light” ends, another CBS soap, “As the World Turns” — also shot in New York — will become the longest-running daytime serial drama. It started in 1956.

The show’s run will end with an episode Sept. 18.

Earlier casualties include "Ryan's Hope'' and "Loving'' on ABC.

NBC canceled "Passions '' in 2007 and P&G's "Another World '' in 1999, though "Passions '' was extended by a year when DirecTV took it over.

P&G is hoping for a similar arrangement to avoid extinguishing "Light.'' Though a deal with DirecTV is considered unlikely, Disney's SoapNet has expanded its array of original programming. "We are working hard to find the show a new home, and we are exploring all our options to continue to bring loyal fans the characters and stories they love,'' says Brian Cahill, managing director of producer TeleNext Media, in a statement.

But P&G spokeswoman Jeannie Tharrington says it's possible some of ''Light"'s cast members could migrate to ''As The World Turns", the company's only remaining soap. Kim Zimmer, who has played Reva Shayne since 1983, is considered the show's top star. Aside from ''Light", CBS' current daytime lineup includes ''The Price Is Right", top-rated ''Young and the Restless",'' The Bold and the Beautiful " and ''As the World Turns."

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