Sunday, May 3, 2009

Why Guiding Light is Worth Saving: Psycho Chipmunks need not apply

When I wrote about all that I see wrong in Springfield, I did not intend to be the voice of gloom and doom. I was just being honest. All the rah-rah-rahing in the world for what's right won't fix anything that's desperately wrong.  And some things are wrong. But, make no mistake, I think Guiding Light is not only fixable, but well worth the time and effort it will take.  Here are some reasons why:

1. History - GL is a piece of broadcast and social history. We grant buildings landmark status, all the time. In Brooklyn, there's a chunk of limestone on Atlantic avenue that has landmark status, just because it's been there since the 1800s. GL deserves as much. It's meant a hell of a lot more than to a hell of a lot more people, than
 that hunk of limestone. It's also the last remnant of the radio serial we have left. We need to acknowledge soap opera as a significant medium, celebrate it, and not just preserve it, but nurture it. 

2. Track record - When it's bad, it's really, really bad...but when it's good, I challenge you to find anything better on television. Great things are often hit-or-miss, and you have to miss a lot before you get a hit. When GL gets a hit, it's right out of the ball park. Other shows are as bad as GL when it's not working, but when it works?  Not even close.  At their best, ATWT, AMC, OLTL, Y&R, etc have never been as good as GL. To get even close, one would have to take the Way-Back machine and visit DOOL circa 1974, during the days of Bill and Mickey and Laura/ Susan, David and Julie. No daytime drama is ever as good. Period.

3. Changes in the new production model - Yes, I hated what that awful, cold, sterile filming looked like a year ago. I challenge anyone to look at a series of year -old GL clips on Youtube and tell me that it worked. Half the time the screen is taken up by a vase or the edge of a tree, while Bill or Reva are just a blurry, shaky blob in the distance. Awful. 

However, the good folks who handle the cameras have made huge strides over a short period of time.  They're more steady, now, and the shots are more intimate, as opposed to voyeuristic. The lighting is starting to warm up, too. For a while, there, one could see every pore on Frank's face. This has clearly been tweaked, and it's starting to really work. It looks like nothing else on television.  What these guys are doing on a shoestring budget is nothing short of remarkable. And, have you read Crystal Chappell's comment that they have to get scenes down in one take? Astounding. 

4. The actors - There has always been some great talent associated with GL. Remember when Allison Janney, just on the cusp of fame,  played Jenna's loopy maid? Or the vastly under-rated Nia Long, who was so good as Kat, and stayed with GL long after her film career took off? But it's not all about people who are household names. Justin Deas is fantastic. Tina Sloane, a veteran soap actor who, like Deas, is under-used. Crystal Chappell. Maeve Kinkead. I think Gina Tognoni shows great promise, as does Jeff Branson. Jessica Leccia is more like a seasoned pro, than a rookie. If you trim this show down to its bare bones, down to the seven or eight meatiest actors,  it's got the strongest ensemble on daytime, and maybe on television, full stop. As good an ensemble as Mad Men or Big Love or Weeds. 

5. Innovation - GL has always been the best of all daytime dramas at pushing the envelope. Rape. Alcoholism. Corrupt politics. Medical ethics. Even menstruation. GL has tackled all the big issues head on, often leading the way, and daring to go where other television shows  have been reluctant to explore. While the ratings leader, The Young and the Restless, is featuring a front-burner story line about an imaginary, six foot tall, psycho chipmunk (I kid you not) , Guiding Light's big front burner story is the universally-praised blossoming same-sex love affair of Olivia and Natalia.  Seriously, people? Team Otalia. 

6. Good business - Keeping GL on the air is, plain and simple, a good business move. The Neilsen ratings system has always been greatly flawed, but it's never been more useless than it is today, when so many of us watch television shows on the internet or DVR. The fact is, this show has a huge, built-in following. If you watch a soap, you're bound to watch just about every day. The same isn't necessarily so of a game show or talk show. People become vested in soap opera. It becomes a ritual, one that viewers will not pass up. GL is already in full production. There's no inventing to be done, only some changes to be made. The audience is here. The sponsor is here. It's solid. Keeping GL on the air is like the little pig who builds his house out of bricks, while his brothers take short cuts and use sub-standard materials. We all know how that story ends. 

 © 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves


Robert said...

All excellent points, good job on the research! I just have to add as an aside:

Seriously, that was Allison Janney as the goofy maid Ginger? OMG! I had no idea. One of my favorite comedic scenes on GL was when Alexandra (I think) was on a tear and ordered Ginger and the other maid to make sure every bed in the house was made. They made the bed, with Mindy still in it!

Snapper said...

Yes - Allison Janney was Ginger. She was such a freaking riot, wasn't she? I loved the way her hair was always haphazardly jutting out of her head in an insane ponytail.

Robert said...

I could only find one clip at youtube with Ginger (and her fellow maid, Donna) serving a warring dinner for Alexandra, Nick, Alan Michael, and other assorted Spauldings. Yep, Allison Janney's hair cracked me up. I'd die to see that scene again of them making the bed with Mindy still in it!

Snapper said...

Send me that url! I had no success in finding any scenes where you could actually make Ginger out...just a couple where G is way in the background, taking orders from Jenna.

I missed such a big chunk of GL while I was overseas - Jenna's dead, isn't she?