Friday, June 12, 2009

The Other Shoe Drops

The sound you hear is the other shoe dropping, as Crystal Chappell confirms that she has signed on with Days of Our Lives. The first shoe, of course, fell on April 1st, when CBS announced the cancelation of Guiding Light.

Possible Pick-up

From the very start, the possibility of GL finding a new home was slim. As I've written about in the past, there had been significant problems with GL for a while - a long, long while. Problems that didn't necessarily have anything to do with Ellen Wheeler or the new production model. In fact, the saving grace of GL during the past 18-24 months has been an Ellen Wheeler initiative:  the Olivia/Natalia dynamic that has come to be known as Otalia. If GL had a bargaining chip, something to attract a new home on a cable network, it was Otalia. The story was (and is) fresh, original, engaging, thoughtfully written, and beautifully acted by two leads who share glorious chemistry. Otalia looked  and felt like nothing else on television. It was (and is) tender, funny, sexy, and thought-provoking. If Lifetime or any other network were ever going to pick up GL, it would have taken take a hell of a lot more than Bizzie, or the stale Reva/Josh saga. Even the wonderful Gina Tognoni's Dinah wouldn't have been enough of a commodity to sell this show. 

For GL, the ace-in-the-hole, the jewel in the crown is Otalia. Otalia is the outdoor kitchen that made my parents' home so easy to sell, the silk lining that made that jacket a must-have, the cheesecake that keeps New Yorkers going back to Junior's. Without Otalia, there is nothing to pitch, nothing to sell. Now that one half of Otalia has locked herself into contract with another program, there is no bargaining chip. No outdoor kitchen. No silk lining. No cheesecake. Quite simply - Otalia is Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia.

The writing is on the wall: Guiding Light will be no more.

Nothing New Under The Sun

Many of us who are long-time soap fans have been through this sad tango before: with Ryan's Hope, Edge of Night, and Another World, among other long-gone gems.  Television shows come and go. It's nothing new. Sad, yes, but nothing new. 

What is new, and what is so distressing to many of us, is that this is the end of an era. It is not just the end of a television show, but of an American icon and a significant piece of broadcasting and story-telling history. This is not Passions of Generations or even Loving or Santa Barbara....this is Guiding Light, the mother of all soaps. Irna Phillips' own baby. The show that has been so innovative and daring, in so many ways, for 72 years. 

As I've written far too many times - I fear that the demise of GL is only the beginning. TPTB are interested in low-overhead programming, and there's a prevailing idea that people under 35 - the most attractive demographic - are not likely to become invested in a continuing drama in such a way that is needed for a soap's success. (TPTB obviously have no idea how invested people under 35 are in Heroes, Lost, Dexter, Mad Love, or Mad Men.)  I hope I'm wrong, but I expect the end of GL to be only the beginning of a domino effect when it comes to soap opera. If GL is disposable, expect ATWT to follow....and we can expect the sad momentum to build.

What Could Have Been

There were so many different ways to save GL, or preserve its strongest aspects - one has to wonder why some of the obvious solutions weren't pursued by CBS. As The World Turns is a Proctor and Gamble show, just as Guiding Light is. A crossover would have been easy to set up: Natalia and Olivia Oakdale to open a second Beacon Hotel in Oakdale....Philip Spaulding carrying out a hostile take-over of both Springfield and Oakdale's television stations and merging them, leading to key characters moving to Oakdale to work with Kim Hughes. If both ATWT and GL had been stripped of their fat, and all the best elements of each merged into one show it would have featured something of a daytime dream cast: Crystal Chappell, Roger Howarth, Cady McClain, Jessica Leccia, Ellen Dolan, Gina Tognoni , Jon Lindstrom, Elizabeth Hubbard, Forbes March, Liz Keifer,  Grant Aleksander, and Collen Zenk (please - someone make good use of Colleen Zenk!!)  Now, that would have been impossible for die-hard soap fans to ignore. Sort of like soap's version of the Beatles reunion that never was. Too bad we'll never get to see it. 

 © 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


TheWeyrd1 said...

I'm bummed... I've actually watched ATWT since the Meg Ryan days... I started watching GL occasionally during college. I also enjoyed AMC on and off since college. AMC kinda screwed up the last two story lines with Bianca, so I'm not watching that one. ATWT is okay, but not the show I grew up on, so I only watch it sporadically, especially since they let Martha Byrne go. Now, with CC going back to days...well. Just one more reason to go outside for fresh air and some exercise.

Snapper said...

The glory days of Frannie and Sabrina are long past on ATWT, but it's still fixable. I'm guessin CBS won't bother trying.

bl said...

Interesting entry!

What is sad is that in the quest to get more people under the age of 35 to watch, they (meaning TPTB at all the soaps not just GL) started to alienate those viewers in that demographic they did have if I'm any indication. A veteran viewer doesn't always mean an "old" one and fans of veteran actors aren't just people over the age of 50. Most people don't only like characters that are exactly like them.

While GL lost a lot of viewers due to the new production model in 18-49, but it may have not been the visual aspect changing alone. When it switched over they cut the amount of dialogue per episode as well, so less scripted material equalled more musical interludes. The production model may not have destroyed people's love for GL, but for some it was just the last straw.

I do think that soaps in their present form will become extinct, just like radio soaps did 50 years ago. I just wonder how long it will take and how the historians will look back on these changes.

Snapper said...

I didn't like the early days of the new production model, but it's improved vastly and has shifted from sloppy mess to fresh and original. It's amazing what they're currently doing on a shoestring budget.

More significant to me has been a shift in overall shape of the show. GL has always been at its best when the emphasis has been on relationships, illustrating how different characters' lives and drama overlap, and respecting the memory of viewers: we don't have amnesia. This was thrown out with the bath water long before Ellen Wheeler came on the scene. Seems to me she inherited a mess, and has done a pretty damned impressive job of restoring large chunks of its greatness. Sad we'll never get to see what she could have accomplished given a bit more time.

JCF said...

respecting the memory of viewers: we don't have amnesia

This is SUCH a balancing act.

I'm not a soap person (haven't been, since a brief bit of college roommate peer pressure to AMC in the early 80s). When a new primetime show debuts, however, I either make the decision to jump-in at the beginning, or else it's lost to me.

And speaking of which: Lost, probably the closest thing I know to a primetime (sci fi genre) soap. I did jump in in '04, and have watched it faithfully. While I know that DVDs have changed the game (speaking of Netflix!), I can't imagine beginning to watch Lost now: acquiring that 5-year collective memory through DVD marathons? Not me!

Also in the sci fi genre: I've never forgotten John Michael Straczynski's master-plan for Babylon 5 (imperfectly realized, because if ITS ratings trouble!). It went something like: Year One, 10% serial, 90% episodic. Year Two, 20% serial, 80% serial. And so on (w/ the goal being that Year Five would be 100% serial).

IF a show's "auteur" can plan out something like that, to me that seems ideal (and obviously, NOT like an open-ended U.S. soap opera---I guess more like a Mexican telenovela? "Of course I could be wrong")

Eh: sometimes I think it all comes down to Myers-Briggs Personality Type. "J" or "P"? J's like myself, want closure---hence, the burn-out factor of an open-ended soap. Personally, I'm glad GL (i.e., Otalia) is coming to an end . . . just wish it were in about 1-2 years, not 3 months... {Sigh}

Snapper said...

And I'm the obsessive type who digs in her heels and stays for the long hall - I love having a 20 or 30+ year connection to certain characters and plot lines. I watched several telenovelas with my grandparents when I was a kid....I found the fact that they ended really annoying.

You know, I tried to like Babylon 5 - the 5 year story arc concept was an interesting idea. In the end, I just found the writing and acting to be too weak. I'm pretty much Gene Roddenberry's bitch. (And here's a bit of Trek/GL of the best episodes of DS9 stars Ellen Wheeler - The Quickening is really quite beautiful, and Wheeler is very good in it.)

JCF said...

Year Two, 20% serial, 80% serial.

F@ck, that was supposed to be 20% serial, 80% episodic.

Eh, you know what I meant.

I'm not QUITE so cheesy as to want "and they lived happily ever after" at the end of every (date/page/running-time certain) tale.

I just LOVE the ending of Malvina Reynold's song "Erika Levine" (sounds kinda like a soap name, no?)

After running multiple verses of feminist Erika's life&loves, it ends (after her settling w/ Leftist "Lou")

A happy-ever-after life
Is not the kind they got,
But they tended to be happy
More often than not!


[I'm GR's bitch, too. "Eight card draw, nothing wild, and the sky's the limit!", the last lines of TNG's All Good Things...: one of my all-time favorite series finales. (And then the movies more-or-less Jumped the Shark, {sigh})]

Snapper said...

Ohhhh...I LOVE First Contact, though....and I'm a big DS9 fan. Dax, anyone? Rejoined is must-see-tv for anyone who wants to know if it's possible for tv to present a same-sex love story where the same-sex part is NOT the obstacle....or even an issue.

If you want to geek out further re Trek, or whatever...feel free to email ( - I love finding a kindred spirit.

Stella said...

Is it terrible that the fact you're so sure that GL is doomed makes me feel better? I don't wanna have to see Otalia breaking up somehow, which is what would happen if GL continues now.

Otalia took too long to build. I want the happy ending that their epic romance deserves and I want the pairing to continue on fanfic for as long as it is necessary for everyone to get that two women loving each other is a beautiful thing.

Robert said...

A GL/ATWT hybrid is an intriguing idea, but it won't happen, since P&G doesn't seem invested in either show. ATWT is atrocious right now. Stories race by in weeks, characters that were introduced 4 weeks prior are murdered and no one cares about the non-existent mystery, and then Meg and Paul are forced into another retread story.

I really don't understand why the people in charge of any of the soaps are marching them to their doom; don't they realize they're out of jobs too when the shows are killed? Y&R is really the only show right now that looks like anyone cares. (B&B is always a mess, but Ridge becoming strung out on drugs has comic potential greater than "RICK!")

Snapper said...

Word from Branco today is that ATWT wants four of the GL actors (not necessarily characters , but actors.) CC is already otherwise committed, so you can bet they're talking Branson, Tongnoni, Cosgrove and the dreaded Lizzie (my mind refuses to remember her name.)

Dream scenerio: Lucinda has a daughter she gave up for adoption years ago and it turns out to be Gina Tognoni. Can't you totally see her as Elizabeth Hubbard's kick-ass, feisty daughter? Wouldn't it be great for someone to kick Lily off that throne? I'm just saying. I've been EB's bitch since the days of Althea Davis.

I can't watch B&B - it's been a mess for years. Plus, how can a show that revolves around the fashion industry not have about 10,000 gay characters, let alone ONE???? That show should, by all logic, be fag-central.

Now, Y&R? That show is INCREDIBLE right now.