The End of 'Guiding Light' and the Future of Soap Operas

After 72 years of lurid plot twists, the longest-running soap opera in television history ends. Is this the beginning of the end for day-time soaps?

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Bad news for soap fans. Guiding Light, the longest-running soap opera in radio and television history, airs its last episode today, "after more than 15,000 episodes, at least 65 Emmy awards and too many marriages, divorces, affairs, miscarriages, phony pregnancies and faked deaths to count," reports The Detroit Free Press' Angela Lopez. Loyal fans have begun eulogizing the show and attacking executives at Proctor & Gamble for canceling it. Media observers say the show's demise marks the beginning of the end for day-time soaps.

  • Shame on the Executives for Pulling the Plug! cries TV critic Ed Martin at The Huffington Post. Martin whimpers that GL survived the Great Depression, WWII, the Vietnam War, JFK's assassination and 9/11 but "couldn't survive the calamitous machinations of the current executive regimes at CBS and Procter & Gamble Productions." He says the franchise could've been kept afloat with low-cost webisodes or basic cable movies. "Guiding Light wasn't just another soap opera," Martin eulogizes. "It was an American treasure, and it deserved much better. So did its millions of faithful fans."
  • A Springboard to Celebrity Stardom, notes Kristin Braswell at ABC News. Which big shots got started at Guiding Light? In the early 80s, Kevin Bacon scored a role on the show as T.J. Werner, a teenage alcoholic. In 1989, Calista Flockhart got her start playing a babysitter. The Sun Sentinel has a slideshow of big names who starred in GL, including Lost's Cynthia Watros who threw herself down a flight of stairs to frame someone else for the death of her unborn child; 90210's Ian Ziering, who played a drug dealer; and Star Wars' Billy Dee Williams, who played a doctor. "Many celebrities today can thank soap operas for their career boosts," writes Braswell. She ticks off a slew of other actors who went from d-list soap nothings to bona-fide celebs, including Brad Pitt in "Dallas," Alex Baldwin in "The Doctors, "Anne Heche in "Another World," and David Hasselhoff in "The Young and the Restless." 
  • No One Needs Soaps When You Have Reality TV, concludes CNN's Todd Leopold: "Viewers ... have gravitated toward reality shows, which feature the melodrama and outsized characters of soaps." Leopold lists a number trends that suggest GL's demise signals the beginning of the end for day-time dramas. First of all, more women in the workplace means less women in front of the tube. Secondly, soaps counted on mothers passing on the show to daughters and granddaughters—the loss of family watching has nixed the "handoff" of viewers. Lastly, soaps—with their sets, original scripts and yearlong production schedule—simply cost more than reality shows to produce. As an industry insider laments, "We don't have the time to invest in soaps as they exist now."
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