Company Town

The business behind the show

« Previous Post | Company Town Home | Next Post »

Lights officially out for iconic CBS soap opera

September 18, 2009 |  4:12 pm
The longest-running drama in broadcast history, CBS' "Guiding Light," wrapped up its 72-year run this afternoon.


The show went out on a high note, with many of the characters gathering for a picnic in a park on a bright sunny day. The show's most famous on-again-off-again couple, Reva (Kim Zimmer) and Josh (Robert Newman), met at the light house, reaffirmed their love for each other and drove off together in Josh's pick-up truck.

CBS in April decided to pull the plug on the program because of its high cost of production and flagging ratings. This past year, the show mustered an average 2.1 million viewers an episode -- a far cry from the more than 5 million viewers it attracted a decade ago. CBS plans to replace the soap opera on Oct. 5 with a remake of "Let's Make a Deal," hosted by Wayne Brady.

"Guiding Light" was created in the depths of the Depression, in 1937, as a 15-minute radio program aimed at selling soap and other products to housewives -- thus earning it the moniker of "soap opera."  In 1952, the show moved to television, where it has been a mainstay ever since. It is owned by packaged products giant Procter & Gamble, the maker of Ivory, Tide, Mr. Clean and Crest toothpaste. Legions of the show's fans protested the cancellation, saying they had a special place in their hearts for the program about the families of the fictional Midwestern town of Springfield. Some begged CBS to reconsider its decision. But the network said that neither it nor P&G could make the finances work, and they joined those who mourned the death of the history-making serial. Beyond entertaining millions of viewers with the love lives of the characters, the show explored themes that were once taboo for television: rape, abortion, adultery and AIDS.It was produced in New York and provided jobs for thousands of people over the years.

"This ground-breaking program has provided steady employment, wages and benefits for thousands of AFTRA performers and other union members working in the entertainment and media industries," the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said in a statement today.When CBS made its decision, the show's executive producer, Ellen Wheeler, was philosophical."This show has been here since before World War II," Wheeler said in early April. "It has gone through wars and tragedies and triumphs -- man walking on the moon, and the dawn of the computer age. This show chronicled all these changes in society. It has been our mirror on society for generations, and when you lose something that is part of the fabric of society you lose something precious."

-- Meg James

Photo: Kim Zimmer and Robert Newman of "Guiding Light." Credit: Robert Voets / Associated Press, CBS.