Thursday, April 2, 2009

Light Extinguished

Have you ever found out that someone you knew decades ago -- a childhood friend, neighbor, co-worker -- has passed away? Even though you maybe haven't seen that friend in years, decades even, you are seized by grief. Somehow, the world was a better place just knowing that person was out there, even if he/she was no longer a fixture of your life. Somehow, there was the feeling that your story with that person might not be over and you might find your way back into each other's lives, but now, you realize, it's too late.

I had that sensation yesterday when it hit the news that CBS has announced the cancellation of Guiding Light.

Go ahead -- roll your eyes. Bemoan the fact that I'm comparing the cancellation of a soap opera to the death of a human being. But I suspect that there is more than one of you out there who shares my grief and understands exactly where I'm coming from.

I grew up with Guiding Light. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was in middle school, and many summer afternoons were spent watching the goings-on in Springfield with either Mom or my grandmother, for whom her "stories" were practically a religion. While I watched most of those CBS soaps with Mom and Grandma, GL was always my favorite. I KNEW these people on the screen like they were family. I rejoiced in their celebrations and mourned their losses. I learned a lot watching Guiding Light. I learned about adoption watching Alan and Elizabeth Spaulding adopt Phillip, who was really the son of Justin and Jackie Marler. I learned about alcoholism watching young Tim (played by Kevin Bacon) battle the bottle. I learned what rape was when Roger raped his wife, Holly, and later when Beth Raines was attacked by her horrible stepfather Bradley. Granted, some of the things I learned from GL were probably of questionable appropriateness for a young child, but I still learned. GL created lasting, lifelong memories. To this day, I cannot hear the song "You Needed Me" by Anne Murray without thinking of the romance of Kelly and Morgan. I dreamed for the kind of romantic adventures and capers of Quint and Nola. I can remember summer days riveted to the screen to see if Phillip and Beth would end up together or if they would instead choose Mindy and Rick respectively. (I never understood why girls weren't falling all over Rick rather than Phillip -- Rick was so cute with that grin and that curly hair!!)

Like many childhood soap watchers, I drifted away from GL. I had flirtations with ABC soaps (the soaps all my friends watched in high school) and Days of Our Lives (another high school/college chum). I probably watched GL last right after I graduated from college when I returned to the show in a short of fitful nostalgia as I stood poised for my new life to begin. Every now and then, I would see a headline on a soap magazine in the checkout line and shake my head with a smile, thinking, "Oh, Reva, still up to your usual hijinks!" It was nice knowing GL and the denizens of Springfield were still there waiting for me if I ever needed them.

On September 18, GL will gasp its last, and I've already made a decision to be there (at least via DVR) when it happens. It's the least I can do for an old friend who was there for me for so many years.


Mike said...

I, of all people, didn't roll my eyes obviously... but I was a little relieved that this wasn't a post about somebody from Galesburg that we didn't realize we both knew being dead. :)

As you may or may not remember, Guiding Light was one of the few soaps that existed since the mid-80s never made my regular rotation. (As The World Turns is the other...) It was one that my mom watched sometimes at the flower shop when I was MUCH younger, but I never paid it much attention.

And as I write this, I am totally remembering that I DID watch Guiding Light regularly at some point when I lived in Chicago and was either contracting at home or straight up unemployed. It's on at 9 AM here, and that's such a TV deadzone that it was pretty easy to get hooked on... especially if I remember correctly it was the time with the ridiculous (as in "ridiculously AWESOME") plots on San Cristobel around the turn of the century (2000, that is) when Reba had been a Princess, yada, yada...

Oh yeah, I also watched it some when they cloned Reva because, well, I'm a sucker for crazy.

And when it went to its freaky hand-held camera cinema verite style -- with the real life locations and the "reality tv" look, I recorded a few episodes just to see what it looked like because I really like the idea of somebody doing something new in an attempt to save the genre.

But I can see why it didn't work. Like newspapers, soaps probably needed to change with the time to have had any chance to stay successful, but they (a) usually did the wrong things to stay "hip" and (b) had any sort of continuing success precisely because they didn't change -- it's like comfort food for those who watch them every day and for those who only check in when they're home with the flu.

Still though, I wish the show would stay on the air. Maybe they should just take it back to its radio roots and do 15 minutes podcasts episodes. (Hey, look, Mike just invented his own dream job.)

Mike said...

BTW, sorry for the long comment...obviously it's on a subject near and dear to my heart, even if I don't record any soaps on my DVR these days.

Mel said...

I'm the same way, Mike. I don't watch any soaps anymore either. I did DVR the last episode featuring John and Marlena of Days, but that's been it for a long time. OH! And I watched that General Hospital Night Shift because I heard they were going to kill off Robert Scorpio (which elicited a HELL NO! from me). I still have those secret dreams of becoming a soap writer, but seeing as how the networks are letting the genre die slowly, I may be out of luck.

Mike said...

I caught Night Shift for a few episodes at the beginning of its 2nd season and was shocked how much better it was than its parent show, which has pretty much been unwatchable whenever my TiVo has picked up an episode. (Since many soaps have three thumbs, certain shows will come up as a suggestion when we have the space, which is a perfect way to catch up occasionally.)

Of course, that can be dangerous, as when the TiVo in the bedroom (which doesn't get cable) picked up Young and the Restless one day and then I started recording and watching it every day after work last year like I was coming home junior high or something.

The saddest thing about the genre dying is that, like I hinged at, other than occasional brilliance from Y&R and One Life to Live, most of the other shows may not actually deserve to live except for their great histories. Four years back, I was hooked on All My Children but it has become a mess like GH. And don't even get my started about John and Marlena leaving Days... even though I'm sure I wouldn't care about their plot if I was still watching it, Days without Deidre Hall is not a Salem USA I'm interested in.

But if you want to get a crazy classic soap fix with a slightly modern twist -- and you regularly listen to podcasts -- let me suggest the BBC's The Archers... a radio soap which you can get daily for free through iTunes. It's about farming and British country folk and at first seems as dull as you can get... but I checked it out because I'm an anglophile and I'd heard about it for so many years (it been around since after WWII and was used, in part, to promote stuff like rationing and other government propaganda -- the history alone is fascinating) Anyway, you wouldn't think a soap about pig farmers and the women who love them and the class struggles of small town Britain -- would be so compelling. But it is. It's totally what I imagine old radio soaps used to be but about the 2009 financial crisis.

It might just be a fascinating cultural artifact because I'm from the US -- sort of like the other soap I got hooked on when I was unemployed in the early 2000s -- the twice daily reruns of Ryan's Hope on Soapnet which taught you more about the seventies we grew up in than any history books.