This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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THE GUIDING LIGHT
(From Radio Recall,
BEFORE ITS LAST EPISODE, JIM COX WROTE:
A FLAME ABOUT TO BE EXTINGUISHED
As the capstone 15,762nd episode of The Guiding Light (the definite article being carried over from radio, which no self-respecting modern reporter is probably aware of) draws to its inevitable conclusion on Friday, Sept. 18, we can expect lots of verbal (live and on tape) and published farewells to that "longest-running drama in the history of broadcasting." Some of them could be tear-jerkers for the nostalgia-minded. But I suspect more will react as simply a means of doing business, and a necessary gallop off the scene.
Few of these will elaborate on the program's humble beginnings in radio. Alas, in some situations will that word even be mentioned? Creator Irna Phillips, the granddame of daytime drama, may fail to draw proper respect, too. It was she, a Jewish schoolteacher-writer, who -- inspired by a Christian minister of her acquaintance -- developed the character of Rev. Dr. John Ruthledge, a kindly cleric of a nonsectarian flock in the mythical town of Five Points, Calif., the original protagonist of her well-intentioned story line.
Ruthledge's mission was to demonstrate how to live a good life through understanding and patience. "No matter how difficult your problems may be," said he, "others have been faced with the same obstacles, and with faith and determination and courage have managed to overcome them."
When Phillips sold some of her narratives to Procter & Gamble to remain solvent and pay some legal bills she had incurred, The Guiding Light and The Road of Life each fetched $50,000 while a spinoff of Light, The Right to Happiness, brought $75,000. She was hired as writer-consultant by P&G and persisted in similar arrangements with myriad radio and TV washboard weepers for decades.
Back to the present.....some who have closely followed the series in contemporary times may be filled with angst, rage, hurt, disbelief and despair. That won't be many if the falling ratings are to be believed. I'm not in that group and never paid much attention to it then or now. But I do recall my own sense of frustration when at the end of 1955,Perry Mason disappeared from the airwaves , the most gripping, spine-tingling daytime drama I ever recall hearing, thanks to writer Irving Vendig's fabulous story lines.
I was also around on "the day drama died" Nov. 25, 1960, when the last of those daily soap operas that had been airing for several decades vanished as if they had never been there. The switchboards at CBS lit up like Christmas trees, and thousands spewed their venom. It was like a death in the family to millions across the nation.
The flame's about to go out on The Guiding Light after 72 years. As the last throwback to daytime radio drama (it being the only one still airing that was heard on radio), there is definitely something poignant there. I wonder if some of those modern scribes will be able to capture that and convey it to a public that includes people who still "remember when."
AFTER THE LAST EPISODE, YOUR EDITOR WROTE:
SHAME ON YOU, CBS!
The world's longest running TV soap opera was cruelly kicked to the curb by CBS on Friday, September 18, 2009. The Guiding Light, a brilliant creation of Irna Phillips, debuted on radio January 25, 1937 and ran on network radio until June 29, 1956. By that time, it had already logged four years on television, from June 30, 1952. All in all, over its 72 year run, it accumulated 15,762 episodes on radio and television.
One would probably think that CBS would have tipped its hat to honor such a series, if not just in terms of its longevity, in terms of its quality. Over the seven decades, it had captured 368 nominations for various awards of excellence and won 95 Emmies and other tributes for cast and crew. One might further hope that some brief tribute would accompany this last TV episode. If so, one would be terribly disappointed, as was I while watching that last episode.
The opening encouraged my hopes; in the span of perhaps four seconds, it showed the opening title of The Guiding Light with about a half dozen titles from the "old days" including some in black and white. "This looks promising" I told myself. But then it was non-stop through dozens of plot lines, trying to resolve them all in less than an hour, interspersed with commercials.
At the half hour break, I waited for CBS to announce we were watching the 15,762nd and last episode of this venerable soap opera. Nothing happened at the break, so I began to become nervous as I awaited the end of the program. When the final scene wrapped at 10:57, I leaned forward in anticipation of the final credits. CBS had three minutes left; surely Irna would rate a tribute of 5-10 seconds, the radio version another 10-12 seconds, and the umpteen years on TV, maybe half a minute.
Crass commercialism dominated heritage and respect (as it always does now in broadcasting) and the last three minutes were devoted exclusively to commercials, including Plumbers Helper and ArteryTour dot Com. So in a blink of commercials, 72 years went down the drain.
To add insult to injury, CBS announced later that day that the time slot for The Guiding Light would be filled with re-runs of The Price is Right until some new episodes of Let's Make A Deal can be churned out later.
The insensitivity of these punks running CBS, dominated by the accountants keeping track of the revenue from commercials, is disgusting.