An important chapter of New York City broadcasting history is about to end. Daytime drama Guiding Light has been canceled by CBS and will air its last episode on Friday, September 18, 2008. As a New York based media business ourselves, we at US Townhall wanted to do one of our longform articles to cover this event and pay tribute to the longest running series in broadcast history.
Check back often as we continually update our tribute to Guiding Light's 72 years of broadcasting with more clips and remembrances. To whet your appetite, we start off with a selection of Guiding Light opening themes over the decades.
The Creation of Guiding Light
Guiding Light was the creation of the so-called mother of the soap opera, Irna Phillips. Phillips began her broadcast career as a staff writer and radio actress for the Chicago radio station, WGN. When Phillips was asked by station management to create a daily show about a family, the result was Painted Dreams, now generally recognized as the first soap opera in its modern format: a continuing narrative targeted toward women about families and their daily struggles through life.
Like many of Phillips' series and storylines, Painted Dreams was quasi-autobiographical. Dreams premiered on WGN radio on October 20, 1930, and concerned itself with its lead character, Mother Moynihan, an immigrant Irish-American widow and her brood of children. Phillips herself came from a large family of ten children (far more than Mother Moynihan had to contend with), and was the daughter of immigrant Jewish parents from Germany. It is said that Mother Moynihan was based on Phillips' own mother.
Painted Dreams became a local success in Chicago, but when WGN refused her request to sell the show to a national broadcaster, Phillips quit the station, sued them for ownership of Dreams, and created Today's Children for rival WMAQ, which debuted on September 11, 1933. WMAQ was owned by the NBC radio network, guaranteeing her new show a national audience. Today's Children was essentially Painted Dreams with a new coat of paint. "Mother Moynihan" became "Mother Moran" and was voiced by Phillips herself just as Moynihan had been. Many of the show's stories and themes were also identical.
Third time's the charm, and Phillips' next creation, The Guiding Light, premiered on Monday, January 25, 1937. However, according to some sources, The Guiding Light was actually canceled twice during its radio stint. Between December 26, 1941 and March 16, 1942 and between November 29, 1946 and June 2, 1947, the series had been taken off the air by its sponsor at the time, Procter and Gamble and General Mills, respectively.
At its inception, The Guiding Light told the stories of Reverand John Ruthledge and his flock who lived in the town of Five Points, Illinois, a fictional suburb of Chicago. The serial's title came from a reading lamp that the Reverand kept in a window in his home, which provided a "guiding light" to anyone in trouble who needed his counsel. In contrast to other soaps airing at the time, The Guiding Light strove for realism and frankness in both its dialogue and storylines. One early story became a major part of the soap opera template: the out-of-wedlock pregnancy. When Rose Kransky had an affair with her married boss and ended up pregnant, it was quite a shock to the audiences of the late 1930s. This was the first time such subject matter had been dealt with on a radio drama. As soap fans know, it would hardly be the last. The Rose Kransky character became so popular that she and her family temporarily spun off to a new soap also created by Phillips, The Right to Happiness.
Rose Kransky's story was another example of Ms. Phillips incorporating autobiographical material into her shows. At the age of 19, Phillips had an affair with a married man that resulted in her getting pregnant. However, the baby that she was carrying was stillborn. Phillips found comfort in the sermons of Dr. Preston Bradley of the People's Church in Chicago. Although she did not consider herself a religious person, she was inspired by Dr. Bradley's approach to religion which preached "the brotherhood of man." She stated that she created Reverand Ruthledge and The Guiding Light with Bradley and his teachings in mind.
Irna Phillips created the first soap opera for a television network, These Are My Children, which aired on NBC for just a single month in early 1949 before it was canceled. Despite that early failure, Irna's next attempt at a television soap was to bring The Guiding Light over from radio. Premiering on Monday, June 30, 1952, The Guiding Light began airing over the CBS television network and has aired, notwithstanding pre-emptions, every single weekday since.
On April 1, 2009, CBS announced that it would cancel Guiding Light at the end of its current television season and air its last episode on Friday, September 18, 2009. The show's producers, TeleNext (the television arm of Procter and Gamble), put out a statement that they were seeking a new network to pick up the show from CBS. However, on July 24, 2009, TeleNext announced that a new home for GL could not be found and that the show would be gone for good when its last CBS episode airs in September.
In future installments of this story, we will look back on the major plot developments of the series and present video clips of key footage from over the decades. Please visit our messageboard and share your favorite Guiding Light memories with us.
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Like any good serial, this article is...
To be continued…