After 72 years on the air the CBS soap opera Guiding Light faded off screen for the last time on Friday. The show which began in 1937 as a radio program found its way to TV in 1952. Over 15,000 shows aired. That’s a lot of scripts.
The show won 69 daytime Emmy’s and provided work for many well-known actors as they were starting out including Kevin Bacon, Calista Flockhart and James Earl Jones. It would be interested to see if there were any well-known writers who got their start there.
The demise of Guiding Light leaves only seven daytime dramas still running. (Four decades ago at its peak there were 19 daytime dramas on air.) While millions still watch the daytime dramas the rating systems have been hit hard in recent years as viewers find other addictions. Who needs soap operas when there’s Facebook?
And though the show was taped in Manhattan, I was interested to find out that the last couple decades the show was set in the fictional town of Springfield somewhere in the Midwest. Who knows, maybe the longest running show in broadcast history took place in Iowa.
I actually have a writer friend who is from Cedar Falls, Iowa, Cydney Kelley, who spent 2000-2009 writing scripts for the daytime drama Days of Our Lives. Though she lives in L.A., last summer I saw her working on a script while she was working out on a Stairmaster at the rec center. Screenwriting from Iowa, baby!
And just to give you a little behind the scene glimpse of writing daytime drama I found this post online by writer Todd Strasser:
“Some of the smartest writers I ever met worked on Guiding Light.”
Soap operas, like many TV shows, are written by teams of writers. At the top of the Guiding Light team circa 1990 was a head writer named Pamela Long. Pamela was a former beauty queen (Miss Alabama 1974) and actress. It was her job to come up with ‘the long story,’ that is, the story of the emotional travails of the large cast of characters on the show (In general Pam was supposed to know what the characters would be thinking and feeling for the next six months, although often, it seemed, there was uncertainty about what they would be doing the next day.)
Under Pam were the breakdown writers. During my brief sojourn at Guiding Light, I was one of them. We worked with Pam to fill out the long story so that all the characters were involved in a weekly basis according to their contract requirements. Some characters were contracted to work five days a week, and others one day a week. The number of times they appeared per week could change based on their popularity and the popularity of whatever emotional morass they were floundering in. After we completed our 20-page breakdowns of each day’s script, a script writer would turn them into action and dialogue.
Pam’s job was easy. All she had to do in any given week was:
1) Make sure she knew where all the intertwining stories of the show’s characters
2) Meet with the breakdown writers to work out that week’s set of breakdowns
3) Read the breakdowns after they were written
4) Read the scripts based on the breakdowns
5) Talk to the breakdown and script writers about what they’d written and what needed to be rewritten
6) Make sure the show’s directors were shooting the show as scripted
7) Deal with actors who often did not like the dialogue the writers had chosen for them to say
8)Deal with producers who might disagree with where she wanted to show to go
9) Go to publicity appearances and give interviews to soap opera magazines and do whatever other publicity activities were required.”
I did some quick research and found out that Pamela K. Long won two Outstanding Writing Daytime Emmys. Not bad for a trained ventriloquist raised in Huntsville, Alabama with “rednecks and rocket scientists” and a sorority girl at the University of Northern Alabama in Florence. A school whose Latin motto is ”Veritas Lux. Orbis Terrarum” (“Truth and Light of the World”).