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'Guiding Light' Extinguished After 72 Years On Air

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'Guiding Light' Extinguished After 72 Years On Air

Television

'Guiding Light' Extinguished After 72 Years On Air

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The longest-running drama in broadcast history is going off the air. On Friday, the soap opera "Guiding Light" will end its 72-year run. The soap has served as a launching pad for Hollywood stars including Kevin Bacon, James Earl Jones, Calista Flockhart, Ruby Dee and Christopher Walken.

"Guiding Light" began as a radio soap in 1937. It moved to TV in 1952. In recent years, ratings for soap operas have been going down, and as Jesse Baker reports, that's the reason for "Guiding Light's" cancellation.

(Soundbite of soap opera, "Guiding Light")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) If you try. In all probability, he'll die (unintelligible).

JESSE BAKER: For the past 54 years, though divorce, deaths, job losses and the growing pains of raising twins, Julie Soloway Poole has counted on one thing to see her through.

Ms. JULIE SOLOWAY POOLE: Always when I've had difficult things going on in my life, I had "Guiding Light."

BAKER: She remembers watching the show with her mother in black and white when an entire episode lasted only 15 minutes.

Ms. POOLE: I just can't imagine it ending because these are real people in my mind and in everyone's mind. So how could it come to a close? They've been here my whole life.

BAKER: From its early radio days, the "Guiding Light" was a pioneer of soap operas.

(Soundbite of radio advertisement)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Finest Duz you've ever seen.

BAKER: For advertisers, it was a way to sell laundry soap.

(Soundbite of radio advertisement)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) D-U-Z does everything.

Unidentified Announcer: The new Duz brings you "The Guiding Light," created by Irna Phillips.

BAKER: Irna Phillips was the birth mother of the modern soap opera. She invented things like using organ music to transition from scene to scene. She was an early adapter of the dramatic cliffhanger endings that kept her audience tuning in for more.

(Soundbite of soap opera, "Guiding Light")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) What more did you want me to say, Meta?

Ms. ELLEN DEMMING (Actor): (As Meta Bauer) That you love me. That you would give Chuckie your name.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Meta, you knew what was in my mind. You knew how I felt about you.

BAKER: Many of today's characters can be traced back through family trees to the original characters Irna Phillips created. Take, for example, the role of Phillip Spaulding, the adopted son of the ex-husband of the great-granddaughter of the show's original patriarch, Friedrich Papa Bauer. If you didn't follow me, totally okay.

The actor Grant Aleksander has played the role of Phillip Spaulding off and on since 1982, and even he can't keep it straight.

Mr. GRANT ALEKSANDER (Actor): I think it's seven marriages and, let me see, is it four kids or five? I think it's four.

BAKER: You were shot once, yes?

Mr. ALEKSANDER: Yes, shot.

BAKER: And dead, right? You were gone for a couple years.

Mr. ALEKSANDER: Yeah. It was a murder mystery that took me off the show last time, and they ended up resolving it that his father, Alan, had shot him, but to save him from himself.

BAKER: Over the last six months, Phillip has been dealing with a terminal illness, and the audience watch as Phillip's life slip away as the show does the same.

"Guiding Light" co-head writer Jill Lorie Hurst.

Ms. JILL LORIE HURST (Co-Head Writer, "Guiding Light"): The hardest thing was how to condense stories into, which should have maybe been a two-year story, into a four-month arc and leaving them in a place where the audience will feel satisfied, and then they, in their own heads, can kind of think about where these people are going to go next.

BAKER: Starting October 5, one television mainstay will be replaced with a fresher version of another: A new incarnation of the game show "Let's Make a Deal."

For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker.

SIEGEL: And you can go back in time and listen to episodes of "The Guiding Light" from the 1930s at npr.org.

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