Postmordem of a “New” format

As we approach the one year anniversary of the cancellation, I think I finally have enough distance to fairly judge what they called the “new” format of Guiding Light that moved from the traditional 3 wall sets and pedestal cameras to handheld cameras and permanent sets, with lots of outdoor shooting.

When the new production model was introduced Ellen Wheeler specifically said it was not about saving money. When the show was canceled she said the model bought them a year and a half, BY saving money. Hmmm. But let’s take her at her word and think about how this new production model stands on its own merits.

I remained faithful to the show, even at its obvious nadir so my impression is different than some of those people whose loyalty lapsed. I’m not comparing it to the comparative heyday of the late 1990s to early 2000s, but to what the show was actually doing right before the switch. It was pretty clear that something had to change. Whether the changes Wheeler made were the right ones, is, for the sake of the remaining soaps, worth examining.

Con:

Sound – Sound was a problem in the new format from day 1 and while it did improve considerably from year 1 to year 2, frankly I was to the point where I would have welcomed obvious lavaliere mics or even those Broadway/fast food drive through style over the ear, extend in front of mouth mics if it meant a consistent sound level. On a normal day sound would have to be adjusted on your set, several times, or key lines would be lost.

Pacing of scenes – The last few months I was doing a daily summary of the show (you can find those descriptions by clicking on the July, August, and September 2009 blog entries) and from that experience I can tell you that a long scene was a minute, most were less than that. The last two days I thought something was wrong because I didn’t have as many times in my descriptions. I realized that it was because the average length of the scene had approximately doubled to roughly 2 minutes. The short scenes were supposed to be compensating for the lack of a an ability to block on smaller sets (again from a quote from Wheeler), but even lengthening the scenes by that much (let’s face it 2 minutes is still a pretty short scene) improved the pace rhythm and flow of the show to a marked extent. Watch an episode, even from early on in that last week and then one of the last two days and see if you don’t agree. This length and pacing was an executive decision, not one forced by money or circumstances and was clearly a wrong one and was not one that was experimented with, even though there was just over a year and a half in which multiple things could have been adjusted and tried.

The overall pace was also accelerated to the point of near lunacy. For example, the trial over whether or not Reva should be forced to have her baby early to save her own life lasted a day, including her husband Jeffery deciding to sue her, filing the suit, both parties switching lawyers twice, etc. plus the actual trial. I just re-watched Mattessa go through the same thing and they spent a week just debating whether Matt should take Vanessa to trial or not. You can’t react to plot points when they spin by at supersonic speed.

Story – However, I think what was the real problem was the writing. Even when the writers and executives found couple magic Bizzie, Otalia, Lillibuzz, etc. They seemed to have no concept what to do with it, other than to torment fans with what might have been. Characters lost throughlines and purpose and wandered around blindly and aimlessly from one lame plot point nobody who knew the characters really bought to another. This dramatically changed with Phillip’s return and although the writing still creaked sometimes, and scenes still seemed to miss important points in their rush to get to what was basically filler, and other beloved character’s returns were promised and promptly ignored (really only Phillip and Ed got the treatment they deserved and that includes then recurring, but classic characters like Rick who technically never left the show, but had virtually disappeared from the canvas). Still it was SOOOO much better than in the year before Phillip came back that I’m at a loss for words to try to explain how much better it was.

Pro:

Own Houses – People could live in their own houses again. If you didn’t personally experience it, day in and day out, I can’t tell you how painful it was watching them try to shoehorn scenes either into the one lousy hotel room at the Beacon everybody lived in or “Main Street.” Actually it was painful from the beginning, but it only got worse as time went on. Bless the new format for letting us go other places again.

Return to more classic formula – Looking back now, really many of the things that were tried in the name of realism where just how things were in the early days of TV soap in the 1950s. For example, in both times people wore their own clothes. It may just be that the 1970s-1980s were the exception and production values need to be readjusted. I think this is entirely reasonable and think it should be fairly looked at. However, just because one set of compromises was tried doesn’t mean that’s the only set that could be tried or the best set to try. I think other soaps, both network and web, will continue to try out different versions of these compromises from when soaps had the money to buy pretty much whatever they wanted. A change in production values may just be a return to reality and I think soap fans can accept that.

Outside – Outside looked like outside again. When I was little and watched Laurel Falls we were really out in the country AT Laurel Falls. By the time my beloved Manny got there, it was a set with a fake big rock. This model let outside be really outside again and I think having scenes set at the exteriors of locations we knew, even if they looked different than before (Company, the police station, etc.) really added to flavor of the show and made it feel more real, especially after all that time cooped up on the “Main Street” set. Again you really had to experience “Main Street/Beacon” day in and day out to feel the claustrophobia that set engendered to truly appreciate this difference.

Phillip – Phillip was back. The storylines really should be separated for the last 2 years of GL’s existence to Pre- and Post-Phillip. His return energized the storylines and sharpened the throughlines of so many characters that while there were still some fairly audible “clunks” it was soooo much better after Phillip came back.

Summary:

So, in summary, I think the new system could have worked. Many of the problems were not inherent in the style of studio or production model or even the fast pace of production. They were separate issues that could have been dealt with caused by bad choices that were deliberately made. I don’t think it was the money saving format that ultimately led to the destruction of the show, but more on decisions made by then executives coupled with a loss of support from the network due to the loss of a strong leader in the CBS daytime division and the obvious decision by CBS  (not announced, but clear from choices they have made) to no longer attempt to do any programming directed primarily at women and children (that doesn’t involve the CEO’s wife). While they used to court a viewer cradle to grave, now if you a not a young man in their prime or like shows that also appeal to that age group, what is CBS offering you? Nothing.

Update August 27, 2015: Just a few minor edits to improve a couple of the sentences.

Robansuefarm is the handle of one of Manny and Guiding Light‘s biggest fans following in her family’s footsteps of Guiding Light fandom since 1939. This blog is an effort to make it easy to find Guiding Light and especially Manny online. Check back here for her blog, find fanfic previews and fake WSPR newscasts on her YouTube, find podcasts that look back to old shows and audios of her fanfics on Blog Talk Radio, and finally follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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One Response to “Postmordem of a “New” format”

  1. glmanny Says:

    Reblogged this on Glmanny's Blog and commented:

    Looking back at the new format. What did you think?

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