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‘Light’ of Realism Shines on Long-Running Soap Opera

February 28, 2008 5:06 PM

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Soap operas have long cited this motto as they continued to use shooting techniques developed during the genre’s infancy more than 50 years ago. Starting Friday, CBS’ “Guiding Light” is bucking about 56 years of tradition by switching to handheld cameras, using more exterior shots and installing four-wall sets in order to give the show a more cinematic feel.

Ellen Wheeler, executive producer of “Guiding Light,” said the overhaul was spurred by the fans, according to an audience survey paid for by “Light’s” Procter & Gamble Productions. “[The audience] didn’t love the things that seemed fake to them,” she said.

The fans give soap operas major leeway, knowing they have to produce nearly 260 episodes a year, she said. But, “‘You’re not cutting the mustard’ is basically what they told us.’ We were not hip enough.”

Ms. Wheeler said she wasn’t aware of any rumors that “Light” might be canceled, but CBS had rumbled that “Light” and fellow soap “As the World Turns” were on the bubble and urged producers to evolve their look.

The new look, according to Ms. Wheeler, is inspired by a philanthropic outing the show made in 2006. After Hurricane Katrina, “Light” took a weeklong hiatus to help rebuild houses in Louisiana. The show’s crew filmed the actors, out of character, with handheld cameras and edited the footage together for a week of shows. This was striking to Wheeler, who said she loved being right there with the actors. “I wish I could portray the show with that same level of intimacy,” she thought.

The advantage to the new production style also involves on-site editing of scenes (for faster turnaround) and seamless transitions between interior and exterior shots.

“Light” is using Peapack, N.J., to depict the show’s main city, Springfield, in exterior shots. It also has built 40 permanent sets (with real working light switches and running faucets) in its New York City studio, as opposed to the eight temporary sets used previously on the show.

“Every set that we have has been redesigned to look like a real space,” she said.

Ms. Wheeler also said production offices also have been worked into sets. She said her set had become a chapel during production.

“[The show] is completely different, but it’s completely familiar,” Ms. Wheeler said.

Andrew Krukowski


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Comments (25)


love the new look. anything's better then those awful dated sets and bland lighting that became the cliche of soaps


I love guiding light and I have been watching it for years. I am not happy with the new scenery and color of the "Light." The scenery was always the same before but it was better that what it has been changed to. Hopefully this doesn't last long.

Jill C. from California:

This new direction for Guiding Light is horrible! The look is awful, like a really bad home video. The sound is bad and the jumping disjointed cuts from one scene to the next are annoying.
Please bring back the old Guiding Light, which used to be my favorite soap. I've watched it loyally for the last 20 years, but now I'm about to quit it because of this new format.

Marian R. Pittsburgh.PA.:

The close ups are horrible and are not at all flattering to any of the actors or actresses. use to think they were so beautiful,but now sometimes have to close my eyes. I thought something was wrong with my televison set, but my other stations came in just fine. I wish Harley would finish painting her interior walls of her home and quit chasing after Sirus. After 50 years of watching the Guiding Light I'm going to switch channels.

Jeanne S.:

I couldn't agree more than with Jill's comments. It has always been my favorite soapy, and Reva has been my hero for years. Never did I think I would think of not watching it anymore, but I sure am! The reality is we live in the real world, we can see it just fine, we watch soaps to take us away from our real world for a little space of time so we can deal with our own "soaps" at home. I sure hope this "new (old) look" isn't around too much longer.


I was a big fan of Guiding Light and Vanessa Chamberlain. I stopped watching the show briefly when she left in 2000. The show has been going down hill for years. I began watching the show again when Vanessa was on recurring status. I want to know what happened to the glitz and glitter? I used to love all of the extravagant parties, diamonds, dresses, furs,mansions, etc. I had been frustrated with the show for the past 7 years, but now this new look has really driven me over the edge. I have been recording all of the CBS soaps daily, since college. Now my timer stops recording when As The World Turns goes off. I am not pleased with Guiding Light.


I do not like the new format either. It seems to me the ratings must be down to try this type of drastic change--especially in such a long running soap. The week long airing of the special featuring housing completion after Katrina was a completely different subject matter than the show itself. I don't feel using this to justify the scope of the show is valid. I understand the attempt to try something new, but I don't think the right research was completed. The quality of the filming now is poor and the show is jumpy and hard to watch. I will no longer watch GL after years of loyal following.

Sally Johnson:

I absolutely love the new "exterior" shots on Guiding Light. The new locations really give a cinematic feel to the entire show, and refresh even the dialogue and situations. While the "hand held" cameras and close-ups did seem a bit disjointed at first, they are now more seamless and acceptable. Kudos to Guiding Light for reinvigorating a great show!! Keep up the wonderful changes (while still adhering to the tried-and-true storylines and wonderful veteran actors and actresses).

Sammi Slate:

I love the new look and feel of the show!! The "town" locations are fantastic and add the needed realism--while still retaining the "fantasy" aspects we all love about soap operas! Way to go GL!!


I don't like the new style either. I have been watching for 25 years and always loved it- until now! The scenes, while real places, are unrealistic. Would Beth be hanging out in the park with a newborn when it is freezing out...or pushing a stroller up a pebble driveway instead of driving up to the house and carrying the baby in????? The new "spaces" seem cramped as well. The once beautiful rooms now seem cheap and sound like the actors are walking on plywood in wooden clogs. PLEASE return to normal.


I was a lifelong NBC soap-watcher (DAYS and the former Passions). Now that Passions is gone to DirectTV and DAYS has nosedived, I have stopped watching soaps altogether. I'm in my mid to late 20s and in grad school.

But I happened to be home today flipping channels and saw GL's format and was floored. It looked so similar to the best soap opera in the English language, EastEnders. For anyone who has not seen that soap and who won't be visiting Britain soon, some PBS stations run a few older (early 2000s) episodes. EE is (well, was) distinct from U.S. soaps in its 80%+ exterior shots, lack of any type of music, and very short, realistic scenes (1-2 minutes and then on to the next plotline). And it is 100% more engaging than the lavish, glitzy sets and over-the-top plots of American soaps (which I still love, and still have their place, but more as an occasional dessert--they're just no longer "the main course" for me).

The GL episode I saw today was very similar (only with some weak guitar-strumming for music) and I am very impressed an American soap is going in this direction.

Sharon Starbuk:

I have been watching Guiding Light for almost 50 years now (off and on), and I am very worried about the future of the program. I have followed the story lines closely for many years. This new cinematography and sets gives all of us the impression that things are not well at the moment! I personally get the impression that the show is nearly bankrupt! My daughter and I are both wondering if maybe there has been a huge operations deficit, forcing the current changes in filming. I am all for going back to original way of filming! It was much homier, which after all is what The Guiding Light is all about -- Home & Family


I have been following Guiding Light since the late seventies. Although I've rarely been able to watch it everyday, I've always kept up with it through magazines or the website. I would tape it when I could. After watching the new format on Feb. 29th, I finally decided it was time to let it go. I was so disappointed in the new look. The camera was so jumpy and you rarely could fix on a person's entire face. It's like the viewer is a stalker. What is even worse are the storylines, which is what a soap is all about. They have been lackluster to say the least. Does every single character on the show have to be in a love triangle? The writers need to use more imagination. I feel sad that I've abandoned a program that's been part of my life for so long, but I feel like the show has abandoned me, so goodbye Springfield. It was nice to know you.


Used to be a fan of Guiding Light, but years ago they moved it from 3pm to 10am in Philadelphia and that did not work for me. Now I am home and decided to tune in and surprise...what is this new format??? I'd say a change for the worse! The sound characteristics changes from one scene to the other, the filming looks so unprofessional and like another poster stated, we tune in to get away from the reality...enough of the reality, please!!!

Trish Oresky:

I do not like the new look at all. The actors look bad and I don't want to see a close-up of someone pouring a drink or shots of the scene that look like you're peaking around the corner. Please go back to normal. And PLEASE return the podcasts!!! Without GL & ATWT, I have no interest in daytime TV.


I do not like the new format. I agree with most of the negative comments above. The actors look 10 years or more older --too much music over the voices and it's hard to understand at times.
I have been watching 25 years and this is for the birds. Please go back to the old format with some scenes outside. Please!!

Carole Pucci:

Here I am again,I can now watch GL in 5 minutes. Thank goodness for the fastforward on the remote control. It is not reality to have the actors "outside" all the time. Colour is off, sound too faint, too many closeups, too jumpy, sets do not look familiar anymore, when two people in a frame, usually one of the heads cut off. I just hope that GL will go back to their old format so that we can all go back to watching the whole program.

Ellen Wheeler - where are you!!!!!!!!

Leah Smith:

I have watched The Guiding Light my whole life and it was my favorite soap. With the new format I am about finished watching it. Who stays outside all winter and all day. The houses look cheap and it is depressing. Please change it and save the show.


I can't stand to watch Guilding Light anymore. The new look is awful. The shakey cameras and the too close "closeup" are to painful to watch. The story lines are almost nonexistant and the characters have evolved to the point that no one on the show is recognizable. Sorry CBS; but the "Light" in my house is no longer on.


I hate the new format of GL. It used to be one of my favorite soaps but now it looks more like a "home movie" production. The camera shaking is terribly unprofessional.
If changes were to be made, they should have progressed rather re-gressed.
I do hope that changes are made back to the way it was. It was so much better!!!


I am also not happy at all with this new format. Along with all of the comments everyone else have made about the poor quality of the sound and horrid closeups, I want to remark on the weirdness of how the characters seem to wander around out in the middle of nowhere. What is that about? Just happen to run into a friend out on a country road leading nowhere? I doubt it. I miss the old GL so much.


Quality of show reminds me of late night soap operas many many years ago "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and Cell Block H" Gives me an uneasy feel... uninterested... I used to watch Guiding Light. I Can't get into it now. Slow moving, distracting, I don't know what it is. Maybe it's too real.


I watched guiding light 15 years ago it was a great soap. I turned it recently because my MOM has been watching and it looks like it is being filmed by a 2 year old the camera is jumping all over the place. They must be out of money because even if they have changed their format they should be able to have a professional camera MAN. It's a joke how awful to go down in flames like this. The Acting also seems very ROBOTIC :-( Too bad


The show looks awful. I work from home and happen to turn it to GL and thought something was wrong with my cable. I called my mother who is a die hard fan and asked her "what the heck is going on with the Production and the lighting", she turned to and noticed it as well. Well, I stopped watching years ago but I am shocked to see what my favorite characters really look like in real life, i guess. I want be tuning back to this with the Production looking like this and I can not hear anything, so I have to keep adjusting my sound. Guess, the Economy is really hurting this soap as well.


I used to watch GL all the time, when I worked outside the home I would tape it and couldn't wait to watch every episode. When they changed the format last year I completely lost interest very quickly, it just no long held my attention. I am working from home again and turned GL on the other day and yuk it is still awful! The music scores just do not fit; The story lines might be ok but the writing is just plain blah. The filming is so distracting that some of these once captivating actors that really made the characters come alive no longer show that spark, it is like everything gets lost in all the poor filming, weird music... In the past year many of the long time top notch actors on the show have died off or just left town and moved on to (what now are) better shows, I guess they saw the hand writing on the wall. Please go back to the old format before you get canceled

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