‘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.