By Allison J. Waldman
Special to TelevisionWeek
Writer Irna Phillips begins formulating serialized dramas for radio with her first effort, “Painted Dreams.” Its local success paves the way for a new show that could be broadcast nationally.
“The Guiding Light,” a 15-minute serialized drama, premieres on NBC’s Red radio network. Broadcasting live from Chicago, the show is sponsored by Procter & Gamble, and is labeled a soap opera. Set in a fictional town called Five Points, the story revolves around the Rev. John Ruthledge and the lives of his parishioners. He sets the theme of the show with the opening words: “There is a destiny that makes us brothers. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”
The sermons delivered by the Rev. Ruthledge as part of “The Guiding Light” prove so popular that they’re published. The collection is bound and sells more than 300,000 copies.
“The Guiding Light” leaves Chicago to broadcast from Hollywood.
The Bauers, who will become the show’s core family, make their first appearance.
Unhappy with the Hollywood atmosphere, “GL” production moves to New York. The setting for the soap is switched from Five Points to Selby Flats, Calif.
Charita Bauer replaces actress Ann Shepherd in the role of Bert Bauer. Bert remains a key character on the soap for the next 35 years.
Radio listeners are asked to determine the fate of a character when Meta Bauer is on trial for murder. More than 75,000 voters participate, deciding she is innocent by reason of insanity.
“GL” begins airing on television in addition to the radio broadcast.
“The Guiding Light” is the first daytime soap to air an episode in color, which was still experimental at the time. Ms. Phillips was against it, so she wrote a show set entirely in a white and gray hospital room.
The radio broadcast of “The Guiding Light” is discontinued.
Agnes Nixon, a protege of Irna Phillips, is named head writer and begins a campaign to make the story lines more relevant, mixing social issues and education into the plots.
William J. Bell is hired by Ms. Phillips to write dialogue for the show. He makes such an impression that she makes him a writer on her other soap, “As the World Turns,” a year later.
CBS is deluged with letters of protest when character Kathy Holden is killed in a car crash. Irna Phillips responds to viewers’ complaints, saying, “These are all part of the great pattern woven and interwoven until we see the colorful tapestry of life itself. We are not weavers of fairy tales.”
The character Bert is diagnosed with uterine cancer.
“The Guiding Light’s” location is switched once again. It’s now set in Springfield, USA, which is determined to be “somewhere in the Midwest.”
The show begins to be regularly broadcast in color.
In September “The Guiding Light” expands from 15 to 30 minutes.
The show switches from live broadcasts to taping on videotape.
“La Lumiere” debuts as the show’s theme song.
Actor Theo Goetz, Papa Bauer for nearly 25 years on the soap, dies in his sleep. Early the next year, the show does an on-air tribute to the man.
Irna Phillips dies at age 72 on Dec. 22.
“The” is dropped from show’s title. It is now known simply as “Guiding Light.”
The show expands to one hour.
“Guiding Light” is the only CBS daytime drama to rival ABC’s top-ranked soaps.
Douglas Marland is named head writer. His innovative storytelling spurs a rise in the ratings.
The show goes on location to Santo Domingo to film the death of Roger Thorpe, Michael Zaslow’s demonic character.
Nola Reardon, played by Lisa Brown, becomes the soap’s most hated villainess, receiving the most intense hate mail since Eileen Fulton’s Lisa on “As the World Turns” 20 years earlier.
“GL” changes its opening logo and theme song.
“Guiding Light” characters and Cedar’s Hospital are featured in the CBS TV movie “The Cradle Will Fall.”
New head writer Pamela Long introduces a dynamic character named Reva Shayne, played by Kim Zimmer.
When actress Charita Bauer, a diabetic, needs to have her leg amputated, her character, Bert Bauer, undergoes the same procedure and is then shown learning to walk with a prosthetic leg. Ms. Bauer receives the Trustees Award for Distinguished Service to Daytime Television from the Daytime Emmys.
“GL” celebrates its 50th anniversary of continuous broadcasting.
“GL” changes its opening sequence and theme music again.
Actor Leonard Stabb, who plays young heartthrob Hart Jessup, is seriously injured in hang-gliding accident. He is paralyzed and never returns to the show.
“GL” films on location at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
“GL” airs its 12,000th episode.
“GL” is the first daytime drama to be inducted into the Soap Opera Hall of Fame.
“Guiding Light” celebrates 60 years of broadcasting with an on-air anniversary ball.
Procter & Gamble and Michael Zaslow, who played the character Roger Thorpe, reach a “mutually acceptable settlement” in a lawsuit filed by Mr. Zaslow in which he claimed he had been wrongfully terminated because of his medical condition. Mr. Zaslow dies of Lou Gehrig’s disease later in the year.
The strangest story in the history of “Guiding Light” plays out when Reva Shayne is cloned. Eventually, the clone-“Dolly”-dies from rapid aging syndrome.
“GL” rebroadcasts a classic episode featuring Michael Zaslow in the role of Roger Thorpe as a tribute to the late actor.
Beth Chamberlin writes a memoir as her “GL” character Lorelei Hills, Beth Raines’ look-alike alter ego. It’s a bestseller for St. Martin’s Press.
“Guiding Light” broadcasts an episode in collaboration with Marvel Comics. They team up to create as a new superhero, called The Guiding Light.
To celebrate its 70th anniversary, “Guiding Light” launches the Web site www.FindYourLight.net to build a relationship with fans who wish to participate in a yearlong volunteerism effort, beginning with rebuilding homes in the Gulf Coast area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
-ALLISON J. WALDMAN