‘Light’ shines in new media

Soap's move to podcasts, Internet reflects growing trends in daytime

Back when “Guiding Light” debuted on Jan. 25, 1937, there was no talk of podcasts, Internet distribution or video rebroadcasts. Everyone gathered around the radio for a shared experience.

Now, however, the Bauer, Spaulding, Lewis and Cooper families are learning to deal with much more than weddings, divorces, catfights and diseases of the week. They’re delving into a world where, if a soap opera is to be successful, then technology has to be on equal footing with storylines.

Today, fans can go to CBS.com to access the show as a daily podcast and listen to “Guiding Light Lite,” which features commentary from show personnel. Also, key episodes that are preempted due to breaking news can find a new home on the Eye’s Innertube site.

“Ellen (Wheeler, ‘Guiding Light’s’ executive producer) is extraordinary about being proactive and aggressive about getting her stories out on as many platforms as possible at a time when CBS is looking to extend the reach of its shows,” says Barbara Bloom, senior vice president of CBS Daytime. “It’s been a terrific convergence of the right people and the right places.”

“Guiding Light” has a track record of transitioning to new platforms. Back in the early 1950s, the soap moved from radio to television. “Guiding Light” historian Christopher Schemering wrote in his 1986 book “Guiding Light — A 50th Anniversary Celebration”: “Television had everyone worried, except (show creator) Irna Phillips. … She was determined to make serials work in the new medium.”

“With Irna as such a good example as someone who was willing to take her show from radio to television, why wouldn’t I (embrace new media)?” Wheeler rhetorically asks. “I think Irna expects us to do this because she saw that ‘Guiding Light’ was about showing struggles and how people overcame them.”

Brian Cahill, a vice president at “Light” producer Procter & Gamble Prods., adds: “As we saw the media landscape changing, it was second nature for us to think: How do we reach our audience now? The first thing ‘Guiding Light’ did was make available an audio podcast of the full episode on the day of the broadcast so that anyone who missed the show would have it available.” While currently not available as a video podcast, Cahill says, “That’s certainly under strong consideration.”

Does knowing that certain fans are only hearing the show change how head writer David Kreizman writes it? Not really, says the scribe.

“When we first started listening to it, we were amazed by how well it actually works because of what the form is,” shares Kreizman, who began his career at “Guiding Light” as an intern in 1995. “There are certain things that need to be explained, but you can follow along.”

It’s not just younger fans hopping onto new platforms but longtime viewers as well.

“Soon after we made the podcast available, we got an email from a woman in her 60s who’s watched ‘Guiding Light’ all of her life,” Cahill shares. “One day, her DVR failed and she was so happy she could get the podcast and listen to it on her iPod. I was happy that we’d made our content available, and that email shattered so many stereotypes about who’s using this technology. We love how limitless it is.”

In addition to providing new platforms, Bloom emphasizes that content is key, too.

“The best chance we have to maintain and build our audience is to tell the most honest and entertaining stories we can,” the Eye exec says. “The uphill battle we face is getting stories out on a multitude of platforms to an audience that is no longer just used to sitting down in front of a television to find their entertainment.”

CBS' long-running sudser 'Guiding Light' has broadcast over 15,000 episodes.
CBS’ long-running sudser ‘Guiding Light’ has broadcast more than 15,000 episodes.

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