"Guiding Light" extinguished

The light has gone out for Guiding Light.

CBS has pulled the plug on the serial after 72 years on television and radio. The soap began on radio in 1937, went to television in 1952 (its radio run ended in 1956), and is the longest-running soap currently on the air. It marks the first CBS has canceled a soap in 22 years, with Capitol the last serial departing in March 1987.

Recent times have not been kind to Guiding Light, as the program has been moved to mornings in some major markets over the years and vanished altogether in at least one (Sacramento.)

A one-time 2 p.m. (CT) mainstay, CBS-owned WBBM-TV here in Chicago moved Light to 9 a.m. in September 1997 to make room for syndicated fare such as The Gayle King Show and Martha Stewart Living (the title of her show before she went into the slammer.) Opposite The Oprah Winfrey Show, Light had no chance, with the series barely averaging above a hash mark in the ratings.

The soap ends on September 18; there is no word on a replacement series, but a number of game shows have been branded about – including a revival of Pyramid, which ran on CBS in 1973 (before moving to ABC a year later) and again from 1982-88.

Several scenarios about what to do with the open time period is under consideration:

– Slot the new programming at 3 p.m. (ET) in-pattern

– Or, give the 3 p.m. slot back to affiliates and take back the 10 a.m. (ET) time slot back to fill with game shows to pair with The Price Is Right, which was the case before 1993. However, many CBS affiliates (who are airing Light at 3 p.m. ET) may turn down this option and may stick with syndicated fare in the time slot. For example, WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C. already dominates the 10 a.m. time period with Dr. Phil.

But those stations need something to fill at 3 p.m. If they are game shows, it would ruin programming flow. Network-programmed game shows often never did well in an afternoon time slot – the panned Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour lasted just one season on NBC in 1983-84 in that time period. (However, the original Match Game did very well in this daypart for CBS in the 1970’s.) Stations may also refuse to clear the programs at all, filling it with more syndicated fare instead.

The last network-scheduled show to air on CBS at 10 a.m. was Family Feud, with Ray Combs as host.

– Or, just give the 3 p.m. slot (or whatever morning time slot Light was airing in) back to affiliates. But this option is not likely.

Despite Light’s struggles, CBS is still number one in daytime, and has been for more than 20 consecutive years. This is only the sixth daytime serial to depart the network’s lineup in the last 35 years. The others:

– The Secret Storm (which began in 1954) was dropped by CBS in early 1974, after years of declining ratings and affiliate clearances. The ratings downturn began in the late 1960’s when the network disposed of the Ames family, one by one.

– The Edge of Night. After CBS decided to expand As The World Turns to an hour, the network dropped Edge, but was quickly picked up by ABC in late 1975. The Edge of Night became the first daytime serial to switch networks. Edge of Night ended in 1984.

– Love of Life. Another long-running soap (est. 1951), a move to 4 p.m. (ET) in its later years meant lower ratings and lots of pre-emptions. The show expired in early 1980.

– Search for Tomorrow. This series (which debuted on CBS in 1951) became the second soap to switch networks, to NBC in 1982 (which expiried there in late 1986) to make room for Capitol. And speaking of Capitol

– Capitol. The network canceled this joke of a soap after five seasons, with perhaps the most unsatisfying ending to any daytime serial in history – when a major character faced a firing squad – and… fade to black. It’s like The Sorpanos ending, but even that made more sense than what happened – or what didn’t happen – on Capitol.