The Guiding Light, now known as Guiding Light, was an American television and radio opera soap that made its place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the second-longest-running television soap opera. The show was first aired on radio in 1937 and was canceled in 2009. The show lasted for 15 years on radio and 57 years on TV, making its broadcast history a total of 72 years.
The show was all about Reverend John Ruthledge and the people around him. The title was based upon the lamp in Ruthledge’s study that people used as a sign to get help from him. In 1952, the show was transitioned to television, and the Bauers (a German immigrant family) became the show’s primary focus. The Bauers were first introduced in 1948, while the show was still airing on the radio. Later, other core families kept appearing on the show over the years, including the Norrises, the Marlers, the Spauldings, the Coopers, the Lewises, and the Reardons.
The Guiding Light over the Years
Guiding Light didn’t have just one specific plot; throughout the years of broadcasting, there were several plot sequences in the show, both on radio and TV.
From the 1930s to the 1940s
The TV series first aired in 1937 on NBC radio. Emmons Carlson and Irna Philips created it; Irna Philips based the creation of this soap opera on her personal experiences. After giving birth to a still-born baby while she was just 19, Irna found comfort listening to radio sermons by Preston Bradley, a popular preacher from Chicago. These sermons became the inspiration behind the idea of creating The Guiding Light.
During the 30s and 40s, The Guiding Light was aired as a radio show for 19 years. The original radio series was broadcasted as 15-minute episodes and was transferred from NBC to CBS radio in 1947.
Guiding Lights in the 1950s
On 30th June 1952, CBS Television replaced the canceled soap opera The First Hundred Years with The Guiding Light. Even on television, the episodes were only 15 minutes long. From 1952 to 1956, the series kept airing both on radio and television. The actors recorded the performances twice, once for radio and other for television. In 1956, the radio broadcast of the show stopped to end the overlapping.
After shifting to television, the Bauers became the lead characters, and many of the storylines were now about Bill Bauer – son of Papa Bauer and his wife, Bertha. Papa Bauer was a character who immigrated to the US during World War I and worked hard to provide opportunities to his children, while his wife Bertha, also known as Bert, wanted to climb the social ladder. It was usually Bill and sometimes Papa Bauer who brought her down to earth. In 1956 and 1957, The Guiding Light was ranked as the top-rated soap opera.
Guiding Light in the 1960s
During the 1960s, several things changed about this soap opera. On 13th March 1967, the show was broadcasted in color for the first time. On 9th September 1968, the timing of episodes was increased from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.
This was also when the show introduced their first African American characters, and the show’s main focus was shifted to the Bauer’s children Mike and Ed. In 1969, the character of Bill Bauer was removed from the series. During the 60s, the show became a lot more popular due to its interesting storylines, for example, the diagnosis of uterine cancer in Bertha Bauer in 1962.
Some new faces also appeared in the show during this decade, including the character of Dr. Sara McIntyre, who stayed a part of the show until the early 80s.
Guiding Light in the 1970s
During the 70s, the lead characters had changed, and most of the storylines started revolving around the Norrises – to be precise, Stanley Norris. The show was now about Stanley’s murder and the trial of this case. The exploitation of the villainesses Kit Vested and Charlotte Waring.
Charlotte was killed by Kit while Joe Werner shoots Kit dead while defending himself as soon as he knows about Kit’s attempt to poison Sara McIntyre.
This was the same era during which the pivotal character of Roger Thrope appeared in the show. Initially, the proposed character was supposed to be a blonde and fair-skinned man dating the daughter of his boss. However, later Michael Zaslow, who had dark hair, was cast for the role.
Due to the pressure of having youth-oriented soap operas as competition, the storylines for the Guiding Light also needed some change. In 1975, writers Bridget and Jerome Dobson were hired to write the show. After this, the show became more psychologically layered and nuanced; moreover, the storylines also became more timely. They also created the characters like Rita Stapleton.
In 1977, the character of Bill Bauer was reintroduced in the show. However, his return to the show was quite shocking for the audience as many thought he died in a plane crash. It was also problematic because the writers couldn’t understand what to do with his character anymore.
In 1976, Dobsons shocked the audience by killing Leslie Jackson Bauer. The reason behind killing the main character was that reportedly Lynne Adams wanted to leave the show, which is why Dobsons killed the character – a drunk driver killed her.
In November 1975, the show’s name changed from The Guiding Light to Guiding Light, and the length of episodes was increased to one hour.
Guiding Light in the 1980s
In the 80s, many newer characters were introduced in the show, such as the Reardon family. In 1980, the show won its very first Outstanding Drama Series Emmy Award.
During the 80s, the show depicted the younger characters more than others; it was an attempt to attract more young viewers. Many longtime characters, including Diane Ballard, Ben and Eve McFarren, Adam Thorpe, Dr. Sara McIntyre, Barbara Norris Thorpe, Steve Jackson, and Justin Marler, were eliminated from the show. And the actress Lenore Kasdorf who played the role of Rita Stapleton also decided to leave the show.
The characters Holly Norris and Roger Thorpe returned to the show in 1988 and 1989, respectively.
Guiding Light in the 1990s
Once again, with a new decade came a new style and transitions in storytelling were evident. The storylines had changed from a long homespun genre to a more realistic style with new chief writers. The Lewis, Bauer, Cooper, and Spaulding families ruled the show and the plots revolved around them.
In the mid-90s, the show suffered a major cast loss. Maureen Bauer had died in a car accident while Alexandra Spaulding decided to leave the show. However, the show somehow still managed to compete with some other serials, including Days of Our Lives and Passions.
In 1996, Mary Stuart appeared in the show as Meta Bauer and stayed on the show until 2002. Another character who joined the show was “Teenage Reva Clone” – the character was played by Bethany Joy Lenz, who joined the show in 1998.
Guiding Light in the 2000s
The 2000s proved to be a turn-around for the show. The show had divided into two locales; the fictional island of San Cristobel and Springfield. In 2004, the writer David Kreizman and executive producer Ellen Wheeler made several changes in the show’s stories, sets, and cast.
In 2007, the series celebrated its 70th broadcast anniversary, and this celebration was doubled by the initiation of FindYourLight.com and a program to outreach the original message by Irna Philips. Even with low ratings, the show won the Daytime Emmy Award for the category of Best Show and Best Writing.
On 1st April 2009, CBS announced the cancelation of Guiding Light and that there wouldn’t be any renewal of the show. It is reported that the show producers tried to get a new way to broadcast the show, but the attempt was a failure. The last broadcast happened on 18th September 2009, and after 57 years of television broadcasting, Guiding Light came to an end, making it one of the longest-running soaps in American TV History.
Guiding Light was a show that became a part of thousands of people’s childhood, adulthood, and elderly age. From radio to television and black and white to colored TV, the show went through different phases yet stayed successful for more than half a century. With several actors leaving the show and others joining it, the show will always be linked with many famous and talented names.