A Veteran TV Soap Opera Executive on Why “Guiding Light” Burned Out After 72 Years
[The Wall Street Journal, 14 August 2009]
By Richard Morgan
This week “Guiding Light,” the longest-running drama in television history (it debuted as an NBC radio show in 1937, then on CBS television in 1952) wrapped its final shoot, which will air September 18. We spoke with Brian Frons, the president of daytime for Disney-ABC television group, where he oversees “All My Children,” “”General Hospital,”” “One Live to Life” and the cable channel SOAPnet (he was also key in the creation of the Soap Opera Digest Awards). He has even been on-camera, starring as God in 1989 (who didn’t deem themselves God back then?) on “Santa Barbara,” where his wife is a director. Although he works for one network now, and also worked for another, his roots go back to “Guiding Light.”
WSJ: Is there much industry nostalgia for the legacy of “Guiding Light”?
It was actually my first creative executive job, from 1979 to 1983. That was a great time for soaps. This was when the Rider case was in the news, one of the first times a woman sued her husband for rape, and we introduced a story to touch upon that. Television is a today business. From an ad sales perspective, “Guiding Light” hasn’t won the 18-49 women since 1991.
What happened in 1991?
That’s just as far back as our records go. But if I told you we had a primetime show that hadn’t won its slot in 18 years, you’d ask why it’s still on the air.
So it’s not a big deal that “Guiding Light” is ending?
We’ve gotten used to soaps lasting so many years, the death of one takes on all this drama. But “Guiding Light” has been a poor performer for many many years.
What about personally for you? It’s kind of like your old high school being demolished, no?
No. It’s taking a patient off life support, not a sudden tragic death in the family or anything. I was sadder when I heard about production changes, lots of technical behind-the-scenes stuff that starts to affect talent and quality.
Primetime soaps are huge, telenovelas are huge, so what’s going on with daytime soaps that they’re hurting badly enough that they start dying off?
There’s a mentality in network culture that fears change in programming. When we expanded everything into hourlong time slots — except “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which is half-hour — we had this great system that flowed really well from one to another. It wasn’t broken up by game shows or talk shows. And, really, it worked so well for so long that people just didn’t want to change it. I mean, why would you?
So what do you do now?
Change is good. You have to remember that “General Hospital” didn’t do well for 10 years until they started adding new characters. And those, of course, were Luke and Laura.
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