Wednesday, April 1, CBS announced that it was cancelling The Guiding Light. It will air its last episode on September 18. Like nearly all soap operas, its ratings had been steeply declining in the past several years.
Procter & Gamble, who own The Guiding Light, have announced that they will try to find The Guiding Light another home. The same thing was attempted with the NBC soap opera Passions, which moved to DirectTV's channel The 101 after the network cancelled it. There it only survived about another year.
The cancellation of The Guiding Light by CBS is historic in that it is the longest running scripted programme in broadcast history. It debuted as a 15 minute radio show on NBC on January 25, 1937. The series was created by Irma Phillips, who would go onto create Days of Our Lives, As the World Turns, and Another World as well. Even then it was owned by Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of Ivory soap and similar products. Procter & Gamble would produce so many shows of this type that the whole genre became known as "soap operas." The Guiding Light moved from NBC to CBS on June 30, 1952, where it began life as a television soap. The Guiding Light was the first soap opera to introduce African American characters, which it did in 1966. It would also provide employment for actors who would soon be famous early in their careers, including James Earl Jones (who appeared on the show in 1966), Cicely Tyson (who also appeared on the show in 1966, Billy Dee Williams (who also appeared on the show in 1966), and Kevin Bacon (who appeared on the show in 1985).
Ironically, CBS might replace The Guiding Light with a show from another daytime staple that was seeming extinct on network daytime schedules. For years The Price is Right has been the only game show on network daytime schedules. Last week Entertainment Weekly announced that CBS was considering replacing The Guiding Light with revival of The $25,000 Pyramid.
While I have never been a fan of soap operas and I have never even seen an episode of The Guiding Light, I must admit that I am saddened by the passing of the show. The series lasted 72 years, longer than any other show in American broadcast history. Its cancellation ends a run that will probably never be matched by any other series. In fact, it was one of the last remaining links on the air between radio and television. Its cancellation is literally the end of an era.