ABC News’ Stu Schutzman reports:
I admit I’ve never seen CBS’s eternal icon the “Guiding Light," but it’s virtually impossible to ignore the longest running program in the history of broadcasting. After a radio and television run of 72 years, CBS canceled the program yesterday, saying "it was time."
"Guiding Light" had been a perennial ratings blockbuster and cultural phenomenon until it ultimately fell prey to a seismic cultural shift. For decades a staple for stay-at-home-moms, it saw the bulk of its audience in recent years, consumed by the workplace. It’s a simple equation — as more and more American women went to work, fewer and fewer of them were at home watching daytime TV.
When "Guiding Light" made its radio debut on January 25, 1937, FDR was in the White House; the average American worker earned $1,700 dollars a year, paid $675 for a new car and 20 cents a gallon to fill it up. It cost 3 cents to mail a letter, 9 cents for a loaf of bread and the stock market totaled 121, less than yesterday’s one day gain.
But Americans were suffering through tough times, in the throes of the Great Depression, millions were out of work; the world was girding for a 2nd World War. Daytime dramas became an antidote to harsh reality. What better outlet than the "soap operas," aptly nicknamed for the laundry detergents which sponsored them. The soaps thrived. Often, when networks were forced to break into them for bulletins or special reports, their switchboards would light up with irate viewers — "bring back my soap," they’d demand, "the news can wait."
Not anymore, too many of the faithful are gone; many of the soaps are no longer cost effective to produce. During its run, "Guiding Light" spawned a bevy of future stars including James Earl Jones, Kevin Bacon and Cicely Tyson any one of whom would break its budget today.
But for its faithful "Guiding Light" was, for decades…lights out.