Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

The New Guiding Light

Posted by Nick S. on March 2, 2008

I’m not quite sure what to make of the new Guiding Light (if you haven’t seen it, check it out here). I had imagined that the use of four walled sets and having permanent exteriors might have resulted in style akin to British soaps (more on that later). Instead, I’m not quite sure where we’ve ended up…I’ll hit the positives first – the look of the show is far more realistic than it has been. If anything, it’s going to make me aware of the standard studio setup of ATWT even more. It’s also clear editing has been considerably tightened up, and scenes are obviously shot multiple times with multiple takes for angles. 

On the other hand, I can’t help but be disappointed with the style of shooting P&G have decided to go for. It’s been shot in a documentary style à la The Office – I’m not sold on this idea for a soap yet. However, I’m not a regular watcher or fan of Guiding Light, so I thought I’d take a look at what some of the message boards have been saying. Here are a few that interested me: 
“one of the things I love about soaps is that everyone is so glamorous and beautiful. These cameras are making them look horrible. Do you remember when they filmed the actress that plays Doris with the cam and her wrinkles were so close to the camera? I would have been p1ssed! Even if she is happy with her wrinkles and embraces getting old nobody wants a close up of them on t.v. for everyone to see. I pray that alot of people complain so they will change it”
I’m particularly interested by this, because I hadn’t considered it at all. This writer isn’t alone either – quite a few complaints about the new style were specifically about the actors looking older on camera than before.


This was from the official CBS message board. I put this in just to illustrate the general hatred being expressed out there (although one could also point out that the writers aren’t actually responsible for shooting setups…). It gets pretty brutal…but on the other hand, you also get these:
” I was completely shocked to find that I actually enjoyed the changes quite a bit.  It felt so natural, and real. There are glitches that need to be worked out, with angles, lighting, and too many close-ups, but over all, I really think it’s pretty cutting edge. It’s like nothing else out there, and being such a huge fan, I am definitely willing to give it a try.”
I’m pretty sure As The World Turns will be going the way of Guiding Light soon enough. For a start, it doesn’t make economic sense for P&G to be running two different studio setups for very similar shows. We’ve already seen As The World Turns moving to outdoor and location shooting, as Guiding Light has done before their big move. Only time can tell, but I’d urge anyone vaguely interested in soaps to take a look at Friday’s Guiding Light.


21 Responses to “The New Guiding Light”

  1. fourfourteenam said

    I don’t know if you’re familiar with MTV shows like “The Hills” and “Laguna Beach” but those are shot in what is supposed to be reality tv format. Whether or not they are truly reality shows are up for debate, but it’s well shot and pretty soap-like. I guess it’s the new generation of soaps for teenagers today. AND since it’s “reality” tv… they haven’t really been hindered by the writer strikes.

  2. ernestalba said

    Soaps are not reality TV. If the stories were to become more like reality TV (as defined by shows like “The Real World,” “Big Brother,” and the various MTV and VH1 offerings), soaps would lose much of their audience.

    The question for me then becomes, is this new technique helpful in creating the “soap opera” atmosphere? For me, it doesn’t do it. As Nick points out, there are several things wrong with the implementation of the style, things like angle, lighting, and distance from subjects, but the style itself is in error. What defines this style is a complete removal of the camera from the static fourth dimension and into the world it captures. We now get the feeling that we are on the ground as part of the action. We are one of the characters. This works well for narratives in which the idea is to make us equals to the characters. Blair Witch is seminal for this. More recently, war movies like “The Kingdom” and “Saving Private Ryan” and action movies like “The Bourne Ultimatum” use this technique to make the action very vivid and realistic.

    But soap operas fans do not want to be “part of the action.” They want to see the action (the drama) unfold before them, not with them. Soap fans are sort of stewards for the story. They operate behind the scenes. They don’t want to be one of the characters; they want to be omniscient. Expanding the scenery is fine. But changing the style of direction to this shaky, gritty style is not alright. Someone needs to find a damn tripod or camera dolly pronto.

  3. samford said

    Nick, I’m glad you started this thread, and perhaps we’ll watch a few excerpts from Guiding LIght in upcoming classes. The discussion has been that ATWT will be next to inherit the style. In part, I know that the reason this style is being experimented with on GL first is that apparently part of it was conceived by the EP there, but I also wonder if they chose to experiment with their lower-rated show because it is seen as the more desperate of the two programs to make budget cuts and turn business around. That way, if the reaction is particularly terrible, the higher-rated show won’t have the damage done to it.

    I’ve seen much of the same reaction in terms of part of what you express, Nick, and what Ernest points out in particular, that the visual style does not offer what soaps should do. My question, then, is do you feel the closed sets and digital cameras can still work if the camerawork itself is altered?

  4. ernestalba said

    Right, it’s too soon to chuck the whole thing. At least in the opening credits I kind of got the feel that they could make the settings work. The digital cameras…they need to be operated differently, and I get the feeling that they need to be higher quality. If only they could use those $100k cameras George Lucas used for SW Episode III.

  5. fourfourteenam said

    Ernest, I do believe that traditional reality television is quite different from the the soap opera format, with competitions for money or for love, but I think that there’s always evolution of any type of media. I believe the new “breed” of reality shows are pretty soap-like because if you’re following the same group of glamourous characters through all of the difficulties they’re going through… all of their disputes, break-ups, etc. for several seasons, you form the same sort of attachment to the characters as soap characters. While the thoughts aren’t so very apparent, like they don’t “think out loud” the creators do use considerable efforts to stage opportunities displaying the characters inner thoughts like setting up fights and heart to heart discussions etc. Also the way it is shot is very soap-like, there are no gritty poorly shot clips like there are in other reality shows.

    So while they forgo some of the outlandish plot lines like amnesia and crazy serial killers running around the place because it is “reality,” there is an interesting blend and captures a portion of the audience that would otherwise or enjoy soaps. And the BEST or worse part, depending on your point of view is that these characters actually exist… so they actually live their lives off screen. And you can follow their lives through the gossip rags and internet blogs. Knowing how soap fans are so very attached to the characters and treat them almost as real… it wouldn’t be a very far leap to say that being able to follow their favorite characters off-screen would be a wet dream for any soap opera fanatic.

  6. ernestalba said

    Also, there is a sort of restless urgency that accompanies handheld camera motion that doesn’t work with the story lines of soap operas. There is little sense of urgency in soaps, it’s all about patiently analyzing all corners of a situation and discussing everyone’s take on it before moving on. With handheld camera motion there is an impatience to move on without dawdling for too long. The two are completely antithetical.

  7. lliccardo said

    ernest, your descriptions of the hand-held camera as impatient, urgent and antithetical to what soaps are spot on. soap have always been about intimacy. you’re supposed to feel as though you’re peeking through the windows and evesdropping on the lives of the characters, not barging through the doors with a camera.

  8. lliccardo said

    posted before i saw today’s schillfest of product placement and mentions. looking forward to sam’s thoughts.

  9. Nick S. said

    Yeah, it’s the active presence of the camera-man that feels like the problem for me…we’re meant to be observers, but when I was watching Friday’s episode I could feel actors working *around* the camera.

  10. samford said

    Good points here, Nick, and I think your analysis is very perceptive, Ernest, regarding the camera work. Re: Katharine’s comment, I just wanted to add that the question is really whether reality shows are picking up audiences that soaps would otherwise have or whether soaps are not providing a certain kind of drama and thus those viewers are watching reality shows instead. That’s a subtle distinction, but it’s one that’s important. I guess what I’m asking is, if soaps were providing the type of interpersonal conflict that does feel somewhat more “real life” on a more regular basis, would those viewers be watching that more than a reality show?

    Lynn, I haven’t seen the “schillfest.” If it’s GL you are referring to, I didn’t set it to record today.

  11. lliccardo said

    it was monday; here’s a brief recap (i deleted the recording and can’t remember all the specific items mentioned and shown):

    open on harley’s house (where the drywall remains unpainted after two years). daisy is helping her mother clean — table cluttered with a full compliment of p&g products.

    gus brings olvia an ipod filled with podcasts of her favorite shows, including one of gus’s favorites, a cbs show the name of which escapes me.

    jonathan is running aways with his toddler daughter, sarah, but first calls his mother, reva, and asks her to pick up a few supplies for the road: pampers and several other p&g baby products.

    natalia works as a housekeeper in a hotel and is cleaning in the health club with method all purpose cleaner from target (pink grapefruit scent). this one i recoginize because i use it too. try to figure out another brand got past p&g; consider the possibility that p&g owns a piece of target.

    seems a bit much for a single episode, yes?

  12. BOB said


  13. Giada said

    I was only able to watch the very first episode with GL new look, and I had a mixed response. I liked that it was new, exciting, vibrant and true-to life: the offices, the kitchen, houses… they always rang true, even when generic. I was actually moved to see a REAL lighthouse. That was powerful. It WAS different, and, as many of you pointed out, reality-like. Better yet, like reality. A real reality compared to the “fake reality” of reality TV shows. What it did for me, as a contrast, was to make me see more the “theatrical” apparatus of the other soaps, their intellectual staging I love so much. I was expecting something more in line with “The City”, whose look I liked, but it felt different.

    I haven’t watched GL regularly for a long time, so I wasn’t familiar with half of the characters. For this reason to me some of the stories were clear (Reva – Josh; Jonathan), others looked rushed and murkier. As a “new start” I thought they should have gone a bit more slowly storyline-wise. The final montage to music had me lost and it looked like a final good-bye. I know I (and TV viewers as a rule, all the more daytime viewers probably) are hostile to change. I believe we all need to get a little time to get used to the changes. I imagine that the repeated use of certain locations will make them familiar, enhancing the sense of connection we feel missing. Also making them specific, not generic will help. In the end, I got the impression that a more realistic look may work to the advantage of the storyline and dialogue in the sense that they may be perceived also as more realistic, even when perhaps they are not.

    What I didn’t like was lighting, as many of you pointed out. Some say good lighting is key to the success of a show. At times there was too much sun and the general look was wrong. I, too, was disturbed by too many close-ups. Since I’ve not watched the show in quite some time I don’t know whether it was consistent with its style as of late or weather it was an attempt to recuperate that intimacy that the outside ambiance did not allowed. Extreme close-ups were out of place. The two things I thought right away were: 1. I really miss a kitchen and a table around witch to talk and 2. how are they going to do love scenes? They will feel so exposed. How will they find intimacy? That is key to me. I was not put off by the camera work, not at all. I believe though that it needs to find new way to create intimacy. Perhaps abandoning the traditional approach to a greater extent.

    Also, as much as there was so much outer space, when they were inside I felt a little claustrophobic. I was worried about ensemble scenes and how they will be able to pull them off. They were all tight and pressed. That was bad because it made me feel uncomfortable. We embrace characters and we need to feel “safe” around them, we need t feel there’s space for us too. Feeling like they have no space inside is death. Inside is being inside their lives, is protection, is intimacy. I think they should shot scenes like there’s an invisible ulterior character there: us.
    I was impressed by how the acting of everybody was up to the challenge, though.

    Well, as I said, I only watched February 29th ep so far.

  14. samford said

    So this seems to be the fundamental question or difference, then. Should the viewer be framed as an omnipresent force, who gets to see the action and emotions of characters from all perspectives? Or should we be a subjective part of the scenery, darting between and amongst the characters? Giada says: “Inside is being inside their lives, is protection, is intimacy. I think they should shot scenes like there’s an invisible ulterior character there: us.” Yet Ernest says: “But soap operas fans do not want to be “part of the action.” They want to see the action (the drama) unfold before them, not with them. Soap fans are sort of stewards for the story. They operate behind the scenes. They don’t want to be one of the characters; they want to be omniscient.”

  15. Giada said

    I disagree with myself. ;o) I explain myself better. I don’t think the soap viewer wants to be another character. They want to be invisible and omniscient: I agree with that. They want to BE THERE, and be invisible. I suggested us as a character in a very physical way, as a shooting technique for GL. I felt the new look of the show presses the characters too much, physically. I felt constricted in suffocating places. Having an ideal other character there, when shooting, would force them to make the scene breath more.

  16. Potassium said

    I contend, GL and in part ATWT is looking toward the future. I think the extreme close ups and tight shots are going to play better on smaller screens/mobile devices. Ultimately if soap operas can get their programing into the hands of all those soccer moms waiting for soccer practice to finish they will reclaim their market.

  17. Nick S. said

    I hadn’t considered that Potassium, and I think it’s a good point. I’ve been wondering why GL didn’t switch from 4:3 to 16:9 widescreen when they switched – there’s no technical reason they couldn’t with the new cameras – but perhaps a desire to see the program pushed more to mobile content is preventing it.

  18. Mo said

    Before the “format” change and the new direction for GL, I was an on-again/off-again viewer. I’ve been watching soaps for more than 25 years, and I think this is a bold move for a daytime pillar like GL. And, I think it’s working.
    I now watch every day. I think the dialog is snappier and more realistic, and the plot seems to move faster. It differentiates itself from other daytime dramas, which I think is a good thing. Y&R have the old stalwart plodding drama down to a T, and no one can beat them at the game – so I think GL going off into a new direction is a good one.
    Do I like 100% of everything about the ‘new’ GL? No – sometimes the action jumps all over the place and continuity and sound can be improved. However, I’m sure the production staff is learning as they go – and I for one will stick with them for the adventure.

  19. samford said

    Hey Mo, you make some good points about differentiation, and I do think this is a trial by fire for the GL team. It seems to be much more the camera work than anything else that people are objecting to; certainly, the proliferation of sets can be a great thing. Tweaking lighting and camerawork can take place as the team goes along…

  20. […] expand a bit more on the idea of close-up shots and feelings. I followed some of the discussion in Nick’s blog post about the new format on Guiding Light, especially with the issue of the frequency in close-up shots […]

  21. Cameron said

    I like the new technique. I could make it better if they would hire me.

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