I wrote this article last week and posted it to the Big Purple Dreams fan forum, but I thought I should get round to posting it here as well. If anyone wants to link to it, go right ahead – just let me know where it’s being linked to. Also, I mention in the article the number of members on the BPD. Since writing this a week ago, the number of members has increased to 3592.
The Little Light That Could
J. Lynn Stapleton
For fans of Guiding Light, April 1st, 2009 couldn’t have come at worse time as the CBS network cancelled the 72- year old serial drama. Worse time because the show has been hitting its stride for months now with compelling storylines all around. The show, which had originally started off as a 15-minute radio broadcast on NBC radio in 1937, changed formats as it moved on to CBS television in January 1952, where it will remain until it’s last CBS airdate on September 18, 2009.
More than a year ago, in an effort to reduce the budget costs for the serial, the production team went with a new production model, which involved a hand-held camera system, rather than the traditional three-camera format for other daytime serials. They reduced the number of lavish sets and began filming more outdoor footage. It was a bold move, and one that took some getting used to for the actors, crew and the audience. Ultimately, it was a move that is paying off tremendously, with a more intimate feel to the show.
CBS’s reasoning behind the cancellation is the continued low ratings. Though CBS airs Guiding Light, the show is actually a production of Telenext Media, the media arm of Proctor and Gamble. Guiding Light, as with all television falls under the purview of an antiquated Nielson Ratings system, a limited audience measurement system, which involves self-monitoring of who’s watching what and when. And though Neilson has begun to pick up digital recording of programs as part of its ratings scheme, such as that of TiVo, it only recognizes and counts the viewing in a 24hour period after the televised airing. To make a comparison, based on the Nielson ratings, Guiding Light has been averaging 1.6-1.7 per 114,500,000 households, whereas the top rated daytime serial, Young & Restless garners a 3.8 rating.
What CBS has seemingly failed to recognize is that the current system fails to register other forms of new media and international viewing audiences. It is because of this that a large portion of the fan base of Guiding Light is being under-represented and not counted. Speaking as a Canadian viewer of Guiding Light, our viewing either via CBS feeds from the United States, or via some Global television markets here in Canada, does not count towards the viewer ship numbers.
However, despite all this, an increasingly growing community has developed online. It is called the Big Purple Dreams, the Otalia fan forum, which evolved from a growing desire to discuss a particular aspect of the show and which focused on a relationship between Olivia Spencer (portrayed by Crystal Chappell) and Natalia Rivera (Jessica Leccia). The Big Purple Dreams fan forum was borne of an idea by April Grant (who goes by the online name, Destini) along with some other supportive fans, to find a place to discuss the growing relationship onscreen. The board, which had opened in January 11, 2009, had a few members, as well as a channel on YouTube for video clips for people to watch and share. After an initial promotion on the AfterEllen.com in January, following a particular aspect of the relationship, membership on the board began to increase. Roger Newcomb, editor of the We Love Soaps blog reported that the fan forum had as of April 21st, reached 3000 members. On Michael Fairman’s blog, ‘On Air On Soaps’, April Grant spoke about the increase in the forum membership, “To put it in perspective, we had only 1900 members on the day Guiding Light was cancelled. We have added an astounding 1100 members in three weeks. I am more moved than I can tell you and actually had tears in my eyes as I approved the 3000th member.”
People from all over the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, Australia, South America, Canada, as well as across the United States have banded together over this show and this Otalia pairing. It is hopeful amongst the members of the fan forum that this international audience will be beneficial to Telenext and Proctor and Gamble in its bid to find a new home for this long-running drama.
Once the initial shock of the cancellation news from CBS had worn down, members of the Big Purple Dreams fan forum gathered their efforts to collect resources and contacts at Telenext, Proctor and Gamble, as well as the executives at Guiding Light. A ‘Save Guiding Light campaign’ was established. Support was being sent out left, right and centre as the campaign got underway. An online petition was started to save the show, and the signatures currently number over 13,000. There have been large writing efforts being made in the form of short letters and postcards to Telenext, Proctor and Gamble, Guiding Light executives, and potential homes for the show.
There’s a domestic part of the campaign focused on the part of US viewers, and a second segment focused from an international perspective to let Telenext/Proctor and Gamble know that they support the show and the efforts to both find a home for the show, and to make them aware there is a market for the international audience. To borrow an apt phrase from the film, A Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” There is an audience already out there that will readily support the show, if it moves to a cable network, DirecTV, or some other format, such as online media. There is some precedence. When NBC cancelled one of their serial dramas, Passions, in 2007, it briefly went to an exclusive DirecTV channel for a year, before being ultimately cancelled in August of 2008. With the ever increasing number of cable channels springing up worldwide in the past few years, there is much more hope now than there was if this cancellation had happened several years ago.
Why would fans come out to support this show in such an overwhelmingly positive fashion? There are a few reasons.
Back in January 2008, a storyline on Guiding Light was developed and has been playing out organically onscreen. Ellen Wheeler, the show’s Executive Producer and Jill Lorie Hurst, the Head-Writer for this storyline met with the actresses involved and they began to capitalize on the actresses on-screen chemistry to build a relationship between the two women. A relationship that was initially borne of a dislike/distrust and has grown into friendship, family and love. Like any daytime television serial, there have been struggles along the way for the characters, which have paved the way for one of the best super-couples to emerge. That Ellen Wheeler and Guiding Light have managed to create a wonderful love story between two women, and have done so without labelling it as a ‘lesbian’ storyline speaks to the true nature of love. The development of the storyline has been slowly built, without the necessity of labels to allow the audience to become invested in the characters and their growth through friendship and into a loving relationship. Because the producers and writers have refused to put labels on the storyline, it has not been salaciously over-publicized in the general media, such as what happened with All My Children’s Bianca storylines – her initial coming-out story years ago, to the most recent debacle of the first (North American) televised lesbian wedding in a serialised drama, which received a lot of publicity from media outlets.
The Guiding Light characters, Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera had become friends, and due to circumstances of Olivia’s health and Natalia’s finances initially moved in together. Olivia needed someone to look after her health post cardiac surgery and to care for her eight-year old daughter, and Natalia needed help financially to afford her new house. The two women complement each other; while Olivia is more fiery tempered, Natalia is more relaxed, and nurturing. The storyline has been so careful to show the small family moments, the folding of laundry, helping Olivia’s daughter with homework, preparing for their workday, that it was so gradual and unexpected they had somewhere along the way, fallen in love with each other. It wasn’t until Emma, Olivia’s daughter, had to do a school project and presentation on her family, that it moved the relationship further. As told through a young child’s eyes on how she viewed her home situation, the audience got to see Olivia and Natalia’s relationship as it was, as something completely normal that made her (Emma) a happy child. Though Olivia and Natalia hadn’t perceived it as such at the time, Olivia started on path of examining her feelings for Natalia. She’d brought it up to Natalia about how others perceived them, including giving Natalia a surprise kiss to prove a point. It’s taken months, but they’ve finally gotten to the point where they’ve admitted they’re in love with each other – to each other, though not without a lot of angst.
This storyline touches on family, relationships, and religion, and has done so with honesty, integrity and true commitment from all involved. Because of this, many of the board’s members identify with many aspects of the storyline. The fan forum members cross the spectrum of all ages, ethnic, religious, sexual orientations, gender. Each person has their own reasons for loving both the storyline and the overall show. For some, it’s a generational experience, as they had grown up watching the show with a parent and/or grandparent, while others are new viewers to Guiding Light. Many, like myself, were brought into the show because of the Otalia storyline, but then became interested in the show as a whole entity.
As a tribute to the show, and a fun way to address the cancellation of the show, one of the Big Purple Dreams members, cajun, created a fan video: Guiding Light – Only Love.
There are many things the fans are doing for the ‘Save Guiding Light Campaign’. The Big Purple Dreams forum’s thread
Bendix, Trish, (January 23, 2009), Best Lesbian Week Ever
Fairman, Michael, (April 21, 2009), “Power to the Purple People – fan board hits milestone!”. On Air On Soaps.
Guiding Light Petition (13,000 + signiatures) – Guiding Light Petition
Newcomb, Roger, (April 21st, 2009). “Another Big Purple Milestone”, We Love Soaps, –