Series: Guiding Light

Soap Opera that began on NBC radio on January 25, 1937. It moved to CBS radio in 1947, then to television in 1952. Originally The Guiding Light, it was shortened to Guiding Light in 1975. In April 2009, it was announced that it would end its run in September 2009 and the show indeed ended on September 18, 2009 as scheduled — after a mind-boggling 18,262 episodes.

The single most important thing about Guiding Light is this: It may be the longest recorded narrative in the entire history of mankind. It has produced a total of about 18 continuous months' worth of narrative material (both audio and video). That is, if you listened to/watched the show, from the beginning, 24 hours a day, it would take nearly a year and a half to get through it all; for comparison, if The Simpsons wanted to break this record, it would still have to be producing new episodes in 2062. (The British soap Coronation Street pronounces itself the world's longest-lasting soap on each of its major anniversaries, but it isn't even Britain's longest-lasting soap - that honour belongs to The Archers - although it is the longest-lasting TV soap still in production... however, with just over 7000 episodes produced it has quite a way to go.)

With all that said, you may be curious as to what the show's about. That isn't going to be so easy. Inspired by creator Irna Phillips' nights listening to a radio preacher, it began as a character study of Chicago-based Reverend John Ruthledge and his foil, the pessimistic Ellis Smith. Succeeding preachers, all with the Ruthledge name, have carried on the work of their progenitor. The 50s saw the families move to the L.A. area, where focus shifted to the Bauers (no relation to Jack), a clan of German immigrants who believed staunchly in the American dream. Filling in for cranky Ellis Smith is Bertha "Bert" Miller, a materialistic harridan who opposes the Bauers' work ethic at every turn. The Bauer family would eventually become the tentpoles of the series from here on out.

The 60s brought forth a couple of minority actors (including a pre-fame Billy Dee Williams) and a host of contemporary issues. Without any fanfare, the show was teleported back the midwest, with "Los Angeles" retconned into "Springfield, U.S.A"— your standard, all-purpose midwest locale (which should be familiar to anyone who's watched American soaps). Nothing so earth-shattering occurred over the course of the 70s, apart from the show's patriarch, Bill Bauer, being very thoroughly killed off and then mysteriously resurrected. The eighties were... more tumultuous (complete with a disco intro sequence....in 1981): The aging Bauer clan and the working-class Reardons took a backseat to a younger, hornier cast, though they would make a comeback in the 90's.

Like most soaps during that period, the storylines got a bit more tangled and outrageous, though nothing anywhere near the realm of Days' cloak-and-dagger intrigue—at least not yet (about the craziest thing to happen on GL was a multiple-personality diagnosis). The last years of the show's life were rocky, despite an extensive retool and modernization of the Springfield sets. Four of the veteran players, including the oldest living Bauer (Dr. Ed Bauer), were retconned into accessories to murder way back into the 1970s, when they were still straight-laced young men. The new millennium was now upon us, along with rapes, mobsters, psychics, and ghosts galore. Despite fan discontentment and the outright revolt of one actor, the show eventually did come back to earth and tidy everything up with a bow.

However, this being a daytime Soap Opera, not all of this narrative material is known to exist. Not much survives from the radio years, or the first 25 years or so of its TV incarnation, and what does exist is in the form of kinescopes and home video recordings (and vinyls, in the case of the radio years).

For a more detailed look at the show's run, the Other Wiki has you covered.

This show provides examples of:

  • Archive Panic: We repeat: it is the longest running narrative in human history.
  • Artifact Title: The title referred to a lamp in the preacher's study during the radio years. Over time that plot point was dropped, but the title remained.
    • The title later was retooled, however, to reference the town's lighthouse, which also was featured as part of the Credits Montage for many years (and became a plot point in a number of episodes).
  • Becoming the Mask: In the early 90s Blake began to seduce Ross to get revenge against her mother. However she found herself falling in love and eventually they wed.
  • Betty and Veronica: Some examples include Josh as the Archie, with Reva and Annie, and later Olivia filling the roles of Betty and Veronica.
    • Many examples, some of the most famous include Holly as Archie, Ed as Betty and Roger as Veronica.
  • The Cameo: Rudy Giuliani appeared as himself, while he was still mayor. (The show was filmed in New York.)
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Claire Ramsey, Vicky Spaulding are both examples.
  • Cloning Blues: The only American soap to ever use a cloning storyline, complete with a serum to make her older. She died...horribly...and was never mentioned again, by anyone.
  • Chronic Villainy: Reva had her moments.
  • A Day In The Lime Light: In later years, Wednesdays became "Character Days" where the episode focused around one character instead of standard soap rotation.
  • Deadly Distant Finale. The last few scenes of the show take place exactly a year after the rest of the episode: showing everyone's Happily Ever After. Except Edmund and Jeffrey, who are locked in a Stern Chase with No Ending.
  • Enfant Terrible: Cassie's youngest son, Will. He was deliberately cast with Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, the child actor who played Damien in The Omen remake for this purpose.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Philip is led to believe his biological parents are Alan and Elizabeth Spaulding. In actuality, they are Justin and Jackie Marler, his former step-parents. He finds out via Bradley, his girlfriend Beth's abusive stepfather.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Many during the run, but a particular example is Alan Spaulding. Considered the Big Bad for a bulk of the last two or so decades of the series, towards the home stretch, he seemed to soften, especially after having an operation to save Philip's life. Sadly, in the third to last episode, Philip would find Alan on a park bench, Redemption Equals Death having come into play via a heart attack.
  • Happily Ever After: The Finale does this with some last second romantic entanglements.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Selena Davis
  • Large Ham: Kim Zimmer as Reva Shayne, and never more so than in one of the show's most famous scenes.
  • Les Yay: Olivia & Natalia; started out fighting over Natalia's ex Gus, who ended up dying in a car wreck around the same time Olivia had a heart attack. Put Gus's heart in Olivia's chest, add Natalia's determination to keep a near-suicidal Olivia alive (she wanted to die so as to spite her) so in a way she could keep Gus alive, mix in an undercurrent of respect, let it blossom and you wind up with what many consider to be one of the best same-sex romances of all time.
    • However, with the exception of one instance prior to their relationship where Olivia kissed Natalia to prove a point, CBS would not allow any true on screen kiss between the two, causing accusations of homophobia towards the network.
  • Lighthouse Point: Springfield has a lighthouse that features in the opening credits at various times throughout the years, is important in a number of episodes (including at least one milestone episode), and is what the show's name was retconned into referring to. Why it has one when the real Springfield, Illinois is nowhere near a large body of water (save the man-made Lake Springfield) is a riddle for the ages (is there an ocean of Illinois to go with the mountains?), although it may be that the fictional Springfield is meant to be a suburb of Chicago and is thus on the shore of Lake Michigan.
  • Long Runner: Nearly Seventy-three years! As we keep mentioning, it's the longest running narrative in human history.
  • Love Dodecahedron
  • May-December Romance: Alan and Hope, HB and Reva, Roger and Dinah, Ross and Blake, Matt and Vanessa
  • Put on a Bus: Rita Stapleton.
  • Rape and Revenge: Holly shot Roger in the chest three times after he raped her.
  • Series Continuity Error: Inevitable. The series ran for four full human generations of writers; no one man could ever keep decades of literally ceaseless continuity straight (the show existed before archiving was easy) and there were mistakes at times.
    • Could sometimes branch into They Just Didn't Care, as the show once gave Alan Michael flashbacks of his childhood in the Spaulding mansion, - even though he was introduced as an eighteen-year-old man crashing a party to introduce himself to Alan.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Mild-mannered, dutiful Josh and his rowdy good ol' boy older brother Billy.
  • Soap Opera: To this day, the copyrights and trademarks to the show's characters are still owned by Proctor & Gamble
  • Soap Opera Disease
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome:
    • To ridiculous extents. One character was SORASed so she was twelve years older than her older brother.
    • Phillip Spaulding is an infamous example, he went from twelve years old to about seventeen years in a matter of months.
  • Sound to Screen Adaptation
  • The Three Certainties in Life:
    Lizzie Spaulding: Love isn't a sure thing. Granddad, on the other hand, is right up there with death and taxes.
  • Toilet Seat Divorce: Many have taken place in Springfield, but Josh and Reva are notable for doing this a lot.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The show is actually set in a town named Springfield. It was originally of this trope, but then decided it was Springfield, Illinois.
  • Wicked Cultured: Roger Thorpe.

Alternative Title(s):

The Guiding Light