Guiding Light was a Soap Opera that began on NBC radio on the 25th of January 1937, moved to CBS radio in 1947, then to television in 1952. Originally titled The Guiding Light, it was shortened to Guiding Light in 1975. The show ended on the 18th of September 2009 — after 18,262 episodes.
The single most important thing about Guiding Light is this: it may be the longest recorded continuous narrative in the entire history of mankind. If you wanted to experience the entire show from beginning to end, and you could do so on a 24-hours-a-day schedule with no breaks, you would need around eighteen months to get through it all. The show was created by Irna Phillips, the acknowledged inventor of the entire Soap Opera genre (having previously created the Ur-Example soap Painted Dreams on Chicago radio in 1930, then the pioneering network soap Today's Children in 1933).
With all that said, you may be curious as to what the show is about. Recapping that is not going to be an easy task, but damned if we won't try.
Inspired by Phillips' nights listening to a radio preacher, The Guiding Light 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 1950s (and the transition to television) saw the families move to the Los Angeles area, where the focus shifted to the Bauers, 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 1960s 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 returned to the midwest, with "Los Angeles" retconned into "Springfield, U.S.A" — your standard, all-purpose midwest locale (which should be familiar to anyone who has watched American soaps). Nothing so earth-shattering occurred over the course of the 1970s, apart from the show's patriarch, Bill Bauer, being very thoroughly killed off and then mysteriously resurrected. The 1980s 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 1990s.
Like most soap operas during that period, the storylines got a bit more tangled and outrageous, though nothing anywhere near the realm of Days of Our Lives' cloak-and-dagger intrigue or General Hospital's action-adventure shenanigans. About the craziest thing to happen on Guiding Light 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 a murder that happened 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 outcry and the outright revolt of one actor, the show eventually did come back to earth, if just so it could tidy everything up with a bow for the Grand Finale.
Since Guiding Light was a daytime Soap Opera, not all of the material that makes up the exhaustive narrative is known to exist. Not much survived from either the radio years or the first 25 years or so of the TV series; what does exist is in the form of kinescopes, home video recordings, and (in the case of the radio years) vinyls.
For a far more detailed look at the entire run of the series, the Other Wiki has you covered.
Guiding Light includes the following tropes:
- Artifact Title: The title referred to a lamp in the preacher's study. Over time, that plot point was dropped, but the title remained. The title was later retooled to reference the town's lighthouse, which was also featured as part of the Credits Montage for many years and became a plot point in a number of episodes.
- The Baby Trap: Desperate to hang onto husband Josh, Annie slashed her diaphragm, only for it to backfire on her—Josh had told her he wanted to wait to have kids and her deception was the last straw. She miscarried and framed his ex Reva for manslaughter by making it look like she'd pushed her down the stairs.
- Becoming the Mask: In 1992, Blake began to seduce Ross to get revenge against her mother Holly. 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.
- Big Bad: Many over the years, but the most enduring (while not completely evil) are Alan Spaulding and Roger Thorpe.
- Birth-Death Juxtaposition: Subverted. As Harley gives birth to hers and Philip's son, he's informed that his father is having a heart attack. Philip grabs his newborn baby and rushes to his father's hospital room, begging him to wake up and meet his new grandson. It works.
- The Cameo: Rudy Giuliani appeared as himself, while he was still mayor. (The show was filmed in New York.)
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Claire Ramsey and Vicky Spaulding both inexplicably disappeared after some time.
- Climbing Climax: Brent kidnaps Lucy and imprisons her in the lighthouse. Alan-Michael finds them and the three engage in a knock-down, drag-out fight on the platform.
- 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.
- Creepy Crossdresser: Brent Lawrence fakes his death after raping Everyone's Baby Sister Lucy Cooper and returns to town in disguise as Marion Crane in order to continue stalking her.
- Crossover: Michael Baldwin of The Young and the Restless made a brief appearance, indicating that the two shows are in the same universe.
- 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 remake of The Omen (2006) 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.
- Fan Disservice: After being humiliated by Josh in front of pretty much the entirety of Springfield, Reva's sarcastic Strip-Tease during her "Slut of Springfield" rant, as she has a breakdown, reflecting how she's only seen for her beauty and sex-appeal, which leads to praise and derision, particularly from Josh, and not as a person with a soul, ending up a sobbing mess.Reva: Come on Joshua! Isn't this fun! You look at me like I'm naked all the time. (crying) Like I don't have a heart, or a brain. All your dirty mind sees is my body! (sobbing then dropping her negligee) Well here it is Joshua. Take a look, you take a good, long, look!
- Good Girl Gone Bad: Annie went from practically spotless to Yandere in her desperate attempts to hang on to Josh, then seek revenge on him and Reva.
- 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, plus Josh & Reva's 26-year Will They or Won't They? saga finally ending on a good note.
- Jerkass Has a Point: While being forced to admit that she framed Reva for killing her baby, Annie truthfully points out that she was the one who brought Josh out of the Heroic BSoD he had been in for years since Reva's "death", and the thanks she got was to be relentlessly jerked around and eventually dumped—while pregnant, no less—as soon as Reva came back from the dead. Is it any wonder that she snapped and sought to get revenge on them?
- Shortly after that, she trashes their beloved family cabin, repeatedly screaming, "You never gave us a chance!" Despite being completely off the deep end by this point, she's absolutely right.
- Large Ham: Kim Zimmer as Reva Shayne, and never more so than in one of the show's most famous scenes.Reva: I BAPTIZE MYSELF THE SLUT OF SPRINGFIELD!
- Laser-Guided Karma: After miscarrying and losing her final chance to hang on to Josh, Annie keeps the dead fetus in her womb and then makes it seem like Reva pushed her down the stairs so that it appears that this is when she lost the baby. After the whole scheme is discovered, she has to have a hysterectomy due to an infection that resulted from her actions (Truth in Television, btw). An especially cruel version, as even Reva, who hated her at this point, felt sorry for the fact that she would never be able to have children, the one thing she consistently desired throughout her time on the show.
- 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.
- Marital Rape License: Roger to wives Rita and Holly. Rita kept it secret, but came forward at Roger's trial for raping Holly.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: Alan-Michael and Lucy consummate their relationship to the Adagio sostenuto portion of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Less cultured viewers might think they're making love to an instrumental version of Eric Carmen's "All By Myself", not knowing that the song is based on the classical piece.
- Rape and Revenge: Holly shot Roger in the chest three times after he raped her.
- Retool: The series most drastic occurred on 2/28/08. Moving production to Peapack, New Jersey, having interior shots inside actual buildings, and utilizing hand held cameras, as well as using a Real Song Theme Tune, "Only Love" by Kati Mac.
- 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. A glaring example had four male characters discussing something horrible they'd done 25 years prior. Problem is, one of the men wasn't even in the cast 25 years prior, and viewers who'd been watching the show back then immediately said that no such horrible incident had occurred at that time.
- Shout-Out: After Brent faked his death to escape prosecution for raping Lucy, he returned to town disguised as a woman named Marion Crane. Furthermore, as the story progressed, he was frequently haunted by the voice of his abusive mother—whose treatment of him turned him into such a misogynist—and by the time it ended, the alternate female personality had completely taken over.
- 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 Organ Score: The Trope Maker. Other radio plays and silent films had used Wurlitzer-type organs before, but The Guiding Light established them as a hallmark of soap operas specifically. In this show the organ music was originally diegetic, meant to be the music played in Reverend Ruthledge's church, but it proved handy in providing transitions between scenes.
- 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: Was eventually converted into a TV show after several years on the radio.
- 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.
- 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.