Every soap opera tells at least one good murder story a year. Next week, the soap “Guiding Light” is the victim. There are several killers.
In today’s’New York Times, executive producer Ellen Wheeler says some comical things about how she has presided over the show’s death. But the truth is, as with Michael Jackson, the last person in the room is the prime suspect. Even though other doctors came and went, all giving Michael dangerous prescriptions, the police are investigating Dr. Conrad Murray.
Plenty of bad executive producers lorded over “Guiding Light” before Ellen Wheeler got there. Their names were Michael Laibson, Paul Rauch, and Jill Farren Phelps. They killed off popular characters, ordered ridiculous stories, and, in particular, went so far to clone the show’s main character. Yes, that’s right, human cloning, And no one at Procter & Gamble, which owns the show, had the good sense to stop them.
Lots of’other bad things happened, too. The popular actor on the show, Michael Zaslow, became ill with ALS. Rather than embrace and honor him, the show kicked him to the curb. It was miserable.
But Ellen Wheeler is the culprit in the final murder. A year and a half ago, not long after she took over the dying program, she threw out the sets, the video editors and the breakdown writers. The show was suddenly being filmed with shaky handheld cameras. The sound was terrible. There were no production values. The sets were “found” buildings in Peapack, N.J. They were ugly, awful. The people of Peapack should have sued. Their town could not have looked worse on television.
It was clear that under Wheeler, there was no rehearsal, and no respect for the actors, forget the fans. The ratings simply tanked. Wheeler did nothing to correct the situation. She just made it worse, adding loud rock music to scenes. It was impossible to hear the dialogue. It was equally difficult to watch scenes — you thought the camera operators had Parkinson’s Disease.
Procter & Gamble used to produce several soaps under the name Procter & Gamble Productions. When “Guiding Light” is done, they will be down to one: “As the World Turns.” The company changed the name of its production company to TeleNext to distance its big brands (Crest, Pampers and half the stuff in grocery stores) from the anger of soap fans. There’s a theory that P&G has been trying to get out of soap production for the past 10 years, since they canceled “Another World.” P&G is a monolith. They don’t comment on anything. But “World Turns” is definitely in their sights now.
As for Wheeler, her comments in today’s Times show that she is simply clueless, or deluded. She says, fans communicated to her that they liked the new format. This is highly unlikely, unless they were related to her. “Guiding Light,” is dead, and she killed it. If P&G/TeleNext lets her near “World Turns.” we won’t need Agatha Christie to figure out what happens next.