1937-2009: Saying Goodbye to Guiding Light

Actors, Writer and Producer Celebrate the Long Life of Broadcasting's Oldest Drama

CBS All Access
This video is available on Paramount+

This story was originally published on Sept. 13, 2009. It was updated on July 18, 2010.

Sadly for some, one more bit of Americana has joined the endangered species list: the soap opera. Last year, CBS canceled "Guiding Light," the longest running soap in broadcast history. This September, "As The World Turns" will spin no more.

For over half a century, the shows served up an endless menu of torrid love affairs, heartbreak, infidelities by the score, double crosses, kidnaps, suicides, sin, sex and salvation.

As we reported in September, Guiding Light - the oldest of the two - was done in by that all too familiar villain: low ratings.

It's a bittersweet time, these last days, as hardcore fans and the show's entire staff turned up for the taping of the final scenes.

Guiding Light has always been a loving reflection of America's morals, manners and marital mayhem, where actress Tina Sloan and many others have worked together for over a quarter century.

Asked if they were surprised when the show was canceled, Sloan told correspondent Morley Safer, "The pink slips stunned us, all of us. Even though we were on life support and we knew we were on life support we just couldn't imagine anyone would pull the plug on their watch on a show that's been so historic."

More about Guiding Light:
Photo Gallery: Guiding Light Signs Off
Meet Irna Phillips, the Mother of Daytime Drama

It started on radio in 1937, and made the transition to television in 1952. And through the years and into a new century, Guiding Light chronicled family life in the mythical town of Springfield. Everybody, it seemed, had a dark secret.

It was a place where even the good guys often had a lurid past. Take the character of Josh Lewis, played by actor Robert Newman.

There was planting evidence, bribery and blackmail.

"And all this done by a former preacher?" Safer asked.

"Yes," Newman said. "And your point would be?"

For the better part of a quarter century, Newman and Kim Zimmer have played Springfield's star-crossed lovers Josh and Reva, marrying and divorcing each other three times. And that's just for starters.

"He married my sister, when I was dying of cancer," Zimmer explained.

"And she married my father and my brother. Are we really going to have this conversation now?" Newman joked.

Asked how many marriages she's had, Zimmer told Safer, "I believe I just had my ninth."

She once survived driving off a bridge in a fit of post-partum depression; he once had her cloned. On the soaps, the weird and the wonderful are routine and everyone has his or her very own miracle.

"I did a menopause story. And then four years later I was pregnant on the show," Zimmer recalled.

Also, her character was presumed dead three times, and even died once. "I flat-lined on a Friday. Woke up on a Monday. And walked out of the hospital on a Tuesday, yes," Zimmer explained.

In the surreal world of the soaps, missing characters presumed dead routinely turn up again.

And the medical help is somewhat dicey. Peter Simon and Michael O'Leary play the Bauers, father and son doctors.

"I started May first of 1983. Started the show on a Friday, I was an orderly, changing bedpans. Monday I was doing brain surgery with my father," O'Leary said.

"Was it successful?" Simon asked.

"No. The first of 38 deaths," O'Leary joked.

"You are renowned as a doctor who keeps losing these patients, yes?" Safer asked.

"Regardless of whether it was a strep throat or whatever it is. It doesn't matter, if they die, they die fast," O'Leary explained.

The very longevity of the show blurs the line between fiction and reality. To many fans, some of the crises may hit very close to home.

"What makes you people so real to so many people?" Safer asked.

"Because they've watched, oftentimes, our birth, our marriage…and then our deaths," actress Beth Chamberlin said.

"And rebirths," Tina Sloan added.