A Guiding Light: Why We All Love A Good Happily Ever After

Call me a sap. But I find it sad when a long running television show comes to an end. I tuned in for the (bloody) last episode of E.R., though I hadn’t watched it in years. I still remember the lights going out on Cheers. And I got choked up when Monica packed up that unrealistically large Greenwich Village apartment on Friends. And after all that, I for one like to see those characters go off with some sparkly fireworks and cheery fanfare.

I don’t want to watch Seinfeld wither away in a stupid prison cell. I don’t want some character to “wake up” and discover it was all a dream (or an autistic fantasy). I don’t want the main character to die of a brain tumor (a la Prison Break). I want a happy ending, damn it!

So that’s why I’m thrilled to see that the writers of Guiding Light, the longest-running soap opera (at 72 years), did just that. It may have taken nearly a century, but finally happiness has come to Springfield!

Because you see, viewers (and readers) invest in characters. The drama, angst, sadness, silliness, ridiculousness, of any story is secondary. We care whether Buffy will continue to save the world at the expense of her own happiness. We care whether Sydney and Vaughn will finally find love on Alias. We care whether Felicity will choose Ben or Noel. We don’t care about the Hell Mouth, or Rambaldi, or Med School. In that final episode, we just want those characters to be happy. For once.

And I think it’s because we associate ourselves with these shows. I was in middle school when 90210 started. I was in elementary school (in my old house!) when Alyssa Milano debuted on Who’s the Boss. I entered college with Felicity. And my roommates and I used to rush home from evening classes to watch Ally McBeal.

Their lives intersect with our lives whether we like it or not. And I think there’s a crazy place in all of us that believes that if Brandon and Brenda Walsh can find happiness after all that madness, then maybe so can I.

So, RIP Guiding Light (and RIP Alan Spaulding). A little piece of my childhood memories with my grandmom goes with you. And you know what? I think she would have liked this ending. It catered to the vets, bringing back characters from Holly, to Fletcher, Mindy Lewis, to Michelle Bauer & Danny, to Dylan Lewis, to Ed Bauer. And finally all of these characters in her “story” got to be happy.

So there was this interesting article on CNN about the decline of the soap genre being connected to the rise of reality TV. Because, really, why do you need JaSam when you’ve got Speidi? And I can see the reporter’s point. But honestly, isn’t it preferable to know that the crazy angst of soap operas is fictional? Whereas, the stupidity of reality TV stars is real (at least to some degree)? I don’t know. I’m admittedly not a reality TV fan. I prefer my drama to be openly fabricated. And I prefer my celebrities to have some actual talent. And yes, I think soap stars have talent. Just ask all these actors who started on Guiding Light: Hayden Panettiere (Lizzie Spaulding), Kevin Bacon (TJ Werner), Mira Sorvino (Julie Camalletti), Taye Diggs (Adrian “Sugar” Hill), Calista Flockhart (babysitter, Elise), Christopher Walken (Mike Bauer), James Earl Jones (Dr. Jim Frazier). Long live the soap!

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