NEW YORK – CBS ended the 72-year run of the granddaddy of all soap operas, “Guiding Light,” in a tearful finale last Friday. “Guiding Light” began as a serial on NBC Radio on Jan. 25, 1937.
Within hours, 103-year-old Samuel Blatchford, who has starred as leading man Ellis Smith in every episode of the show on both radio and television, appeared on QVC to hawk the just-released complete DVD box set of all 18,360 episodes. “The entire series can be watched in less than three years, if you watch it straight through,” Blatchford explained.
CBS revealed it was besieged with calls and emails about the last episode, as “Guiding Light” devotees said they felt cheated. Inexplicably, the entire cast was costumed as Rusian Jews circa 1900. Near the end of the show, a constable arrived to tell everyone that they must pack up and leave their town of Anatevka. The closing shot showed longtime “Guiding Light” star Robert Newman, his wife Golde, and two of their children leaving the village for America. Suddenly, a fiddler on a roof began to play. Newman beckoned with a nod, and the fiddler followed them out of the village.
Blatchford said the closing episode was his idea. “It was either that or have the entire cast fired from the Minneapolis television news program where they all worked, except for buffoon anchorman Ted Baxter.”
Blatchford used his QVC appearance to kick off what he calls a coast-to-coast blitzkrieg to hawk the DVD of the show.
Blatchford told a reporter he blames “the hippies and the draft dodgers” for the show’s demise. Faced with extinction last year, the show’s plot lines were revamped to attract younger viewers. The producers had Blatchford’s character take up with a college crowd. ”We were a bunch of hot studs on the prowl for hook-ups,” he explained. After an initial ratings bump, viewership plummeted. Insiders blamed Blatchford’s refusal to play the scenes shirtless as his co-stars did. He blamed his pacemaker. Then, Blatchford abruptly forced writers to scuttle a plot line where his character was scheduled to be accused of date-rape by a fellow-student because he feared “they’d make me show my wee-wee.”
After the show signs off, Blatchford said he’s “ready to start chaper two.” He’s in discussions to star in ABC’s “All My Children” — “so long as I don’t have to show my wee-wee.”