"The Guiding Light" began on radio, on 25 January 1937, and originally revolved around a minister named Rev. Dr. John Ruthledge (played by Arthur Peterson) and his congregation in Five Points, IL. At 68 years (although on radio it was cancelled by NBC, five times: 1939, 1941, 1942, 1944 and 1946; with audiences having huge letter writing campaigns to have NBC revive it and then was picked up by CBS in 1947), it is the longest running drama series in history. It was on radio and television (the actors/actresses had to perform scripts twice during the day), from June 30, 1952 to June 30, 1956. It is also the only broadcast show to actually be on three networks, NBC would split in two in 1946 (NBC and what would later become ABC; and "The Guiding Light" was on both versions of NBC: NBC Red and NBC Blue) and then went to CBS where it has stayed to today. It also has changed location three times, from 1937 to 1946 it was in Five Points, IL (a fictional suburb of Chicago), then it moved, from 1947 to 1965 to Selby Flats, CA (a fictional suburb of Los Angeles) and then finally to its current location of the fictional Springfield, Illinois in 1966.
The show's first color broadcast was on September 11, 1967. The first half-hour broadcast was on September 9, 1968. The first hour-long broadcast was on June 16, 1975. It was also the first broadcast to have the title of the series changed from "The Guiding Light" to "Guiding Light". The CBS staff announcer referred to it as "The Guiding Light" until 1981, when it was referred to as "The award-winning Guiding Light" until 1983.
Head writer Doug Marland originally planned to have the character of Jackie Marler shot in cold blood by her schizophrenic sister-in-law Carrie Marler (Jane Elliot). When Elliot was fired, Marland killed Jackie off in a plane crash instead and had to scrap a long-term murder trial in which Carrie's split personalities would be revealed on the stand. A couple of years later when he was writing ATWT, Marland got to write his scrapped Carrie story in the saga of Royce Keller, the man with the split personalities who went on trial for killing his sister Neal.
The show chose not to deal with some of its most significant off-screen deaths. When long-time cast member Charita Bauer died in 1985, it took the show a year (after persistent audience demands) to write in an off-screen death for her character Bert in 1986. When Michael Zaslow had to be written off due to his affliction of ALS, a recast was unpopular with audiences and the character of Roger Thorpe was written off in 1997 to California, but audience demands persisted for a proper tribute especially after Zaslow's well-publicized death in 1998. Roger Thorpe was finally killed off in 2005 in an off-screen death. Similarly, soap legend Mary Stuart, who joined the show in 1996, passed away in 2002, and, in 2006, her character of Meta Bauer is still vacationing off screen in Nova Scotia.
In 1989, Michael Zaslow, who was killed off as Roger Thorpe in 1980, was asked to return to GL to play Alan Spaulding after Alan's long-time portrayer Christopher Bernau died. Zaslow declined, saying he was too identified with the role of Roger. Because they wanted Zaslow back, producers chose to bring Roger back from the dead.
After she joined the show, Joan Collins made a comment in the press that the show planned to bring back the long-absent Roger Thorpe to do battle with her character Alexandra, Roger's ex-wife. She slyly proclaimed "You won't believe who they hired to play him." Nothing was ever heard of this again.
In 2002, Joan Collins made a well-publicized stint as Alexandra Spaulding, the third actress to play the role, but was soon replaced by Marj Dusay, the second actress to play Alex after the first, Beverlee McKinsey, played her for seven years. Collins wanted to schedule her filming around her book promotion tour, but producers wanted Collins full-time. Collins playing Alexandra had a bit of soap opera irony: Alexis Carrington, the nasty character that made her famous on DYNASTY, was modeled after Iris Carrington, the nasty daytime character that made Beverlee McKinsey famous.
Many episodes of this show and other daytime TV shows are believed to be lost forever. It was live until the 1960s, and many episodes prior to that exist as kine-scopes (videotape was not invented until 1956). Procter and Gamble Productions did not begin archiving its shows until the late 1970s, believing there was no use for them after their initial airing and therefore not worth preserving. They simply re-used the original tapes.
In the mid-1980s, Springfield dance club Wired For Sound played host to several real-life bands doing guest appearances on the show. One of the most famous of these guest bands, the B-52s, performed two songs and did offstage cameos with cast members throughout the entire hour-long episode.