Guiding Light Blog: Part Four: Visit to The NYC Set
On Wednesday, the coterie of bloggers traveled to midtown Manhattan to visit the CBS Broadcasting Center. This huge complex is an extraordinary labyrinth of rooms spanning many floors. Echoes of different eras of television history loom around each corner. Most of Guiding Light‘s dressing rooms share a floor with BET, a fact which was commented on by one of our hosts, Jeannie Tharrington, who told me about running into Snoop in the elevators. Left with the thought of gangsta rap stars drifting though Springfield, we waited in an anonymous dressing room reserved for guest actors before the tour could be begin. The room was small, slightly larger than a hotel bathroom, with a large pillow on the floor and a chair. The dressing table had a photo of Lawrence Saint Victor (Remy Boudreau), John Driscoll (Coop Cooper) and EJ Bonilla (Rafe Rivera) on it. They were dressed as doo-wop singers in a mock-up of a Rolling Stone cover they used in a recent event.
Kim Zimmer was originally planned to act as our tour guide around the sets but scheduling conflicts had prevented this from happening. Although we did get to sit down for a chat with the show’s grande dame (more on that later), we were more than happy to be led through the maze of rooms by our guides from the staff of the show. And you really need an experienced guide to take you through the busy halls of the broadcast center. Passing by the gym, which doubles as the gym on the show, we wove through the hallways and elevators from floor to floor, catching glimpses of actors we had all long been familiar with. There’s always something strange about the experience of meeting someone you know from TV. Their size, their voice and their presence always seems surprising and slightly intimidating, no matter how friendly they may be.
Passing to the Guiding Light offices, we met Lawrence Saint Victor and Karla Mosley (Christina) in the hall. After shaking our hands with a grin, they went off to lunch and we went into the office. Co-Head Writer Jill Lori Hurst was there, standing in the corner which doubles for the Spaulding board room. Frank Dicopoulos (Frank Cooper) was happily decorating a dwarf Christmas tree they used in a recent episode. Pictures of the Cooper family hung from its branches like bulbs and he asked us how we were enjoying the tour. Murray Bartlett (Cyrus Foley) drifted over to us from one of the distant offices and greeted us, making jokes about the weather. John Driscoll darted in, apparently on a mission to make hot chocolate in spite of the fact that it was now 68 degrees outside. Frank teased him. John offered us all hot chocolate, but we had to continue the tour.
Walking down the corridor, we came to Jill Lori Hurst’s office, which just happens to double as the sleazy motel room where Remy lives (in the near future, he’ll be sharing it with Shayne). It’s extraordinarily small when you stand in it. The writer’s desk is hidden away in the corner, easy to disguise when they need to shoot a scene in the room. The cameras do a remarkable job of making the sets seem larger than they are, a far from easy task. Turning out of the office/motel, we were face to face with parts of the Spaulding-Lewis offices. They fold out from the walls. This corridor is often blocked off so they can shoot in it. John Driscoll darts by with his hot chocolate.
Along one side of the corridors are the doors to the offices. Along the other side are pieces of sets which can be propped up to act as the backdrop for shots. Pieces of exterior buildings loom every few feet, perched in front of doorways to maintain the illusion of place. It’s an old theatre trick, but they manage to make it far more convincing now than they ever did with the blown up photos and painted backdrops they used in the past. After making a turn, we came to the chapel set, where Josh used to preach, and where Ellen Wheeler makes her office. Her desk is hidden behind the altar. Pushing along, we went into one of the director’s offices. It doubled as the New York City hotel room that Lizzie and Bill ran off to. Mary, the director, showed us the Murphy bed that comes out of the wall and explained that they used to have a normal bed in the room, but actors always used to come in and lay on it while she was working and the production staff would hold meetings in it.
Next door was another office. This one doubled as the beauty salon. It's an eye-popping place to stand in, even if it's rarely used anymore. Out the window, there is no sign of Springfield, only a mass of skyscrapers and alleyways. Circling around, we ran into John Driscoll again. This time he was actually watching the morning broadcast of the show. We passed by the office that doubles as Jeffrey's office. The continuity girls in the production department were laying out the complicated plans for a week worth of shows on the floor. Dozens of tiny strips of paper were being carefully organized so all of the details from scene to scene could match up.
Next, we traveled down another elevator and through many, many passageways until we came to the studio sets. We visited the mini mart set, stocked to the ceiling with Procter & Gamble products and feeling remarkably authentic. Outside of it were the last remains of the much maligned Main Street studio set, which I'm sure everyone remembers since that's where almost everything happened for about a year. There's only a window and a wall left now. Turning, we entered more halls with production crew filing past before we made our way onto more sets. Most of the show's principal shooting sets are housed on a large sound stage. They were shooting while we were there so we had to be especially quiet.
It's an extraordinarily complex space. All of the rooms which stand for various places from The Beacon, to Towers, to Company to the police station are seamlessly woven together. Stepping from the Spaulding mansion, you could end up in Olivia's room at the farmhouse. A few steps more and you are in Company (where we ran into John Driscoll again, shooting a scene with Beth Chamberlin). It was dizzying to be ushered from one little world to the next, apparently at random, but it helped explain how they can shoot the show with such rapidity. Climbing up the boarding house steps, we sat and watched as Marcy Rylan (Lizzie Spaulding) shot a scene with Beth. They set up and shot the scene fast. It was Lizzie confronting Beth about Coop. Marcy turned one of her lines inside out and they laughed when it was over.
We then went into the Cedars sets, which overlaps with more jail cells. Everyone complained about the green, but, in person, the green really doesn't look that bad, it's almost warm. From there, we walked into the court house, which is one of the larger sets and impressively detailed. This, as well as the sets for Alan's office in the mansion, boast some very nice, elaborate handiwork which is even more impressive in person than it is on screen. It took them awhile to find the right lighting, we were told, but they've come very close to conveying what was intended now. Compared to the production methods of many other soaps, including Guiding Light in the past, they have an extraordinarily high amount of permanently standing sets, albeit intimate ones. When asked why they still chose to use so many location shoots when they had a plethora of impressive studio sets which they could use with great fluidity, our guide repeated that it was all about diversity, about having as many creative options open as possible and never limiting what does not need to be limited.