ANY HOLLYWOOD EXEC WORTH HIS SEAT at Spago knows how hard it is to build a hit show. But the stars of CBS's Guiding Light, which celebrated its 60th anniversary Jan. 25 and is the longest-running program in broadcast history, say the key to their show's longevity has been simple: good plot lines. "We have fans who are fifth and sixth generation viewers," says Kim Zimmer, who has played GL's Reva Shayne Cooper for 13-plus years. "It's amazing how closely they watch. The fans are the first to say, 'You can't do such-and-such because so-and-so already did that!' "
Of course the show's early supporters didn't watch GL—they listened to it. The Guiding Light debuted in 1937 (The was later dropped) as a 15-minute religiously themed NBC radio show. After moving to TV in 1952, it turned secular and over the years tackled such topics as rape, mental illness and AIDS. Along the way, GL launched the careers of Kevin Bacon, Sherry Stringfield and James Earl Jones and won 48 Emmys.
Though no formal bash is planned yet for the cast, the residents of fictional Springfield are holding galas to mark the 60th anniversary of Cedars Hospital. But Jerry ver Dorn, who has played Ross Marler for almost 18 years, believes that for viewers such bells and whistles are just an added bonus. "I'm thoroughly convinced that we could go back to 1937, do this in front of black drapes, and if the story is good enough, they'd still watch."