Last month I found myself in New York City for a handful of days, which by New York standards, isn't much time at all. Seeing as how New York is the comics publishing capital of North America, naturally a visit to the offices of Marvel Comics was in order. Ahead of my trip I called up Jim McCann (Marvel Comics' Assistant Manager Of Sales Communication) to arrange a meeting. Naturally he said yes, but he said he could do me one better. He informed me that I happened to be coming into town at exactly the right time - the CBS soap opera "Guiding Light" was going to film the "She's a Marvel" episode which crosses over with the Marvel Universe. "Would you be interested in a set visit?" Of course, I said yes.
I was looking forward to my "Guiding Light" visit. I've been on set visits for film and television, but I'd never visited a soap opera set and looked forward to seeing what that world was like.
On September 22nd I made my way over to the Marvel offices in Manhattan, which I discovered were just down the street from the Empire State Building. After Jim and I finished up at Marvel, we headed down the street for a quick lunch in advance of our trip to CBS Studios in midtown Manhattan to visit the set and meet with Beth Ehlers, who plays the long running character Harley Davidson Cooper and ultimately becomes the super hero, The Guiding Light.
Over lunch, McCann filled me in on the details of the "Guiding Light" cross-over. He explained that this past January, "Guiding Light" began something called "Inside the Light" episodes. The brainchild of head writer David Kriezman and Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler, the "Inside the Light" episodes focus on a single character or storyline, enabling the producers of the show to go a bit more in-depth with their characters. The November 1st episode, which crosses over into the Marvel Universe, titled "She's a Marvel," is a part of that initiative.
The genesis of this most unusual of cross-over's began with the wedding of Black Panther to Storm. The two were wed in "Black Panther" #18 and the wedding gown featured in the comic was designed by Emmy Award Winning "Guiding Light" costume designer Shawn Dudley. Through that partnership, the door was opened for more talks between the "Guiding Light" and Marvel to expand on this relationship.
Earlier this year, McCann and Marvel's Vice-President of Sales David Gabriel met with Alan Locker, from Procter & Gamble (who produces "Guiding Light"), and Ellen Wheeler, the Daytime Emmy Winning Executive Producer/Director of "Guiding Light," to discuss what the future may hold for the two camps. Ideas were pitched and it was clear everyone was on the same page and had the same goals. "Nobody said no to anything - on our side or theirs. It was a real surprise," McCann told CBR News. At first they considered just doing a cameo of some sort in both the comics and television show, but then Ellen mentioned the "Inside the Light" episodes where they could introduce the idea of the Guiding Light character. The partnership grew organically from there.
The ball was rolling. While "Guiding Light" writer David Kriezman (a huge comic fan himself) would write the teleplay, the task of writing the eight-page tie-in comic would fall to McCann. "Due to various licensing deals with the different studios, we couldn't have Spider-Man and the X-Men swing by Springfield on camera, but that didn't mean they couldn't in the pages of our comics," explained McCann.
In addition to being a life-long comics fan, McCann is also a life-long soap opera fan. In 2001 McCann moved to New York City and joined the ABC Daytime Writer Development Program after a chance meeting with one of the actors on ABC's "One Life to Live." He even had an episode written by him air in 2003, featuring a pivotal scene between two of the leads, Natalie and Cristian. Obviously, McCann was well suited for the job.
Writing the eight-page back up story was nerve wracking for McCann. As a comic book collector for over 20 years, he was intimately familiar with Marvel's family of characters, but he admitted that he hadn't always followed the CBS soaps. But, once it became clear the two companies would be working together, "Guiding Light" became a huge part of his life. "I watched about two months of episodes that I DVR'ed and I began to really pay attention to Gus and Harley scenes," said McCann. "Thank God for the Internet and the fans who spend so much time talking and examining the show. They're so vocal, just like our fans. I probably read four months worth of transcripts from the show. The last thing I wanted was a 'Guiding Light' fan to come in, pick up the comic and be completely turned off and say, 'They don't get us at all.' I wanted to make sure it was very truthful to the characters. When I turned in the script, Ellen, Alan and David Kriezman read it and came back with two minor dialogue tweaks."
The eight-page backup story, titled "A New Light," has appeared in numerous monthly comics already and features the pre-"Civil War" New Avengers as they meet with Harley's Guiding Light character. "Harley's powers are activated again and the Avengers are called in to see if she's a friend or a foe," said McCann. "Unfortunately, they also have some of Marvel's worst villains tailing after them, so this huge fight breaks out in Springfield's main street with Harley, Gus, Mallet, Buzz, Olivia and Coop all caught up in the mix."
The November 1st episode of "Guiding Light" tells the character's origin and leading up to that episode the producers have been sprinkling Easter eggs in various episodes with mentions of Marvel characters.
"Marvel's really trying to reach out and grow the audience, just like soap's are and 'Guiding Light' is doing a great job of that with these 'Inside the Light' episodes, their web logs and with webisodes," explained McCann. "They're finding the same challenges we are with an aging audience, trying to get new viewers and to keep characters growing that have been around for 65 years. We speak the same language. When we presented it to retailers at our Diamond Retailer Summit, they literally burst out into applause. The retailer community is very excited about the possibilities. I know 'Guiding Light' and Procter & Gamble are thrilled about the possibilities it brings. It's a fantastic partnership that I couldn't be happier to be a part of."
We finished our lunch and headed over to the CBS Studios to meet with Beth Ehlers as they held the first photo shoot of her in costume. Jim and I arrived early so that we could be there as Ehlers walked in - and quite the entrance she did make. Ehlers entered the room in full costume and had everyone's immediate attention. The silver mask, black boots, the blue cape, the skin revealing short shorts and top which sparkled in the light might be enough to catch anyone's attention, but when you throw in the blue streak as part of her blond hair and those spooky white eyes, well, you have no choice but to be mesmerized the Guiding Light's presence.
"I've got two kids who think this is the coolest thing ever," Ehlers told CBR News as she introduced herself. She told us when the producers came to her and said they'd like to turn her into a super hero, she couldn't be more excited and that excitement grew when she got to put the costume on for the first time.
"I love it! I had exactly envisioned this," said Ehlers. "I described it the night before to a friend of mine and the next day I went and saw the costume and to a T it was exactly what I had wanted it to be. We were all in total sync with each other."
The costume itself is form fitting and revealing, but the mother of two had no problems with that. "Oh, it has to be revealing, but of course it has to be able to move and stay on," said Ehlers. "I want to be able to do move around as I do stunt stuff, so it has to stay on, but she's gotta be sexy. Sexy is part of it and she's a mom! You can be a mother and be sexy and be strong, all those things at the same time."
Ehlers said she never read comics as a kid, but that her brother had stacks of them. "He was a maniac about comics," exclaimed Ehlers, who said unlike so many other siblings, she never made fun of his comic collecting habit. "I just thought he was a boy. There was four of us girls and my one brother and I just thought that was what boys did - they read comic books."
Ehlers' two young boys, Hank and Will, were terribly excited their Mom would be a super hero as they're comic book fans themselves. "They just started reading comic books," said Ehlers. "This past Christmas was the first Christmas I bought them comic books. Hank likes Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four since they had a movie for that. He likes the idea of following the ongoing story. He also reads 'Captain Underpants.'"
Once we finished with our chat it was time to begin the photo shoot. Photographer Robert Milazza asked Ehlers to take "the stage," as it were, in front of a white backdrop as his assistant turned on a room fan to bring some added drama to the poses Ehlers struck. She was instructed to take different stances, holding her arms out in front of her in familiar super hero poses, moving her upper body in the opposite direction from her lower body, basically a number of poses that didn't look all that comfortable. "This is all the stuff I do when I work out," exclaimed Ehlers as she posed for the camera.
"Perfect. Nice. Perfect. That's hot," Milazza would exclaim as he took the photos. Milazza looked to Jim McCann as he stood next to me and asked for his assistance in helping Ehlers strike the perfect super hero pose.
McCann, who was visibly beaming when asked to help, walked closer to Ehlers and began to instruct her on some poses she could take. "How about a challenging one," said McCann. "You know, like, 'Come on, mess with me!" as McCann took a very challenging stance that Ehlers immediately mimicked.
"Play with the arms a bit. Imagine all this energy coming from your arms," instructed McCann.
"I'd rather play this all the time," said Ehlers, who was clearly enjoying herself during the photo shoot. "It's much easier to do a photo shoot as a character than as Harley."
Then we got word that Ehlers two boys were in the building and were on their way over to the studio to see their Mom. This would be the first time they saw her in full costume.
Hank and Will carefully peaked their heads into the room and once they saw their mom, they shrieked and ran to hug her. She looked down on them and the boys saw her white eyes for the first time. They asked how they did that and when Mom told them they were fake eyeballs, young Will exclaimed, "Fake eyeballs? That's gross!"
"You look freaky," added Hank.
The kids joined their Mom during the photo shoot, with one kid standing at her side while one crawled between her legs to have their photos taken. Hank was less interested in the shoot, while Will quickly became the Guiding Light's young sidekick.
Hank and Will were introduced to McCann and asked what he did. He told them he worked for Marvel Comics, the guys who publish Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, at which point Will lit up and exclaimed, "Ohhhh, I love the Hulk!" Clearly we have two burgeoning comic fans on our hands.
Once the photo shoot was done, McCann and I left Ehlers - who took her two young boys to the CBS commissary (in full costume) to get some dinner - and headed over to the set. Unfortunately we learned the production was a bit behind schedule and the scenes featuring Ehlers as the Guiding Light wouldn't be filmed for another four or five hours yet. With it being already 5:30 on a Friday evening in Manhattan, McCann and I decided to call it a day and head home after what was a very enjoyable experience.
On the cab ride back to the office I asked McCann if there was any chance of a solo comic to come featuring the Guiding Light. "It's too soon to say what our plans are, but we hope this is not the end of this partnership," said McCann. "It's been too much fun for this to be the end of the road. If it is, it's been a great ride, but I'm hoping for more."
The "She's a Marvel" episode of "Guiding Light" air's November 1st on CBS television stations. Check your local listings for times.