When CBS announced the cancellation of Guiding Light, the longest-running daytime drama, on April Fools’ Day, the cast and crew thought it was a bad joke. But on the last day of filming in August, after 57 years in the channel’s Manhattan studios on 57th Street, half of the show’s setting of “Springfield” (think: Anytown, USA—Anytown with a country club) was already dismantled. The skeletal planks of the Beacon Hotel, Cooper House and Courthouse jutted out of bins scattered at the edges of Studios 42 and 45.
In the makeup room, Joe Cola, who joined as makeup artist at 22 and hasn’t had more than 10 consecutive days off from the show in 30 years, gave a Marlboro-tinged laugh as he bent over 66-year-old Tina Sloan, giving her the full bridal treatment. “I’m in the last scene of the last day,” the California-pretty Ms. Sloan, who has played Nurse Lillian Raines for 26 years, said. (It airs on Friday, Sept. 18.) “We want to make sure I know how to cry.”
She gave some background. “I had breast cancer and my doctor was [Maureen’s] husband, and I fell in love with him. She was my best friend. You know, this is what we all do. I slept with him.” When the doctor’s wife, the star of the show in the 1980s, finds Lillian’s apology on the kitchen table, she gets in a car and distractedly drives off a cliff. Twenty-three years later, having neither dated nor married because she feels so guilty, Lillian, in her wedding gown, goes to Maureen’s grave and explains her decision to marry. Tina filmed this scene a day earlier.
“It was the best thing I’ve done in my life!” Ms. Sloan said. “It was so easy for me, the emotion. … There was a Twitter on there last night from Evil—you know, Keith [the cameraman]—and he said he was out there sobbing as he was watching it.”
Mr. Cola daubed Ms. Sloan’s face with a peachy layer of foundation.
“These last few days are so painful, so painful,” she said. “People walk in without their scripts, they forget their—”
“They never do that,” Mr. Cola said.
“They’re forgetting,” Ms. Sloan said. “I suppose that’s what happens when you lose—a family.”
“The other thing—Alan, did I say this to you yesterday?” The actress twisted to look at Alan Locher, the show’s boyish publicist, who was staring into his BlackBerry. At 17, Mr. Locher read in The New York Post that Guiding Light was filming at a blind hospital and took a train in from New Jersey to stalk the premises. (He is now 42.) “Every single actor on our show,” Ms. Sloan said, “is married and has been married forever. There are no divorces on our show.”
“There’s one,” said another stylist.
“Rob Bogue,” said Ms. Sloan. “That’s it. … Don’t you think that’s weird, with the national average being 51 percent?”
“And with this industry. What kind of muffins are those?” Mr. Locher said, eying a tray of brown baked goods that co–head writer Jill Lorie Hurst had baked and brought in to celebrate her 50th birthday.
“The show will end and we’ll all get divorced!” Ms. Sloan said. Mr. Cola dipped his brush into powder and began tapping it on her face.
“We’re an emotional time capsule of our country,” she continued. “How we dressed, the things they cared about. … Right now we’re doing a Ponzi scheme, or we were. We have a lesbian couple, we have a black family. It’s changed drastically as our country’s changed. To have us go off for a game show”—Let’s Make a Deal—“which gives nothing—what does this say, intellectually, about our country? That they’re going to watch a game show and not watch something that has some truth? We speak truth about the time and we speak truth about each other.”
A short while later, as Mr. Locher waited for a elevator’s doors to close, someone standing beside the elevator turned to him. “People are waiting on line,” he said. Down the hall, the prop department was selling Guiding Light props—clothes, lamps, picture frames—to employees.
“Oh, Jesus,” said Mr. Locher, with a sharp exhale. “I can’t deal with that.” He jabbed the door-close button a couple times. “It’s not pretty when people rummage.”