by Paulette Cohn
CBS' daytime drama "Guiding Light" is taking a long look at interfaith issues, which have become increasingly prevalent in our increasingly multicultural society.
Paul Rauch, the show's executive producer, who has worked in daytime drama since 1960, noticed that no current TV shows dealt with the issue of interfaith marriage and decided it was an important story to do. As the drama's Drew was facing the one-year anniversary of her father's death, Rauch saw a way to add true-to-life conflict into the relationship between Drew and her boyfriend Jessie, who are around 20 years old.
"As we got into Drew and Jessie's story, her religion became very dear to her," explains Rauch. "She didn't want to rush into marriage with Jessie because he isn't Jewish. What is happening now is that Jessie is willing to convert, but Drew doesn't want him to do it only because that will make him acceptable to her. She wants him to do it because, and only because, it means something to him.
"Jessie has decided [that converting] is the right thing to do and he would like to do it," Rauch continues. "He never had much of a family life. Now he is not only going, hopefully, to be married to a girl he loves, but he will gain so much more in his life as a result of the conversion. Whereas he never believed in anything before, he will have something to believe in."
Rauch knows first-hand the problems that can beset an interfaith marriage, because his first wife was Catholic. But, he says that his experience "had nothing to do with the decision to do this story"--although his real-life experiences did provide useful background information from which to draw.
The fact that "Guiding Light" is a continuing drama enables the writers to play out the story over time and not just wrap it all up in a one-hour timeslot. To date, the young couple has argued over the issue of religion. Jessie wonders why Drew's Judaism is important to her now, when it wasn't before. They fight. Jessie feels Drew pull away. Ultimately, they separate for a few weeks, which is done in real time. Their separation impacts other people and events in their life. For example, the Jewish Drew is in the process of adopting a teenage "brother" Max, who worries that Drew also will abandon him because he, like Jessie, isn't Jewish.
Meanwhile, the non-Jewish Jessie learns more about Judaism. Even so, there is no quick resolution to Drew and Jessie's problems, which adds a touch of reality to the story line.
When asked if he feels a responsibility to present one of the only Jewish characters in daytime in a positive light, Rauch responds: "I don't want to give a distorted and biased example of what an archetypal Jewish person is. Drew is a true-to-life character. She is essentially a very good person. Flawed but good. I think that is enough. I think she is the character that she is, irrespective of what her religion is. Are you saying should we have a role model because she is Jewish? I don't think so. I think the character has its own life."
Rauch compares giving the character of Drew special consideration because of her religion to African-American groups which request actors of color only be presented as doctors or lawyers.
"I don't think people should be represented in stereotypical ways. I think there is a reverse thing, too. You don't want to portray minorities in a negative light and we don't do that. On the other hand, I don't think you want to have every character white-washed because he is of an ethnic group or race. It is very important that we have a high degree of positivity for minority characters, but keep them real, because people have flaws."