Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why Are Soap Operas Dying?

            Once upon a time, way back when I was young, some of the better writing (and better acting) was found on daytime television, on soap operas. Yes, that's the truth. In fact, I told my first drama class that, and the students laughed. They couldn't understand how any writing or acting could be better than "Mork and Mindy." I told them to tell me at the end of the year if their opinion remained the same or not.

          Let me digress a bit. I had taught English and speech/drama/debate but hadn't had a separate drama class until that year. I prepared for a class of all girls, of boys and girls, of mainly girls with a few boys; but the class was all boys. Yes, a different experience, but an interesting one, probably the best drama class I ever taught.

         But back to soap operas and writing. Of course the class of boys thought I was nuttier than any other teacher. I gave them an assignment at the end of the first semester: Watch at least five episodes of a soap opera and write a report concerning the believability of the writing and acting. With days off for teacher meetings and holidays, I knew they could easily watch five or more without missing any classes. At that time, as I wrote above, some of the better writing and acting could be found in daytime dramas.

         When the students handed in their reports, we spent the class discussing what they discovered. They first expressed shock, and then they told me I had ruined their enjoyment of their favorite show.

         Soon after that class finished, soap operas began their downward slide. The believability disappeared as the characters followed a script where they played musical beds, even the couples who had been married with a stable marriage for years and years. Characters could do despicable things for ages, but when they decided to "go straight," they suffered no consequences of their previous actions, in fact other characters accepted their change without even a reference to what had happened in the past. In other words, the writing became poor.

         After the local news at noon, a thirty-minute soap opera comes on the channel I watch. I use TV as background as I work on my computer, and often I don't change the channel until another show comes on at one o'clock that I watch. As I said, the television is background, but that show started to catch my attention -- not because it was good or interesting. I had a hard time believing that such terrible writing could be tolerated even for a let's-sleep-around-and-manipulate-people drama. No wonder networks are cancelling soap operas. The wonder is how any still exist and haven't been cancelled.

         The plot, which has unfolded painfully slowly (yes, two -ly words, but needed) the past two months, has two lovely woman in love with one man who can't make a real decision for himself, who allows himself to be manipulated, and who "loves" and wants both women. What? No woman in her right mind would want to hold on to such a wimp, such a spineless not-a-man. The past week used thirty minutes a day for five days to cover maybe three hours of time in the story, if that long. The man finally is supposed to marry the blond. Her biological father shows up at the hotel after the groom left for the church. She loses track of time, rushes out to take the limo to the church, but the limo left. She talks the gardener into taking her to town and the church while she holds on to the frame in the open back of a small truck. At the edge of town the road is blocked, so she hauls herself out and runs up the hill and through town to the church, fluffy bride's gown dragging and billowing.

         With me so far? Find anything believable yet?

         The groom, after waiting for over an hour, drives back to the hotel to find her. There, instead of her, he finds a note stating, "I love you, but I can't go through with this." The dark haired beauty finds him ready to tear the room apart. She tells him that the other woman couldn't mean what the note implies. She ends up comforting him, but she defends the other woman, for at least two days.

         The man holds the brunette, kisses her, and asks her to leave with him. She accepts his proposal. Before they can leave, back comes the blond and for thirty minutes she tells him they can still get married, that she's sorry she lost track of time, but that her dad, her real dad came to see her. The note, she says after reading it, was from her father, not her. The man stands there, lets her kiss him, finally says he can't do this. She tells him, yes, they can still get married, just let her clean up a bit, and they'll do it. She whirls out. The bathroom door opens, and there stands the brunette, tears streaming down her cheeks.

         Five days of drivel, unbelievable drivel. Even with my extremely active imagination, I couldn't accept any of the plot, the characters, or the conflict. Good writing is necessary for stories of any and all kinds. Needless to say, the writers of this daytime drama don't write as well as most of my high school students did.

         No wonder soap operas are dying. Actually, they are already dead, just need to be buried.   


lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

Yeah, I can't do soaps. There was one brief summer in 2003 where I watched GH during the pregnant Carly kidnapping story. Years later, I was curious as to what was going on with that show and they had a different actress playing Carly and all the kids were rapidly aged.

I just can't get into soaps. Too many episodes means too much filler. I also don't like the idea of dedicating time to a show where the writers could, on a whim, change the personality of their character from good to evil back to good, evil again. Where they age kids when they see fit, kill people and then bring them back to life. I mean, if it was a show like Supernatural where you expect that kind of stuff, that'd be one thing but its not and that makes it hard to sit through. I have trouble suspending my disbelief with soaps.

Also, I find there are a lot of better programs to watch during primetime that get my attention more and the benefit to those programs is that it has a smaller core cast, 13 to 22 episodes so it isn't really overkill.

I think that the soap could be saved but they'd have to end all current soaps, they have too long of a history that turns off young people. No one likes feeling like certain scenes in a soap are a reference to past scenes.

They can make new soaps that follow along the lines of primetime and limit their episodes to 2 or 3 times a week. I also think they need to consider a production overhaul. They need to make the shows look less like a soap.

Of course, there is another option to consider, turn daytime soaps into evening soaps that play right before primetime, like they do in Europe.

4RV Publishing said...

Well, my point was the soaps are dying, or are dead, because of poor writing.

Evening soaps already exist and have for many years: Knox Landing, Desperate Housewives, and the newly returned from the dead Dallas. In fact when those "dramas" were first introduced, they were called nighttime soap operas.

Poor writing has invaded almost all television because writers are not creative enough. Thankfully a few programs manage to keep some good writers working.

Jenna said...

Great view point! I never thought to blame the fall of daytime soaps to poor writing. I figured that their ratings took a dive because the target market for those soaps consisted mainly of housewives. Society and the economy have changed quite drastically, and now it’s more common for both husband and wife to work in order to support a family. I think this has led to more nighttime soaps like Dallas, which was genius to revive because people still love drama; they just want to watch it when it’s convenient for them. I often hear about different drama shows, that are basically soaps, from many of my co-workers at Dish, and they gossip about the characters of these shows just the way my mother did decades ago when daytime soaps were plentiful. I’ve since started watching Dallas because I was able to watch episodes on, and I know that whenever I miss any episodes in the future, I can always go there to get caught up. I think new nighttime soaps that have great writing are less like GH, but are now along the lines of Sons of Anarchy and True Blood that air once a week. This lends for the writers to progress the story quickly rather than dragging one story line five times a week.