Friday, June 27, 2008

Edge of Night...and a segue into the telenovela as the future of serials

Usenet's "Robbie" wrote that she wished GL would be cancelled, and they'd bring back Edge of Night. The sublime "Michael/Rthrquiet" responded excellently with his post (see it here).

One of the light bulbs he set off in my mind with his post was that Edge failed EVEN THOUGH IT HAD General Hospital as its lead-in during GH's peak ratings! Now that is failure! Failing to hold on to a lead-in like that truly suggests the audience for your show isn't there.

Well, this all inspired my ramble below :-).

Wow, Michael, I forgot about that.

So, when did EON move from CBS to ABC? I remember watching that move and, honestly, not being grabbed by Edge. I assume the show was already in descent.

But, yes, if GH was the lead-in AND Edge had decent clearance rates, the inability to hold on to the lead is quite telling.

(But I seem to recall that my Buffalo affiliate didn't run Edge at 4 pm...they ran Phil I'm guessing that happened a lot and partly explains why Edge didn't get the viewers).

It is especially ironic, because that 4 pm EST timeslot COULD have been gold. As we have discussed here before, part of the success of Y&R in Canada is that it airs (depending on time zone) in the 4 pm to 6 pm time range. So, it is a show that people can catch after work, and watch as a family. It is something I dearly love, when I return to Canada: Watching day-ahead episodes with my clan.

That should have worked for Edge too. (Indeed, the book I have been reading says the late time slot was part of EON's success on had one of the highest proportions of male viewers, drawn to the Perry Mason-style narrative of the early years).

So, that may be a perfect example of a show that simply aged out of viability...By the 80s, Perry Mason and its' ilk was not generally popular in primetime either. Justice shows didn't really rebound until the Law and Order franchise.

Michael then says "The mind boggles at who might be tapped to be headwriter, since I believe the phenomenal Henry Slesar (whom the idiots in charge fired for the show's last two years or so anyway) is no longer with us. Megan McTavish, maybe? Oh, no, I know who they'd get: James E. Reilly. Oh, yeah. That's *exactly* who the current loonies would think would be right for EDGE. Oh. My. God. I think I want to puke.

Well, now, I'd like JJ Abrams. Seriously...someone with that pedigree. A Michael Malone style (i.e., accomplished, critically and commercially successful) detective fiction writer.

At their peak, detective mystery novels are the best. Not only is the crime puzzle interesting, but the best writers always show us the inner workings of their investigator. It is that compelling investigator that spins off these "franchise" series, where the detective keeps coming back. Agatha Christie understood that.

On TV right now, BBC's Wire in the Blood is a perfect demonstration of how it should be done. That show isn't a serial, but the detectives' (plural) haunted inner lives are throughlines that link each episode.

Michael then says:
There are some things that are better left a memory than trotted out again so the current soap vampires can suck all the life out of them and then piss all over them. EDGE is one of them.

Vampires is a perfect segue: Dark Shadows didn't fare too well in its' 80s primetime revival, did it? That show is a perfect demonstration. It was cheesy, and part of its' appeal was cheesiness. That was good for a 2-3 year lifespan before ratings started to plummet.

So, do all these shows HAVE to last 50 years? No! What's the matter with 2-3 great years, and then we move on.

More and more, I'm feeling that the super-annuated nature of the daytime form is part of what is killing it...the burden of history just gets too heavy and cumbersome.

The best primetime shows are those that have a defined lifespan. My favorites are the HBO shows, with their clear 5-season 13-episode/season arcs. They shine brightly, they are coveted as brief jewels, and then they disappear. Even in primetime, the longest shows usually last 5 or 7 seasons...and then we have our memories of greatness.

I had hoped that the telenovela would take off in the US, but MyNetwork certainly didn't do well with adapting Latin American style programs. But I still think that could be a very good format on the right network, with the right promotion and creative force.

So, a detective style telenovela could work great...say for a planned six month season. If the detectives took off, they could be revisited a year later, after a rest. Of course, this would not work in daytime anymore...and I believe it would not work as a DAILY serial anymore. Those aspects of the genre are dead.

I think part of the reason the serial reality shows (American Idol, Survivor) thrive is because they require a thirteen week commitment, and then you get a rest, and then you revisit the franchise but with some fresh 'characters". I think that is the new reality...and and that is what soaps need to evolve into.

Much as I love my soaps, I really think the secret to renaissance is to start over. I'd even be open to--after a rest--trying to move one of the existing soaps into a true telenovela format for limited runs.

IN THAT SENSE, though he is vilified, I think Brian Frons' attempt to do Night Shift--and his apparent limited success with it (peak ratings for SoapNet, if the hype is to be believed)--is an excellent demonstration of the way of the future.

I'd love to visit some Y&R characters in primetime on Soapnet for 13 weeks a year...

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