Saturday, June 21, 2008

Is Nostalgia killing the soaps/

At Soap Opera Network on May 19, 2008, Marceline espoused the idea that nostalgia is killing the soaps.

So to go off on a tangent. Do you really think the genre is dead? I can think of a lot of forms of entertainment that have been declared dead until something happened to revive them.

Sitcoms were dead. Then came The Cosby Show. They "died" again. Then came Friends.
Sci-fi was dead. Or at least as uncool as soaps until Buffy the Vampire Slayer made it if not cool then at least lucrative. And now Battlestar Galactica is a pretty popular show. And one can easily call Lost a sci-fi show (and a soap.)
Broadway was dead until RENT. And again until Spring Awakening
Movie musicals until Moulin Rouge, then Chicago, Dreamgirls, Hairspray, etc...

My point is I'm getting my ass kicked in another thread for suggesting that nostalgia is killing soaps but I really believe that. And I stick by that. Is it possible that the genre can survive even if these particular shows don't? The concept of the serial drama is thriving in primetime and in other countries and I know that there's a lot of factors involved in making a successful show. But I really believe that the genre doesn't have to die but this version of it has to.
To this, Koos added a concurring opinion.

Nostalgia is totally killing soaps. While I love to see old flashbacks of Bo and Hope from the '80s on Days, or whatever character/show, it's apparent that the flashback should NOT be the highlight of the episode, and it usually IS. Instead of referencing classic moments or even re-airing them, or trying to draw parallels with "new" (read: rehashed) moments that aren't new at all, they should be concentrating on creating classic moments for the 21st century. Nostalgia and an attempt to re-do the past is what's been ruining jazz music, too.

My take:

Yeah, you're right. When I say the genre is dying or dead, I mean THESE shows IN THE DAYTIME on commercial networks, blah blah blah. You're absolutely right. I mean,t he serial format is EVERYWHERE now...I love The Office, and that is as much of a soap as it can be--within a beautiful odd comedy. I love Brothers and Sisters, and that is totally a soap. I really do thing the daily-string format of daytime soaps as they existed on radio and on TV since the 1950s is dead.

Your other point about "nostalgia killing the soaps" is also completely true. But let me parse that a bit (in the way I have been thinking about it).

When LML first came to Y&R (my show) I loved it. She energized the show, goosed up the plots, improved the dialog and pacing. Eventually, LML went south (absolute power corrupts absolutely)--she lost track of history, character, and story momentum.

But here is my point: There were oodles of detractors from LML's FIRST DAY. And many of the detractors had some variant of "she hadn't earned her place in the Bell hierarchy" and "she wasn't consistent with Bell storytelling" and so forth. In other words, those who immediately rejected LML rejected her PRECISELY because she dared to innovate--and because she might not appreciate all the conventions of the soap to that date.

Yet, shockingly, when LML left, and the flower shots returned (and the jewelry and the fireplaces and the instrumental music...) I rejoiced as much as anyone. When a BELL was writing the show again, I was ecstatic. And that's when I realized that the current soaps ONLY survive on the fumes of nostalgia.

Soaps are comfort food...they are the warm tattered blankets left over from our childhoods. They are not attracting new viewers, and the old viewers reject every little microcosm of change. (I'm not saying that's always true here on SON...where there are a lot of progressive people...but more generally it is true). So, we're trying to preserve those blankets until they finally fall apart. In that context, you don't want to change or alter the blanket.

In primetime, my favorite network (until "Tell Me That You Love Me") was HBO. Why? Because it innovated and pushed the envelope. No nostalgia at all. I used to fantasize that daytime would be like that, but Kay Alden said it right at MIT when she said "daytime is not an avant garde medium". It's not. I lives on nostalgia.

The "future of the serial format" will indeed happen...but our 8 remaining, surviving shows....they won't be part of that future. And I'm okay with that.

The soap universe is littered with the skeletons of dead soaps that lived their lives and went away. "Secret Storm", "Edge of Night", "Young Dr. Malone".... Our eight shows will soon join that heap. And then DAYTIME, as we loved it, WILL be dead. That will create time and space for an evolution of the serial form.

Building on this, here's another statistical perspective.

This figure is based on a "survival analysis" of the soaps' lifetimes (all soaps in America since the 1950s). To make a very long story short, in the whole history of soaps, only 50% lived as long as 4 seasons. That means any soap with more than 4 seasons has already outlived the majority of other soaps. One might also say, such a soap is "living on borrowed time".

There are lots of ways to interpret this figure, and I'm really over-simplifying here. But one way to think about it is that the typical "shelf life" or "relevance" of soaps is less than half a decade. Another way to think about it is "this is a brutal business", and only the hardiest survive.

In that context, it is remarkable that our shows have been on for 30+, 40+ and 50+ years. We have been given such a gift...for them to have so outlived their many compatriots. Those other old soaps had fans who loved them...who lamented the loss of their programs. Some of us have been fortunate to enjoy our daytime addictions for almost half a century.

So, as I'm emotionally preparing myself to let them go (let go of the nostalgia), I'm doing so with gratitude, and with--yes--a little excitement to see the next iteration of the serial format.

No comments: