Saturday, June 21, 2008

Soapnet's unwinnable battle: Part II

And another thing :-)...

As I write this, I am reading "Worlds Without End", the museum book on the history of soap operas.

Right now I'm reading James Thurber's 1940s New Yorker articles about radio soaps.

In one of his articles, he talks about the cliches that had already come to proliferate. Among them:

- sudden (often temporary) blindness
- sudden (often temporary) paralysis
- sudden (usually temporary) amnesia
- he also talked about the archetypes of the "noble woman" (who was the problem solver), and the "troubled women" who gravitated to her tohelp dealing with life dilemmas

- of course, there were other form cliches (introductory recaps, questions like "Will Polly find true happiness?", organ music), some of which persist or have been re-implemented

Soapy at has created a list of 100 of these:

(He also has the 100 "best moments", and I like a lot of them:

And herein lies, I think, the other part of the doomsday scenario.

Traditional soap is PLAYED. It is mired in cliche. This has earned the form derision FROM THE BEGINNING. It has made the genre the source of countless lampoons ("As the Stomach Turns").

But, when soaps try to innovate and modify the genre--from Gloria Monty at GH to LML at Y&R--fans raise hue and cry. To this day, articulate people say Monty helped destroy daytime by introducing "filmic" elements. And legions of stalwart Y&R fans, the show that had maintained the most loyal fan base (in absolute numbers) are now abandoning the show in droves, as it trends (more rapidly than the rest of the genre) to a 3.5 or 3.0 household rating.

Rock meet hard place.

ATWT tries to add a beautiful story of coming out. The American Family Institute (or whatever it is called) and its ilk start foaming at the mouth. So, suddenly we see the story cast as a "classic" soap tale with lots of obstacles and no kissing. (I'm simplifying). The result: The viewers "on the right" hate it because it shows open-mouthed homosexuals. The viewers "on the left" hate it because it does not show reality and it seems timid. NO ONE IS HAPPY. The young-male ratings bump that ATWT got from their Nuke romance is rapidly attriting.

I honestly think this daytime form, which I love, has reached the end of its adaptive capacity in the current environment. A powerful set of forces is poised to halt its evolution...and unfortunately the rule of the jungle is "evolve or die". (Did I just characterize myself as a lefty, anti-creationist by saying that?).

The bravest show right now, in terms of evolution, is GL. Although I believe attempts to say that it is in "swan dive" are false (its decline is no faster than others), absent a small uptick in the youngest viewers, I see no evidence that the evolution is succeeding. The only thing that was accomplished, I suspect, is cost savings sufficient to buy the show another year.

I do believe ABC is being brave in its attempts to broaden the base (a nighttime cable network), creating new content to draw new audiences (GH Night Shift), and including modern production values (like CGI--even filmlook, though I hate that). But watch the ratings and the demos.


The genre is played out.

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