Saturday, April 11, 2009

Using the GL evolution as an experiment

As a non-GL viewer, my reaction to GL's apparent passing is not emotional, but intellectual. I do view the loss of the oldest soap, one of the last Irna Phillips soaps, the only soap to make it from radio to the present, as a major symbolic loss for the genre. GL bordered on "sacred cow", so when we're ready to kill that one...

In this post, though, I want to focus on a more optimistic future, and some personal "brainstorming" I have been doing to think about what a next-generation GL might look like.

The rumors are that GL is looking for a new home. DaytimeConfidential suggests that the most serious talks are with the Lifetime Network.

Since Lifetime is "Television for Women", I don't watch that a seems to be the new home of women-in-peril movies (what we used to call "Movies of the Week" or "Sunday Night Movies"). In principle, such an emotional, women-oriented platform seems ideal for soaps.

But there is also a fundamental difference. The two-hour movie is self-contained. You get your emotional fix and then you move on, never again to revisit those characters. That is the antithesis of a soap.

So, how to graft the two together? My feeling is that the secret is to move in the direction of a telenovela...a self-contained story that is fixed in time. (I know this has been tried and failed...OLTL was reviled when Michael Malone played with short arcs, and Port Charles is no longer around -- a testament to the failure of that experiment. Indeed, some attribute GL's most recent fall to its lack of melodramatic and serial elements during the first year of the new production model).

So, what if Springfield/GL is used as the fictional universe (with all the history back there, but maybe not front and center), and a series of 13-week 30- or 60-minute ensemble dramas (set to play once a week...not daily) were set there?

For example, using the current buzzworthy tale, what if for 13 weeks Lifetime presented: "Otalia" (with, in smaller letters, at the bottom of the screen, "A Guiding Light/Springfield story").

Now, let's pretend that for the first 13-weeks, the "A" story of "Otalia" is about these two women becoming open and committed lovers (say the last episode of GL = Otalia getting married, so the new series picks up on their married life). As an ensemble show, there could be "B" and "C" stories anchored in Otalia (their co-workers, relatives, friends), but distinct. Some of those "B" and "C" stories could come from the rest of the GL universe--AS LONG AS THEY WERE THEMATICALLY TIED IN (e.g., Doris tries, finally, to open her heart to love while her daughter has a hard time coping; Frank tries to move on in the world, looking for a woman who can finally appreciate him for what he is).

At the end of the 13-week arc, Otalia would rest. Maybe it would come back "next season" (next year), or maybe not. That would depend on fan response.

Meanwhile, after the 13-week arc is over, another 13-week novel would begin. For example (don't roll your eyes...I'm trying to play to a Lifetime audience here): "Healing Hearts: The Story of Dinah and Shane". Again, at the bottom of the screen, it would be signalled as "A Guiding Light/Springfield Story".

As that couple plays out its 13-week drama, again supported by related "B" and "C" stories (I really think these shows have to be tighter and more viewers MUST be able to sample without getting lost), there could be weeks with "Special Guest Star Kim Zimmer" or "Special Guest Star Maeve Kinkead" (spelling fixed per comment below). At that could be the link to classic GL.

Soap opera towns and universes are fictional places that we love to return to over and over again. In the new financials and the evolving universe, where the patience and time for a daily experience may not longer exist, and where the "burden" of decades of history may actually serve as a turnoff for viewers, can GL pioneer (as it has before) the evolution of the form? Can Springfield and the 70 years of history that went before serve as the "franchise" in which self-contained short arc stories...featuring people we know and people we don't know...keep the town alive?

Maybe returning to Springfield and Guiding Light in a different way would be the method of achieving this "place to come home to" while building something that requires a little less commitment?

I note that the GH:Night Shift experiment did something very much like this. If anything, it was too tied to the "mothership", using too many characters from the daytime show (enough that discontinuities between the two series annoyed some fans). Night Shift I was a ratings success for Soapnet (but not a critical one). Night Shift II was a critical success but ratings failure. I know that a version of this experiment (ATWT's Eileen Fulton spinoff, Our Private World, penned in part by Bill Bell) did not succeed in the 1960s...but that was not so fully situated in the Oakdale universe. It was a true spinoff, and those are always risky.

Maybe Lifetime (or whomever is lucky enough to participate in the evolution of the GL franchise) can find a way to tell new stories rooted in Springfield. If lightning strikes, this new GL might satisfy both the commercial needs of the network, and storytelling needs of hungry fans, all of whom believe there is still life in the "old girl".

For all of them, I wish that the genre trailblazer continues to push soaps forward into the new media landscape.


DJ Bixby said...

Thanks for this post. I'm a GL fan but have had many of these new media musings for the future of GL. This is actually a great time to trim the fat and refocus the show. I've thought about the once a week idea, but the problem is it becomes more like other primetime dramas. There are things that can be done with daily epis, the small things, subtle interaction that would all be cut to make a story fit into 1 hour a week. Not to say I wouldn't watch it, but it was lose the major characteristic of a daily drama. And while Otalia is currently my fav storyline - it can't be the center of the new show. They are a big draw, but the show has to have a balance with some of the families of its foundation or it will lose its old fans. Characters can be cut and recast, length can be adjusted, but if there isn't a sense of diversity and community then it just won't be the guiding light. Guiding Light is a valuable name and I'm sure there is a future, but you can't lose the brand identity or you also lose its value.

James said...

Maeve Kinkhead!


I realize it was a typo, but you gave me the best laugh. Thanks.

FYI, her name is Maeve Kinkead.

Tanzania said...

Seriously, anything that keeps Otalia going will have me and my disposable income there.