More crazy ideas

Last week I talked about a crazy idea: shrinking the hour shows back to a half-hour format. (“Eighteen minutes” refers to the actual content after commercials of a half-hour program.)

Snark Weighs In has some critical comments here. (Note to Snark: I wasn’t suggesting it just for ATWT and GL; I think ALL of the shows should go to half-hour formats.)

Snark expresses some concerns about this idea, and though I believe my ideas are worthwhile ones, Snark’s concerns are certainly not unfounded. Expecting TPTB to do the best thing for the shows creatively is somewhat akin to expecting that Santa Claus will magically materialize AND make payments on your mortgage.

But I am mostly talking about the BUSINESS side of the shows here, because I want to find ways to encourage the networks to STAY in the business of making soaps. If we can encourage that to a degree where profit is happening and the industry doesn’t feel like it’s staring down the barrel of a gun, THEN we can address the obvious creative changes that the shows ALL need. (As Snark says, the shows are essentially “creatively bankrupt.” )

I still think the half hour idea is an idea that’s worth looking into. And the main reason why is even crazier than the half-hour idea: I want the networks to create new shows.

Hey! Stop laughing!

The concept is this: If the networks took most of their shows to a half-hour, there would be room on their daypart schedules for new programming. (Except for perhaps Y&R, I can’t think of a show worth keeping at an hour.)

If the networks were smart (yes, Barbara Bloom, I’m glaring at YOU here) they’d clear out space at the end of the day and program a new show or two there.

It may seem completely counterintuitive in this business environment and this creative environment. But I’d love to see someone TRY.

And another crazy idea……..the networks should try (or buy) a show that is not produced in New York or Los Angeles. No, honestly, I am NOT on crack. Here’s why I’m suggesting this…..

The networks are complaining about their return on investment from these shows. Yet they are producing them in the TWO MOST EXPENSIVE CITIES IN THE COUNTRY. Yes, that might have been a requirement in the early days of TV, but we are definitely not restricted by geography now.

If there’s one positive thing we can take away from the Guiding Light digital filming experiment, it’s that we now know that shows can be filmed outside of a studio wall and for a fraction of the previous cost.

I live in Chicago, and although it is by no means the cheapest place to live in this country, it’s far cheaper than LA or NYC. Studio space would be far cheaper, and as for acting talent, Chicago is a gold mine. In fact, there are probably a few stars that are already here because they wanted to raise families away from NYC or LA. I can think of an obvious one: Kate Collins. Kate’s fantastic and I’d love to watch her on-screen again. There – we’ve got the female matriarch right there. (Of course, I’m not even mentioning the whole Chicago-was-the-birthplace-of-daytime-Irna-Phillips-Bill-Bell-Kay-Alden link.)

There are at least a dozen other cities I could think of where this idea could work. My hometown of Pittsburgh is one of them.

  • They’ve got a film office there that works to get tax credits and benefits for anyone who films there.
  • I’ve worked in theater there, and there’s amazingly talented people all throughout the city.
  • It’s a visually interesting landscape with a lot of older buildings. (Many of the scenes in Silence of The Lambs were filmed there, like the scene where Clarice visits Lecter in jail, which was filmed in Pittsburgh’s medieval-looking old county jail.) 
  • And of course, Pittsburgh has a gritty, realistic look that would go nicely with a working-class soap – the kind of reality that would be SO much more captivating than watching Reva Shayne pick up her drycleaning in Peapack the new Springfield.

I also think it would be incredibly exciting to have a U.S./Canadian soap. I’d love to see a show set at the border of the two countries. This could be an exciting infusion of Canadian acting talent. Doubters should check out the fanastic show “Wonderfalls” on DVD. It was an unfortunately short-lived show on Fox that was made by the creative team behind “Pushing Daisies”, and it’s based at Niagara Falls. We see both U.S. and Canadian actors in the show. Y&R is enormously popular in Canada; it would be great if Global or CTV or one of the Canadian networks partnered with a network here (NBC, jump back into the game) and launched a collaboration.

I know that perhaps some of this is far-fetched, and maybe it’s all a pipe dream. And as much as I love the genre, I understand it’s a business at its core.

But understand, I am both an artist and a businessman, and I’m calling out the powers that be for becoming lazy and entrenched. Watching shows that are being written as if it’s 1988, 1978 or 1958, and are marketed and packaged in much the same way, makes about as much sense as Best Buy offering a TV set with a knob for a channel tuner. It’s time for action versus what we have now – a hospice where executives are trying to milk the last few dollars out of their former cash cows before they unceremoniously dump them into the deep end.  

And quite frankly, DAYS and GL are on the block. If those shows disappear, and no new growth is taking place in the genre, then a whole way of storytelling might disappear (at least from our shores), replaced with programming like the non-soap The Doctors and eighty-two different ripoffs of “Judge Judy.” (One is quite enough, don’t you think?)

NOTE: No magic unicorns were harmed in the making of this post….*wink*

3 thoughts on “More crazy ideas

  1. It is so funny that another huge (at least former) Guiding Light fan hails from Pittsburgh. I have watched GL since I was a wee tot growing up in “the burgh” on KDKA. So nice to know we have yet another kinship Patrick!

    Shooting a gritty soap in Pittsburgh would be actually quite interesting. Having grown up in the Theatre scene, I know there are plenty of actors who are more than capable. With Carnegie Mellon and Point Park (my alma mater) two very well known schools for theatre training, the talent is there.

    I do have a problem with GL shooting in Peapack NJ though. Peapack looks like small town USA, it doesn’t fit the Springfield that the viewer has known for many many years. I see Springfield as slightly more larger and cosmopolitan. I don’t think Springfield has a tiny municipal building and cozy dirt roads running through out. I think GL underestimated it’s centreal character just so it can go for a certain folksy feel.

    Another huge blunder Ellen Wheller can add to her growing list of mistakes. I think GL would be better off shooting in NYC or yes even Chicago or Pittsburgh, at least those citys have highways and skyscrapers.

    Hey Kenneth!

    Indeed, I started watching GL on KDKA too, back in the early 1980s. (For many years KDKA carried its local talk show instead of As The World Turns, so I had to catch that on cable from the Altoona affiliate!)

    I did some theater work for a few organizations, and know some people from CMU and Point Park. Of course, Melina Kanakaredes is from Point Park. I think it would be great – and “real” in a way that the audience is dying to see – versus Peapack, which I agree is too folksy for what I would expect Springfield to be.

    Thanks for your comments!

  2. Patick,

    I’d certainly love to see soaps try to make a go of it outside of NYC and LA. Plenty of interesting locations around this vast land. Just look at Logo’s Sordid Lives, which is shot in Shreveport, La. because of the tax incentives.

    And the idea has been tried before. The Catlins, which aired on the TBS superstaton for about 1.5 years, circa 1983-84, was filmed in Atlanta and often went on location around the city. And the Christian-oriented soap Another Life, which ran on cable circa 1982, was filmed in Virginia Beach.
    Problem with both soaps was they had tiny budgets and so-so writing.

    But the point is, the idea has been done before. And with technology vastly improved in the last 25 years, I’d like to see them try again.

    And I have to agree with Kenneth. There’s a vast disconnect between the Springfield we’re suddenly seeing on our screens and the Springfield we’ve heard about over the years. And I think that’s one of the MANY reasons why those initial episodes shot in Peapack didn’t work for me. The Springfield I was seeing had dirt roads and no background extras (or even background cars driving by). That just didn’t jive with the mythos of Springfield I’ve lived with all these years. I’ve adjusted to “Springfield Township” now, but still long for my beloved Springfield circa 1980s.

  3. I, for one, will NEVER get used to seeing Springfield as they’re showing it now. It looks totally wrong!

    I don’t know if anyone is a Star Trek fan, but there is a fan-created series called “Hidden Frontier” in which they do all their scenes in front of a green screen. Doesn’t sound very good, but when you consider that they did seven seasons and have three spin-offs that all use the same format, that says something!

    I’m not saying that rather than shooting in another town (Chicago, Atlanta, etc.) wouldn’t work, but if we’re trying to keep soaps alive, what would it hurt to try it? Daytime is at a major crossroads and it’s time to make some hard choices.

    (Oh, and I totally agree — if I see another “Judge ________” show, I’ll probably commit a crime myself!)

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