The Young Ones

There’s a great post at Daytime Confidential where they discuss (or dissect) the continuing phenomenon of younger characters and younger actors.

Soaps have been more youth-driven since the late 1970s and early 1980s. But the approach to stories with a “younger” focus are radically different now.

Ten or twenty years ago, a younger character would (a) usually be part of a core family and (b) featured in a young-lovers’ romance, especially during summer months.

Now, younger characters are taking over their respective shows, and many of them are unconnected to existing characters. We all gasped and clutched our pearls when Chloe was revealed to be Esther’s daughter Kate on Y&R, and we did so not only because it was a pretty damn good twist, but because few shows even do that sort of groundwork anymore.

Most of these actors are being played front and center not because of ageism (or not solely, anyway) but because of economic realities. It’s much cheaper to work a newbie with a 4-year contract than someone like the soon-to-be-departed Deidre Hall. Hall is as lovely at 60 as she was when she started DAYS in the 1970s, but like any tenured employee, she’s probably near top pay.

I know that shows must go after the 18 to 49 audience, and I’m OK with some of the younger characters, but I think soaps (and advertisers in general) are missing out on viewers that are in our mid-30’s up to 49. We’ve got a specific generation (Gen X) and have nostalgia for our youth.

The old ideas about people our age being inflexible and unwilling to try new things are just wrong. It’s the thirtysomethings and fortysomethings I know who are early adaptors, who have iPhones and Twitter accounts and wear Chuck Taylors and blend a love of their youth with a fierce hunger for what’s happening right now.

Those people – like me – would love to see the shows we recognized in the 1980s feature characters we love doing things we’d believe they’d do. And this CAN be done by mixing old ideas and new ones – old characters with new ones.

And it’s been said a million times before, but shows should NEVER assume that because a viewer is 16 that they want to see a flock of 16 year olds. They want to see strong characters that, in addition to being entertaining, know how to kick ass and take care of business. It’s no wonder that when Sam Ford’s class at MIT was asked about their favorite As The World Turns characters, they listed Margo and Lucinda – two of my favorites who, indeed, have kicked ass and taken names over the years.

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One thought on “The Young Ones

  1. Hey Patrick,

    To that point, I think it speaks volumes about how wise ATWT was to step up how it uses the Margo character in the past year and how Lucinda has always been protected to some degree. I’ve felt that the show gets how to write Lucinda, Barbara, Emma, and Susan so that, even in small doses, they capture the right spirit for these two. In the past year or so, there’s been a turnaround in the use of Margo, and I know that she’s appeared far more frequently than she used to, or at least it appears that way.

    Now if we could only get the same for Tom as we do for Margo, I’d be a very happy viewer. And I’d love to see some of the other veteran characters–Bob, Kim, and Lisa in particular–be “gotten” as well by the creative team. They did take the opportunity to explore Bob in some greater depth in his struggles with Chris, but he all too often falls into the two-dimensional grandfather figure and dispenser of platitudes that lack any nuance. The show has improved how it uses the Lisa character, but one has to wonder–as I believe Sara Bibel wrote about a few weeks back–whether Eileen Fulton’s acting might be transformed if Lisa was given an opportunity for a storyline akin to what’s happened with Kay on Y&R. Kim’s been the greatest travesty of all, though, as this character that was previously written well even in small doses has been sacrificed for the needs of a station manager role for Brad and Katie.

    Where’s Bob and Kim, and Lisa, in Casey’s life? What do they think about this Jennifer reincarnation? That was a favored niece of both of them, after all. Bob did mention a bit in a rare scene with Paul, but that’s all we get. We didn’t even get to see their reaction to Casey and Emily. There’s no way Lisa would have taken that lying down, especially considering her longstanding rivalry with Emily. Why didn’t we get those scenes where Lisa cried at Casey’s being with her after that piece Emily once wrote about her for the tabloid and after Emily tried to wreck Lisa’s family? We barely got to see Kim flip out about Casey with a Stewart, much less THAT Stewart. And, again, why couldn’t Bob and Kim be wrapped substantially into Paul’s ongoing story, especially since it ties them into the family they actually still have on the show?

    I completely agree, Sam, though I still contend that of all the shows – even Y&R – ATWT is still the show where I can “recognize” those characters I love. It’s ironic because they’ve done a good job of maintaining the feel of many of the characters who have been on 20+ years, but radically changed many of the younger characters as well as some of the thirtysomethings (like Brad, Paul, etc.)

    I know Kim has taken on a different role, and agree it’s not the most organic one for her. I don’t buy her agressiveness at the station – it could actually be part of a sensible story about Kim wanting to be challenged at this stage of her life, but ATWT hasn’t explained that at all. BUT I am thankful that in a larger sense, her persona and her family interactions have remained consistent. (I loved the Susan/Kim scenes this summer.) I compare Kim now to how it could have gone (see under GL’s Holly, who was similar to Kim but was foolishly changed into a baby-napping ninny and stripped of all of her intelligence) and appreciate that comparatively, Kim is still Kim.

    I also wish they would do better at defining Bob and Tom, though at this point I suspect having Bob on screen as much as he has been in the last year is an enormous victory.

    I often wonder how both ATWT and GL can be produced by the same company, and yet be so incredibly different in terms of content. I wish some of ATWT’s mojo could rub off on GL.

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