At the risk of being Captain Obvious and restating what everyone already knows, this is a crazy time to be hanging out in the soaposphere.
If you’re one of the thousands of hardworking professionals in the soap biz, it’s a positively scary time, where salaries are shrinking and shows are disappearing.
If you’re a fan, you’re watching from the sidelines and wondering, in some cases, what’s more entertaining – the show itself, or the backstage news that’s escaping from the soundstages.
Even in the best of circumstances, it seems like we’re watching a contest to see what show can change its identity the most.
I used to think that I had a relatively clear picture of what was happening, that I had a solid understanding of the business side of soaps as well as a keen sense of what’s missing on the creative side.
Now? I’m not so sure.
Many of us in the blogosphere, myself included, talk about the beauty and strength of those traditional storylines, those classic legacy characters, and the joys of a slow-burning story. And yet, I read the ratings, and they tell a completely different story.
At a point where the Otalia story on Guiding Light should have exploded in terms of viewers, the show took a hit. Conversely, I’ve been complaining about As The World Turns, but crazy cousins, kidnappings and bombings led it to a tie for fourth place.
I’ve been deeply and truly loving almost everything I see on screen with GL for the past six months, and I’m especially joyful at the way the sense of community seems to be coming back to Springfield. I’ve enjoyed GL and Y&R for many of the same reasons – familiar characters, interwoven stories, a few well-chosen visits from old friends. And yet, only one of those shows will be seen on CBS come fall.
I’ve read the column of Nelson Branco, TVGuide.ca’s soap writer, and have been frustrated at times with his animosity towards GL. He’s a well known columnist who’s great at breaking the latest news, and he’s got the experience to speak knowledgably about the soaps. I have been surprised, however, with how often he makes unfavorable comments about GL.
Aside from a brief ride on the Otalia bandwagon, Branco’s comments about GL have been consistently very, very negative. They’re also ubiquitous (it takes real skill to work a negative GL-related comment into an interview with……..Sharon Case???!!!????)
But you know what? His opinion represents a portion of the viewing audience, just as my opinion does. Some viewers are just not down with the new production model, just as I get irritated with other shows. I’m sure I haven’t said a kind word about General Hospital in this blog since it launched.
And that’s the challenge with trying to predict what will work and what won’t. There are a few different demographic groups and audiences that are soap watchers, and those groups have dramatically different opinions about what they want to see. Most of the dramatic changes and reinventions we’ve seen (like the new GL production model) have been an attempt to respond to those groups and give the people what they want.
Even within my demographic (thirtysomething/fortysomething gay men) you’d be likely to find a whole continuum of opinions, just as you would in a wider audience. Some people like romance; some like the sense of family; some like the action/adventure. Some like it campy, and some like it corny.
Mind you. those different demographics are just the audience. There’s undoubtedly just as diverse a group of writers, producers, actors and crew backstage having the same arguments. The structure of soaps almost guarantees this kind of conflict; the older these shows get, the more likely they are to have professionals from every era of the show. Those people have different experiences and different ideas.
Matching story to audience isn’t just finding a needle in a haystack – it’s trying to find a moving needle in a haystack.
The soap world just seems like a weird universe – a Crazyverse – that defies logic. I mean, Days fired six of its most popular actors and pushed an annoying newbie actress to the front burner. Fans lamented the loss of these favorites, and Daytime Confidential went so far as to call the firing of Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn “soap opera suicide.” But in the Crazyverse, this means – yes, you guessed it – the ratings are up.
I still love the classic serialized story, but I’m not sure that I, or any of us, know what will work and what won’t. I still think reviving and reinventing the genre, and continuing to tell these stories, isn’t a crazy idea, but whether that’s a sane observation or not remains to be seen.