The next stage for serialized storytelling

The screen may change, but the story remains the same.

I really enjoyed The Locher Room‘s session with soap writers last week. I love learning about the nuts and bolts of making a show as much as I love the end result, and it was great to see Jill Lorie Hurst, Jim Brown, Millee Taggart, David Kreizman and Courtney Simon talking about their time as GL writers.

There was a moment near the end when Alan asked the writers if they’d ever wanted to create their own soap.

They weren’t exactly stumped, but there was silence, and the general reaction was: where would it play?

Certainly, the chances that a network would take on a daytime soap again is between slim and none. (I’ll get back to this later.)

We are at around the ten year mark (astonishingly, surprisingly) from when all four remaining New York soaps left the air.

There are people working hard to take the format and make it work on other platforms.

I’m not as familiar with web soaps as Roger Newcomb, who has done a beautiful job promoting new series, and supporting creative excellence with the Indie Series Awards

In the beginning, many web soaps were getting their sea legs and finding their way in the new platform. Acting and production choices had to be adjusted or modulated. Some shows had five minutes of content and seven minutes of opening and closing credits!

I’ve checked out several shows, including Anacostia, Venice and After Forever.  I also loved the show Weight, a pilot featuring Martha Byrne.

I think writers and creators have figured out the beats, and the scope, and the engaging stories for a web series or similar format.

What no one has figured out yet…..is how to make it work, or be worthwhile, financially.

Venice might have been successful at breaking even or making a profit, since it was sold by subscription.  (Definitely welcome any information on this from those in the know.)

Beyond that, many shows have had backers, crowdfunding, or were able to be done on a wing and a prayer – and the creator’s own money.

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We’ve been hearing a LOT about the Quibi platform lately. It launched recently – in the midst of a pandemic – and a recent Vulture article does a deep dig on the behind the scenes power struggles, as well as Quibi’s content choices.

The intended demographic is, as elsewhere, a young crowd with disposable income. Quibi apparently stands for “quick bites” and the content playing on the platform is in the ten to fifteen minute range.

I’m wondering why there aren’t, and weren’t, any soap operas on Quibi. It seems like a no-brainer to me – an opportunity to develop content that drew viewers back multiple times a week, and got them hooked on a story.

Quibi may survive its bumpy launch – the owners have some deep pockets – but it may be another platform to think about for similar stories.

Yes, I loved the hour soaps and the languid pace of its storytelling, but the same kind of work could be done, and cut into eight to ten minute segments.

As I mentioned above, the networks are riding their existing soaps to the finish line. It is unlikely any new soaps will ever be seen on network TV. I mean, broadcasting TV like NBC, CBS and ABC may themselves drastically change in the next decade; it’s likely that all three will stop broadcasting or limit programming, and send viewers to a streaming channel with a monthly fee.

Soaps were running on a strict model of same time, same channel for so many years, but I look at something like HGTV, where so often, content is repeated frequently before unveiling a new episode. It’s what networks should have been doing with soaps for years, re-running them at night or on weekend omnibus airings, like EastEnders does in the UK.

The industry is STILL tinkering with some of the technical and financial elements to continue this kind of storytelling into the 21st century.

There are ideas like Quibi floating around, but there are still other pieces of the puzzle as well; as we learned from the Prospect Park production fiasco, content providers also have to, y’know, PAY those writers, actors and crew members.

Let’s hope we can still have programs with intelligence, heart and love – not just romantic love, but the love of close friends and of family, of knowing that you’re home….or knowing that, when you’re lost, that light in the window will guide you to where you need to be.

 

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